Water Quality Information | Written By Actual Experts
Key Things To Know About Getting Your Water Tested
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.
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).
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.
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Why Water Runoff from Farms is a Big Deal and What’s Being Done About It
Anya Alvarez | Contributor
This summer, scientists from the from Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Geographical Survey will wade into about 100 streams from Ohio to Nebraska, testing for pesticides and nutrients used in farming, and its effects in the streams.
The reason behind scientists taking an interest in testing for these chemicals, is due to the rising concerns that water is being contaminated by agricultural runoff water pollution. With the the high productivity of the economy of agriculture, it has had the side effect of of harming the environment, particularly impairing water quality according the to EPA.
These tests can account for extremely small amounts of mercury, livestock hormones, and pesticides like weed killer.
Scientists believe that climate change is the leading cause of the large runoff of chemicals we are seeing due to the more inconsistent weather patterns we are seeing now. Last year, the drought prevented absorption of fertilizers, causing a extra load of of nutrients to flow into the midwest waterway, which will later find itself in the Gulf of Mexico. Experts fear the negative effects this will have on aquatic life.
For this year in particularly, it has been a very wet spring, allotting farmers short periods of time to apply pesticides and fertilizers when it’s dry. The intensity of the the rainfall creates a large amount of nutrient loss, and more runoff of these chemicals.
As more metropolitan areas raise concerns about drinking water safety though, it is imperative for scientists to further look into this. But others concerns raised by municipalities are the costs associated with treating contaminated water. And scientists also worry that consumers who no longer trust the quality of their tap water, will start buying more bottled water. For these reasons alone, consumers should invest in water filtration systems at home, which are financially and environmentally sustainable.
Besides studies being conducted, the EPA has also taken action by creating the WOTUS (Waters of United States), a federal provision, which was drawn off the Clean Water Act, that supersedes state regulatory agencies when the EPA feels that they have failed to meet expected requirements to protect water supplies. WOTUS is implemented to regulate agricultural runoff water pollution and discharges.
The use of WOTUS has come into place recently in the Des Moines Water Works Suit, which claims that 92 percent of the nitrates and 80 percent of the phosphorous is entering water from the farmland chemicals. This suit may take years to settle because of the difficulty of proving that contamination of water is mostly due to farmland chemicals. Another issue that needs to be resolved is determining if county governments, or state or federal governments should hold responsibility in controlling the levels of contamination in in local waters from farmlands.
Many farmers are concerned with government overreach through initiatives like WOTUS, but the EPA’s concern is weighing economic prosperity versus potable water.
One thing is for certain though: safe drinking water should be a right for anyone, no matter where that person lives. And if the government cannot ensure your drinking water is safe, then you should take matters in your own hands and try filtrate your own water.
The agricultural runoff effect studies from the from EPA and U.S. Geo Survey will be released in August.
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Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) In Drinking Water: What You Need To Know
Most people are aware of Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs) because they are frequently discussed when selecting paint for their home, but many people don't realize that they can contaminate drinking water supplies. This article provides a broad overview of VOCs as it pertains to water water, and also gives practical advice on how to protect against them if a water supply becomes contaminated.
What Are Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs)?
By definition, VOCs are a class of chemicals that vaporize easily at normal air temperatures. VOCs are commonly found in household and industrial products including gasoline, solvents, cleaners and degreasers, paints, inks and dyes, and pesticides. For example, gasoline is a mixture of VOCs including benzene, toluene, and other hydrocarbons, which gives gasoline it’s familiar odor.
Can VOCs Contaminate Drinking Water?
Absolutely. In fact, the US Geological Survey (USGS) found in a recent study that VOCs are present in one-fifth of the nation's water supplies. For example, benzene, (a constituent of gasoline) commonly enters groundwater when it spills or leaks out of underground fuel tanks. Other examples of commonly detected VOCs in drinking water include dichloromethane (methylene chloride), an industrial solvent; trichloroethylene, used in septic system cleaners; and tetrachloroethylene (perchloroethylene), used in the dry-cleaning industry.
How Are VOCs In Drinking Water Regulated By EPA?
Because It would be impractical and costly for municipalities to test for every potential chemical that can be categorized as a VOC, EPA regulates a subset of chemicals that commonly contaminate water supplies. For example, benzene, one rather common constituent, is regulated with a maximum contaminant level set at 0.005 milligrams per liter (parts per million) and a goal of zero in drinking water. Water analysis can be requested if there is reason to suspect the presence of a specific VOC.
Private wells are not covered by EPA's regulations and testing is typically optional. While VOCs can be detected by odor at high concentrations, laboratory analysis is the only way to measure VOCs in drinking water at the regulatory limits. We highly recommend that all people who get water from private wells get their water tested by an accredited laboratory.
How To Remove VOCs From Drinking Water
High quality water filters are the only effective way to remove Volatile Organic Compounds in water. These water filter companies (including Hydroviv) test their filters against chemicals that are selected to represent a wide range of VOCs that commonly contaminate water supplies. The NSF Standard 53 protocol for VOC reduction requires manufacturers to test against the chemicals listed in the table below:
|1,1,2-trichloroethane||trichloroethylene (TCE)||trihalomethanes (THMs)||xylenes|
Table 1: List of chemicals that are part of the NSF 53 Standard Test For VOC Reduction
As always, we encourage you to reach out to our “Help No Matter What” technical support through live chat or email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Our team will provide science-backed advice on water quality and water filtration, even if you have no intention of buying a Hydroviv water filter.Other Articles We Think You'll Enjoy
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3 Years Of Hell: Reflections From A Victim Of The Flint Water Crisis
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, 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.
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.
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.
Mari and her hero, Dr. Hanna-Atisha speak to a crowd of 40K People At The Recent March For Science In Washington, DC
If you'd like to continue following our story, you can do so on Twitter (@LittleMissFlint)
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5 Things To Know About Chromium-6 In Drinking Water
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 email@example.com
Update April 23, 2017: We have published an article specifically on how to filter chromium 6 from drinking water. See it HERE
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Chromium 6 Spilled Into Lake Michigan: What You Need To Know
Eric Roy, Ph.D. | Scientific Founder
This Tuesday, US EPA reported that US Steel Corporation spilled a large (but undisclosed) amount of chromium 6-containing wastewater into a Lake Michigan Tributary, and about 20 miles from the location where the City of Chicago draws drinking water from. This past fall, we wrote an article the basics of chromium 6 in drinking water, but the focus of today's article is specifically about the recent spill into Lake Michigan.
Where Did The Chromium 6 Lake Michigan Spill Occur?
The map below (From Chicago Tribune) shows the location of the spill. It's roughly 20 miles from the 68th Street Water Intake Crib for the City of Chicago.
What Caused The Chromium 6 Lake Michigan Spill?
US Steel reported that a stainless steel joint failure in a pipe caused the release of chromium 6-contaminated wastewater into the environment. The pipe contained wastewater from an electroplating process.
Is Water Quality Impacted by Chromium 6 Contamination?
Beaches and parks within a 3 mile vicinity of the spill were closed down. Several cities that draw water from Lake Michigan stopped pulling water. The City of Chicago began "Emergency Testing" of water near source water intakes.
Data and statements from EPA from water tests seem to be in conflict. On one hand, EPA says that they're not seeing anything unusual, but there are measurements taken more than a mile from the spill where chromium 6 concentrations are roughly 10x higher than baseline measurements taken from more offshore locations over the past 3 years.
It's important to point out that chromium 6 is extremely toxic, it is NOT REGULATED ON ITS OWN. EPA does not differentiate between carcinogenic chromium 6 and chromium (III), which is an essential nutrient for humans. Absurdity of this aside, remember that Chicago's drinking water (which is pulled from Lake Michigan) has a 3 year average chromium 6 concentration of 190 parts per trillion, which is nearly 20 times higher than the level associated with negligible risk.
How Do I Remove Chromium 6 From Drinking Water?
To remove chromium 6 from water, you need to filter it. Boiling or freezing water does NOT remove chromium 6, or make it less toxic. We recently wrote a more in-depth article on how to filter chromium 6 from water. We are particularly found of our approach to water filtration over reverse osmosis for a number of reasons, but both will work.
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