You Should Test For These Types of Drinking Water Contaminants
Introduction to Drinking Water Contamination
Safeguarding our most basic of life’s necessities is vital for our health and well-being. This is the briefest answer to the question, why is water quality testing important? For centuries we have abused our water, land and air with our waste products, industrial waste, chemicals, fertilizers and so much more. Drinking water contaminants continue to leach through our soil and subterranean layers and contaminate our water sources. Unfortunately, they find their way to our kitchen faucets and we consume them. Because there are so many types of drinking water contaminants that are dangerous to our health and cause human health issues, our testing procedures need to be able to identify a wide range of contaminants.
Additionally, the decomposition of water pipes means that metals such as copper, lead, iron get released into our drinking water posing hazards to human health. Even though drinking water provided by water utilities is regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are still many cases of contaminated drinking water throughout the country.
Why is Water Quality Testing Important?
We must drink a lot of water to keep our bodies alive and healthy. Many people cannot afford to purchase bottled water and must drink the water from their home faucets. The most common types of water contamination pose a serious threat to the health of those who drink contaminated water. For this reason alone it is important to regularly test our drinking water. In addition, there are millions of people who get their drinking water from wells that draw from underground aquifers. While these aquifers are usually great sources of pure drinking water, they are increasingly threatened with contamination because of improper disposal of chemical, industrial and even radioactive waste. Even naturally occurring contaminants can pose threats to human health because of higher than normal concentrations of certain drinking water contaminants in the soil and rock deposits above some of these wells.
For these reasons it is extremely important for public water suppliers and private well owners to frequently conduct water quality tests.
What Are the Common Types of Drinking Water Contaminants?
The most common types of water contamination come from these five sources and have varied effects on human health.
Perhaps the most common are microorganisms like bacteria, viruses and pathogens that have the potential to carry waterborne illnesses. The most common examples of microorganisms in drinking water are E. coli, Legionella, Giardia and Cryptosporidium. When humans consume these microorganisms they may experience symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, headaches, fatigue and (in extreme cases) death. Because the EPA has set strict standards for microorganisms in public water systems, microorganisms are most concerning for those using well water.
Heavy metals including mercury, lead, arsenic and copper can enter water supplies through a variety of channels. The corrosion of old water pipes are the main source of copper and lead contamination. While mercury enters water supplies primarily as a result of rain and snowfall dissolving mercury that has suspended in the air. Arsenic is a naturally occurring element that enters water supplies through natural deposits. But levels of arsenic have risen dramatically from industrial and agricultural pollution.
PFAS are often referred to as “forever chemicals” because their compound bonds are so strong that it takes centuries to break them down naturally. Additionally, these forever chemicals move quite easily through soil, water, dust and air. Finally, these chemicals enter humans through foods, drinking water and air pollution building up in the kidneys and liver.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that have low boiling points are present in drinking water and air. They are present in many man-made products including paints, gasoline, pesticides, cleaning products, and air fresheners. Most VOCs get into our water supplies because they are improperly dumped directly into water or into landfill dumps where they can leach through the soil and contaminate groundwater.
Chlorine is a common disinfectant used to treat water by killing microorganisms. It affects the taste and odor of your water, and in higher concentrations it is harmful to human health. Healthy water should contain less than 4 parts per million of chlorine.
Radioactive radium and uranium are found in almost all rock and soil below the earth’s crust. They also can dissolve in water meaning that in rare cases of higher concentration they can pose a health hazard. Radon is a radioactive gas that gets created as radium decays and it can also be found naturally in groundwater. If radon is not removed, it can be released into the air when we shower, wash dishes or do laundry.
How to Measure Contaminants in Water
The responsibility of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is oversight of all public drinking water quality testing methods and standards. There are three water quality standards that apply to how to measure contaminants in water; physical, chemical and biological.
Evaluating water for these parameters involves measuring the total solids found in tested water. Included in these parameters are floating matter, settled matter and soluble matter remaining in the water. Physical parameters are measured using four factors:
- Color: influenced by organic materials dissolved in tested water, like vegetation or leached substances like iron or from land runoff.
- Taste and odor: influenced by organic compounds, dissolved gasses or inorganic salts.
- Turbidity: influenced by suspended solids like silt, clay or other organic matter.
- Temperature: cool water is most desirable and it should remain relatively steady.
Chemical evaluation has significant importance to human health and safety concerns. Measured parameters determine levels of nitrogen compounds, phosphorus, heavy metals, as well as toxic substances like PFAS, nitrate, dioxin, pesticides, solvents and insecticides. These are measured to determine safe levels of consumption for human health. Unsafe levels of some of these drinking water contaminants are measured in parts per billion or even parts per trillion.
The most common waterborne contaminants are biological microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses and protozoa. Some of these cause severe human illness or disease and if unidentified and untreated, can even take hold in populations through public transmission. For this reason all public drinking water in the US is tested regularly and is filtered and treated with chlorine and/or other chemicals to kill pathogens like E.coli, Campylobacter, Hepatitis, Salmonella or Giardia.
Although there are relatively inexpensive pre-packaged test kits available for drinking water testing; those tests are usually incapable of detecting in the parts per billion (ppb) or parts per trillion (ppt) range. These prepackaged test kits cannot meet all of the standards for comprehensive water quality testing! Additionally, municipality-delivered tap water, bottled water, home-filtered water, and well water all have unique characteristics that pre-packaged kits do not have the ability to distinguish.
Torrent Laboratory understands that each of our client’s situations are unique. For this reason we spend time with each client up-front to find out exactly what you are interested in determining. We take into consideration information that we learn from you during our pre-analysis consultation services. This information has in many instances made all the difference when determining the health impact of our clients’ drinking water.
Torrent has decades of experience and our chemists have a combined 150 years of analytical expertise. We know exactly how to serve you! Our final reports contain an additional attachment that includes the Federal Guidelines so that you can compare your water quality data. What’s more, we continue to be available to answer any questions you have concerning our report data. Torrent remains available to you should any additional questions or concerns arise.