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Toxic Heavy Metals You Should Check For in Your Water

1. An Overview of Heavy Metals Toxicity

Heavy metal contamination of your drinking water can occur from a variety of sources. While some metals can leach into the water from decaying pipes and plumbing systems, higher concentrations of these toxins have entered and will continue to pollute water sources as a result of industrial processes. This is because these heavy metal waste products seep through the ground into aquifers and wells.

Continued land development and growth of industrialization will continue to cause the levels of toxic heavy metals in our water sources to increase. Because these heavy metals get released into the environment from coal-burning plants, waste incinerators, household plumbing, paints, and other chemical products and industries, regular testing is necessary to keep our water sources safe from contamination and to assure our present and future health.

In order to protect human health the EPA has set limits on the amounts of heavy metals that are permissible in drinking water. Pollutants are assigned Maximum Contamination Levels (MCL).

MetalAllowable Level
ArsenicMaximum Contaminant Level of 10 parts per billion (PPB)
CadmiumMaximum Contaminant Level of 0.005 milligrams per liter (mg/L)
ChromiumLimited to a total of 100 PPB
CopperNon-enforceable health goal of 1.3 PPM
LeadMust not exceed 15 PPB; however, no amount of lead is considered safe, and the Maximum Contaminant Level goal is zero.
ManganeseConcentration should be at or below 50 PPB
MercuryMaximum Contaminant Level of 0.002 mg/L or 2 PPB
NickelDoes not currently have an EPA enforced limit, but the amount should still be monitored.

2. A List of toxic heavy metals in water for which you should test

– Arsenic
Because Arsenic is a common element found in the earth’s crust, it is most often found in drinking water due to natural erosion through soil and rocks. However, it does have industrial purposes that can lead to higher concentrations of runoff from industrial processes. Early effects of Arsenic poisoning are stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea. Long term effects include heart, nervous system, lung, liver, immune, and reproductive disorders, diabetes and cancer.

Arsenic can only be identified by testing. While testing of private drinking water wells has federal requirements for community testing, routine testing for arsenic levels is not mandated in those requirements. Combine that with the fact that the Western US has higher concentrations of arsenic and it is clear that getting your well water tested for Arsenic is very important.

– Cadmium
For people who are exposed to levels of cadmium above the MCL over relatively short periods of time, health effects include: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle cramps, liver injury, convulsions and renal failure. If exposed to cadmium over the long term however, effects from exposure to levels above the MCL include kidney, liver, bone and blood damage.

– Chromium
Chromium exists in two states, both in water and in the human body. While trivalent chromium (Cr III) is the most common naturally occurring form and is an essential nutrient, it’s counterpart hexavalent chromium (Cr IV) is known to cause cancer and kidney, liver or nervous system damage when inhaled or ingested. While Federal EPA standards have set the MCL at 100 PPB for total chromium, scientists from the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment recommend a goal of 0.02 PPB of hexavalent chromium for drinking water as a matter of public health.

– Copper
While small amounts of copper are necessary for our health, consuming higher levels in drinking water, where it can collect due to corroding pipes, causes stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhea especially in young children. Consuming too much copper can also lead to kidney and liver damage.

– Lead
Of all these toxic heavy metals in water, lead is perhaps the most well known toxin to humans and animals, causing damage to the brain, liver, kidneys and bones. Lead poisoning is particularly concerning for children since they need more water despite the smaller size of their bodies and can suffer from lead poisoning and its effects from early in life. Because lead is a common resource, malleable, and corrosion resistant, it was used in water pipes for many years and is still used today (though in limited amounts). If you have an older home or are connected to an old water system it is wise to test your water for lead. No amount of lead in drinking water is considered safe.

– Manganese
This naturally occurring metal has a wide range of uses in industrial applications and is actually an essential nutrient for the human body in very small doses. However, when it is consumed in larger amounts it poses long term toxic health problems especially for the central nervous system. The best way to discern whether your water has high levels of manganese is to get your water tested in a lab. They can also help you determine what method of remediation will best remove this heavy metal from your drinking water.

– Nickel
Most commonly, nickel in water is associated with skin irritation. Studies have shown that 10-20% of the U.S. population has a nickel sensitivity that leads to a rash or other dermal irritation after taking a shower or bath in water containing elevated nickel levels. In high doses nickel can also cause cancer. Elevated levels of nickel in drinking water are almost always a result of mining and smelting.

3. The Importance of Heavy Metal Testing

If you are wondering how to detect heavy metals in water the first thing you need to know is that they are very difficult to detect because these contaminants are odorless, colorless and tasteless. In order to know whether your water is contaminated you need to test it. You may decide to perform water tests for yourself by getting an at home testing kit. These tests involve dipping different test strips, each with a chemical reagent, into your water. The different reagents will change color in the presence of a heavy metal revealing the pollutant in your water. Although these tests are less expensive, they are not as accurate as laboratory tests and do not accurately reveal the levels of the heavy metals in your water.

When you contact a certified environmental testing lab to analyze your water you will know that your results will be extremely accurate and on time. Torrent Laboratory has decades of expertise in how to detect heavy metals in water and can help you keep your family safe from them with either our at-home test kit or with a thorough on-site examination of your water and water sources. If you decide to order one of our laboratory test kits, they come with all the clear instructions you need to collect water samples and return them to our certified lab for testing.

Not only will our certified lab analysis discover exactly what heavy metals are in your water, but we will give you a full report and help you decipher the results by answering any questions you may have. And our lab will always provide you with important details about your water quality.

4. What to do, now that you know?

If you are looking for answers about how to detect heavy metals in water, Torrent Laboratory is a state of California certified (CAL ELAP) Laboratory. Torrent Laboratory employs EPA approved testing procedures (Test Methods) and services that meet all quality control analytical and documentation requirements demanded by California regulating authorities.

Torrent has decades of experience and our chemists have a combined 150 years of analytical expertise. We know exactly how to serve your water testing needs! Our final reports contain an additional attachment that includes all of the Federal Guidelines, which allows you to compare your water quality data. In addition our relationship doesn’t necessarily end once you receive your data–Torrent is always available to answer your additional questions or concerns.