Tap water tasting ‘off’ this summer? This may be why

Science News

(File: Getty)

(NEXSTAR) – Amid recent reports of so-called “forever chemicals” found in drinking water, it’s not hard to imagine that some Americans might be hypersensitive when it comes to the taste of their tap water this summer.

If you do notice an odd taste, however, the reason might be more benign than you think.

Complaints of an “earthy” or “musty” taste or smell might just be the result of a regular summer phenomenon for many water systems — the accelerated growth of some algae compounds thanks to warmer weather.

“Specifically, it is metabolites from the algae that are producing the slightly off-putting smell and taste,” Wilmington, Delaware, officials said in a news release at the end of June. “The city said the water is safe to drink and there is no need to boil the water.”

Cyanobacteria, formerly referred to as blue-green algae, can create two compounds – geosmin and methylisoborneol (MIB) – that are responsible for the unpleasant odor and taste. City utilities treat drinking water to kill the bacteria that cause the compounds, but the harmless compounds may remain.

“While the taste and odor can be unpleasant, geosmin and MIB are not toxic or harmful,” the city of Sacramento’s website advises. “Chilling your water or adding lemon is known to help diminish the musty or earthy taste.”

Health officials warn, however, that cyanobacteria in the rivers, lakes and reservoirs that feed drinking water systems can be dangerous while untreated. Tampa, Florida officials warned residents Friday that the algae had been found locally and could potentially kill pets within minutes of exposure.

Conventional water treatment can generally remove cyanotoxins from the bacteria in the source waters, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but such systems can “face challenges” during a severe bloom event.

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