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Water Quality - Chapter 24

By HHI Staff

As everyone knows, good quality water is essential to good health. This chapter discusses some of the more common home water problems. The following chapter will offer suggestions for equipment that is available to help reduce or eliminate them. (This article is from the archives of the original Healthy House Institute, and the information was believed accurate at the time of writing. From "Creating a Healthy Household: The Ultimate Guide For Healthier, Safer, Less-Toxic Living" © 2000 by The Healthy House Institute).


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Common Water Quality Concerns


Many people believe that tap water is simply H2O—two molecules of hydrogen combined with one of oxygen. Actually, water is a very complex solution. In fact, each water sample contains a unique set of minerals in varying amounts, biological life, dissolved gases such as radon, a particular pH level (its acidity-alkalinity content), and a some chemical contamination. It also differs in its turbidity (degree of clarity), taste, and smell.


Why does water vary so greatly? One major reason is that water is a universal solvent. In other words, it easily dissolves many of the substances with which it comes in contact. It also puts many other substances into suspension. In addition, water can provide the ideal environment in which certain microbes thrive. As a result, water composition varies simply because it comes from so many different locales and sources, and it can be altered by virtually everything it touches. Water sources can include wells (private or municipal) that tap into aquifers (underground geologic formations holding or conveying water), springs, rainwater cisterns (holding tanks), rivers, reservoirs, or lakes.


Then, too, water can be altered by local utility departments when they filter it and subject it to chlorine or fluoride treatments. Furthermore, water can vary because of how it eventually reaches your faucet. Did it travel through cement, asbestos/cement, plastic, cast iron, copper, or perhaps lead pipes? Were the soldered joints connecting the copper pipes and copper fittings made with lead-based or lead-free solder?


When you consider all the possibilities, you can start to see how complicated the subject of water really is. While this book will address some of the more common problems and solutions, you may be interested in learning more on the topic. Therefore, you might want to read The Home Water Supply: How to Find, Filter, Store, and Conserve It by Stu Campbell or The Drinking Water Book: A Complete Guide to Safe Drinking Water by Colin Ingram. You also should check with your local library, bookstore, board of health, water utility, county extension agent for other appropriate books and literature that delve into the complexities of water. Finally, you may wish to contact the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) for booklets on home water that you can order. They also sponsor a toll-free Safe Drinking Water Hotline.


The following sections should help you become more aware of contaminants that could be in your water, and the potential aesthetic and health consequences of these ingredients to you and your family.


Important Note: A few of the filtering strategies for removing certain contaminants are suggested below. While they should be effective, other methods may also work just as well.


Biological Contaminants


It’s not uncommon for water sources to harbor microorganisms. Fortunately, most of these contaminants are relatively safe—but not all. Following is some information on what might be living in your water.


Waterborne Cysts


Of all the possible biological contaminants, one that has many people alarmed these days is protozoan cysts. A dramatic awakening of public consciousness about this contaminant began in Milwaukee in 1993 when 100 people died, and thousands of others became ill (with symptoms similar to “intestinal flu” for about 12 days), simply from drinking the public water supply. Despite following their typical disinfection procedures, it was determined that the cause of this misery was due to a certain biological contamination, one that had previously not been of much concern, Cryptosporidiaum parvum oocysts.


To make this a bit more understandable, Cryptosporidiaum parvum is the scientific designation for a particular protozoa (a class of single-celled microscopic animals), commonly known as Crypto. Oocysts are their nearly indestructible, undivided, fertilized eggs which are in an encysted state. So, what’s an encysted state? In Crypto’s case, the cysts are the spherical, thick, encasing membranes surrounding these eggs. (Cysts are created by some organisms as protection when certain environmental conditions are sensed, or as part of their normal life cycle.) So, Cryptosporidiaum parvum oocysts are extremely durable, tough, hardy Crypto eggs.


For some time now, another protozoan cyst was already known to be a problem in some water supplies, Giardia lamlia often known as Giardia. (Unlike Crypto, these are not fertilized eggs.) As it turns out, Giardia can cause diarrhea or intestinal distress of varying severity. Hikers and campers are increasingly becoming infected with Giardia after drinking what they thought was pure water from a stream or lake.


Why are there problems with protozoan cysts now, when there have been regulations to prevent water pollution on the books for years? No one has the definitive answer. What is known is that both Crypto and Giardia can thrive in surface water that’s been contaminated by human or animal waste. Surprisingly, it’s apparently fairly difficult to test for the presence of these biological contaminants in water. Worse, in their encysted states, they’re very hard to kill by standard means, such as typical doses of disinfectants. Giardia cysts can be killed by “intense exposure” to chlorine. However, the chlorine level must be so elevated that it’s only done by utilities on a “need-only” basis. Yet, even this apparently doesn’t work well against Crypto oocysts.


So, what can be done to eliminate cysts from a water supply? Obviously, the first step is to find and stop the flow of fecal matter into the water. If cysts are already present, the best method to remove them is by straining them out. It should be pointed out here that cysts will not be present in water from underground aquifers. So, if your utility or home-water supply is drawn from a deep well, you will not have cysts in your water. If your water-supply is from a surface-water source, and you’re concerned, then you can use ceramic filters, carbon-block filters, certain micro-pore material filters, reverse-osmosis units, or distillation to make sure your water’s safe. By the way, while ultraviolet-light purifiers can kill other biological contaminants fairly easily, cysts are generally far less susceptible to standard exposure levels. (Information about various filtering strategies will be covered in Chapter 25: Improving Your Water.)


Other Types of Biological Contaminants


Besides cysts, other types of microorganisms found in water can pose a health threat. These include certain species of bacteria (salmonella, for instance), parasitic worms, amoebae, molds, algae, and viruses. Therefore, water utilities constantly monitor the water they process for a problematic microbial content. As a rule, they add a very reactive purifying substance such as chlorine, or sometimes ozone, to kill most of the disease-causing microbes in the water.
Of course, individual water systems, such as private home wells, can also contain unwanted amoebae, bacteria, and other microbes. This is especially likely if the home’s septic field is too near the well—that is, if it is less than 100' away. Or if the water supply is siphoned from a surface source such as a pond. As a result, it’s imperative for individual homeowners to accept responsibility for their own personal water system by having their water tested regularly.


By the way, when a professional water-testing laboratory examines a water sample provided by a homeowner, it often checks first for the presence of coliforms (fecal and/or total) and also fecal streptococcus. (See Water Testing on page 593.) While these bacteria are not particularly desirable components in your water, labs look for them because they’re considered marker species. In other words, if they’re present, then it’s likely that more harmful microbes are also living in the same water.


If it turns out you have serious biological contamination in your home’s water supply, drilling a new well or shutting off your pond-water supply may be necessary. However, if the situation is less severe, there are home-treatment strategies that can often help. For example, certain reverse-osmosis units are capable of removing much of the bacteria, and other biological contaminants, that are present. Ceramic filters are usually good choices, too, as are some micro-pore-material filters.


Effective methods of killing biological contaminants in your water include water distillation and, in most cases, ultraviolet-light purification. Still other purifying approaches that can be used by homeowners include pasteurization (heating the water to over 150°F for a period of time), ozonization (exposing the water to ozone gas), and adding specific amounts of iodine or some other sterilizing agent to the water. The list goes on. It should also be mentioned that KDF filtering media has been considered innately bacteriostatic (able to kill bacteria on it’s surface).


Industrial and Agricultural Pollutants


Sadly, a growing threat to water everywhere is the pollution generated and released by manufacturing and agricultural products and practices. The sections below discuss this potentially toxic situation.


Industrial Pollution


Unfortunately, experts are now telling us that much of America’s water supplies have already become contaminated, to varying degrees, with potentially dangerous pollutants originating from poorly managed industries, mines, and dump sites, among others. These adulterants can include acids, solvents, cleaning solutions, caustic compounds, dissolved gases, radioactive material, and other poisonous substances, including heavy metals. As a result, unacceptable levels of copper (Cu), selenium (Se), cobalt (Co), cadmium (Cd), arsenic (As), and other pollutants, are no longer rare occurrences in water supplies.


Each of these has its own individual negative toxicological effects. Therefore, depending on the particular pollutants, the amounts of them you ingest, as well as your own personal susceptibility, a whole range of possible symptoms could result. In a worst-case scenario, central-nervous-system problems, birth defects, and even cancer could result from drinking water containing a high concentration of industrial pollutants.


Perhaps not surprisingly, one of the more common chemical pollutants in U.S. water supplies is gasoline. It seems that gasoline has been getting into our water supplies for decades by way of leaks from petroleum refineries and underground service-station tanks. However, another major source is from individuals simply spilling or dumping gasoline on the ground. It was estimated in 1991 that there were 1.4 million leaking underground gasoline (and other hazardous material) storage tanks in U.S. As a result, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency required the replacement of such tanks by the end of 1998. However, many tanks were exempted from the regulations and therefore were not required to be replaced.

Sadly, even some of the new tanks are already leaking into the surrounding soil.


As it turns out, the gasoline that has already entered into water supplies hasn’t merely added dangerous petroleum hydrocarbons to the water content, but also lead (Pb) as well. This is because tetraethyl lead and tetramethyl lead were used as popular gasoline additives for decades, and were only phased out a few years ago. Unfortunately, as most people now realize, lead can be toxic when it’s ingested. It’s slowly absorbed by the human body, and it becomes concentrated in the liver and kidneys. Lead can eventually lead to mental retardation in children and hypertension in adults, among many other debilitating conditions. Sadly, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has concluded that 10-20% of the lead found in children is from tap water. Yet, it’s considered too small a percentage to effectively regulate. For more on lead, contact the EPA’s National Lead Information Center.


Even worse than the lead problem is the on-going environmental tragedy caused by a particular gasoline additive known as methyl t-butyl ether (MTBE). For some time, it has been used as an oxgenator in small amounts, because it’s unique chemical composition provides extra oxygen to gasoline. This is important because this added oxygen allows for more efficient, more complete combustion, and therefore fewer combustion by-products (components of smog) are created. Interestingly, with the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1990, refineries were suddenly required to produce gasoline with 2% oxygen. Since they had already been using MTBE, they simply increased it’s percentage in each gallon. This new reformulated gasoline contains nearly 10% MTBE.


While MTBE may be great at helping to reduce air pollution, it’s now been determined that it is extremely water soluble, doesn’t biodegrade, and “spreads further and faster than other gasoline additives” in soils and ground water. Frighteningly, apparently 49 states have already reported at least some MTBE in water supplies. In some locales having high levels of MTBE, which smells like turpentine, private and utility wells have been permanently shut down. So widespread is the MTBE pollution that it has been called the “second most common” chemical contaminant in our water. While the EPA is obviously concerned (they suspect MTBE to be a human carcinogen), there’s not much research going on to determine MTBE’s true potential health consequences. Unbelievably, most places aren’t required to test for it, or to meet a maximum concentration (parts per millions) in their water. Furthermore, the provisions of the Clean Air Act of 1990 that require gasoline oxygenation are still on the books


Agricultural Pollution


Farm chemicals such as fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides are another growing threat to America’s water supplies (Of course, home garden and lawn chemicals are no less toxic, so they should also be included here.). A number of these products contain nitrates such as nitrogen nitrate. Unfortunately, it seems, most nitrate compounds have the capacity to interfere with the ability of our red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout the body. The negative health effects of drinking water with a high concentration of nitrates are particularly bad for pregnant women and small children.


Coping with Industrial and Agricultural Pollution in Water


Fortunately, most utility-supplied water is relatively safe from many types of industrial and agricultural pollution—although the situation varies from utility to utility. One reason for this is that utility water is usually required to be regularly tested for the presence of certain chemical contaminants. If one of these particular chemicals is detected in a high concentration, it’s often removed, or reduced to acceptable levels, through filtration or some other treatment method. But if a utility’s water is too contaminated, it may be necessary for them to locate another less-polluted source.


Generally, individual home water systems are not continually monitored for industrial and agricultural pollution. Therefore, some supplies could easily contain unsuspected levels of heavy metals or chemical pollutants that may not have been present in the past. Unfortunately, thorough testing—and then removing—certain agricultural and industrial contaminates from your home water supply can be both difficult and expensive.


As an important side note, you should be aware that recently a simple, at-home, reusable lead test has become available. Called the LeadCheck Aqua (HybriVet Systems, Inc.), it can provide results in only ninety minutes. This product can be ordered directly from the manufacturer or from American Environmental Health Foundation. (For more on testing, see Water Testing on page 593.)


Fortunately, if you find that the contamination and concentration can be handled by simple methods, a homeowner can treat his (or her) water and make it drinkable. For example, activated charcoal in block form, especially if it has a special precoating can be used to remove many kinds of organic chemicals (carbon-containing chemicals such as gasoline), as well as nitrates and heavy metals. One filter media that may be superior at lead removal is Aluminum Titanium Silicate (ATS). In addition, KDF media can take out lead. Water distillers and reverse-osmosis units can remove nearly all the nitrates and heavy metals.


At the same time, it must be said that, in some cases, reducing levels of certain agricultural and industrial pollutants to acceptable limits is just not feasible. In those instances, a new well may have to be drilled or outside water may need to be brought in. Sometimes, the water may be safe enough for general-purpose use—but not safe enough for drinking and cooking.


Suspended Particulates


A high level of suspended particulates in your water indicates that it has turbidity. As a result, the water will appear cloudy. The particulates themselves may be anything from bits of soil, to bacteria, algae, or mold. Sometimes, the suspended material is a combination of different types of solid matter.


To test for the specific turbidity level, water-testing laboratories generally direct a beam of light through the water sample. A measurement is then made of the amount of light that is scattered, because of its inability to pass through the cloudy sample. This figure is then compared to the measurement obtained from clear water undergoing the same procedure. Other tests can then be performed to determine the precise composition of the suspended particulates.


If suspended particulates are simply dirt or sand granules, they can usually be removed easily by using settling tanks or special turbidity filters. These low-technology solutions are generally quite effective, and they are commonly used both by utilities and private well owners. Of course, utilities also disinfect the water with extremely reactive chlorine or ozone gas to kill most forms of biologic life that could also be contributing to the cloudiness.


In home situations, if there is just a small amount of soil and/or sand present in the water, it can sometimes be satisfactorily strained out (not adsorbed) with an activated-charcoal filter—especially one in solid-block form (this is because blocks allow for a certain amount of mechanical filtration). This approach will be even more effective if the solid block has a special precoating. Ceramic filters can also strain out particles. Membranes such as those in reverse-osmosis units or micro-pore-material filters will also work—however the grit can be very wearing. Therefore, unless there’s an effective prefilter, this approach is often not the best one to use, especially reverse-osmosis where membrane replacement could be relatively costly. However, distillation will remove virtually all suspended particulates including biological ones.


High Concentrations of Common Minerals


Several common minerals (for example, calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese, and sodium chloride) can cause problems when they are found in elevated concentrations in your water. Interestingly, these same particular minerals aren’t considered toxic substances if they’re ingested in very small quantities. In fact, all these minerals are actually necessary for the proper functioning of the human body, so they are often found in vitamin supplements.


Generally, if any of these minerals are above standard, established limits in a utility’s water, the utility will use various treatment methods to reduce their levels. Of course, homeowners with private water supplies can perform tests on their water to determine it’s specific mineral content, and then use treatment methods to lower the level of dissolved minerals in their water, if necessary. These treatment methods will be mentioned under each heading below.




Calcium (Ca) is a lightweight, silver-white metal. Interestingly, if the dissolved calcium levels are high in your water, it’s common for dissolved magnesium (and perhaps other dissolved minerals) to also exist in large amounts. By the way, if calcium and/or magnesium are present at a concentration over 120 milligrams per liter of water (mg/l), the term hard water is typically used to describe it. Interestingly, it’s been estimated that over 85% of water in the U.S. is considered hard.
Unfortunately, water with a high dissolved-calcium content is often troublesome for those using it. This is because it causes soaps to create insoluble scum (soap curds). This happens because the minerals react with the fat and oil ingredients of the soap (see Soaps versus Detergents on page 75). Also, lime or lime scale (a crusty coating) can form on the interior of pipes and plumbing fixtures when the dissolved mineral compounds precipitate (come out of solution). Even at levels as low as 85 mg/l, problems like these can still be experienced.


Fortunately, water hardness is relatively easy and inexpensive to test for and treat. Often water-softening devices using sodium-ion/calcium-ion exchange technology will solve most hard-water problems. However, there are also a variety of other alternative water-conditioning approaches to counter the effects of hard water. Of course, distillation and reverse-osmosis units are also usually capable of removing calcium and other dissolved minerals.




Magnesium (Mg), in its purest form, is a silvery-white metal. In fresh water, both dissolved magnesium and magnesium-calcium compounds are commonly present together. These two minerals are primarily responsible for water hardness. (For more on the problems and solutions to high magnesium content in your water, see Calcium above.)




Iron (Fe) is one of the most common metals on earth. In its pure state, it’s a silvery-white solid. However, it’s very easily oxidized, forming rust. Therefore, a high dissolved-iron content in water will have a reddish-orange color which will, in turn, stain your laundry, sinks, etc. To complicate matters, iron bacteria may also be present. These are often the cause of an orange slime inside your toilet tank.


Fortunately, the iron content in water can be easily tested for. If there’s a high level present (above 0.3 mg/l), a typical ion-exchange water softener will generally help lower it. However, special iron/rust-removal filters are also available. A high manganese level may accompany a high iron level in your water.


Homeowners who have iron bacteria in their water supply will probably want to use some sort of filtering unit, or a more thorough disinfecting treatment such as an ultraviolet-light purifier, to deal with the problem. It should be noted that some reverse-osmosis equipment will remove, not only the dissolved iron, but also much of the iron bacteria as well. Another option would be to use a KDF filtering media. It will alter the problematic dissolved iron into insoluble ferric oxide (Fe2O3), which is a solid form of iron. Note, too, that the KDF media also has a bacteriostatic effect which will reduce microbe populations in the filter. (Keep in mind the fact that a KDF filter shouldn’t be relied on to kill pathogenic, disease-causing bacteria.) Distillation is even more effective, and will completely remove both the iron and iron bacteria.




Sometimes dissolved manganese accompanies dissolved iron in water. Manganese (Mn), in its purest state, is a silvery-gray metal. High concentrations of dissolved manganese (above 0.05 mg/liter) will tend to make the water grayish or brownish-black. Unfortunately, any fixtures or laundry that come in contact with such water will likely become stained by it. To make matters worse, water with high levels of dissolved manganese can also have an unpleasant taste. Manganese bacteria may be contained in the mix as well.


Homes with individual water supplies can have them tested for their specific manganese content. If it’s too high, a typical water conditioner using a mineral-ion exchange process can greatly reduce the amount in the water. However, if manganese bacteria are also living in the water, some additional type of filtering or disinfecting treatment may be necessary as well.


By the way, certain reverse-osmosis equipment will remove dissolved manganese, and often much of the bacteria, too. However, distillation will completely remove both of them. KDF media is capable of removing dissolved manganese, but only at a very slow rate. Therefore, KDF is generally not the method of choice for its removal.


Sodium Chloride


Sodium chloride (NaCl) is apparently becoming a more common contaminant in some home water supplies in some parts of the country. As you probably know, sodium chloride is common table salt. In ocean water, sodium chloride makes up about 80% of all the dissolved solids present. Not surprisingly, it’s often sea water seeping into coastal wells that has caused sodium chloride levels to become excessive in certain areas. However, whatever the source of the salt, fresh water containing too much of it is termed brackish. Of course, a high level of dissolved sodium in drinking water is considered a real health concern—especially for people with hypertension or other medical conditions whose physicians have recommended that they restrict their salt intake.


Testing for sodium chloride in home water systems is not difficult. If your water has a chloride level over 250 mg/l (which would include sodium chloride) it will likely be corrosive and have a bad taste. If sodium chloride is found at an unacceptable concentration, a homeowner can sometimes use a special whole-house reverse-osmosis unit, fitted with a membrane rated for salt removal, to take it out of the water. Distillation will remove virtually any salt that is present in the water.


It should be mentioned that sodium chloride is used in ion-exchange water softeners. The salt is usually in the form of pellets that are added to a special tank, in which they dissolve and become brine. Through catalytic action, the salt’s sodium ions are exchanged for the hard water’s mineral ions. As a result, while the treated water will have very low amounts of dissolved hard-water minerals, it’ll probably have elevated levels of sodium. If you’re on a low-sodium diet, and you have a water softener that adds sodium to the water, you might consider a reverse-osmosis unit with a membrane rated for sodium removal (or a water distiller) in your kitchen to make your drinking and cooking water salt-free.


Naturally Occurring Gases


There are several naturally occurring—but dangerous—gases that can be dissolved in water. Three of these—radon, hydrogen sulfide, and methane—are discussed below. Often, if utility water contains high levels of undesirable gases, the utility will remove them through a relatively simple aeration process. In aeration, the water is misted or mixed with air. This causes any dissolved gases to readily escape from the liquid water. The freed gases are then vented away. Homeowners with problem gases in their individual water systems have other options for dealing with them, as discussed below.


Radon (Rn) is an odorless, colorless, radioactive gas. While radon has twenty different isotopes (isotopes are unique atomic forms, each having a different number of neutrons), it’s radon-222, which originates in radium in the ground, that is typically a concern to homeowners. This is the isotope that could lead to real health problems if dissolved in your well water.


If it turns out that radon is, indeed, present in your well water, the radioactive gas will be released into your home’s air every time the water is exposed to the air indoors. If the radon becomes trapped inside the house, it’ll begin to decay into radioactive radon decay products. Unfortunately, these microscopic solid particles can become lodged in your lung tissue, possibly leading to lung cancer. Radon is now suspected of being the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S., right behind cigarettes.


Not surprisingly, most experts now believe that all home well-water systems should be tested for radon. (Well water in the state of Maine often has excessive radon.) Experts recommend treating water with a radon level exceeding 20,000 pC/l. (Interestingly, for every 10,000 pC/l of radon present in the water, approximately 1 pC/l will be released into the air.) Activated-charcoal filters will adsorb radon gas from the water. However, they can’t retain the radioactive decay particles, most of which are short-lived. On the other hand, certain reverse-osmosis units will remove these particles, but not the radon gas itself.


You can remove 90% or more of the radon from water, according to the Land and Water Resource Center at the University of Maine, by using a specially designed whole-house granular-activated-charcoal adsorption filter. These units will not only remove radon, but also retain their particulate decay products. (Important note: These treatment devices are much larger than the relatively small activated-charcoal filters used for taste-and-odor problems in home water supplies.) Granular-activated-charcoal units for radon removal range in size, but they’re usually 1-3 cubic feet in capacity. The actual size for a particular situation will depend on the amount of radon present, and the volume of water used daily.


Granular-activated-charcoal adsorption tanks are often sold and installed by local plumbers and water-treatment companies. To find help in dealing with a radon problem in your water, contact your local board of health or the Water Quality Association. This is the national organization for water-treatment equipment dealers. Written information on radon in well water is available from the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). You may also want to call their Safe Drinking Water Hot Line.


Hydrogen Sulfide


In its pure form, Sulfur (S) is a yellow, insoluble, solid material. Unfortunately, even a very small trace of it (0.05 mg/ liter) in water, will usually produce an unpleasant rotten-egg smell. A tiny trace of dissolved sulfur will also tarnish silver items and even corrode metal pipes.


One of the most common forms sulfur takes in water is dissolved hydrogen sulfide (H2S), which is also sometimes known as sulfureted hydrogen. This is a toxic, flammable gas that is considered a cumulative poison. As a rule, water tests can easily determine if any is present in a particular water sample.


If you find you only have a very minute amount of hydrogen sulfide in your water, it can often be safely and effectively adsorbed with an activated-charcoal filter. In addition, KDF media can alter dissolved H2S gas into an insoluble compound. However, for more than a very tiny amount of H2S in your water, it may be best to use a more specialized filter (or strategies) to remove it.




Methane (CH4) can sometimes be found in water sources (This is the gas that makes up about 85% of natural gas.). Generally, methane’s presence results from the action of anaerobic bacteria (bacteria that are able to live without oxygen). The bacteria cause dead vegetable matter (grasses for example) to ferment. What happens is that the complex, organic, molecular compounds, are broken down into simpler ones, one being methane. In wetland areas, escaping methane is sometimes called swamp gas.


Surprising to most people, pure methane is actually a colorless, odorless, as well as tasteless, gas. It’s also apparently nonpoisonous. But methane is quite explosive, and if it builds up to a sufficient concentration in your room air, it can cause suffocation. Therefore, if tests reveal methane in your water, it may be necessary to vent the water supply to the outdoors. However, very tiny amounts of methane can sometimes be satisfactorily adsorbed by simply using an activated-charcoal filter.


Prescription Medications


One class of pollutants that has not been considered much involves the vast variety of human and animal prescription medications now being found in increasing concentrations in our water supplies. These include hormones, chemotherapy drugs, pain killers, antibiotics, antidepressants, tranquilizers, etc. Some of these find their way into drinking water sources because leftover, old, or unwanted drugs are simply flushed down the toilet, or poured down the sink drain. Other medications are illegally dumped, along with contaminated syringes, etc., into waterways—where there are no questions asked, no fees, and no regulations.


However, a far greater percentage of medication pollution is simply excreted out from people and animals. It may be surprising to learn that, in reality, only a fraction of most prescription drugs are utilized internally. In fact, the majority (typically 50-90%) are eliminated in urine and feces—unchanged from the original chemical formulation. The remainder is excreted in the form of metabolites. These are chemicals produced as by-products of the body’s interaction with the drug(s).


Think about the routine practice of dosing farm animal with antibiotics, growth stimulators, etc. and their resulting medication-rich urine and dung. This excrement is often completely untreated. Of course, most human urine and feces is “properly” disposed of in private septic systems, or by utility waste-water treatment plants. Yet, in all these cases, the medicinal compounds don’t biodegrade into harmless, simple components. That’s because many of them were formulated to be persistent (long-lasting) and lipophilic (dissolvable only in fat, not water).


Furthermore, some reports indicate that prescription drug metabolites may be even more persistent and lipophilic than the original medications. It’s little wonder then that many prescription drugs (and their metabolites) accumulate in the environment, and eventually enter water supplies. According to Rachel’s Environment & Health Weekly, “German scientists report that anywhere from 30 to 60 drugs can be measured in a typical water sample.” It’s very likely that American water samples would produce similar results.


Interestingly, it was not until 1972 (when drugs were first accidentally detected in Kansas City’s sewage) that there was any real concern about prescription medications being an environmental pollutant. Apparently, no one had even thought to look for them in the environment before. Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken the position that it’s officially concerned about drugs in the nation’s water supply. However, they feel that the current concentrations are still too low to pose any danger. Yet, at the same time, they’ve created a regulatory policy aimed at all new drugs, that requires manufacturers to provide “estimates of concentrations that result from excretion.” So, progress is being made—slowly.
As a water-using consumer, having medicinal residues and/or their metabolites in your drinking water is not ideal at any concentration. However, it’s difficult to say, at this time, with any certainty, how to best remove them at home. Of course, it’s likely that a certain quantity could be removed by activated charcoal, especially carbon blocks, but perhaps not all. Distillation may be helpful, too, but will it remove every compound? One water tester (a pro-reverse-osmosis advocate) believes that “only reverse-osmosis units can be trusted to do a good job on these kinds of pollutants.” Because of the current lack of information, it’s probably safe to say that water distillers with activated-charcoal filters, and reverse-osmosis units with activated-charcoal filters are likely the better treatment options.


Water-Utility Chemical Additives


As a result of constant testing, and ongoing water-utility treatments, our public water supplies are usually safer than many untreated private water sources. However, it should be noted that a water utility’s treatments can create their own, unique water-quality problems.


Commonly, utilities disinfect their water by adding chlorine. In addition, many U.S. utilities also add fluoride to minimize dental decay. However, both of these additives are corrosive and highly reactive, and each has negative consequences associated with it. Therefore, both chlorine and fluoride are considered contaminants by many individuals.




Chlorine (Cl) is a heavy, greenish-yellow gas with a distinctively pungent odor. It’s an element that is classified as a halogen (a family of certain nonmetallic elements). Chlorine is extremely corrosive and reactive. It is these very qualities that make it an effective disinfectant, because it reacts with and destroys many types of microorganisms.


Since the early 1900s, U.S. water utilities have commonly used a form of chlorine to oxidize (react with) and eliminate waterborne bacterial contaminants. In practice, chlorine is often added twice by utilities. First, the chemical is added to the raw water to kill much of the microbial life before other water-treatment processes are performed. Then, chlorine is added again as a final disinfecting treatment before the water is piped out to the public. In this last chlorination, the utilities add enough of it so that its concentration remains high enough to effectively kill microorganisms even at the furthest ends of the water system. Because chlorine levels diminish with time, the homes that are near a water-utility facility will have much higher chlorine levels in their water, than the homes further down the line.


Interestingly, because chlorine is so reactive, it tends to corrode the water pipes it flows through. To help counter this, utilities often add lime (certain calcium compounds), soda ash, zinc phosphate, or other substances, along with the chlorine. However, even with these additions, the interiors of galvanized pipes (steel pipes coated with zinc to prevent rusting) can become rough and irregular after carrying chlorinated water. Unfortunately, these irregular surfaces may attract, and become havens for, bacterial growth. Although they might not be pathological (disease-causing), these bacteria can be destructive to certain types of reverse-osmosis membranes.


There are other problems with chlorination. Chlorine can apparently react with certain trace metals and nonmetals in the water, forming new compounds. Unfortunately, some of these are harmful, such as chloroform. Known chemically as trichloromethane (CHCl3), chloroform is created when chlorine compounds react with carbon-containing organic matter.
This may lead you to ask some serious questions. What are the real effects on millions of Americans who drink chlorinated water daily? Is the corrosive chlorine itself a problem? Are the compounds formed in chlorinated water really a cause for concern? For some time now, opponents of chlorination have asked these questions. In 1992, research undertaken at both Harvard University and the Medical College of Wisconsin provided evidence that chlorine-treated drinking water seems to increase incidences of bladder and rectal cancers in men.


Unfortunately, simply taking a bath in chlorinated water can also be a problem, because the chlorine can readily be absorbed through the skin. It’s been estimated that your skin will absorb as much chlorine, during a typical shower, as you would normally take in by drinking six eight-ounce glasses of chlorinated water—in fact, some reports say that you’re skin will absorb up to 5 times more chlorine.


Then there’s the chlorine you inhale while showering. Chlorine in the air can lead to eye, nasal, respiratory irritation. In certain allergic and sensitive individuals, it can cause a variety of adverse reactions. And even if you are not sensitive or allergic, it will have a drying effect on your skin and hair (it actually weakens hair shafts).


Specifically concerning chloroform, The Center for Environmental Epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh reported that when showering, about half of the dissolved chloroform present escapes into the air before the chlorinated water spray reaches the tub floor. The other 50% remains in the water to be potentially absorbed by the skin. It was also noted in The American Journal of Public Health (Vol. 74., #5) that 64% of adult’s, and over 90% of children’s, total daily exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) was by skin absorption of chlorinated household water.


Obviously, if your water is chlorinated, you may decide that you want to remove the chlorine from it. This can be done easily using an activated-charcoal filter. However, activated charcoal adsorbs less efficiently with hot water than cold water. When used with hot water, odorless, tasteless trihalomehtnanes may be released into the water stream. Therefore, it’s much better to use activated charcoal before the water is heated. So, shower filters using activated charcoal may not be as effective at removing chlorine and chlorine by-products as many people believe. A better shower-filter media is probably KDF which has been shown to change chlorine into a less troublesome zinc-chloride compound.




Fluoride compounds are also commonly added to utility water. However, most users of utility water know very little about these additives. As it turns out, pure fluorine is a light-yellow gaseous member of the halogen family (a certain class of nonmetallic elements). It’s poisonous, corrosive, and very reactive. In fact, fluorine is considered the most reactive element on earth, and fluoride compounds retain much of fluorine’s characteristics. The most common fluoride compound added to water supplies is flurosilicic acid (H2SiF6).


Apparently, the fluoride used by most utilities is derived from industrial by-products (e.g. from aluminum and phosphate fertilizer plants, etc.). In 1989, the EPA estimated that U.S. industries released about 155,000 tons of fluoride compounds into the air, and about 500,000 tons annually into the country’s waterways. Because these are not biodegradable, they keep accumulating in the environment and eventually enter the food chain. Some people see the use of such industrial leftovers as a positive step at recycling for the common good. Others view it as a way for industries to get rid of unwanted, hazardous fluoride compounds—at a profit.


Interestingly, fluoride compounds can naturally be present in some water sources. And it was exactly because of this that fluoridation of utility water eventually came about. As it turns out, in the 1930s and 1940s reports were published that cited comparisons between individuals whose drinking water contained naturally high levels of fluoride (from 0.9 to 1.4 parts per million, or ppm), with those whose drinking water had very little fluoride. These comparisons seemed to indicate a direct correlation between high fluoride levels and low rates of dental caries (tooth decay). Long-term studies were then devised to determine what the effect would be on decay rates with water having fluoride artificially added to it. However, before these studies were ever completed, the U.S. Public Health Service, starting in 1950, began approving (and encouraging) the addition of fluoride to public water supplies. Today, about one-half of all U.S. public water utilities now add fluoride to reach a level of about 1 ppm in their water.


How does fluoride work against dental caries? It’s been thought that fluoride prevented tooth decay because it caused calcium to redeposit onto your teeth. This action would rebuild and strengthen tooth enamel. Despite this theory, fluoridation has been hotly debated ever since its inception.


Today, proponents of fluoridation, such as the American Dental Association and the American Medical Association, point to statistics showing a substantial drop in the average child’s dental decay rate since fluoridation’s introduction. They maintain there’s no convincing evidence that fluoridated water poses any health threat, in the concentrations that are legally allowed.


On the other hand, opponents (such as the vocal spokesman, Dr. John A. Yiamouyiannis) contend that fluoridated water is, at best, “unsolicited medication” and, at worst, a potentially health-damaging substance. The opponents believe there’s evidence that fluoride is a “persistent bioaccumulator”—meaning that fluoride levels will continue to build up in your body as you ingest more of it. Unfortunately, some limited findings seem to suggest that internalized fluoride may cause immune-system and/or nervous-system problems in susceptible persons.


In addition, there are some indications that fluoride may be associated with the formation of certain fetal abnormalities and bone cancers. Furthermore, fluoride might play a contributing role in arthritis, gastric ulcers, migraines, and other maladies. (Note: It seems that those at greater risk are the very young, the old, those with kidney, heart, or immune problems, diabetics, and those with low vitamin C, magnesium, or calcium levels.)


Still another objection to utility fluoridation of water is the potential for fluorides to corrode pipes and solder. In some cases, this corrosion could cause lead in old pipes and solder to migrate into the water supply, and end up contributing to lead poisoning. Besides pipes, fluorides could also potentially corrode aluminum pots and pans, therefore, causing raised aluminum levels in the foods and drinks heated in them. This has been seen as a concern because of the of aluminum deposits found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Incidentally, Brain Research reported that a study aimed at determining the effects of aluminum on brain function, found that it wasn’t the aluminum, “but low levels of fluoride that caused similar brain damage as seen in Alzheimer patients.”


Surprisingly, fluoridation’s opponents even dispute the contention that fluoride significantly lessens tooth decay. In fact, in 1989 the ADA lowered the estimated tooth-decay-reduction rates attributed to fluoridated water from 60% to 25%. There’s also newer research that seems to suggests that if fluoride does lessen tooth decay, it may be because it’s present in the saliva (perhaps acting as a type of antibiotic agent), not because it’s able to harden tooth enamel.


Both proponents and opponents agree that fluoride levels of 4-5 ppm can cause mild fluorosis in some individuals. This is a corrosive condition in which fluoride reacts with your teeth and/or bones. Early or mild dental fluorosis generally appears as a slightly mottled discoloration, but more severe cases can show dramatic mottling and even pitting. In severe bone fluorosis, crippling may result. As a precaution against fluorosis, it’s now generally agreed that children under six should not use fluoride toothpaste. This is because youngsters often swallow a great deal of the toothpaste placed on their toothbrushes, so they could easily ingest unacceptable levels of fluoride. (See also Dental Care on page 88.)
In 1989, the maximum contaminant level (MCL) of fluoride was set by the EPA at 4 mg/l (milligram per liter) in tap water. Then, it was lowered in 1998 to 2 mg/l for children, and even less for infants.


Because of the heated controversy over adding fluoride to water, very few new fluoride treatment programs have been initiated by U.S. utilities in the last decade. In addition, most Western European nations (including Great Britain) have already abandoned their water fluoridation programs. Ultimately, of course, you must decide whether you believe that drinking fluoride in your water is beneficial to you and your family—or something you should avoid. Books and magazine articles in your local library can offer more in-depth information on fluoridation.


At one time, it was unrealistic to think you had a good chance of convincing your utility to abandon its fluoridation program. But times have changed. Los Angeles, Newark, and a few other American cities, have yielded to public pressure and quite fluoridating their water.


However, if your current water supply is fluoridated, and you’ve decided you don’t want fluoride in your water, most reverse-osmosis units are able to remove it. You can also remove fluoride with a water distiller. Special fluoride-removal filters are also available. These might be ion-exchange units containing activated alumina or bone-char media.


Contaminants from Supply Lines, Pipes, and Solder


Many people are unaware that the pipes and water mains carrying water can add their own contaminants. Unfortunately, some of these may cause serious health problems.


Asbestos/Concrete Water Main Concerns


The supply lines carrying your water can affect its quality. One concern that’s recently been raised is the effect on humans of drinking water that’s been transported through concrete water mains containing asbestos (a fibrous rock). Could the fibers be getting into the water and, if they do, what effect would they have on the human body? These questions were raised because asbestos fibers were already known to be a cause of severe lung disease if inhaled, so it was logical to wonder what damage they might do if they were ingested. (By the way, the reason asbestos is added to concrete pipes is to make them stronger. This type of water main has been popular for years in many parts of the U.S.)


Unfortunately, some recent studies have shown that people who drink water from asbestos supply pipes have an increased incidence of gastrointestinal cancer. Yet, The World Health Organization (WHO), in its 1993 Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality, concluded that asbestos is not a serious health threat. However, if you want to be on the safe side, you might ask your utility if there are any asbestos-cement supply lines in its system. If there are, you may want to remove any possible asbestos fibers from your water. Activated-charcoal filters (in block form) are able to strain out most of the asbestos, as can micro-pore and ceramic filters. Asbestos fibers can also be very effectively removed by using reverse-osmosis units and water distillers.


Lead-Pipe and Lead-Solder Concerns


Lead water pipes were once common, especially in ancient times. In fact, plumbum, the Latin word for waterworks, is the source of the symbol for lead—Pb. However, lead pipes were once used in this country, too, although they haven’t been for some time. Therefore, if you live in an older home, you’ll want to check to see if it still has any lead piping. If you come across lead water pipes, you may want to have them replaced. This is because lead can migrate from the pipes into your drinking water, then slowly accumulate in your body, and eventually cause lead poisoning.


It should be mentioned that the solder used on copper pipes could also pose a problem. Lead solder was commonly used by plumbers until it was prohibited by Federal regulations in 1986. You may not be aware that brass can legally contain a small amount of lead, despite meeting what’s referred to as a “lead-free standard.” Therefore, there’s the potential for some brass plumbing fixtures to leech a certain amount of lead into the water. By the way, fluoridated water (fluoride is corrosive) can increase your lead risk if you have either lead pipes, lead solder, or lead-containing brass fixtures.
You may be interested in knowing that the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has reported that 10-20% of the lead content in children comes from tap water. Of course, waterborne lead includes any present from industrial pollution as well. For more EPA information on lead, you may want to call their National Lead Information Center.


You may decide to have your water tested for lead. One simple reusable test you can do at home is LeadCheck Aqua (HybriVet Systems, Inc.). With this product, you have the results in 90 minutes. LeadCheck Aqua, which is reusable, can be ordered from the manufacturer or from the American Environmental Health Foundation.


Fortunately, activated charcoal in block form (especially if precoated) can strain out most of the lead in your water. (Some micro-pore filters and ceramic filters may be up to the job as well.) Lead can be removed very effectively by using most reverse-osmosis units and ion-exchange water softeners. Another choice is with KDF media. Furthermore, lead can be completely removed through distillation.


Galvanized-Pipe Concerns


For those with galvanized water pipes (steel pipes coated with zinc to prevent rusting), a special concern arises if they transport chlorinated water. Chlorine can apparently react with galvanized pipes and create irregular surfaces on their interiors. While this isn’t a problem as such, these rough surfaces can become homes for non-pathological (non-disease causing) bacteria that can damage certain reverse-osmosis membranes.


Fortunately, reverse-osmosis units that are equipped with ultraviolet-light purifiers are able to kill these bacteria (and other kinds of waterborne microorganisms). If your reverse-osmosis unit doesn’t have a built-in ultraviolet-light purifier, or some other type of bacteriostatic (bacteria-reducing) device, you can buy and install a separate point-of-use ultraviolet-light purifier.


Plastic Pipe Concerns


In the last few decades, the use of plastic pipes to distribute water has increased sharply. They’ve become common with both utilities and in residential plumbing. In fact, plastic piping is now considered the norm in many areas of the country. Although several different types of plastic are used to make water pipes, one of the more common is polyvinyl chloride (PVC).


It’s easy to understand why the use of plastic pipe has become so widespread. Plastic piping is lightweight, and it is easy to assemble using volatile synthetic glues. In addition, it doesn’t rust or corrode, and is generally less expensive than the various alternatives. Unfortunately, plastic pipes can give the water they carry a plastic-like taste and odor, especially if the pipes have been recently glued together. Although many people may find this unpleasant, some sensitive individuals may find the situation intolerable. Fortunately, activated-charcoal water filters will effectively adsorb most plastic-pipe tastes and odors.


Water pH


It’s often important to know your water’s pH. What does this term mean? It’s the relative amounts of hydrogen ions (H+) and hydroxide ions (OH-) present or, more technically, the concentration of hydronium ions (H30+). However, don’t be put off by this jargon. All you really need to know is that a pH number tells you how acidic or alkaline a substance is—in this case, your water. As it turns out, the pH scale ranges from 0 (strongly acidic) to 14 (strongly alkaline). A pH of 7 represents neutrality.


Interestingly, most natural water sources in the U.S. have a pH that’s between 5 and 8.5. It’s been determined that water with a pH below 6.5 can corrode metal pipes. On the other hand, a high pH (above 8.5) can cause certain iron-removal treatments to be less successful. A high pH can also give your water a caustic taste, and a mineral scale (a crusty coating made up of calcium and other compounds) will likely build up inside your pipes. Very high alkalinity (above 11) could be an indication that chemical pollution has contaminated your water supply.


It should be stated that a water sample’s pH can be very easily determined. (A very basic test is with litmus paper. ) If the pH is too high or two low, utilities can add corrective substances at their plant to make the water more or less acidic (or alkaline). With an individual private water supply, a low pH (high acidity) can often be raised by simply adding marble chips or crushed limestone to a special tank. However, a high pH (high alkalinity) may require the addition of sulfuric acid (also known as oil of vitriol) to the water. Unfortunately, sulfuric acid is a corrosive liquid that can be dangerous to handle.
Actually, any pH correction that’s done to a home water supply should be specifically designed by a water-treatment professional. Therefore, you may want to contact the Water Quality Association. This trade organization can provide you with the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of nearby members.


Water Testing


Many people are concerned about their water’s quality, especially if they have a private water supply. Therefore, the sections below will introduce you to information on water testing, including a few testing laboratories, how to take a water sample, and the need for specific tests.


Frequently Performed Water Tests


The most commonly performed water test is for pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria (and perhaps other harmful microbes). In practice, laboratory technicians will generally first check a water sample for the presence of coliforms (both fecal coliforms and/or total coliforms) and fecal streptococcus. Because these particular bacteria are ultimately from human’s and other mammal’s lower intestines, they’re considered marker species. If they are present in a water sample, it increases the likelihood that other more harmful microbes are thriving in it, too.


Other frequently run water tests are called chemical analysis tests. These generally determine the levels of iron, calcium, and magnesium in water. But the tests can be expanded to include the levels of lead, chromium, selenium, arsenic, etc. in the water supply. In addition, turbidity tests can be performed to determine the degree of the water’s cloudiness. Also, increasingly popular are water tests for determining whether volatile organic compounds (VOCs), pesticides, and detergents are present.


Water-Quality Concerns and their Appropriate Tests


The table on the next page covers only some of the more common water problems, and lists suggestions for the appropriate tests. Of course, because water is such a complicated substance, there could be other explanations for some water symptoms, as well as other types of tests that might be appropriate.


It should also be noted that most of the information supplied in the table applies to individual home water supplies. However, it’s likely that persons who use utility water will also find portions of this chart useful.


Water Test Limitations


An important note of consideration is that water tests have their limitations. After all, they can only find what they’re specifically designed to look for. Therefore, if your water tests come back from a laboratory as being “acceptable,” there still could be contaminants in your water supply for which no tests were ever undertaken. Or, the contaminants may be at levels lower than the sensitivity of the tests. As was noted earlier, certain protozoan cysts are apparently difficult to detect.
You should also realize that water conditions can change fairly frequently and, as a result, so can the composition of your water. For example, water supplies can be affected by seasonal changes, temperature fluctuations, droughts, floods, industrial spills, the application of farm chemicals, and many other events throughout the year. Water quality can be especially changeable in residential-sized private water supplies. Therefore, it needs to be stressed that the results from any water tests will only indicate the water’s make-up for that particular sampling day. Not surprisingly, some water-quality experts believe that, because of all the possible variables involved, water testing on private water systems should be done several times during the first testing year (when you just move into a house, or drill a new well, etc.) and then periodically every few years thereafter.


Furthermore, you need to know that there are several factors, which determine the accuracy of a water test, that must be considered. Most, you will have at least some control over. These include the length of time between when the water is drawn from the tap and the time it is actually analyzed, how long the tap was running before the water sample was obtained, the competency of the laboratory, and your skill in obtaining the water sample in the first place.


Obtaining a Water Sample


If you need to obtain a water sample yourself, it’s very important that you make certain that you don’t inadvertently contaminate it. So, you should not let your hands touch the water being sampled, the interior of the sampler container, or the interior of it’s lid. Also, follow all the testing lab’s instructions completely. This may include writing down a description of the water’s appearance and odor immediately after filling the sample container. Finally, make sure the water-specimen canister, tube, etc. is securely sealed before you mail it, or drop it off at the laboratory.


Of course with an in-home test, you’ll need to also be conscientious about not contaminating any water samples, or any containers or strips. Plus, you’ll need to follow the test directions to the letter, in order to arrive at accurate results.


Water-Test Suppliers


It’s very important to have a private water supply tested regularly. For households on public supplies, you may be glad to know that utilities test their water periodically. Some test more frequently than others. The schedule depends on the particular utility, local regulations, special environmental conditions, and other factors. You should be aware that a utility’s water-quality-test information is available upon request from them. It’s usually provided free, or at a minimum copying charge.


However, if you are on a public water system, and your contaminants originate within your home’s plumbing system (high lead levels from lead solder, for example), you’ll need to test your own tap to detect them. If you have a private water system, you alone are responsible for testing your water. This means contacting a qualified water-testing laboratory, deciding on the extent of the testing, and paying all the costs.


Of course, your local board of health may have some suggestions, recommendations, or referrals to help with your water-testing decisions. (In some locales they might actually do some basic types of testing for you.) If you’re unable to find an appropriate testing facility, you may want to contact the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) or it’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline which should be able to provide you with the name and phone number of your nearest EPA “certification officer.” By contacting your state certification officer, you’ll be given the names of water-testing firms in your area that are capable of performing water tests that meet current minimum EPA standards.


Still another approach to having your water tested is to contract one of the large, nationwide, water-testing companies. A well-known one is National Testing Laboratories, Ltd. They offer a Watercheck test for 74 contaminants, for surface water or well water. There’s also a pesticide contaminant test option. Furthermore, there are 33 Watertest tests for municipal water. Other tests offered are lead tests and special bacterial testing. Watercheck tests are also available from Ozark Water Service & Environmental Services, Bio Designs, and Befit Enterprises Ltd.


Another large, national company is Suburban Water Testing Laboratories, Inc. They offer test packages such as the City Water Special which determines the levels of fluoride, lead, copper, and cadmium. Other water tests they have available are for nitrates, hardness, pH, organic compounds, and chlorinated pesticides.


Ozark Water Service & Environmental Services is small company owned by a certified water specialist. A number of water tests are available including the NTL (which tests for 93 common contaminates including VOCs, pesticides, and coliform bacteria). Other tests are for basic well-water quality, coliform bacteria, lead, copper, and a reverse-osmosis proficiency test.


There are also other sources for water tests. For example, you can perform your own lead test at home using the LeadCheck Aqua (HybriVet Systems, Inc.). This at-home test will provide you with results without having to send a sample to a laboratory. With the LeadCheck Aqua, you can have the results in 90 minutes, and it’s reusable. You can get LeadCheck Aqua from the manufacturer or from the American Environmental Health Foundation, a catalog that also sells other water tests (iron & hardness, water-soluble pesticides, a 12 contaminant/condition analysis kit, and a water quality test).


Other water tests you might consider include Safewater Check Strips (New Wave Enviro) home-water-test kits. There are seven available (total chlorine, free chlorine, total hardness, nitrates, nitrites, total alkalinity, and pH). In this case, you’ll need to call the company for their nearest dealer. From Befit Enterprises Ltd., you can get special water-filter test kits that contain 10 tests each (for pH and for chlorine) to determine if your activated-charcoal filter needs replacing. They also have a SpotCheck test for soluble pesticides in water. Still another source for home-water tests you’ll want to know about is Real Goods.


At this point, you may be saying to yourself, “How much does testing cost?” As you might expect, the price can vary enormously. It will depend on who does the testing (you, a national laboratory, a local laboratory, your board of health, etc.), the number and types of tests that are performed, and the sophistication (the smallest amount that can be detected and the accuracy). In the end, the more technology, skill, and analysis that’s required, the higher your water-test costs will be.


(This article is from the archives of the original Healthy House Institute, and the information was believed accurate at the time of writing. From "Creating a Healthy Household: The Ultimate Guide For Healthier, Safer, Less-Toxic Living" © 2000 by The Healthy House Institute).



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Water Quality - Chapter 24:  Created on February 17th, 2012.  Last Modified on March 15th, 2012


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