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Eco-explainer: How to keep water safe in your Philadelphia home
Water

Eco-explainer: How to keep water safe in your Philadelphia home

The Water Department reports great water quality; but lead and other problems often occur once it reaches your home. Here’s what that means and how you can ensure a safe supply.

The Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) released the 2020 water report, sharing that the city’s water meets or exceeds all federal and state quality standards. All inorganic chemicals, synthetic organic chemicals, and volatile organic chemicals in our drinking water are regulated to ideal levels for people’s safety.

Though our public water systems are carefully monitored and treated for approximately 100 regulated contaminants, the city is not responsible for the water quality once it meets your property’s service line. That means the risk of lead contamination in your water supply happens once the water reaches the pipes and fixtures of older homes. Regardless of the water department’s work, your water could contain certain contaminants regardless of the high-quality drinking water in Philadelphia.

How the water gets from the river to your pipes

All of Philadelphia’s water is supplied by the Delaware watershed to our three treatment plants, Baxter, Queen Lane, and Belmont. Depending on which region of the city you live in, your water may come from the Delaware River, Schuylkill River, or a combination of the two.

The water is then carefully monitored for pollutants like bacteria and hazardous substances, including PFA’s or forever chemicals.

Next, the water goes through a rigorous treatment process to ensure it is safe. The water is filtered, disinfected, adjusted, then disinfected and filtered again. Chlorine, Ammonia, Fluoride, and Zinc orthophosphate are added to the water to keep it safe and healthy. Finally, the water travels through 3,100 miles of water mains to your service line.

The Environmental Protection Agency requires that 90% of homes test for lead levels less than 15 parts per billion. The city as a whole meets this requirement, but that does not mean every home passes the requirement.

Clean water starts with the PWD, but once the water reaches the service line of your property. That means that the risk of lead contamination in the water happens within the home. Older buildings may have plumbing fixtures containing lead that seeps into the water supply.

Elevated levels of lead in water can be extremely harmful, especially to children and pregnant individuals.

In the city’s eyes, it is the responsibility of the property owner and residents to ensure that lead isn’t in the water, and to practice safe drinking water habits.

How to help keep your water safe

The Philadelphia Water Department has a few recommendations on how to keep your water safe.

Flush pipes

If you haven’t used water in 6 hours or more, the Water Department recommends running your cold water for 3-5 minutes. That will “Flush the pipes,” pushing out the water that’s been sitting in your pipes to free contaminants.

Do not drink hot water from tap

Don’t drink or use hot water from the tap: It can dissolve contaminants more quickly than cold water, leaching lead and other chemicals into your water supply.

Get a zero-interest loan to have pipes replaced

If you are concerned about lead contamination in your drinking water, the first step is to have your water tested. The PWD recommends contacting your water supplier for a list of certified labs that test home water quality for $20-$100.

If you need to get your lines replaced, the Water Department offers a loan to replace a lead service line. Read more about the Homeowner Emergency Loan Program.


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Annadore is a journalism student at Temple University with a passion for creative problem solving and storytelling. She is currently an editorial intern at Green Philly and producer with the Alternative Blacks Podcast. Her interests include roller skating, ghost stories, and sustainability. View all posts by Annadore Himmelberger

1 thought on “Eco-explainer: How to keep water safe in your Philadelphia home

  1. There are many chemicals that are not regulated and should be. Atrazine is in Philadelphia water and is a potent endocrine disruptor proven to cause cancer. Atrazine is a broad-leaf herbicide used widely in agriculture and on golf courses and it is known in very small amounts to feminize male frogs. It can be filtered at the tap, but we aren’t alerted to it and not everyone can afford to filter their drinking water.

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