Safe H2O Part 2: Testing the Water

In Safe H2O Part 1, I reviewed the environmental and health issues related to bottled water and the fact that 25% (some sources say as high as 40%) or more of bottled water is tap water anyway–some treated, some not. For those concerned with their water quality, investing in a filtration system can be a very cost effective, environmentally-friendly option. But first, you need to test your water to determine what filtration system is best for you—or whether you even need one! And the good news: it’s possible to treat almost any water problem with proper treatment equipment–even funny tasting or smelly water!

We drink our water, untreated-straight-from-the-tap and have lived to tell about it.

We had our water tested before we leapt into tap water drinking and,  luckily, our water is safe. However, there are a few items in question that could, if treated properly, benefit our pipes… the pipes in our bodies AND in our house.  Before I get into all of that, I want to address water test options.

Keep in mind when reading this that the US has one of–if not THE–safest drinking water in the world. Excellent marketing by beverage companies has led us to believe otherwise, hence the high bottled water consumption levels and the worry about whether our water is safe to drink straight from the tap. Of course, convenience is another reason people choose bottled water. Drinking water is a graver concern “in developing nations, where water borne illnesses kill 5 million people each year — 6,000 children every day. And global warming is exacerbating this crisis as severe, prolonged droughts dry up water supplies in arid regions and heavy rains cause sewage overflows. In terms of the sheer number of people affected, the lack of access to safe water and basic sanitation is a massive problem,” according to the Natural Resource Defense Council). But I digress. Let’s move forward…

Step One: Find Out What’s In Your Water

Many people jump right into a reverse osmosis or other filtration system without really knowing what’s in their water. That could be money down the drain (pun intended). Instead, find out what’s in your water first with a water test and you could save yourself some money and unnecessary work.

On city/public water? You’re in luck. Your water is likely as good, if not better, than bottled water. Why? By law, every municipality in the United States is required to not only test the water, but do everything necessary to meet the national standards as defined in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Regulations.

Side Note: Bottled waters allow for some contamination by E.coli or fecal coliform because they’re regulated by the FDA, not the EPA. Plus, estrogen-like chemicals lurk in some bottled waters, which could have the same harmful effects of bpa!

If you have well water, like me, the EPA does not have the authority to regulate your well. But they do recommend that you test your water annually for total coliform bacteria, nitrates, total dissolved solids, and PH level and to always use a state certified laboratory that conducts drinking water tests.

The EPA also notes that you test anytime you replace or repair any part of your well system and consider more frequent testing if any of the following apply:

  • Someone in your household is pregnant or nursing
  • There are unexplained illnesses in the family
  • Your neighbors find a dangerous contaminant in their water
  • You notice a change in water taste, odor, color or clarity
  • There is a spill of chemicals or fuels into or near your well
  • Someone buried a dead body near your well (just kidding, although I’m sure this would be of concern)

Before you run out and get a test kit, identify potential problem sources.
I was concerned about pesticides and herbicides: our village sprays for mosquitoes during the summer; many people in the neighborhood fertilize their lawns and/or spray their weeds or pests…What else could be lurking in our water? Here are some other things to consider:
•    Is there livestock nearby?
•    Are pesticides being used on nearby agricultural crops?
•    Do you live near a golf course, where they are constantly treating the grounds?
•    Is your well “downstream” from your own or a neighbor’s septic system?
•    Is your well located near a road that’s frequently salted or sprayed with de-icers during winter months?
•    Are your copper pipes disintegrating (this can happen—it’s happening in our home)?

Step Two: Purchase a Water Test Kit from a State Certified Laboratory

In previous  years, we picked up vials at our county health department for a mere $15 and our water tested well (no pun intended) within the EPA standards for total coliform bacteria, nitrates, total dissolved solids, and PH level. But, considering my concerns, I opted for a more thorough test this year.

A local lab gave me a quote for $500 or more. Ouch. The more contaminants you want to test for, the more you pay. Then I found the WaterCheck Test Kit which starts at $177.95. Pleased by the experience, the kit is now available on my website.

Step Three: Send in Your Water Samples
I was in such a hurry to get that water test, but then the box sat unopened for at least a few months. My business had been keeping me busy, I’d forget the box was sitting there (I blame my husband, it was next to his desk and taking care of it was on his list), my husband broke his leg and got a serious infection… maybe we were also somewhat intimidated by that box. It was larger than a bread box and looked very official.

When we finally opened the box, we felt like idiots. It was SOOOO simple. The largeness of the box was the Styrofoam holder that had a space for each vial: one for bacteria, another for Volatile Organic Compounds, a square container for pesticides and herbicides and last, the metals and physical factors vial. Oh, and there was an ice pack, too. This is all we had to do: put the ice pack in the freezer for at least 8 hours, fill up each container with untreated, unsoftened water, stick it all back into the Styrofoam holder (which they recycle for future customers) and pack it in the same box it arrived it. Then just drop it off with Fed Ex (you can also arrange for pick-up right at home).

Step Four: Interpret your results – Public or Well

If you’re on public water and request a copy of your municipal test results.

Our well water test results came back with a handy brochure explaining how to interpret the findings with suggested treatments. Being of creative mind, my eyes immediately glazed over, so I contacted NTL directly.  They explained the results and provided recommendations for improving our water quality. For research purposes, I also contacted our county’s public health department. Everything NTL told me was spot on—and even more thorough.

I learned more about the elements in water than I ever dreamed possible.

Step Five: Determine Treatment, If Needed
The bottom line is there are LOTS of options out there and many companies that stand behind their product as being the best and the healthiest, etc. etc. I’m not sure which, if any of these companies encourage you to test your water first. Sadly enough, many just want to sell you their system.

While our water is perfectly safe to drink as is, like anything else, there’s always room for improvement. One major issue: Our water contains low PH levels which will continue to deteriorate our copper pipes and we cannot yet afford the equipment to take care of this problem.

Has anyone purchased a filtration system without testing their water first?

2 Responses

  1. […] local lab may give you a quote for $500 or more. Ouch. The more contaminants you want to test for, the more you […]

  2. […] the water. Like everything else, it's always good to test the water first. How do you know you have a good or bad thing if you haven't dipped your toe in? […]

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