The quality of the water in your home is important. I use a local lab that is certified by the state of North Carolina to test the water.
Total coliform is most commonly used to indicate the presence of coliform bacteria which is an indicator of contamination for human or animal waste. Total coliform is abroad category of bacteria and most do not pose a threat to humans. Some are from fecal matter, some of the bacteria naturally occur in soil, vegetation and from insects.
Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a rod-shaped bacteria commonly found in the gastrointestinal tract and feces of warm-blooded animals. If it is present in the water it provides direct evidence of fecal contamination from a warm blooded animal. Usually it is harmless but it can cause meningitis, septicemia, intestinal and urinary tract infections. Elderly and small children are more at risk from becoming sick.
Bacterial contamination cannot be seen, smelled or tasted. The only way to know if your system is contaminated is by testing.
The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14. In general, a water with a pH < 7 is considered acidic and with a pH > 7 is considered basic. The normal range for pH in surface water systems is 6.5 to 8.5 and for groundwater systems 6 to 8.5.
In general, a water with a low pH (< 6.5) could be acidic, soft, and corrosive. Therefore, the water could leach metal ions such as iron, manganese, copper, lead, and zinc from the aquifer, plumbing fixtures, and piping. Therefore, a water with a low pH could contain elevated levels of toxic metals, cause premature damage to metal piping, and have associated aesthetic problems such as a metallic or sour taste, staining of laundry, and the characteristic "blue-green" staining of sinks and drains . The primary way to treat the problem of low pH water is with the use of a neutralizer. The neutralizer feeds a solution into the water to prevent the water from reacting with the house plumbing or contributing to electrolytic corrosion; a typical neutralizing chemical is soda ash. Neutralizing with soda ash increases the sodium content of the water.
A water with a pH > 8.5 could indicate that the water is hard. Hard water does not pose a health risk, but can cause aesthetic problems. These problems include:
- Formation of a "scale" or precipitate on piping and fixtures causing water pressures and interior diameter of piping to decrease;
- Causes an alkali taste to the water and can make coffee taste bitter;
- Formation of a scale or deposit on dishes, utensils, and laundry basins;
- Difficulty in getting soaps and detergents to foam and formation of insoluble precipitates on clothing, etc.; and
- Decreases efficiency of electric water heaters.
Lead can enter drinking water when service pipes that contain lead corrode, especially where the water has high acidity or low mineral content that corrodes pipes and fixtures. The most common problem is with brass or chrome-plated brass faucets and fixtures with lead solder, from which significant amounts of lead can enter into the water, especially hot water.
Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures and solder. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) has reduced the maximum allowable lead content -- that is, content that is considered "lead-free" -- to be a weighted average of 0.25 percent calculated across the wetted surfaces of pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings, and fixtures and 0.2 percent for solder and flux.
Corrosion is a dissolving or wearing away of metal caused by a chemical reaction between water and your plumbing. A number of factors are involved in the extent to which lead enters the water, including:
- the chemistry of the water (acidity and alkalinity) and the types and amounts of minerals in the water,
- the amount of lead it comes into contact with,
- the temperature of the water,
- the amount of wear in the pipes,
- how long the water stays in pipes, and
- the presence of protective scales or coatings inside the plumbing materials.
Is there a safe level of lead in drinking water?
Lead is persistent, and it can bioaccumulate in the body over time.
Young children, infants, and fetuses are particularly vulnerable to lead because the physical and behavioral effects of lead occur at lower exposure levels in children than in adults. A dose of lead that would have little effect on an adult can have a significant effect on a child. In children, low levels of exposure have been linked to damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing, and impaired formation and function of blood cells.
Even low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in:
- Behavior and learning problems
- Lower IQ and hyperactivity
- Slowed growth
- Hearing problems
Lead can accumulate in our bodies over time, where it is stored in bones along with calcium. During pregnancy, lead is released from bones as maternal calcium and is used to help form the bones of the fetus. This is particularly true if a woman does not have enough dietary calcium. Lead can also cross the placental barrier exposing the fetus to lead. This can result in serious effects to the mother and her developing fetus, including:
- Reduced growth of the fetus
- Premature birth
Lead is also harmful to adults. Adults exposed to lead can suffer from:
- Cardiovascular effects, increased blood pressure and incidence of hypertension
- Decreased kidney function
- Reproductive problems (in both men and women)
Copper is a metal that occurs naturally in rock, soil, plants, animals, and water. Since copper is easily shaped or molded, it is commonly used to make electrical wiring, and household plumbing materials. Copper may be combined with other metals to make brass and bronze pipes and faucets. Copper compounds are also used as agricultural pesticides and to control algae in lakes and reservoirs. All living organisms including humans need copper to survive; therefore, a trace amount of copper in our diet is necessary for good health. However, some forms of copper or excess amounts can also cause health problems.
The level of copper in surface and groundwater is generally very low. High levels of copper may get into the environment through mining, farming, manufacturing operations, and municipal or industrial wastewater releases into rivers and lakes. Copper can get into drinking water either by directly contaminating well water or through corrosion of copper pipes if your water is acidic. Corrosion of pipes is by far the greatest cause for concern.
If the copper in your drinking water is not from the groundwater but from your plumbing, flushing the water system before using the water for drinking or cooking is a practical option. Any time a faucet has not been used for several hours (approximately 6 or more), you can flush the system by running the water for at least 15 seconds first thing in the morning before drinking or using it. Flush each faucet individually before using the water for drinking or cooking. Water flushed from the tap can be used for watering plants, washing dishes or clothing, or cleaning. Avoid cooking with or drinking water from hot water taps, because hot water dissolves copper more readily than cold water does.
You may also wish to consider water treatment methods such as reverse osmosis, ultra-filtration, distillation, or ion exchange. Typically these methods are used to treat water at only one faucet. Remember to have your well water tested regularly.
The thing that you’ll notice the most from water that is high in iron is that the water may taste metallic. The water may be discolored and appear brownish, and it may even contain sediment. Iron will leave red or orange rust stains in the sink, toilet and bathtub or shower. It can build up in your dishwasher and discolor ceramic dishes. It can also enter into the water heater and can get into the laundry equipment and cause stains on clothing. The EPA cautions that although iron in drinking water is safe to ingest, the iron sediments may contain trace impurities or harbor bacteria that can be harmful. Iron bacteria are naturally occurring organisms that can dissolve iron and some other minerals. These bacteria also form a brown slime that can build up in water pipes. Iron bacteria are most commonly problematic in wells, where water has not been chlorinated.
It is possible that drinking water that is high in iron may be beneficial, as it adds small amounts of iron to your diet. However, while drinking water that contains iron may help mediate iron deficiency symptoms, you should not depend solely on the iron in your drinking water as the only source of iron in your diet.
It is possible for you to get too much iron through your diet, but ingesting too much iron through your drinking water is not associated with adverse health effects. However, while chronically consuming large amounts of iron can lead to a condition known as iron overload; this condition is usually the result of a gene mutation that afflicts about one million people in the United States. Left untreated, iron overload can lead to hemochromatosis, a severe disease that can damage the body’s organs. Early symptoms include fatigue, weight loss, and joint pain, but if hemochromatosis is not treated, it can lead to heart disease, liver problems and diabetes. A blood test can identify iron overload.
Hard water interferes with almost every cleaning task from laundering and dishwashing to bathing and personal grooming. Clothes laundered in hard water may look dingy and feel harsh and scratchy. Dishes and glasses may be spotted when dry. Hard water may cause a film on glass shower doors, shower walls, bathtubs, sinks, faucets, etc. Hair washed in hard water may feel sticky and look dull. Water flow may be reduced by deposits in pipes.
Dealing with hard water problems in the home can be a nuisance. The amount of hardness minerals in water affects the amount of soap and detergent necessary for cleaning. Soap used in hard water combines with the minerals to form a sticky soap curd. Some synthetic detergents are less effective in hard water because the active ingredient is partially inactivated by hardness, even though it stays dissolved. Bathing with soap in hard water leaves a film of sticky soap curd on the skin. The film may prevent removal of soil and bacteria. Soap curd interferes with the return of skin to its normal, slightly acid condition, and may lead to irritation. Soap curd on hair may make it dull, lifeless and difficult to manage.
When doing laundry in hard water, soap curds lodge in fabric during washing to make fabric stiff and rough. Incomplete soil removal from laundry causes graying of white fabric and the loss of brightness in colors. A sour odor can develop in clothes. Continuous laundering in hard water can shorten the life of clothes. In addition, soap curds can deposit on dishes, bathtubs and showers, and all water fixtures.
Hard water also contributes to inefficient and costly operation of water-using appliances. Heated hard water forms a scale of calcium and magnesium minerals that can contribute to the inefficient operation or failure of water-using appliances. Pipes can become clogged with scale that reduces water flow and ultimately requires pipe replacement. It can also cause red and black stains in the dishwasher and on the dishes themselves.
Nitrates (NO3) are an essential source of nitrogen (N) for plants. When nitrogen fertilizers are used to enrich soils, nitrates may be carried by rain, irrigation and other surface waters through the soil into ground water. Human and animal wastes can also contribute to nitrate contamination of ground water. In Benton and Franklin Counties, agricultural practices have been linked to elevated levels of nitrates in drinking water. Although any well can become contaminated by nitrates, shallow, poorly constructed, or improperly located wells are more susceptible to contamination. Nitrate levels in drinking water can also be an indicator of overall water quality. Elevated nitrate levels may suggest the possible presence of other contaminants such as disease-causing organisms, pesticides, or other inorganic and organic compounds that could cause health problems.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of nitrate as nitrogen (NO3-N) at 10 mg/L (or 10 parts per million) for the safety of drinking water. Nitrate levels at or above this level have been known to cause a potentially fatal blood disorder in infants under six months of age called methemoglobinemia or "blue-baby" syndrome; in which there is a reduction in the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood. The symptoms of blue-baby syndrome can be subtle and often confused with other illnesses. An infant with mild to moderate blue-baby syndrome may have diarrhea, vomiting, and/or be lethargic. In more serious cases, infants will start to show obvious symptoms of cyanosis: the skin, lips or nailbeds may develop a slate-gray or bluish color and the infant could have trouble breathing. A sample of the infant’s blood can easily confirm a diagnosis of blue-baby syndrome. It is difficult to determine the true incidence of blue-baby syndrome in Washington State because it is not a reportable disease.
Others at risk are:
- Pregnant women
- Individuals with reduced gastric acidity, and
- Individuals with a hereditary lack of methemoglobin reductase.
Private wells should be tested:
- at least once a year
- when a new well is constructed
- when an existing well hasn't been used for an extended period of time
- whenever the well is opened for repair
- when the well has been flooded
- whenever bacterial contamination has been suspected (family sickness)
- when the home is going to be sold. Many lending agencies require water to be tested before loans are approved