Econundrum: Is Your Tap Water Too Dirty to Drink?

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I’ve long been a proud drinker of tap water. Here in the Bay Area, most of our water comes from the famously pristine Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, surrounded by 500 square miles of wilderness in Yosemite National Park. What impurities could possibly make it into such a remote place?

Plenty, turns out. The Environmental Working Group recently tested the water in 45 states and found 316 contaminants. Nearly two thirds of those contaminants are not regulated by the EPA—meaning local water authorities aren’t required to filter them or even monitor their levels. I looked up San Francisco’s water in the EWG database and learned that my tap water contains eight pollutants. Relatively speaking, that’s actually not too bad: In other cities (Pensacola, Florida, Riverside, California, and Las Vegas, Nevada, topped the dirty water list), researchers found high levels of unregulated chemicals like perchlorate, a key ingredient in rocket fuel shown to be toxic to the thyroid gland, and MTBE, a gasoline additive that can cause kidney and liver damage.

So what’s the solution? Not bottled water, says EWG researcher Nneka Leiba. “Often it’s just tap water in a bottle. And then there’s the price.” (EWG researchers found 38 contaminants in 10 popular brands.) Another problem: the environmental impact of manufacturing, shipping, and disposing of all those bottles. (Check out Mother Jones‘ exposé of Fiji Water’s ecologically and socially questionable practices here.)

Your best bet is a good filter. Carbon models—the kind in the popular Brita filters—are fairly affordable (you can get a refrigerator pitcher filter for about $10), and they remove most contaminants (though not perchlorate, MTBE, or arsenic). Reverse osmosis filters, which hook up to your faucet, are pricier (around $200), but they’ll keep almost all contaminants out of your tap water.
 

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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