Safe Drinking Water in Massachusetts

Public drinking water in Massachusetts - the basics

The public water supplies in Massachusetts are among the best in the country. They are subject to the most stringent government standards in the world.

Frequently Asked Questions on Drinking Water in Massachusetts

How safe is my drinking water?

Every day, more than six million Bay Staters turn on the tap and take a drink of water from a public water supply. The public water supplies in Massachusetts are among the best in the country, and they are subject to the most stringent government standards in the world. To protect your health, both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) maintain exacting standards. MassDEP requires your local water supplier to perform ongoing tests for the presence of bacteria, lead and other heavy metals, herbicides and pesticides, and industrial solvents. If testing reveals an exceedance of a federal standard, the water supplier is required to notify customers through local news media. If bacteria or chemicals are found in levels that pose a threat to your health, the water supply is treated to remove the contaminants or taken out of service if the problem can't be solved immediately.

Where does my drinking water come from?

That depends on where you live. In some communities, drinking water comes from a reservoir that is fed by rivers and streams. In others, it comes from wells that pump groundwater from aquifers. There also are some people whose water comes from private wells, which neither MassDEP nor EPA regulate. To learn more about where your water comes from, contact your local water supplier. If you use a private well, make sure you have the water sampled and tested periodically. Analytical laboratories can be found in the Yellow Pages.

What about bottled water and home water treatment devices?

Tap water sometimes looks, smells or tastes funny. Most often, that is because there has been a heavy algae bloom on the reservoir your water comes from, or excess iron or manganese has accumulated in the lines that deliver it to your home. While these substances may affect your water's appearance, smell or taste, they are not harmful to your health. Bottled water may taste better than the water that comes out of your tap, but it's a lot more expensive and isn't necessarily "healthier." Home water treatment devices, such as filters, certainly can make tap water taste better-but they also can breed bacteria if they are not properly maintained. Before investing in a treatment device or bottled water, try chilling your tap water. Most people find that does the trick. If you do decide to listen to a sales pitch for bottled water or a filtration unit, remember that it's against the law for anyone other than a state-certified laboratory to test your water for bacteria or chemicals.

What about lead?

Lead pipes were used as water lines in Massachusetts until 1940, and lead solder was used to join copper pipes until the state banned it in 1986. As a result, some homes may still have excessive levels of lead at the tap. Because lead can be especially harmful to children, it is important to take the proper steps. See "Is there lead in my tap water?", linked below.

Where can I get more information?

MassDEP has prepared a series of brochures and fact sheets to help you learn more about the water you drink. For further information, contact the Drinking Water Program or call 617-292-5770.

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