Water Testing Methods
THE IMPORTANCE OF WATER TESTING
Testing your private well’s water quality on a regular basis is an important part of maintaining a safe and reliable source. The test results allow you to properly address the specific problems of a water supply. This will help ensure that the water source is being properly protected from potential contamination, and that appropriate treatment is selected and operating properly.
It is important to test the suitability of your water quality for its intended use, whether it be livestock watering, chemical spraying, or drinking water. This will assist you in making informed decisions about your water and how you use it.
REGULAR TESTING IS IMPORTANT TO:
- identify existing problems
- ensure water is suitable for the intended use, especially if used for drinking by humans and animals
- track changes over time
- determine the effectiveness of a treatment system
The quality of a water source may change over time, even suddenly. Changes can go unnoticed as the water may look, smell, and taste the same.
Common Water Contaminants and Problems
Arsenic is a naturally-occurring metalloid element, commonly found in groundwater. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, arsenic can enter the water supply from natural deposits in the earth or from industrial and agricultural pollution. In drinking water, it is tasteless and odorless. Most people are alarmed when they learn that their drinking water, from a public or private water source, may contain any amount of arsenic.
Lead is a metallic substance that is a major concern if it makes its way into water supplies. Our aging infrastructure is a problem since older water pipes containing lead can leach lead into pubic water supplies. Municipalities are required to supply water that meets federal standards. The water may be safe to drink and free from lead when it leaves the plant, but it can encounter lead in service lines as it is transported from the plant to your home. Older homes with lead pipes could also contribute to a lead problem. The use of a home water filter using reverse osmosis is the most effective method for eliminating lead from drinking water supplies.
Cloudy Water or Turbidity
Cloudy or grayish water is usually caused by dissolved or suspended solids. This is referred to as turbidity. Water can become turbid naturally or from things such as construction, storms and urban runoff. There are varying degrees of turbidity, but even if your water looks clear, it could still contain a high level of dissolved solids. To determine the turbidity level of your water, we suggest having your water tested for total dissolved solids.
Water is a natural solvent. Given the needed time and conditions, it will dissolve anything it meets. What your water encounters often determines the contaminants it may contain. Depending on where you live, your water may have iron in it, which can cause rusty-orange or black stains on clothes, fixtures, sinks, tubs, water-using appliances and toilets. Iron can even alter hair color. Iron stains are very difficult to remove, if you can get rid of them at all. Testing your water source will confirm the presence and type of iron in your water, so you can select the proper water treatment system to handle it.
As water moves through the earth, it dissolves rocks and minerals, specifically calcium and magnesium, making your water “hard.” Hard water is a real nuisance, leaving spots on glasses and silverware, scale in water-using appliances, on fixtures, shower doors and tubs, and making hair dull and skin dry. Most homes have hard water, regardless of how you get your water. A simple, in-home water test will tell you how hard your water is, so you can choose the most appropriate water softener, if needed.
Bacteria and Viruses
Each year there are millions of cases of waterborne acute gastrointestinal illness annually in the United States alone. These illnesses are often caused by bacteria, viruses and protozoa that make their way into water supplies. Even sophisticated treatment plants cannot ensure that drinking water is completely free of bacteria and viruses. If you are concerned about bacteria and viruses in your water, have it tested.
Types of Water Testing Kits
Before you dive into at-home water testing headfirst, we’ll walk you through the steps of choosing the right water testing kit. Each of the following considerations plays an important role in whether you’ll get definitive answers about the quality of your water from an at-home testing kit.
Water Quality Test Strips
Test strips are the most common method of testing water quality because they’re affordable and easy to use.
Fill a test container with a water sample, dip a test strip in, swirl the container, and wait a few minutes. Then you’ll compare the color changes on the test strip to a color chart included in the kit. Test strips can indicate the type of contaminant and its ppm (parts per million, a.k.a. its level of concentration in your water). Test strips aren’t as precise as other methods, they give a range that can pinpoint concerns.
Color Disk Kits
Instead of strips, these water testing kits have you add a few drops of water to a container with powder, shake it, and then place it in a viewing box. Rotating the color disk provided, you’ll compare colors with the container until you find a match. These kits are reported to have better accuracy than test strips for certain types of contaminants such as bacteria.
Contaminants and Their Impact on Health
In total, the EPA sets standards for more than 90 contaminants in drinking water. These 90 contaminants fall into one of two categories. And a contaminant’s category depends on the type of health effects it may cause.
Acute effects occur within hours or days of consumption. Microbes, such as bacteria and viruses, result in the greatest chance of experiencing these health effects.
Most people’s bodies fight off microbial contaminants like they fight off germs. So these acute contaminants don’t typically have permanent effects. However, when consumed at high enough levels, they can be dangerous. Especially for people with compromised immune systems.
Chronic effects occur after people consume contaminants at levels over the EPA safety standards for extended periods of time. These contaminants include chemicals, radium and arsenic. Resulting health risks consist of cancer, liver issues, kidney problems or reproductive difficulties.
What Water Test Kits Determine
When a water test kit is used, it will check for unsafe levels of lead, chlorine, iron, pesticides and nitrates. It also will check the pH level of your water to determine if the acidity is too high. If the acidity levels are higher than normal in the drinking water you use, corrosion can cause lead to seep from pipes as well as do damage to your water supply system and water heater.
Lead was widely used in plumbing systems inside homes and businesses until the 1980s. Even low levels of lead have been linked to serious health issues such as physical or mental development problems in children and kidney problems and high blood pressure in adults. Therefore it is essential to find out if the pH level of your drinking water is corrosive.
If you currently have a water filter installed, it’s recommended that you test your water at least once per month to ensure that the system is performing as it should. This regular testing will also help you know when it’s time to change your water filter or if you need a more effective system.