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Drinking Water FAQ

Here is some helpful information on the tests we run on water in your home and some of the concerns that you may have about your water.  Is it safe to drink?  What will happen if we drink bad water?  And you may have other health concerns.  Water is a big part of our daily living, and we don't really stop to think about what could be in the water that is getting into our systems.  We hope this information will answer some of the commonly asked questions about water tests and what you should test for.   Nitrates are a big concern for people, especially for infants.  The whole family can drink water with levels of nitrates and show no adverse reaction, but a new infant brought into the home can become severely poisoned by the water.  This is called Methemoglobinemia, or otherwise known as "The blue baby disorder". The nitrates from fertilizers lock up the hemoglobin in an infant's bloodstream, displacing the oxygen.  If left untreated, the condition can be fatal.


Boiling the water increases the nitrate level rather than decreasing it.  Concerned parents should be informed of their nitrate level before bringing the new baby into the home and using the water supply.  After the infant's digestive system becomes developed, the child is no longer as susceptible to nitrate poisoning.  As a precaution, children under the age of 3, nursing mothers, and pregnant mothers should not consume water high in nitrate.


Where do nitrates come from?  They can occur naturally from decaying organic material  such as pastures, or on-site septic systems, but the greatest source is from crop fertilizers.  They usually contain nitrogen compounds, which either are in the form of nitrates or turn into nitrates in the soil.  Once the fertilizer is in the ground, heavy rains wash any nitrates not used by plant roots into the ground water.


Nitrates cannot be removed from the water by treatments such as UV lights, chlorinators, carbon filters, water softeners, iron filters, or neutralizers.  Nitrates can be removed by properly designed distillers, RO systems, or anion exchange systems.  Distillers and RO systems are only suitable for point of use (i.e., one or two faucets in the home); anion exchange systems remove nitrates from the whole house.  Lead which has been used in many consumer products, can also be found in your drinking water.  It is a toxic metal now known to be harmful to human health if inhaled or digested.  It can be found in water due to corrosion of plumbing.  It is estimated that lead in drinking water contributes between 10 and 20 percent of total lead exposure in young children.  Young children, infants and fetuses appear to be particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning.  You should have your water tested for lead, especially if you own or live in an older home that may have lead plumbing, or solder.


The following simple steps can be taken to reduce your exposure to lead in drinking water.  "Flush" the tap before using the water for consumption.  Flushing the tap means running the cold water faucet until the water gets noticeably colder, usually about 15-30 seconds.  Do not cook with, or drink water from the hot water tap.  Hot water can dissolve lead, more quickly than cold water.  You must do this with each faucet you are going to use.  Taking a shower will not flush your kitchen tap.  Once you have flushed the tap, you may want to fill one or more bottles with water and put them in the refrigerator for later use.   Iron is a very abundant mineral.  It is frequently found as a naturally occurring element in well water.  Iron in well water does not have any adverse health effects in healthy people.  But iron in your well water will cause problems around the home.  It is an orangish color that will eventually stain your clothing, the inside of the washer, or dishwasher and sinks and bathtubs.  There are two forms of iron.  Clear water iron (ferrous iron) and red water iron (ferric iron).  Clear water iron usually comes out of the tap looking clear and later, after being exposed to the atmosphere, turns rusty color.  Red water iron comes out rusty colored.  You should consult a water treatment professional for treatments of removing iron from your water.


Other forms of iron are Bacterial Iron and colloidal iron.  Bacterial iron is a living organism that feeds on iron and is often recognized by a stringy, slimy growth inside the water closet of a toilet tank.  Colloidal iron is made up of very fine, suspended particles that are very difficult to filter out.   MTBE is a member of a group of chemicals commonly known as fuel oxygenates.  MTBE is used in gasoline throughout the United States to reduce carbon monoxide and ozone levels caused by auto emissions.  MTBE also has been used as an octane enhancing replacement for lead since 1979.


To learn if MTBE is in your drinking water supply, contact your local water supplier, if you have city water.  If you have well water and would like to have your water tested for MTBE, contact SOS  Analytical to test the water. Due to widespread use, reports of MTBE detection's in the nation's ground and surface water supplies are increasing.  The EPA is actively involved in identifying the issues and addressing the concerns over the potential presence of MTBE in our water supplies.   Copper is a metal found in natural deposits as ores containing other elements. It is widely used in household plumbing materials. Since copper contamination generally occurs from corrosion of household copper pipes, it cannot be detected or removed by the water system.


Copper is an essential nutrient, required by the body in very small amounts.  However, EPA has found copper to potentially cause the following health effects when people are exposed to it at high levels.  Stomach and intestinal distress, liver and kidney damage, and anemia.   Arsenic is an element that occurs in the earth's crust.  Accordingly, there are natural sources of exposure.  People may also be exposed from industrial sources, as arsenic is used in semiconductor manufacturing, petroleum refining, wood preservatives, animal feed additives and herbicides.  Exposure to arsenic at high levels poses serious health effects, as it is a known human carcinogen.  In addition, it has been reported to affect the vascular system in humans and has been associated with the development of diabetes.   E. Coli is a type of fecal coliform bacteria commonly found in the intestines of animals and humans. E. Coli is short for Escherichia coli. The presence of E.coli in water is a strong indication of recent sewage or animal waste contamination.  Sewage may contain many types of disease-causing organisms. During rainfalls, snowmelts, or other types of precipitation, E. coli may be washed into creeks, rivers, streams, lakes, or groundwater.  When these waters are used as sources of drinking water and the water is not treated or inadequately treated, E. coli may end up in drinking water.


Although most strains are harmless and live in the intestines of healthy humans and animals, some strains produce a powerful toxin and can cause illness.  Infection often causes diarrhea and abdominal cramps.  Usually the person will experience "flu" like symptoms, although frequently no fever is present.  Children under the age of five, elderly people and people whose health is weakened (i.e., people who have a long-term illness such as cancer or AIDS) are at greater risk of severe illness.


If you have a private well, you should have your water tested periodically.  Contact SOS Analytical and get instructions on how to send a water sample.  Typically, the lab will first test for total coliforms, which is a group of related organisms that is common in both the environment and the gut of animals.  If the sample is positive for total coliforms, the lab will determine whether E. coli is also present.


If your well tests positive for E. coli, do not drink the water unless you boil it for at least one minute at a rolling boil, longer if you live at high altitudes.  You may also disinfect the well according to procedures recommended by your local health department.  Most in-home filters will not filter E. coli, or other types of bacteria.

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