A common question we get from home and business owner is “should I get my water tested?”. While the urgency may vary, the almost unanimous answer is “yes”.
If you are asking the question, chances are there is a reason behind it. Maybe you are worried about dangerous chemicals, lead, iron, bacteria, or viruses in your water. Maybe you want to know how hard your water is because you have stains on your toilet, sink, shower, etc. Or, perhaps you just don’t like the taste or odor of your water.
The only way to find out the cause is to get your water tested.
Should Public Water Users Get Their Water Tested?
Many people believe that just because they are on public or city water systems that they don’t need to get their water tested.
Yes, it is true that city water is treated for some dangerous elements and deemed “safe” before it is sent to your home or business. But, just how safe is it?
In 2015 alone, there were more than 80,000 reported violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act by community water systems.
According to an NRDC report, nearly 77 million Americans got drinking water from systems that violated federal protections in 2015, and more than a third of this number relied on systems that did not comply with standards put in place to protect health.
Millions of other Americans’ water suppliers failed to test water safety properly or didn’t report test results to health authorities or customers.
Moreover, there are new contaminants being found in drinking water regularly but, because they are not regulated yet, they go unreported by public utilities.
For instance, common contaminants such as perchlorate and PFOA/PFOS (chemical cousins of Teflon) occur in millions of Americans’ tap water, but because they aren’t regulated by the EPA, they don’t show up in these already staggering figures.
Another issue that goes untreated by most public utilities is hard water. Roughly 85% of American homes and businesses have hard water running through their pipes. Yet, hard water has been deemed safe to drink by the EPA so it goes untreated.
Hard water is generally made up of calcium and magnesium particles in the water. While these minerals may be safe to drink, they are not good for your plumbing and appliances.
Hard water causes scaling, or build-up, in pipes and appliances like washers, dishwashers, refrigerators, showers, toilets, bathtubs, sinks, and more. Scaling will lead to lower efficiency and eventually failure resulting in costly repairs and replacements.
Should Private Well Users Get Their Water Tested?
Short answer: Absolutely.
As an individual water system owner, it is up to you to make sure that your water is safe to drink. The EPA rules for drinking water do not apply to private wells.
A private well owner should get their water tested yearly to make sure it is safe. Some of the most common tests are:
- Basic water potability
Include tests for coliform bacteria, nitrates, pH, sodium, chloride, fluoride, sulphate, iron, manganese, total dissolved solids, and hardness.
- Coliform bacteria
Indicate the presence of microorganisms in the water that are potentially harmful to human health.
A common contaminant found mainly in groundwater. High nitrate concentrations can be particularly dangerous for babies under six months, since nitrate interferes with the ability of blood to carry oxygen.
Ions such as sodium, chloride, sulphate, iron, and manganese can impart objectionable taste or odor to water.
Excessive amounts of sulfate can have a laxative effect or cause gastrointestinal irritation.
Fluoride is an essential micro-nutrient, but excessive amounts can cause dental problems.
- Total dissolved solids
Represent the amount of inorganic substances (i.e. sodium, chloride, sulphate) that are dissolved in the water. High total dissolved solids (TDS) can reduce the palatability of water.
Your local government should have an approved list of licensed labs that can assist you with getting your water tested.
When Should I get my Water Tested?
You can and should get your water tested at any time. But, there are some key indicators for when it is urgent.
- Stained plumbing fixtures, laundry
- Change in odor or taste
- Change in water appearance
- Corrosion in pipes or appliances
- Flooding or pollution nearby
- Disturbance on land or drilling/digging nearby
- Landfill, factory, or coal nearby
- Salty taste
- Radon rich area
- Water born or transferred illness
- Lead in pipes
Some people may not experience any of these and just want to get their water tested for peace of mind. No matter the reason, it is always safer to get your water tested.
How Do I Get My Water Tested?
Many kits are available online and at stores for do-it-yourself tap testing, but it’s not always clear what they test for or how accurate they are. The EPA recommends using a certified lab that you can find on the EPA’s website. Testing typically costs $20 to $150 (depending on the type of test performed).
Most testing laboratories or services supply their own sample containers. Use the containers provided and carefully follow the instructions given for collecting, preserving and handling water samples.
Samples for coliform bacteria testing must be collected using sterile containers and under sterile conditions. Some procedures require that water runs from an outside tap for several minutes before filling the sample containers.
Laboratories may sometimes send a trained technician to collect the sample or to analyze the sample directly in your home. Ask if this service is available, since you may obtain better samples and more reliable test results.
What Do I Do With the Test Results?
Knowing what is in your water is half the battle, the other half is treating it. Depending on your test results, you may need to get a water treatment system in place.
It could be as simple as installing a water softener to treat hard water. Or, it may require a more intricate system that involves filters and/or a reverse osmosis system.
The bottom line, you will at least know what is in the water you are drinking every day. Now you can contact a professional and let them know exactly what you need to treat.