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The National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network is helping us understand the relationship between our water and our health.  Improving our understanding of this relationship will help us protect our water and save lives.  We all need clean, safe water.  Drinking water from a private well and even a community water system can cause health problems if the water is contaminated.  People who have their own household water supply should test their water annually for contaminants.

Key Facts

  • About 90% of people in the United States get their water from a community water system.
  • About 10% of people in the United States rely on smaller water supplies (mostly household wells) that are not regulated by the EPA.
  • Arsenic is a toxic chemical element that is found naturally in the Earth’s crust in soil, rocks, and minerals. The levels of arsenic found in drinking water systems and private water supplies across the United States vary widely.
  • In addition to occurring naturally in the environment, arsenic is a by-product of some agricultural and industrial activities. It can enter drinking water through the ground or as runoff into surface water sources.
  • Some people could experience skin damage or problems with their circulatory system and may have an increased risk of getting cancer if over many years they drink water that contains arsenic in excess of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s standard.
  • Nitrate is the form commonly found in water, often in areas where nitrogen-based fertilizers are used. The greatest use of nitrate is as a fertilizer.
  • Nitrate and nitrite originate in drinking water from nitrate-containing fertilizers, sewage and septic tanks, and decaying natural material such as animal waste. Nitrate is very soluble in water, can easily travel, and does not bind to soils.

Written By:


EPHT Program Manager and Epidemiologist in the Bureau of Environmental Health

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