How to Test Your Drinking Water
Why Should you Test your Water?
drinking water is vital for good health. Most public city tap water is
disinfected with chlorine and is subject to strict quality regulations.
Though municipal tap water may not need to be tested as often as
chemically untreated water, you should test if contaminants are
suspected. It is important to know how to test your drinking water in
order to ensure that you and your loved ones are protected from any
waterborne illness. If your home is served by a public water system,
must notify you when there are contaminants that could cause illness.
Public water is regularly monitored and tested, and results are
reported to government agencies which are responsible for making sure
the water meets national quality standards. Once a year, the city will
send out an annual water report with your water bill, which contains
information on the water source, contaminants found, and possible
health effects. If you obtain water from a public source, before
testing, obtain a copy of this report, which can also be found on the
Protection Agency (EPA) website.
Private water sources also need to be tested regularly to ensure
purity, since they are not subject to the same quality standards as
When to Test
Routine testing for private
water supplies should be done every year for total coliform bacteria,
nitrates, total dissolved solids (TDS) and pH levels, and every three
for sulfate, chloride, iron, manganese, hardness and corrosion. Public
water supplies should be tested when the presence of contaminants is
suspected, or before purchasing a water filter. Here are some
general factors that might warrant water testing:
- If you or anyone in your household experiences frequent
gastrointestinal illness, test for coliform bacteria
- If you are
expecting a new baby, you should test for nitrates in the early months
of pregnancy, before bringing the baby home, and again during the first
six months of the baby's life.
It is best to do this during the spring or summer after a rainy period.
- If you have had a recent chemical or fuel spill or a leak
near your water supply,
test for chemical contaminants such as volatile organic compounds
your water is cloudy, frothy or colored, test for color, turbidity and
detergents. Water that has a brown, orange or red discoloration may
indicate the presence of rust in your pipes. Iron deposits from rust
may cause hair discoloration or can be toxic to the body at high
levels. Sometimes the presence of iron can indicate a co-existing
problem with lead levels, and if there are small children in the house
they may be at risk for lead poisoning. A blue or green tint may
indicate corrosion in your pipes and a dark brown discoloration may
indicate the presence of manganese.
your water causes frequent staining
of clothes or household fixtures, test for iron, manganate and copper.
- If your water leaves scaly residues and soap scum, and
decreases the lather of soaps and detergents, test for water hardness.
your water has a bad odor or taste, like that of rotten eggs, test for
hydrogen sulfide. A metallic taste may indicate the presence of
minerals and you should test for pH, corrosion, copper, lead, iron,
zinc, sodium chloride and TDS. A chemical or medicinal taste
indicate elevated levels of chlorine, which is not uncommon since
chlorine is often used by municipal treatment plants to disinfect water
supplies. Most water filters reduce chlorine singificantly.
- If your household plumbing contains lead, test for lead,
copper, cadmium, zinc and pH levels.
- If your water supply equipment wears easily, test for
corrosion and pH.
Home Kit Water Testing
test kits are available to test for one or more contaminants. These
usually consist of individual test strips specific to each contaminant.
Some kits come with a digital meter to provide more accurate results
than one would typically get with test strips alone.
Lab Water Testing
testing can cost anywhere from $15 to hundreds of dollars, so if you
are familiar with how to test water on your own, a home drinking water
test would save you money. However if you must resort to lab testing,
call your state certification officer to get a list of
certified water testing laboratories in your state. The EPA website
provides a list of phone numbers for each state's certification
officer, and some of these have a link to online laboratory listings as
well. Most labs provide their own
sample collection containers. Use the ones provided and carefully
follow the instructions for collecting, preserving and handling
samples. Certain tests require that
samples be taken under sterile conditions. Some labs may send a trained
technician to collect samples for
you, in order to ensure more reliable results.