Raw water, currently in vogue, conjures visions for pristine lake and stream water, but could be hiding biological pathogens and toxic chemical that can’t be detected by smell and taste alone. What about spring water, well water, filtered water, bottled water and water provided by the city or municipal district? It’s tempting to think that are all safe. Recent news reports about poor quality municipal water have many people turning to bottled water or filtration systems. While these are great options to improve the taste of your water, they don’t guarantee improved water quality. It’s enough to make your head spin. Thankfully we are not powerless.
Water Testing Options
The only way to know for sure what is in your water is to test it yourself. There are dozens of options for testing your water quality. Some companies will send you a kit with vials so you can collect samples and mail them to a laboratory. Results may be available within a few days depending on the lab you choose, but it typically takes a few weeks to receive complete results.
Another option is to use a home testing kit to test your water. Depending on what you want to test for, there are a number of different testing kits available. The best testing kits offer a variety of tests in one convenient package. Testing at home saves you time and the hassle of having to mail away samples, and you will have results in a matter of minutes for most tests.
Home Testing Process
To perform analysis of common contaminants with a home testing kit, gather your water samples in the provided vials. Fill each vial to approximately ¼” from the top. Your kit may have separate test strips for each contaminant, but it is not uncommon for a test strip to contain multiple pads with different reagents. This will allow you to measure for a couple of contaminants at the same time. All you need to do is dip the test strip into the vial and let it process for the amount of time recommended in the instructions. Once the strip is developed, compare it to the accompanying color charts to determine contaminant levels.
Some lead and pesticide tests may require you to leave the test strips in the sample for an extended amount of time. Bacteria and iron tests also require you to add a powder or tablet to the sample in order to properly perform the test. Be sure to follow the instructions that come with your kit for the most accurate results.
This is a great “science experiment” to do with your kids. Consider gathering water from a few different sources so they can compare the results.
Most Common Contaminants
These are some of the most common contaminants that you should be testing for:
Lead: Water can absorb lead from older fixtures and plumbing. Ingesting lead with your water can cause lead poisoning that results in developmental, gastrointestinal, neurological, and reproductive concerns. Lead levels that exceed 15ppb should be addressed immediately to minimize your exposure.
Pesticides: Pesticides are applied to crop fields, but they can be absorbed by the soil, eventually seeping into water-bearing aquifers. A number of pesticides have been linked to increased cancer rates and organ damage.
Bacteria: Bacteria are present in human and animal feces and the biofilm that forms in water systems. When these bacteria appear in our drinking water, they can cause vomiting, nausea, fever, and diarrhea. If you have well water, you should test annually for coliform bacteria.
Iron: Iron is a natural component of soil, but it can be absorbed by rainwater and aquifers, ending up in your water supply. If your water is cloudy or reddish-brown, it may contain high levels of iron which can be a dangerous for those who already have excessive amounts of iron in the body.
Nitrates and Nitrites: Nitrates and nitrites are commonly found in soil fertilizers and can contaminate drinking supplies. The EPA recommends that nitrate levels be under 10 parts per million and nitrite levels be under 1 part per million for safe drinking water. Higher levels can cause blood disorders, developmental issues, and possibly cancer. You should test for these chemicals at least every three years.
Chlorine Level: Chlorine is a disinfectant that can safely be added to water at levels under 4 parts per million. Any more than that increases the chance for negative health effects.
Copper: Copper can leach into water from the soil, rocks, and copper piping. Safe levels of copper are below 1,300 parts per billion. Increased copper can cause gastrointestinal issues and has been associated with liver damage and kidney disease.
Know What You Are Drinking
All water sources are at risk for contamination, and the best way to make sure you have safe drinking water is to test it. While the EPA does set requirements for municipal water sources, there are no regulations for well water and little regulation for bottled water. Test your water today and know what is in your water for the sake of your family’s health.
Photo credit: Andrew McElroy