Many NH residents receive their water from community water supplies. The quality of community drinking water is an important public health issue because contamination in a single system can expose many people at once. People can be exposed to contaminants in drinking water not only by drinking the water but also by eating foods prepared with the water, by breathing water droplets or chemicals released from the water while showering, or by absorbing chemicals through their skin while bathing.
Overall, New Hampshire's drinking water distribution system provides high-quality public drinking water to communities throughout the state. Occasionally there are minor contaminations with natural and man-made pollutants. Contamination can come from natural sources, like bedrock, or from man-made sources, like disinfection chemicals, agricultural run-off, or plumbing fixtures. 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.
Public Drinking Water and Your Health
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, which can be immediate with symptoms occurring soon after drinking the water. 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 exposures 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 specific contaminant,
- the level and potency of the contaminant,
- the route of contamination into the body (e.g., drinking or showering), and
- the person's individual susceptibility.
Reduce Your Risk
The primary means of preventing health problems caused by contaminants in drinking water is to ensure that drinking water meets or exceeds 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.
Tracking Contaminants in Public Drinking Water
NH EPHT is tracking the levels of four contaminants in drinking water: arsenic, disinfection by-products, nitrates/nitrites, and lead. These contaminants were selected for the Tracking Network because they occur more frequently in drinking water than other contaminants at levels that may be of public health significance. The drinking water data used in the Tracking Network are gathered as part of the water quality monitoring requirements set out by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state agencies. They are not gathered specifically to assess the level of exposure or to track changes in water quality over time. However, these data are the only set of consistent drinking water quality data nation-wide. The Tracking Network has adapted these data for public health uses.
Data about key contaminants in public drinking water are available on the Environmental Health Data Integration Network (EHDIN).
For information about specific health risks associated with the four EPHT key contaminants:
For information about New Hampshire's drinking water programs and regulations:
To learn more about public drinking water:
- Drinking Water Program
- National Primary Drinking Water Regulations
- State Drinking Water Programs
- Private Wells
- Public Notifications of Drinking Water Problems
- Arsenic in Drinking Water
- Disinfection By-products in Drinking Water
- Lead in Drinking Water
- Nitrates in Drinking Water