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Can you drink LA tap water? A look at Los Angeles tap water quality
*** 3/16/2020: Coronavirus update – Coronavirus (COVID-19 virus) has NOT been detected in drinking water. The risk of COVID-19 to water supplies is low. Please refer to our Coronavirus and drinking water article as well as information from the CDC, WHO, and EPA. ***
Last year, the safety of California tap water made headlines when the Environmental Working Group published a study linking California tap water to thousands of cancer cases. Scary.
Californians – all Americans, rather – should be rightfully concerned with the quality of drinking water coming from their taps. For many years, there has been the public perception that LA tap water is unfit for drinking. Many Angelinos believed the water coming from their taps was nasty, unsafe, and to avoid drinking it at all costs.
Although LA tap water quality has improved remarkably over the past several years, residents are right to query whether or not it’s safe to drink. Since not all contaminants are reported or regulated, there’s certainly a chance Los Angeles tap water can be harmful. More contaminants can appear at any time, whether due to new exposure or new discoveries.
So is LA tap water safe to drink? Perhaps legally, yes, but it’s not nearly safe enough. LEGAL DOES NOT MEAN SAFE. I wouldn’t drink it.
I live in or am travelling to Los Angeles- can I drink the tap water?
With over 500 square miles of land and 4 million people living in Los Angeles, LA is a big place with quite a few water utility companies. Therefore, you must check your individual water utility company to determine what’s in your tap water then decide if it’s okay to drink.
Please visit the EWG’s Tap Water Database to determine if your water is in compliance. Since 2010, the EWG has been analyzing drinking water quality of 30 million state water records, nationwide.
It’s important to point out that just because water is “in compliance with federal health-based drinking water standards,” legal doesn’t always mean safe. Several experts say federal laws that regulate tap water really are out of date. For example, the Safe Drinking Water Act controls only 91 contaminants – there’s more than 60,000 chemicals used in America.
As EWG explains:
Legal limits are based on economic and political considerations that usually don’t reflect the lower levels that scientists have found pose health risks. Indeed, over 85 percent of the cancer risk calculated in the EWG study is due to contaminants that were below legal limits. Legal limits may also be based on outdated science: No new contaminants have been added to the list of nationally regulated drinking water pollutants in two decades. – Environmental Working Group, 2019
… So is LA tap water safe to drink?
With more than 60,000 chemicals used in the USA, a lot of them might make their way into LA drinking water entirely unregulated. They may not be on a unacceptable contaminant lists as there aren’t any standards set for them. Previous tests show elevated rates of trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids which are byproducts of the chlorine disinfection of regular water (read about chlorine in water). These byproducts have the capacity to drastically affect an individual’s health.
Radon, arsenic, chemicals oh my!…
Studies have linked such contaminants to the higher threat of miscarriage and birth defects as well as increased rates of cancer.
Radon is another risk found in some LA tap water. There have been times when LA well water testing has shown radon levels that surpass the EPA’s requirements. That is a major concern for all those that drink regular water which comes from affected wells. Radon exposure may increase an individual’s risk of developing cancer.
Many individuals are unaware that the glass of LA tap water can even contain arsenic. This poisonous material is a known carcinogen that’s found in many varieties of herbicides and pesticides. It’s a Class 1 carcinogen that’s in the same class as such carcinogens as asbestos and the hepatitis C virus. It’s been associated with lots of varieties of cancer as well as blindness and paralysis. Safe water requirements limit the quantity of arsenic that’s acceptable in water, but are these levels really safe? It is essential for consumers to realize that legal drinking water is not necessarily the same thing as healthful drinking water.
What can you do now about unsafe tap water? Simple: a water purification system!
Individuals and families can take precautions to make sure they are drinking the cleanest, safest water possible. If harmful contaminants have been found in your water – even at levels below the federal legal limits – you are highly encouraged to filter your water. Even if your water utility company has a stellar record, there may be contaminants lurking that aren’t even being monitored.
Drinking water rarely contains only one contaminant, yet regulators currently assess the health hazards of tap water pollutants one by one. This ignores the combined effects of multiple pollutants, which is how people ingest them in the real world. – Environmental Working Group, 2019
Now I know you may be thinking “well, you are a water filtration company so of course you want to sell me a water filter…” Yep, we do. I think you get the point that legal standards for water safety are out of date, don’t cover all contaminants, nor the combined effects of contaminants. Your water utility company definitely isn’t tackling every contaminant, but a water filtration system can.
Do you want to drink and use clean, healthy water that looks and tastes great? Do you want peace of mind that the water you are drinking and using isn’t laden with cancer causing toxins and harmful contaminants?
Of course you do. So buy a water filtration system. If not from us, then someone else but please just buy a water filtration system!
Water filters to make LA tap water drinkable and safe
Zero Waste Membrane Purification System for Drinking Water
The zero waste membrane water purification system (PS-PURUF) has ZERO WASTE WATER….which is ideal for California’s water regulations due to drought. It purifies and disinfects drinking water and removes bacteria, chlorine, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, lead, cysts, viruses, dissolved solids, silt, colloids, silica, clay, iron, sand, volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), chlorine, chloramines, trihalomethanes (THMs), methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), and more.
HydroGuard Reverse Osmosis System
Enjoy clean, safe drinking water with the HydroGuard HDG-45 series reverse osmosis system (PS-SQC50). It reduces the levels of lead, nitrates, cysts (cryptosporidium, giardia), arsenic, sodium and other contaminants commonly found in tap water. This reverse osmosis system is easy to install, and uses sanitary quick change filters which makes changing water filters fast, convenient and sanitary. One of the revolutionary features of this system is it’s leak detector shut off valve (FLOWLOK ™) which silently guards against any water leaks which may occur. The PS-SQC50 features a compact design and delivers quality water from your tap whenever you want it.
A complete whole house water filtration system that delivers 15 gallon per minute flow rate. Stage 1 has a 0.2 submicron absolute rating “charged” nanofiber cartridge that removes parasites (cryptosporidium & giardia), bacteria, sediment, cloudiness (turbidity), endotoxins, DNA, iron, maganese, and more. Stage 2 has a 5 micron premium coconut shell carbon cartridge that removes taste/odor, chlorine, chloramine, THMs (trihalomethanes), MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether), and VOCs (volatile organic chemicals). This cartridge also has scale inhibitor for hard water.
There are also whole house water filtration systems available.
Please give us a call on (760) 525-2724 if you have any questions about water purification you may require!
We previously published a version of this article on March 16, 2017, which at the time a number of Los Angeles water utilities we not in compliance with federal standards for drinking water. They have since improved, but here’s the original findings.
Water From the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power
One of the largest providers of tap water in Los Angeles is the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power which provides water to nearly 4 million people living in Los Angeles.
The Los Angeles tap water quality 2017 for water from the LADWP indicates it is safe to drink, although as you can see from our case studies the level of safety for LA tap water as a whole does vary from area to area. That is, water provider to water provider. Despite having some contaminant levels that are well above the recommended health limits, it’s safe to say that LA tap water sourced from the LADWP is as safe to drink as bottled tap water.
But the fact remains that although any contamination levels are in compliance with the federal guidelines, health-based guidelines may be different. Almost all of the contaminants listed are known carcinogenics, meaning that LA tap water does still carry some measure of risk for residents.
The LADWP has told residents that they no longer need to spend money on bottled water and filtration systems. However, when you consider the contamination levels of Los Angeles tap water, this seems like a rather reckless statement. The EPA assesses water on a quarterly basis, so contamination levels could spike and you would not know until long after you’ve consumed the water. A water filtration system is imperative to ensure you and your family drinks the safest water possible.
Water filtration is always going to be your safest option, regardless of how well treated your tap water already is. While utilities such as the LADWP have made vast improvements on the water quality over the past few years, and especially in 2017, the fact remains that there may be a spike in contamination levels at any point. And with so many unknown and unregulated contaminants present in tap water, do you really want to take a chance with your health and the health of your family?
Is LA Tap Water Really “As Clean as Bottled Water”?
According to the LADWP reports, 160 billion gallons of Los Angeles tap water has met with the recommended, legal limits for water contamination.
Unfortunately, independent studies – most notably by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – have shown such reports can be somewhat misleading. Although some of the contamination levels are indeed within the legal limits, they are not within the health guideline limitations at all. Furthermore, there are a number of contaminants with no set federal limits at all, meaning they’re not included in such reports.
Albert Rodriguez, a LADWP spokesperson, claimed that LA tap water is being treated by “zapping” it “without any sort of chemicals, without any other type chlorine”.
While it is true that the current Los Angeles tap water is as good as bottled water, this still does not make it the safest water possible.
As you’ll see in the following utility case studies, the true health-based guidelines are often well below the federal limitations.
All figures provided in the following case studies are sourced from the EWG Tap Water Database.
Los Angeles Tap Water from the Beverly Hills Water Department
A look at the EWG Tap Water Database report shows that Los Angeles tap water from the Beverly Hills Water Department is in violation of the federal standards for drinking water for the latest quarter (January to March 2017). Please note, January to March 2017 is the latest quarter assesses by the EPA at the time of this article (October 2017). In recent years, there are a total of eight contaminants found in levels that exceed health-based guidelines.
The health-based guideline was defined by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA). All of the contaminants discussed below are known carcinogenics, and the recommended limits provided by OEHHA are considered to pose little to no risk. As you’ll see, the federal limits are often many times higher than what is truly safe. By clicking on the bold bullet point titles, you can read more about each contaminant on the EWG website.
- Arsenic: the federal legal limit for levels of arsenic water contamination are currently set to 10 parts per billion (ppb). At 3.22ppb, the BHWD utility is indeed within these limits. However, the health-based recommended limitation is set to 0.004ppb. The Californian State average contamination level is currently 3.00ppb, while the national average is as low as 1.33ppb. This means that LA tap water sourced from this utility are not only well above the true safety margin, but are more than double the average contamination levels of the US. Since at least 2010, arsenic has been detected above the health guideline more often than not, despite never reaching the federal limit.
- Bromodichloromethane: bromodichloromethane is only found in water that has been treated with chlorine or other water disinfectants are used to treat water. A legal limit for contamination levels does not appear to have been clearly defined at present, but the recommended health guideline is for contamination to not exceed 0.4ppb. California’s average levels are well above this, sitting at 3.51ppb, but below the national average of 4.31ppb. However, the Beverley Hills Water Department levels are at a shocking 8.44ppb, and have been consistently found in similar levels since late 2012.
- Chloroform: With the national average level of chloroform water contamination at 11.2ppb, this utility appears to be doing far better than most, with a reported level of 9.73ppb. The State of California has an even more ideal average of 7.98ppb. However, these levels are all well above the health-based recommendations of 1ppb. LA tap water sourced from this utility have shown fairly consistent contamination levels since late 2012.
- Dibromochloromethane: The Beverley Hills Water Department’s levels are well above the state average of 3.84ppb – let alone the health-based guideline of 0.7ppb. At 8.26ppb, the utility’s dibromochloromethane contamination levels are nearly triple the national average of 2.96ppb. Similar levels have been found consistently in Los Angeles tap water sourced from this utility since late 2012.
- Dichloroacetic acid: Another by-product of chemical and chlorine-based water treatments is dichloroacetic acid which is at a level of 7.41ppb in LA tap water sourced from this utility. This figure is over ten times higher than the health-based recommendation of 0.7ppb. The national and state averages are 4.05ppb and 6.00ppb respectively, and as is the case with most of the other contaminants on this list, such levels have been discovered at this utility since late 2012.
- Uranium: That’s right – the dreaded “yellowcake” ingredient used in nuclear weapons is one of the eight LA tap water contaminants found in the Beverly Hills Water District utilities. The legal limitation is set to 30ppb, but utility reports often use the “picocuries per liter” (pCi/L) measurement. For reference, 30ppb is roughly 20pCi/L. Currently, the health-based guideline sets the bar at a maximum of only 0.43pCi/L. Uranium contamination has been consistently found in the region of 1.40pCi/L since 2015 for LA tap water sourced from the Beverly Hills Water District.
- Total Trihalomethanes (TTHMs): TTHMs include chloroform, bromodichloromethane, and dibromochloromethane (all are discussed above), as well as bromoform. As mentioned before, these are all disinfectant or disinfectant by-products. The federal limitation for TTHMs is 80ppb. California has a state average of 18.7ppb, below the national figure of 23.2ppb. However, LA tap water sourced from the Beverley Hills Water Department have consistently shown levels of 28.8ppb since late 2012.
- Trichloroacetic acid: Similar to dichloroacetic acid and TTHMs, trichloroacetic acid is a by-product of chlorine and other water treatment chemicals. The current legal guideline (although not enforced) is set to 20ppb, while the health-based recommendation is only 0.5ppb. Los Angeles tap water sourced from this utility have shown levels of 5.04ppb, much higher than the state average of 3.90ppb but not much more than the national average of 4.92ppb. With the exception of the first quarter in 2013, where contamination was merely reported as “detected”, and that same year’s final quarter (when there were no tests performed to determine contamination levels), trichloroacetic acid has been found above the true safety levels in LA tap water sourced from the BHWD since 2012.
LA Tap Water from California State Polytechnical University – Pomona
A look at the EWG Tap Water Database report shows that Los Angeles tap water from the California State Polytechnical University utility is in violation of the federal standards for drinking water for the latest quarter (January to March 2017). Please note, January to March 2017 is the latest quarter assesses by the EPA at the time of this article (October 2017).
In recent years, a total of ten contaminants have been found in LA tap water sourced from the California State Polytechnical University utility.
Once again, the majority are known carcinogenics, with the exception of chlorate.
- Bromate: a by-product of filtration methods such as sodium hypochlorite and ozonation. Legal limits are set at 10ppb, health guidelines at 0.1ppb. The national average contamination level is 0.782ppb, Californian state average 1.02ppb, and LA tap water from this utility 1.01ppb. There have been inconsistent levels reported since 2012, including several quarterly reports where bromate contamination has not been detected. To date, the first quarter of 2015 appears to be the only time contamination levels exceeded the legal limit.
- Bromodichloromethane: LA tap water from the CSPU Pomona utility display contamination levels of 12.6ppb, well above those of the BHWD (see previous case study above).
- Chlorate: Unlike the majority of the contaminants listed, chlorate is not a known carcinogenic, but has been known to impair the function of the thyroid, making it especially dangerous for children as well as pregnant women. Like others, it is a byproduct of chemical filtration methods. The national and state contamination levels are well below the recommended health guidelines of 210ppb, being 112.9ppb and 128.2ppb respectively. However, Los Angeles tap water from the CSPU Pomona utility have a 362.5ppb contamination level. This has been a fairly consistent reading since 2014.
- Chloroform: One of the TTHMs as explained in the above case study. The CSPU Pomona sourced LA tap water has reported contamination levels of 10.4ppb.
- Chromium (Hexavalent): No legal limit exists for this carcinogenic contaminant, which is usually caused by industrial pollution and mineral deposits. Since 2014 an average national contamination level of 0.796ppb has been reported, with the California state level resting at 1.68ppb. LA tap water sourced from CSPU Pomona is much lower, at only 0.764ppb, but is still above the EPA recommended health-based limit of 0.02ppb.
- Dibromochloromethane: At 13.8ppb, Los Angeles tap water sourced from the CSPU Pomona utilities have a higher dibromochloromethane contamination level that the BHWD’s 8.26ppb. See case study above.
- Dichloroacetic Acid: Compared to the BHWD utility’s 7.41ppb contamination level, CSPU Pomona’s dichloroacetic acid detection is only 5.94ppb, 0.06ppb below the state average. It remains worryingly high above the EPA health-based recommendation of 0.7ppb.
- Uranium: LA tap water sourced from the CSPU Pomona utility averages at around 8.145pCi/L, although there have been some years where the detected level has been 0.
- TTHMs: The CSPU Pomona sourced Los Angeles tap water shows a concerning high of 45.5ppb TTHM contamination, compared to 28.8ppb in the case study above.
- Trichloroacetic Acids: While the BHWD trichloroacetic acids contamination level rests at 5.04ppb, LA tap water from CSPU Pomona has a slightly healthier reading of 4.92ppb. This remains well above the 0.5ppb recommended health limit.
LA Tap Water From Los Angeles Department of Water and Power: Violations in Years Past
One thing that can certainly be observed at a glance about Los Angeles tap water from the LADWP is that over the years, LADWP tap water has had fewer contaminants above the EPA’s health guidelines than either the BHWD or CSPU Pomona sourced Los Angeles tap water. Compared to eight and ten instances (respectively), LA tap water sourced from the LADWP has had five.
Arsenic: While the BHWD levels are set at 3.22ppb, LADWP tap water is a much lower 1.20ppb. Although less than half of the state average (3.00ppb) and slightly less than then national average (1.33ppb), it remains well above the EPA health guideline of 0.004ppb.
Bromate: Compared to CSPU Pomona’s 1.01ppb LA tap water bromate contamination, LADWP has a high detection level of 3.77ppb – more than thrice the state average of 1.02ppb. Although LADWP spokesperson Albert Rodriguez claimed that they were “zapping the water without any sort of chemicals”, bromate is a byproduct of water treatment by ozonation and/or sodium hypochlorite when there is bromide present in the water. Its high presence in the LADWP water suggests that some chemicals are still being used to treat the water, despite the department’s claim. To be fair, bromate has only been detected in LADWP sourced LA tap water in one quarter of every year since 2011 (notable exceptions being 2013 and 2015, where it was detected for two quarters). It’s possible that latest quarterly report, January-March 2017, includes bromate levels from before the LADWP implemented the non-chemical treatment process Rodriguez mentions. Still, considering the health limit is 0.1ppb, the 3.77ppb reading is rather worrisome.
Chromium (Hexavalent): LADWP water contains this industrial waste contaminant (although it can also be caused by mineral deposits) at a reading of 0.796ppb, slightly higher than CSPU Pomona sourced LA tap water (0.764ppb). It remains one of the contaminant levels that are incredibly close to being on-par with the health guidelines, which are set at 0.02ppb.
Radon: Not detected in either the BHWD or CSPU Pomona utilities, this radiological contaminant is found at an average of 50pCi/L in the LADWP sourced Los Angeles tap water. However, it should be noted that detection of radon is not a common occurrence, with very few reported incidents since they began testing for radon in 2013. At present there are no legal limitations in place, although the EPA estimates that around 168 deaths occur each year due to radon exposure via the steam of a shower or bath (etc) using contaminated water. Federal drafts in 1996 and 1999 suggested a legal limitation of 300pCi/L (4,000pCi/L in states with a program in place for radon air risks), but nothing further has come of either motion. By contract, the recommended health limitation for radon is 1.5pCi/L.
TTHMs: LADWP has a total trihalomethanes contamination reading of 15.2ppb, much lower than CSPU Pomona’s LA tap water contamination of 45.5ppb and somewhat lower than BHWD’s 28.8ppb. It still remains high above the 0.8ppb health recommendation.