Quite often I am asked if it is safe to drink water that has passed through the water heater. My staunch opinion is that it is safe. Why do I think it is ok to drink hot water from the water heater? Well, there are a number of reasons.
The water coming in from the water main or well enters the water heater and is then heated. Hot water is less capable of holding on to the dissolved minerals common in water, so some of the minerals, primarily calcium and magnesium, come out of solution and settle at the bottom of the tank. This is the sediment that accumulates in the water heater.
Calcium and magnesium are both minerals that human bodies need and in no way are harmful to drink. In fact, many in the medical field believe that drinking hard water is beneficial and can improve people's health. Some studies have shown a lower rate of cardiovascular problems in areas where people have hard water. You can go to your local drug store or supermarket and buy calcium and magnesium supplements.
Since some of the calcium and magnesium settle out of the water heater the hot water reaching your fixtures has a lower mineral content than the cold water, and there is absolutely nothing dangerous about drinking water with a low mineral content.
From Wilkes University's Website:
"Hard water is not a health hazard. In fact, the National Research Council (National Academy of Sciences) states that hard drinking water generally contributes a small amount toward total calcium and magnesium human dietary needs. They further state that in some instances, where dissolved calcium and magnesium are very high, water could be a major contributor of calcium and magnesium to the diet."
Researchers have studied water hardness and cardiovascular disease mortality. Such studies have been "epidemiological studies," which are statistical relationship studies.
While some studies suggest a correlation between hard water and lower cardiovascular disease mortality, other studies do not suggest a correlation. The National Research Council states that results at this time are inconclusive and recommends that further studies should be conducted.
The fear about drinking hot water from the heater probably comes from the fact that hot water is better at leaching compounds out of piping and plumbing fixture materials. Hot water for instance will leach more lead out of the brass fittings and the solder joints that join the copper pipes than cold water will.
In the 1986 Safe Drinking Water Act as amended in 1996 (USEPA, 2000), Congress explicitly banned new devices containing pure lead pipe, leaded solders, and brass with more than 8 percent lead content. Water heaters typically have steel tanks that are lined with glass or epoxy or other materials that prevent the tank from rusting. There are no harmful compounds that can be leached from the lining material, so no problem there. There isn't any lead in the steel tank either.
So what it boils down to . . . pun intended . . . is the piping between the water heater and the fixture. If you have for instance, lead pipes between the water heater and the faucets, don't drink the hot water since it will leach more lead out of the pipe material than cold water would. However, if you do have lead pipes, which is highly unlikely, you should not drink the cold water either. Get bottled water.
If drinking water from the water heater did pose a health risk the government regulatory agencies like the NSF or FDA would let us know.
Is it safe to drink water from the water heater? My opinion is a resounding yes!
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