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water quality

  • Where to Find the Water Quality Report for your City, and how to Interpret these Results

    As people become more environmentally and health conscious, they are moving away from the trend of consuming bottled water. Bottled water not only generates gazillions of plastic bottles that end up in landfills, but it is also expensive, and very often the quality of bottled water is no better than tap water, so purchasing it as an alternative source of drinking water is a complete waste of money. As a result, many consumers are moving away from bottled water and demanding that the water delivered to the taps in their homes is of a high quality and is safe to drink.

    As more and more consumers ditch bottled water in favor of tap water, they are raising their concerns with the relevant water authorities and showing a greater interest in the water quality report for the water provided to them. Every citizen has the right to know what contaminants they may be exposed to in their drinking water, and at what levels.

    Safe Drinking Water Act

    In 1996, the Safe Drinking Water Act was implemented, which not only gave the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to set drinking water standards for water supplied to Americans across the country, but also gave the public better access to data related to the quality of their drinking water. The EPA monitors water utilities countrywide to ensure that the water they distribute to consumers meets their strict water quality standards. Drinking water must be adequately treated to ensure it is safe to drink, and if any harmful contaminants are detected, the public needs to be duly notified. The Safe Drinking Water Act also requires that water provided to each community across the country must have an annual water quality report, the aim of which is to assist consumers make informed choices when choosing their source of drinking water. However, these reports can be confusing to the layperson who has little understanding of technical jargon typically included within.

    Water Quality Report

    Water Pollution is Rife Across America

    Around 4 million people reside in areas where the drinking water is of poor quality and unsafe to drink. Many of these consumers are from poor rural communities who do not have the resources to purify their water to make it safer. The Environmental Working Group (EWG), which monitors the water quality of 30 million water sources across the country, has released an online tool to help consumers ascertain the quality of their drinking water. After entering their ZIP code into the online database, they will be presented with an extensive report listing all the contaminants detected in their drinking water.

    Common contaminants include lead, radioactive pollutants such as Chromium-6, as well as pesticides and fertilizers which get washed into water sources via agricultural runoff. The online database allows consumers easy access to water quality data that can have serious implications on their health. For example, it shows that around 218 million people across the country are exposed to Chromium-6 in their drinking water — many of whom may be blissfully unaware of the health threat they are facing when drinking water that flows out of their taps.

    Understanding your Water Quality Report

    Every community by law should receive a regular water quality report bu mail that outlines the test results after water samples from your area have been tested in a laboratory. If not received by mail, it should be posted online on your towns website. This report will outline what contaminants were tested for, highlighting any that are deemed problematic, giving their concentrations.

    Depending on the type of pollutant, the concentration of any contaminants present are typically indicated in milligrams per liter (mg/L), parts per million (ppm), or parts per billion (ppb), and in some other cases, units specific to the contaminant in question.

    Water Quality Parameters

    The water quality report typically includes three categories of water quality parameters:

    1) General water quality indicators

    2) Health risk parameters

    3) Nuisance parameters

    General Water Quality Indicators

    General indicators are parameters that indicate harmful pollutants may be present in the water. For example, turbid water is an indicator that pathogenic bacteria may be present. Water pH levels are another general indicator of water quality — if the pH is too high or too low it could potentially be corrosive, which could lead to heavy metals such as lead or copper being leached from pipes as the water passes through water pipes in the distribution network. General water quality indicators include:

    1. pH value- can leach harmful metals from pipes and result in a metallic taste or give water a slimy texture that tastes like soda.
    2. Turbidity — when water clarity is compromised it can indicate the water contains other contaminants, such as bacteria, that sneaked through with the sediments.
    3. Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) - this refers to dissolved minerals, such as iron and manganese, that can cause water to be hard or result in staining, and can also adversely affect the taste of the water.

    Health Risk Parameters

    Health risk parameters, on the other hand, are parameters that can directly affect your health if present in high enough concentrations. The report will include contaminants such as atrazine (causes liver and heart damage), benzene (disorders of the blood and immune system, as well as depression), coliform (responsible for contagious diseases such as diarrhea and hepatitis), lead (impairs nervous system and causes learning and cognitive disfunction), nitrates (causes blue baby syndrome), and radon (associated with lung cancer).

    Nuisance Parameters

    The third type of contaminant found listed on your drinking water quality report is nuisance parameters. While these won't adversely affect your health, they can affect the taste and/or smell of your water, rendering it unpleasant to drink. In some cases these contaminants can also make the water hard, reducing the effect of soap and detergents and causing scaly deposits to accumulate in plumbing over time, while others, for example iron, can stain laundry. Water hardness may be expressed as mg/L or as grains per gallon (gpg), which is equivalent to roughly 17mg/L.

    Decoding the Alphabetic Soup Listed on the Report

    The water quality report will invariably include technical abbreviations that the layperson will not understand, including:

    1. MCL, or Maximum Contaminant Level, refers to highest concentration of a contaminant acceptable for safe drinking water as per the EPA drinking water standards.
    2. MCLG, or Maximum Contaminant Level Goal, is the level of a contaminant in drinking water below which there is no known or expected risk to human health.

    What are your Options if You're not Happy with Your Tap Water?

    The water quality report gives you important insight into the quality of your drinking water, listing all the contaminants detected by the lab and at what levels. The report will alert you if there are any contaminants present that exceed the EPA's limits set for safe drinking water. This information can help you decide whether you water is safe to drink or whether you should be looking for an alternative, more healthy solution.

    While the water supplied by your water utility may be safe to drink, there may be minerals present that could make it taste bad. If you are not entirely satisfied with the quality of your tap water, all is not lost. You could invest in a home water filter like a Berkey system that will remove contaminants that give your water an unpleasant taste, as well as any potentially harmful contaminants that may be lurking.

    Also, you can compare what contaminants are found on your water quality report and compare it to the list of contaminants that the Black Berkey filters remove.

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