Water Quality InformationWritten By Actual Experts

RSS

Key Things To Know About Getting Your Water Tested

Analies Dyjak @ Thursday, June 8, 2017 at 6:42 pm -0400

Rebecca Labranche | Laboratory Director, A&L Laboratory

How Is Drinking Water Regulated?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets regulatory limits for over 90 contaminants in water provided by public water systems. The EPA sets these limits in accordance with the Safe Drinking Water Act to protect public health in the communities that are using this water. The EPA limits are divided into two main categories. National Primary Drinking Water Regulations are legally enforceable standards that apply to public water systems. Primary standards protect public health by limiting the levels of contaminants in drinking water that negatively affect human health. National Secondary Drinking Water Regulations are non-enforceable guidelines regulating contaminants that may cause cosmetic effects (such as skin or tooth discoloration) or aesthetic effects (such as taste, odor, or color) in drinking water. EPA recommends secondary standards to water systems but does not require systems to comply. In addition to the federal EPA standards, The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) gives individual states the opportunity to establish their own drinking water standards if they are not more lenient than those set by the EPA's national standards.

So how do these federal and state regulations effect private well-owners? These same limits and guidelines used for public water are also adopted by most institutions and lenders for home water testing as a way to determine if the property provides potable, safe water. When a home goes up for sale, if the buyer is financing, they will likely be required to test the water. While lenders may be concerned about a potable water source in order to protect their investment, there are no official rules or regulations for determining potability of private wells. Many states and towns do not even require sampling of private wells after installation. It is the responsibility of the homeowner to maintain their well and water supply. 

How Often Should Home Water Testing Be Conducted?

Private well water should be tested a minimum of once per year. Drinking water supplies obtained from shallow dug wells and surface water sources should be tested more frequently as they are more susceptible to contamination. Annual testing of both dug and drilled wells should check for the most common contaminants which are bacteria, nitrates and nitrites. Even if your water has consistently been safe to drink in the past these parameters could change without you knowing and affect the safety of your water. New drilled wells should be tested with a more comprehensive water test which includes bacteria, nitrates, nitrites, metals, minerals and radon. This test identifies many common primary and secondary contaminants typically found in the bedrock surrounding the well. This comprehensive test should be repeated every 3 – 5 years to ensure the well is still providing safe water.

What Are The Most Common Types Of Drinking Water Contaminants?

Drinking water contaminants can be divided into several categories: Inorganic Chemicals, Organic Chemicals, Radionuclides and Microorganisms. Testing for every possible analyte would be prohibitively expensive but we have put together a comprehensive test package which covers common problems found in our area.

Total Coliform

E.coli

pH

Nitrate-N

Nitrite-N

Copper

Iron

Manganese

Lead

Arsenic

Hardness

Magnesium

Calcium

Chloride

Fluoride

Uranium

Sodium

Radon

 

 

 

Laboratories throughout the United States will offer similar packages based on the geology in their area.

What Is The Process For Analyzing Drinking Water?

The process of analyzing drinking water varies by laboratory and their methods used. However, the basic premise is the same for all of them. The first step is to obtain a water test kit from the certified drinking water laboratory that you intend to use for the analysis. Home water testing kits are specific to each laboratory and their methods so it is important not to use another laboratory’s bottles. These test kits come with all the information that is needed to collect the sample and get it back to the laboratory in the required time frame. The sampling instructions are usually step by step and easy to follow. Once the water is received by the laboratory it will be analyzed for the requested parameters and report will be generated and sent back to the client. The typical turn-a-round time for a comprehensive water test is 2-3 business days.

Using a certified laboratory is very important. They are monitored by their state and undergo periodic inspections to ensure that they are producing the highest quality data. During these inspections their instruments, standard operating procedures, lab technicians, quality control documentation and reporting procedures are reviewed and evaluated. If anything is found to be out of compliance certification for the laboratory can be revoked. In addition to inspections, they also have to complete proficiency tests for each method they conduct to prove that they can perform the method properly and obtain results within the specified limits.

What Are The Risks Associated With Consuming And/Or Using Contaminated Water?

The risks vary greatly depending which contaminants you have in your water. Common health effects include gastrointestinal illness, reproductive problems, neurological disorders and cancer. These health problems pose a greater threat to young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems. The health effects of drinking contaminated water can range from no physical impact to severe illness or even death.

Some of the effects of drinking contaminated water are known almost immediately. Immediate health related issues generally stem from contamination by pathogens such as total coliform and E.coli. Symptoms include gastrointestinal and stomach illnesses such as nausea, vomiting, cramps, and diarrhea.

Other contaminants pose health effects that may not be observed for many years. Some of the most common ones are:

Arsenic in water occurs naturally as well as from industrial activities. Studies have shown that chronic or repeated ingestion of water with arsenic over a person’s lifetime is associated with increased risk of cancer (of the skin, bladder, lung, kidney, nasal passages, liver or prostate) and non-cancerous effects (diabetes, cardiovascular, immunological and neurological disorders).

Lead can occur due to corrosion of lead containing household plumbing and by industrial pollution. Major toxic effects include anemia, neurological dysfunction/damage and renal impairment.

Uranium is a tasteless, colorless, odorless contaminant. Drinking water with uranium amounts exceeding 30ug/L can lead to increased cancer risk, liver damage, or both.

Copper has both long term and short term effects. Some people with short term exposure, experience gastrointestinal distress, and with long-term exposure may experience liver or kidney damage. It is typically introduced into the water from household plumbing systems.

Fluoride has been shown to reduce tooth decay in children's teeth if they receive an adequate level. The optimal concentration, as recommended by CDC is approximately 1.1 mg/L. In the range of 2.0-4.0 mg/L of fluoride, staining of tooth enamel is possible. Above 4.0 mg/L, studies have shown the possibility of skeletal fluorosis, as well as the staining of teeth.

Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. High levels of radon gas occur naturally in Maine soil and water, and can move up into a house from the ground. The house then traps the radon in the air inside. Radon gas can also dissolve into well water, which is then released into the air when you use the water.

What Should I Do If The Laboratory Finds Something In My Water?

If tests on your water indicate problems, the next step is to determine what type of system you need to treat the water. This can be a difficult decision because there is a wide variety of water treatment devices on the market today. Water purifiers range from relatively low-cost, simple filter devices for a kitchen faucet to more expensive, sophisticated systems that treat water from its point of entry into a home. Keep in mind, no one water treatment device can solve every problem.

Rebecca Labranche, the Laboratory Director for A & L Laboratory. A & L Laboratory which specializes in drinking water analysis for both public systems and private wells, throughout the State of Maine.

Other Articles We Think You'll Love:

Testing your home's water for lead? Read this first!
Why a TDS meter doesn't tell you much about your home's water quality
Why does EPA allow toxic chemicals in water?

3 Years Of Hell: Reflections From A Victim Of The Flint Water Crisis

Analies Dyjak @ Thursday, April 27, 2017 at 10:31 pm -0400

LuLu Brezzell  |  Guest Contributor

Editor's Note: This article is part of an initiative to include stories on our blog that connect water quality issues to the everyday lives of real people. To raise awareness of the 3 year anniversary of the beginning of the Flint Water Crisis, Flint resident LuLu Brezzell describes the roller coaster ride that her family and fellow Flint residents went through once they realized that their water was not safe to drink. Ms. Brezzell was gracious enough to share her story with our audience, and was not paid to do so.

Fear

Fear, the feeling that takes over when you are told that your water source that flows into our home was filled with lead and bacteria. The same water we have been using to drink, cook with, and bathe. Fear, the feeling of knowing that your children may have been exposed to an invisible, tasteless, odorless poison that can cause irreversible damage. As a parent, there is no greater fear. 

This is the same fear that I'm sure every single member of my community felt.

What Happened?

Three years ago, as part of a cost-cutting measure, a state-appointed emergency manager made the decision to switch Flint's drinking water from Detroit's municipal water to the Flint River. Flint's water plant hadn’t treated raw water in decades, never mind the fact that it was not equipped to manage industry standard corrosion control measures that would prevent corrosive river water from eating away at Flint's aging infrastructure.

On the day of the water supply switch, the emergency manager, mayor and other council members all gathered at the Flint Water Plant, and ceremoniously toasted each other with glasses of the new tap water.

Who could have expected that this toast would mark the day that our city lost its access to clean safe water?

Visible Symptoms Hinting At A Much Larger Citywide Problem?

Soon after the switch, my youngest child, who wasn’t even two years old, started to have serious issues with her skin, including persistent rashes that OTC treatments couldn't stop. She was eventually prescribed a steroid ointment that slathered onto her, and wrapped her up like a mummy with plastic wrap. It was horrible, in part because we had no idea what was causing the problem.

Here's the short answer: It was the water she was bathing in.

Shortly thereafter, we had the US CDC, EPA, MDEQ and other agencies all in our home, taking water samples and asking questions in an attempt to diagnose what was causing these issues. We weren't alone in this, it was happening all over our City. It was like watching a horror movie, where you have no idea what was going to happen next.

Our city was in the midst of a widespread water contamination emergency.

An Inspiring Call For Help

My other daughter (8 years old at the time) became very concerned with what she saw happening in Flint, and felt like she needed to do something. Here I am feeling helpless and my child is begging me to let her do something to help.

So help we did! We participated in protests and rallies to raise awareness of the water crisis. We would go out and find people passing out water and jump in a volunteer with them. We made videos and took pictures that we could share on social media.

One day we heard about a bus traveling from Flint to Washington, DC for the congressional hearing for Governor Rick Snyder. My daughter thought that if we were going to go to Washington, DC... it would probably be worth it to write a letter to (then) President Obama. About a week before the trip, she sent the letter, and I was careful to remind her that President Obama was very busy, and that he probably wouldn't be able to read it. The trip to DC came and went as planned, and a good learning experience.

But soon after we returned to Flint, we got a call...

From the White House.

President Obama was touched by her letter and wanted to come to Flint to meet her and to see first hand what was being done for the water crisis.

Flint In The National Spotlight

When that letter was released so much changed, because The Flint Water Crisis was now in the spotlight. Up until that point, I had been begging outside groups to come in and do testing (we didn't trust the testing that the city was conducting). Once the story hit the national news, things changed. We were getting emails and messages offering us water filtration systems, testing, and other products. It was so hard to keep up with everything. I was overwhelmed but grateful that finally it felt like someone was listening and wanting to help.

Navigating Conflicting Voices In A Storm Of Information

Unfortunately, some people saw the media spotlight and chaos as an opportunity to make a name for themselves, or even worse... profit from the situation.

Like anyone, I wanted answers and was willing to listen to everyone who claimed to have a solution that could fix our problem. It's easy to look back and say that I should have focused on certain opinions and ignored other voices, but it's important to remember that at the time... it was complete chaos, and even though we were grasping at straws, we were hopeful that the next straw grasped could be the solution we were looking for. 

Looking back, I feel fortunate that while others were making names for themselves, an outsider with no ties to Flint was willing to remain in the shadows while helping me weed through and understand all of the information. 

What Lies Ahead For Flint's Tap Water?

It's been 3 years since Flint made the fateful water supply switch that turned an entire city upside down.

Unfortunately, it's much easier to make a mess than it is to clean it up. 

Our city's pipes are irreparably damaged, and we're learning that it's not as easy as digging them up and replacing them. Precautions must be taken in the meantime to ensure that no addition exposure occurs as the pipes are swapped out. It's also important to remind ourselves that replacing the service lines will not do anything to fix any lead-containing solder, valves, or plumbing fixtures inside our homes. The official recommendation is that we continue to filter our water for lead, but I know that some residents continue to rely on bottled water.

Another problem that has gone largely unpublicized is that the city is having a hard time maintaining disinfectant levels in the water, which means that some areas have noticeably high chlorine levels while other parts of the pipe network have virtually no residual chlorine to keep the water sterile.

Right now, several city and state officials are under investigation for the alleged roles they played in the Flint water crisis.

Tap water is something that most of us take for granted, but producing clean water at the municipal level is more complicated than most realize. Because of what we have gone through, I don’t think I will ever trust tap water ever again. 

What's Changed In Our Home?

In the year since the letter not much has changed regarding how we use water. We still don’t use the tap water at our house for consumption. Showers are limited to 2 minutes because of how sensitive my families skin is to the water, even when filtered. Bottled water is still a very big part of our everyday lives. As much as an inconvenience as it is to constantly open up bottles of water it has almost become second nature. 

On the activism and awareness front, my daughter is still doing her part to raise awareness of water quality issues, and to be a voice in support of quality science.

Other Articles We Think You'll Enjoy

Pittsburgh's 2016 Citywide Lead Levels Exceed EPA Standards
How To Tell If Your Home's Plumbing Has Lead In It

5 Things To Know About Chromium-6 In Drinking Water

Analies Dyjak @ Saturday, September 24, 2016 at 11:44 am -0400

Eric Roy, Ph.D.  |  Scientific Founder

Since The Environmental Working Group recently released a report about the prevalence of chromium-6 in drinking water supplies, our email and support line have been filled with questions about the toxic heavy metal. The purpose of this article is to address a lot of these FAQs, including the answer to "what is chromium-6?," and to discuss how to remove chromium 6 from drinking water.

Is Chromium-6 the Same Thing as “Regular” Chromium?

What Is Chromium-6, and Why Is Harmful?

No. So what is chromium-6? Chromium comes in a variety of chemical “flavors.” Most forms of chromium (e.g. chromium metal, trivalent chromium) are not toxic. These are the types of chromium used to make stainless steel and are found in dietary supplements. There is no reason to be throwing away stainless steel cookware!

Chromium-6 (or hexavalent chromium), on the other hand, is an extremely toxic form of chromium, and is known to cause cancer, even at very low concentrations. In popular culture, chromium-6 is the chemical that was at the center of the Erin Brockovich story, which was made into a movie starring Julia Roberts.

Where Does Chromium-6 Come From?

Unfortunately, chemicals containing chromium-6 are useful in a number of industrial processes, which means that chromium-6 can enter drinking water supplies through waste streams that enter rivers and ground water. Industries that generate chromium-6-containing waste include: steel production, leather tanning, textile manufacturing, wood preservation, and electroplating.

How Is Chromium-6 Regulated?

It's not. In 1991 EPA set a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for total chromium (all kinds) in drinking water of 200 parts per billion. The structure of this regulation is flawed because it treats non-toxic forms of chromium in the same manner as highly toxic chromium-6. To put it in perspective, California (which has tighter regulatory conditions that the EPA) has set a proposed limit of 20 parts per trillion for chromium-6, a level that is 10,000 times lower than what the current EPA regulation is for total chromium. Part of the challenge in formulating a proper regulation is that advanced detection procedures and equipment are required to measure things at part per trillion concentrations.

Are the Recent News Articles the Result of a Recent Spike in Chromium-6 Concentrations?

No. There is no sudden rise in chromium-6, the media coverage is just shining light on an existing situation.

What Can I Do To Reduce Exposure To Chromium-6?

Unlike lead, which leaches into water from pipes, chromium-6 comes from the source water itself, so flushing pipes does not reduce concentrations of chromium-6 in drinking water. Boiling water also does not reduce/remove chromium-6.

If you want to remove chromium-6 from your water, you need to filter it using a high end water filter. Filtration pitchers and common fridge filters DO NOT filter chromium-6 from water. A new generation of water filters that use chromium 6 removal media are extremely effective at filtering chromium-6 (and other contaminants) from water. Reverse osmosis is also a viable way to remove chromium 6 from water for people who are willing to accept the drawbacks, including low flow rate. We recently wrote a more in depth article on how to filter chromium 6 from water.

If you have any questions about filtering chromium-6 from your water, we encourage you to take advantage of Hydroviv’s “Help No Matter What” approach to technical support, where we will help you select an effective water filter system, even if it’s not one that we sell. This free service can be reached by emailing support@hydroviv.com

Update April 23, 2017: We have published an article specifically on how to filter chromium 6 from drinking water. See it HERE

Other Articles We Think You'll Enjoy

How To Filter Chromium 6 From Drinking Water
Lead Contamination In Pittsburgh's Tap Water
Why TDS Meters Don't Tell You Anything About Lead

5 Things That Most People Don't Realize About Well Water

Analies Dyjak @ Wednesday, November 2, 2016 at 3:28 am -0400

Roughly 15 percent of Americans get their tap water from private wells, and this percentage can rise to 40% in rural states like Maine and Vermont. It's no surprise that we receive a lot of questions from people with wells who are are concerned about water quality.

1. Getting A Well “Checked” Is Not The Same As Comprehensive Water Testing

There is a misconception that if someone gets their private well “checked,” it will reveal water quality problems. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works. A basic water screening has a lot of "blind spots" and gives no information about levels of lead, arsenic, chromium 6, mercury, or VOCs unless you test specifically for those chemicals. Some states have certain testing requirements, but the scope of testing varies from state to state, and most states do not require comprehensive testing. Many banks require that certain water tests be conducted before they will issue a mortgage, but the goal of this testing is often to ensure that there are no faulty systems in the home, not to protect the health of the residents.

Bottom line: The well's owner is responsible for having tests run. Don't assume that the tests that were done as part of the home buying process were comprehensive.

2. Well Water Contamination Often Comes From Natural Sources, Not Humans

Some private well owners are surprised to learn that they have contaminated water, because there are no obvious contamination sources nearby. This is because some contaminants (like arsenic) can occur naturally groundwater at unsafe levels. 

3. Well Water Is Often Corrosive & Can Leach Lead From Plumbing

The lead crisis in Flint put a spotlight on the fact that corrosive water can leach lead from pipes, soldered joints, and plumbing fixtures. Unfortunately, a lot of well owners don't realize that well water can be inherently corrosive, so if a their plumbing predates 2014 (when lead-free standards were fully adopted for home plumbing components), there is potential for lead to leach into the tap water.

4. Contaminant Concentrations (And Recognized Safe Levels) Change With Time

We cannot emphasize enough that people should get their wells tested on a regular basis, because contaminant concentrations and thresholds for “safe” water both change over time.

For example, we commonly hear homeowners in the Northeast and Southwest tell us that they tested their water for arsenic "a few years ago" and everything was fine. They are often surprised to learn that EPA recently lowered the concentration of arsenic that is considered to be “safe." The maximum contaminant level (MCL) used to be 50 parts per billion but was changed to 10 parts per billion a few years ago. This means that many wells with arsenic concentrations that were considered “safe” by EPA a few years ago are now considered unsafe.

5. Private Well Owners Are Responsible For Monitoring Their Water Quality, Not EPA

Private wells are not regulated by EPA or State Regulators, so the owners (or prospective owners) are responsible for all well water quality testing. However, figuring out which tests to do and making sense of the results can be confusing. Some states have guidelines and recommendations, but even these can be confusing and contradictory.

Often times, prospective home owners turn to a real estate agent for advice on water quality testing, but we often hear from people who received terrible advice. Most of the time, the mistakes are honest, but there are times when it looks like the agent was trying to facilitate a quick sale.

Ultimately, ensuring water quality of a private well is the individual responsibility of the well’s owner or prospective owner. In support this responsibility, we encourage people to take advantage our Technical Support Team’s “Help At All Costs” policy, and lean on us to provide guidance on which lab to select in your area, which tests to run, and to help interpret the results. This free (no obligation service) can be reached by emailing us (support@hydroviv.com) or by using the live chat function on this page.

We do not have financial agreements or arrangements with water quality test labs, and we do not “over-prescribe” testing.

Other Great Articles That We Think You'll Enjoy:

5 Things You Need To Know About Chromium 6 In Drinking Water
Why TDS Meters Don't Tell You Anything About Lead Contamination
Does Boiling Or Freezing My Water Purify It?


Lead Contamination In New York City School Water: Interactive Map

Brendan Kemp @ Monday, April 3, 2017 at 12:03 am -0400

Updated 5/17/2018 To Include Video

Cover image is screenshot of map taken from http://www.wnyc.org/story/wnyc-map-lead-contamination-water-fountains-nyc-public-schools/ taken at 23:59 on April 2.

Over the last several weeks and months, parents that send their children to New York City Public Schools have recieved letters notifying them that water from certain points of use in the schools (e.g. drinking fountains, hose bibs, faucets) have tested positive for high levels of lead. We recently wrote a more detailed article  that focuses specifically on why so many schools have such high levels of lead in their water.

Even though there is no safe level of lead for children, New York City is quick to point out that their tap water meets all federal standards, despite over 100 points of use in schools testing over 15 parts per billion, more than 30 having measurements over 400 parts per billion, and some measurements over 6500 parts per billion. This interactive map (updated regularly) shows the levels as the data are coming in.

While WNYC is doing a fantastic job assembling data, we encourage people to lean on Hydroviv's water quality experts for questions about water quality. Our water quality experts will answer your questions, even if you have no intention of buying a Hydroviv Water Filter

Other Articles We Think You'll Enjoy

Why Do So Many Schools Have High Concentrations Of Lead In Their Water?
Does New York City Tap Water Have A Lead Contamination Problem?
Things To Consider Before Buying A Reverse Osmosis System