Tracking Drinking Water

The quality of community drinking water is an important public health issue because contamination in a single system can expose many people at once.

Overall, New Hampshire's drinking water distribution systems provide high-quality public drinking water to communities throughout the state. Occasionally there are minor contaminations with natural and man-made pollutants. These contaminants are monitored and tracked to ensure that they are kept at levels that have minimal health impact as required by federal and state regulations. State agencies, water suppliers, and water engineers work together to help ensure that drinking water contamination levels are as low as possible. This is done by protecting water sources, treating drinking water to remove contaminants, and monitoring water quality to identify problems as quickly as possible. Ultimately, maintaining the highest quality drinking water depends on protecting our lakes, rivers and aquifers from contamination.

Common Ways Drinking Water Becomes Contaminated

Drinking water can become contaminated through natural or man-made causes. Naturally occurring chemicals such as arsenic or uranium can enter groundwater from bedrock. Humans add chemicals to water both intentionally and by accident. Adding chemicals, such as chlorine, to water to kill disease-causing organisms can produce other potentially harmful chemicals called disinfection by-products or DBPs. Runoff from failing septic systems or animal waste can introduce nitrates or bacteria into water. Plumbing fixtures or piping can leach lead or copper into water.

Exposure to Contaminants

People can be exposed to contaminants not only by drinking the water, but also by eating foods prepared with the water, breathing water droplets or chemicals released from the water while showering, or by absorbing chemicals through their skin while bathing.

Health Risks from Drinking Contaminated Water

The majority of community water systems meet all health-based water quality standards. As a result the risk of developing a disease from drinking water supplied by a community water system is low. However, exposure to contaminants in drinking water can cause many adverse effects. Sometimes the effects can be immediate with symptoms occurring soon after drinking the water, however, in other cases the contamination may go unnoticed for years. These adverse effects can include gastrointestinal illness or other long-term illnesses. Some diseases, such as reproductive disorders, cancer, or neurological disorders, can be caused by exposure to contaminants and can develop over time. Sensitive groups, such as the elderly, children, and pregnant women, are more likely to suffer ill effects than the rest of the population.

The risk of developing a specific disease depends on many factors:

  • The contaminant;
  • The level and potency of the contaminant;
  • The person's individual susceptibility; and
  • The route of contamination into the body (e.g., drinking or showering).

Reducing Risk from Contaminants

The primary means of preventing health problems caused by contaminants in drinking water is to ensure that drinking water meets public health standards. Protecting water sources, providing effective and reliable water treatment, and monitoring water quality are the main strategies for providing high-quality drinking water. Federal laws and regulations are in place at the state level to implement these strategies for community water systems.