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How safe is your water?

Posted 04-20-2009 at 06:36 AM by faucetman886

In past blogs I’ve written about plumbing smells and oddly enough those blogs have consistently been the most widely read and commented on and the topic still remains of high interest in the discussion groups and forums that I follow daily. As a follow up on this I would like to address water purity issues and simple ways that you can and should be checking your water source for the safety and health of your family and for the proper maintenance and care of your plumbing system.
To begin most Americans use some 80+/- gallons of water per day. Most of this water comes from a municipal or public source. In rural areas and small developments your water may still some from a well. In either case can you be sure the water is safe? Most of us just take it for granted that when we turn the tap on the water is fine but the reality is that even in a public system you should always keep up with the purity of the water provided to your family. Your local water district is required to issue “Consumer Quality Reports” on an annual basis. Although this report should be mailed to you many districts satisfy this requirement by publishing the reports in local newspapers and others by just having the report available to you upon request. Either way, if you haven’t received one, ask for it to be sent to you. To do this testing on your own can be expensive so use the sources available to you before you spend the money to have your own testing done. This is just a start because there can be other factors. The condition of the piping into your home and appliances such as your hot water heater can affect the water quality. If your home is old it can contain some lead piping or plastic composites that leach out chemicals into your water. High lead content has become a major concern in recent years with cases of severe brain damage occurring in children from lead in water sources, peeling paint and most recently in imported toys.
To this end start by simply drawing a glass of water into a very clean and clear glass. Does the water have a smell? If you’re on a public system you might smell a faint trace of chlorine. Do you smell sulfur or rotten eggs? As I mentioned in a previous blog this could indicate a problem with the anodes in your water heater. Is the water clear? You shouldn’t be able to detect any color nor floating particles in the water. Let the glass sit for couple of hours and see if there is any sediment that settles to the bottom. Any of these things could indicate that your water has become contaminated or compromised and you should contact your water provider for additional testing. To assure that the problem does not originate from within your own plumbing system you will have to do the testing on your own. Your county extension agent can provide you with a list of independent firms which do water testing and with a list of recommended do-it-yourself kits which can be purchased at your local big box or hardware store or from the internet. Obviously the testing done by a lab will be more reliable than a DIY test but the lab tests can be very expensive. Check your drains and fixtures such as toilets and tubs for red, green, blue or brown staining. This can indicate a bacteria growth or a presence of undesirable chemicals.
You should be especially conscious of your water quality if you have a private water supply, such as a well. You are solely responsible for your water quality when coming from your own source and you are far more likely to experience water quality issues. Wells should be tested for herbicides and insecticides when you first have the well installed, and at least twice the first year (early spring and late fall) for coli forms bacteria and nitrates from local fertilizing. After the first year you should be testing once a year for lead, pH and dissolved solids or if any work has been performed on your well, Notice chemical use on or near your property, or if you see any of the above-mentioned indicators, have your water checked. Most new wells are required to have initial testing done before use providing you a baseline guide for future water testing. This initial testing should check for coli forms, calcium, copper, iron, lead, magnesium, nitrates, pH, sodium, sulfate, zinc and dissolved solids. Keep this report for a comparison against future tests.
Basically water purity initially boils down to common sense. If you are on a public water supply the quality should be well maintained but you should avail yourself of the reports provided. You should perform the simple visual tests I recommended on regular basis and don’t ignore obvious problems. Lastly because a well is your own responsibility you should be even more vigilant with observation and testing.
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