Could Your Drinking Water be Making You Sick?

water-faucet
water-faucet

You may wonder why you would need to have your water tested.  Especially if it doesn’t taste or smell bad or have any noticeable discoloration or cloudiness.  The fact is that many common contaminants that are found in drinking water do not cause a change that is detectable by smell, taste, or sight.  

However, these contaminants could be causing minor to major health issues for your family members and ultimately your family’s health is most important.  In addition to the possible health issues that could be caused by elevated levels of certain elements in your drinking water there are some that cause damage to your home as well.  For instance, elevated levels of certain minerals can cause corrosion of your pipes, staining of bath tubs, showers and sink, and various other issues within your home.  These can lead to more severe problems such as leaking and mold.  Therefore, even if you water tastes good and looks clear it is important to have it tested on a regular basis to keep your family and your home safe.  Only a thorough test for all possible contaminants, diseases, chemicals, and minerals can tell you what is lurking in your water or if it is really safe to drink.

What do Water Tests Check For?

water-testing
water-testing

Water tests test for various microorganisms, disinfection byproducts, disinfectants, inorganic chemicals, organic chemicals and radionuclides in your drinking water.  These contaminants can cause anything from staining of your clothes to various illnesses including cancer.  The EPA has set guidelines for the levels of these substances that are safe for your health and the maintenance of your home, however, most states have determined their own levels based on those set by the EPA.  When you have your water checked by a state certified laboratory and a certified inspector they will give you a comprehensive list of the items they tested for and levels found in your water.  This report will also include whether or not the levels of each that were found in your water are safe or not.   This will give you a good idea as to whether your water needs to be treated and what you and your family may have been exposed to.   Each state may test for different contaminants in your water, in New England a water analysis will test for the following:

ParametersAcceptable LevelPossible Health EffectsHousehold
Issues
Total Coliform
Bacteria
NoneNo health
threat, but used to find out if there are other
potential
bacteria in the
water
None
E. Coli BacteriaNoneDiarrhea, bloody diarrhea,
abdominal
cramps, kidney
failure & death
None
Nitrate- N10 mg/ LInfants under 6 months of age who drink
water with more than the
acceptable level
can become
seriously ill,
have trouble
breathing, and
even die from
blue baby
syndrome.
None
Nitrite- N1 mg/ LInfants under 6 months of age who drink
water with more than the
acceptable level
can become
seriously ill,
have trouble
breathing, and
even die from
blue baby
syndrome.
None
Fluoride 4 mg/ LExcess amounts lead to bone
disease, tooth
abnormality,
fertility issues,
and cognitive
delays.
None
Arsenic0.010 mg/LSkin damage,
circulatory
issues and even
cancers.
Erosion of
natural deposits
Lead0.015 mg/ LCan lead to
kidney issues &
high blood
pressure in
adults.  In
children it can
lead to physical
and mental
developmental
delays.
Corrosion of
household
plumbing
Copper1.30 mg/LLiver and kidney damage and
gastrointestinal issues.
Erosion of
natural deposits and corrosion
of household
plumbing.
Chloride250 mg/ LCan lead to
cancer
None
pH6.5-8.5 SU  
Iron0.300 mg/LNoneDiscolors water and can
clothing, stain
sinks, tubs and
showers.  
Changes the
taste of food
cooked with
water that has
high levels.
Manganese0.050 mg/LIn high
concentrations
it can cause
neurological
disorders.
Stains clothing a dark brown or
black color.  
Stains tubs,
showers, sinks
and anything it
comes in
contact with.  
Can cause build up in household plumbing.
SodiumNo limit setNoneCorrosion of
household
plumbing and
killing of plants
RadonVaries by state-NH 10,000 pCi/LME/ VT 4000 pCi/LEPA 4000 pCi/LCan cause
cancer
None

When Should You Have Your Water Tested?

There are several determining factors that inform when you should have your water tested.  First and foremost is whether you have a public or private water supply to your home.  Most Americans have public water.   If you have water that is provided by the city, they will test your water once a year and send you a report that will let you know if your water is safe or not.  Therefore, if you have public water is not necessary to have your water checked privately unless you suspect that there is lead in your household plumbing, someone in your house is pregnant or you planning to install a household water treatment system.  On the other hand, if you have a private water supply ie. a well you will need to follow different guidelines.  If this is the case you should have your water tested at least once a year.  You may need to have it tested more frequently if someone in your home is pregnant, if you notice a strange odor or color in your water, or you know of a local contaminant that might affect your water source.  If any of these factors apply you should have your water tested as soon as possible.

How Do You Have Your Water Tested?

There are a few different ways that you can have your water tested.  If you only need a test for nitrates and bacteria often your county health department will test the water for you.  However, if you want a full comprehensive test there are only two ways to get this done.  The first is by buying a self-test and collecting a sample of your water to be tested.  You can purchase these test kits at your local home improvement store.  Where this is the cheapest option it may not be the most accurate or easiest choice.  If you want to be sure that your water is accurately tested (especially if you suspect there are contaminants in it) it is best to have a state certified lab test your water.  You can do this by contacting a state certified home inspector that is qualified to collect samples and have your water tested.   As with anything that has to do with protecting your family’s health it is better to be safe than sorry!