Have Health Dept. Test Water
- Water Well Check:
- Inspections include Well water analysis for coliform bacteria. FHA/VA water and chemical
analyses. Water sampling for led contamination.
- How To Safely
Seal Old Wells
This well house had leaks at the tank and several serious electrical
wiring code violations.
Water System Overview
you ever had your shower reduced to a trickle because someone started
the washing machine or turned on the dishwasher? This nuisance happens
because your private water well system or public utility water system
doesn't have enough water pressure.
Private water well systems are usually configured as shown below:
is incompressible, so the air inside of the tank is what compresses as
the pump runs. The pump will be set to turn on when the pressure falls
to a certain level (often 20 PSI), then run until the pressure reaches a
higher level (often 40 PSI). A waterlogged tank means the bladder inside
of the tank is damaged, air in the tank has been absorbed into the
water, and the tank is almost full of water. The small remaining volume
of air compresses quickly, so the pump only runs a very short time once
it starts. The air also decompresses quickly, so the pump kicks in
quickly, too. If you're running the water, the pump will cycle very
quickly, resulting in a quick death.
a bigger tank means a larger volume of water between the cut in and cut
out pressures. That means slower cycling, and longer pump life.
Checking for a broken bladder inside of the air tank
- Shut off the pump switch, close the valve in the water piping just
after the water tank, drain the water out of the tank using the drain
valve in the piping where the water tank is connected to the water
piping. When the water has been drained, close the drain valve, open
the valve in the water piping and turn on the pump switch. If, after
the pump pressurizes the water tank and shuts off, the pressure does
not drop quickly and restart the pump, the bladder in the tank has
failed and the tank must be replaced. This is the case because,
before the tank was drained, it was totally filled with water due to a
failed bladder. When the tank was drained, air was allowed to enter
the tank and be compressed when the pump was restarted.
Unfortunately, with a failed bladder, this air is absorbed into the
water and gradually disappears until the tank is again without any air
Improving well water pressure
- A constant pressure valve can be installed between the pump and the
pressure tank. It will automatically adjust flow from the well pump to
a preset pressure. It is relatively easy to install and a good,
economic solution. It will solve many problems, however it does not
increase pump flow rate.
- Additional pressure tank capacity can be added to meet high demands
for water that are in excess of the pump's capacity. Ensuring that two
tanks and the existing pump will work compatibly will require a
professional, but this will aid in the short-term demands. However, it
will not permanently solve the problem of the shower, dishwasher,
washing machine, and other heavy appliances all running at the same
- The pump can be replaced with a variable speed pump. The motors of
variable speed pumps can run up to two times faster than those with
constant speeds can. The speed of it is regulated by the demand for
water. A device measures the demand for pressure, and adjusts the
pump's flow rate. Some variable speed pumps have a slow startup, which
eliminates power surges and reduces torque on the pump and well
reasons for low water pressure
you receive your water through a public utility pipeline, your
location and the age of the utility can impact water pressure. If you
live near the end of the line or if the utility's infrastructure is
old, you may have to install your own booster pump and pressure tank.
buildup of scale inside of the water pipes in a home can cause
increased friction in the pipes and hamper water pressure.
The following text is By American Ground Water Trust
Each parcel of land has a history as old as the
earth and sky. It is common for properties to have had many owners
through the years. Among the land use changes that may have occurred
is the construction of one or more water wells. Wells may have been
constructed by drilling, auguring, jetting or even by digging a hole or
excavating around a spring or seepage. Out-of-service wells of any type may
pose potential safety hazards and/or threats to ground water quality if not
correctly maintained or abandoned (decommissioned). There may also be
liability issues to consider if an old well on your property is proven to be
a conduit for contaminants that reach neighboring ground water. The biggest
problem is that old wells can be forgotten. Casings may deteriorate
and rust and new owners or property developers can build over or unknowingly
create a hazardous land use. For example, wastes associated with
stables, chicken houses, dumps etc. that are right over an out-of-service
old well hole, may flow straight down to the aquifer.
In an area where wells penetrate more than one water-bearing layer,
contaminants may reach the ground water zone of the old well and then travel
on to other portions of the aquifer. If the contamination connects with
another abandoned well it could impact other aquifers and threaten operating
wells and water supply sources. Abandoned dug wells do not typically
lead to contamination risk for deep aquifers, but their wide diameter,
usually 3 to 5 feet, creates a physical safety hazard for construction
equipment in addition to the danger to people and animals that may be
injured falling into the well.
Landowners should find the location of any old or out-of-service wells.
Clues to the location of these wells include:
- Pipes sticking out of the ground
- Small buildings that may have been a well
- Depressions in the ground
- The presence of concrete vaults or pits
(perhaps covered by lumber or metal plates)
- Out-of-use windmills (wind pumps) are
likely to be located near an old well
Other clues and information can be obtained from:
- Old maps, plans and property title
- Information from neighbors
- Additions to an old home: In the past,
wells were commonly constructed in basements or under porches to keep
the water pumps from freezing and to ease access in the winter.
- Water utility history: What was the
source of water for your home before utility water was available?
Once a well is determined to have no current use or potential future
use, a water well contractor should be contacted to give advice about
the most appropriate well decommission method. The water well
professional will have knowledge of well decommissioning code
requirements. Wells should be sealed from the bottom up. In most
cases only well contractors have the right equipment to do this. Any
pumps, pipes, related equipment or blockage should be removed from the
well so that it may be filled-in and sealed properly.
Approved backfilling and well sealing procedures vary from state to
state. They generally require the use of special sealing material,
usually cement-bentonite grout or bentonite clay chips. The use of
straight Portland cement is usually discouraged because cement shrinks
in volume during curing, which creates very small fractures and gaps
through which water may continue to penetrate.
In most cases, homeowners are required to notify their local Department
of Environmental Protection or Water Quality Division to document the
decommissioning of the well. Homeowners are urged to contact these
environmental agencies to learn what procedures are required in their
American Ground Water Trust is a not-for-profit organization that
promotes public awareness of the environmental and economic importance of
� This article may be reprinted for non-commercial educational purposes
provided it is used in its entirety and that reference is made to as an
article originally appearing in THE AMERICAN WELL OWNER, 2000,
By American Ground Water Trust
Nitrate is found naturally in air and soil
and is an essential nutrient for plant and animal growth. Nitrate
sources in the environment include the decomposition of plants and
animal wastes, human sewage and the application of fertilizer.
Nitrate (NO3) is a common constituent of ground water. It is made
up of nitrogen and three oxygen atoms. The median level of nitrate
in ground water in the U.S. is generally less than 2 parts per million.
The recommended maximum level for drinking water is 10 parts per
million, more accurately described as milligrams per liter (mg/L).
The American Ground Water Trust recommends that you check the level
nitrate in your well water. If the level is more than 5ppm, test
again in a few months to check if the level is increasing.
The amount of nitrate in ground water is typically related to the land
use activities in the upstream watershed or on the land over the
aquifer. Nitrate levels are generally highest in agricultural
areas or downwind of coal-fired power plants. About 11 million
tons of nitrogen is applied annually in the agricultural industry as
commercial fertilizer. Another 6.5 million tons of nitrogen is
applied each year as manure. Septic systems may also be a source of
nitrate in ground water. The level of nitrate in ground water
generally decreases with depth below ground, indicating that deeper
ground water is somewhat insulated from surface conditions by
intervening rock layers and/or that the deeper ground water resource
resulted from precipitation that entered the ground before the
widespread use of fertilizers.
High concentrations of nitrate may cause a disease know as "blue
baby syndrome" or methemoglobinemia. Methemoglobinemia is a
blood disorder that impairs the ability of the blood supply to carry
oxygen throughout the body. It primarily affects infants less than
6 months of age. Most instances of this problem can be traced to
babies drinking milk formula mixed in water with very high nitrate
levels. The most serious problems often result from dug wells or
drilled wells that have casing that is not sealed properly for the first
20 feet down from the surface. It is virtually impossible to keep
nitrate contamination out of dug wells.
The Environmental Protection Agency has determined an enforceable
Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 10 mg/L for nitrate (reported as
nitrogen, N) in public water supplies. This would be equivalent to
44 mg/L of nitrate reported by a laboratory as NO3. (Check how
your lab has reported nitrate levels before you rush out and buy
conditioning equipment). Private well owners with high nitrate levels
should ask their local health departments or their family doctor for
advice. The presence of nitrate in ground water may also indicate that
there is a potential for other contaminants to be present.
Nitrate levels in ground water are easily treated through ion exchange,
reverse osmosis (RO) or distillation processes to provide safe drinking
water. Before choosing a treatment option, a homeowner should
explore the benefits of each system. Ion exchange systems are
usually best for "whole-house" systems, but require special
resins in contrast to typical "water softener" exchange units
to be most efficient. RO systems are very effective, but typical
residential systems can treat only a limited volume of water.
Distillation is also effective, but has a relatively high operational
American Ground Water Trust is a not-for-profit organization that
promotes public awareness of the environmental and economic importance
� This article may be reprinted for non-commercial educational purposes
provided it is used in its entirety and that reference is made to its
source as an article originally appearing in THE AMERICAN WELL OWNER,
Contamination of drinking water can be
even subtler than air. Pollutants that can enter a water supply are
frequently odorless, colorless and tasteless. A major concern for
infants is nitrates, which can cause serious illness. Other pollutants
come from septic tanks, drain fields or other on - site wastewater
systems that are not functioning properly. When individual or community
wells are used along with on-site wastewater systems, pollution can
occur if one of the systems is in disrepair.
Most large, public water supplies are
regulated by a State agency. The operators - usually a city - must test
and report frequently. Any failure to report or meet the purity
requirements is dealt with quickly.
Private systems may or may not be
regulated, depending on the laws in your State. While water quality
requirements generally fall under the federal Clean Water Act, many
States are allowed to set their own criteria and methods for regulating
small suppliers. It is these private systems that often have the most
problems. To compound the problem, small systems don't always have the
money needed to make major repairs.
The challenge for the homebuyer is
learning whether the water supplied to the home is actually fit to
drink. The system operator may not reveal this information unless under
a State or court order. The seller may not be aware of it, or may have
simply forgot: you can imagine the impact on the seller if they have to
say the water supply is bad. Large municipal systems are usually
reliable, but it never hurts to ask, particularly if you are moving into
an unfamiliar area. Private systems deserve a great deal of research.
The best place to find this information
is the State agency responsible for monitoring water supplies used for
If you take no other advice, you would be
wise to determine the quality of your drinking water, particularly if
you plan on living in the country where the system is private and drain
fields or other individual wastewater systems are in use.
Be wary of any door to door water treatment
salesmen. I used to work for a state agency that dealt with contaminated
private and public wells. You should contact your local health department
and state agency that deals with private wells (or public water supply, if you
receive a water bill) and request info on ground water contamination in your
area. If you do receive a water bill, you can also contact that company
and they should be able to provide you with their latest water test results, as
well as tell you how often and for what contaminants they test for.Boiling Eliminates Contaminates
You can also ask for copies of the state and federal Maximum Contaminant Levels
(MCL) that are regulated by those agencies, from your local or state agency.
Compare these with what the salesman is claiming is in your water. What
type of Point-of-Entry of Point-of-Use treatment system you might need depends
on what MCL is exceeded.
This is in response to the person inquiring about
ways to get cleaner, purer water:Do-It-Yourself Advice from a Plumber
You don't have to purchase a filter, or any fancy systems. I've studied the
water conditions of all of the cities in the U.S., and the fact is that if you
simply BOIL your tap water before you drink it, you will eeliminate 98% of the
bacteria that can contaminate water. This is especially important to those who
are pregnant, or have immune deficinancy problems.
I have been in the plumbing industry for 15
years. One of the best filters I have seen is a whole house filter that is put
out by Omni or Ametek. This filter is available at most plumbing supply and home
centers (ie. ,Lowe's, Home Depot, etc.) It retails for under $30.00 and if
installed where your water supply enters your house, it will filter the entire
house. This will save your appliances also. Change the filters about 4 times a
year.The Salesman's Trick
company presentation is just a sales pitch. Those who work for a large public water
utility are constantly dealing with unethical sales tactics. What
the salesman is doing is demonstrating the 'hardness" of your water.
Hardness is just the amount of minerals in your water, mainly calcium and
magnesium (both good minerals for the body). Hardness has no adverse health
effects associated with it. In fact, health studies have shown that drinking
hard water help reduce heart disease.
The salesman will then show a long, long list of contaminants that could be
found in your drinking water. It usually lists everything ever detected in
water. There are no in-home test that can measure real contaminants of concern
such as bacteria, Cryptosporidium, nitrates, or THMs.
It is true that very hard water can leave annoying white mineral deposits in
your sinks, tubs, and pots & pans. And, if you are accustomed to
"softer" waters, it may not taste very good. Chilling the water in a
closed container in your refrigerator will definitely improve the taste.
However, your should be aware that softened water is much more corrosive to your
plumping and fixtures and can actually dissolve your pipes and leach harmful
minerals such as lead.
Since you are new to the neighborhood, the salesman assumes you don't know
anything about where your water comes from or how it is treated to make it safe.
If you still have lingering doubts, call you local water supplier. The new Safe
Drinking Water Act of 1996 requires all public water suppliers, starting in 1999
to provide an annual Consumer Confidence Report which contains information about
all contaminants found in your drinking water and what the utility is doing to
remove the contaminants. Even before this new requirement, most water companies
will supply a complete water quality report free of charge to their customers,
simply by asking. Be a wise consumer, get all the facts before spending those
hard earned dollars.
If one is really concern, he/she can purchase the Britta (pitcher-style) filters
for drinking purposes to improve taste and appearance. I could also recommend
bottled water. However, it should be use right away or stored it in a cool, dark
place. Otherwise algae and bacteria will grow! Bottled water has the advantage
of not having to travel through miles of water mains or your home plumbing, so
it does not contain much THMs (trihalomethanes- a by-product of disinfection
with chlorine) or lead.
Construction water and drainage issues
Essentially, here's what happens when water
flows over a construction site and into the storm water drainage system. Because
construction activities produce many different kinds of pollutants, like nails,
roof shingles, lumber, sediment and other construction debris, these materials
are picked up by storm water runoff. Grading activities remove protective ground
covers and expose the underlying soil to the elements, also making the soil
vulnerable to erosion by storm water. And if the construction of roads and
buildings requires the use of toxic or hazardous
materials such as solvents, asphalt, or
points, these materials can be mobilized, as well. Unless we closely monitor all
construction activities, any of these materials can end up in our storm water
drainage system and be carried by area bayous and rivers into Galveston Bay.
Then we may swim in it, boat in it, fish in it. The combination of construction
debris and sediment creates a downstream dumping ground, chokes stream channels,
and disturbs the environment for our fellow creatures. Storm water receives no
We Need to Control Our Sediments.
water discharges from construction activities are unlawful in the United States
unless authorized by a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES)
permit. Construction activities that are regulated include clearing, grading,
and excavation activities that disturb five or more acres of land, or that are
part of a larger, common plan of development.
By requiring construction activities to have
an NPDES storm water permit, the Environmental Protection Agency monitors and
manages these discharges, which reduces the amount of pollutants. There are two
permit options, an individual permit or a Notice of Intent to seek coverage
under the NPDES general permit. But erosion and sediment control at construction
sites can still be a problem.
As operators of the local storm water
drainage system, Harris County, the Harris County Flood Control District and the
City of Houston are required to develop a program to reduce the discharge of
construction storm water pollutants by requiring management practices, control
techniques, engineering methods, and other appropriate controls. They have
developed a handbook, Storm Water Management Handbook for Construction
Activities, that gives general guidance on sediment controls and other measures
to control storm water pollutants from construction activities. These controls
are based on Best Management Practices that include diverting flow, managing
overland flow, trapping sediment, proper storage of hazardous construction
materials, and other source controls for construction sites. Remember, when
dealing with construction activities, clean water is, clearly, our choice.
Home is Where the Hazards Are.
storage facilities aren't located only at Houston�s many massively polluting
refineries and chemical plants. Just look around your house and in the garage.
Under the kitchen sink, for starters. Oven cleaners, toilet cleaners,
disinfectants, drain cleaners, ammonia, mothballs, the list goes on and on. And
in the garage. Motor oil, paint and paint thinners, anti‑freeze,
insecticides, and fertilizers. Many of the products we use in our homes and
routinely discard are similar to regulated hazardous waste produced by business
and industry: corrosives (cleaners), flammables (paint), and reactive or toxic
materials (chlorine bleach). Did you ever stop to think that you also store
hazardous materials in your own house?
When you dump left
over point into a storm sewer or change the oil in your car without collecting
it, these toxic substances can make their way into the City of Houston and
Harris County storm water drainage system. And those substances flow directly
into our bayous, rivers, and ultimately, into Galveston Bay. if storm water is
contaminated, then that's how it stays. Storm water receives no treatment.
Dumping of used oil and toxic chemicals,
including Household Hazardous Waste (HHW), into storm sewers, ditches, bayous,
streams, or other bodies of water is strictly prohibited. Contamination of storm
water by these materials can be reduced by decreasing your use of toxic
chemicals in the household and by proper disposal of discarded materials. When
using household cleaning products, buy only the amount needed. Follow the
directions on the product's label, and clean up any spills immediately. If
possible, purchase nontoxic, biodegradable and
recyclable products. Or substitute simple
household alternatives, such as a vinegar, salt, and water mix for
clean‑up of surfaces. When you change your oil, put the used oil in the
empty container and take it to a collection site. When using point or solvents,
use according to label directions and offer unused portions to others who can
use them. Recycle used paint thinner by storing it in a closed jar until the
particles settle, then strain off the clear liquid for reuse. Remember, clean
water is, clearly, our choice. The government agencies that deliver water and
control quality and pollution bares a huge responsibility.
Storm Sewers Under Siege
0pening day at your
beautiful new apartment development is finally on the horizon. The landscapers
have just spread the last loads of topsoil, and soon you'll be putting up those
"open for occupancy" signs. Then one of our famous flash floods hits.
Your topsoil is now a thick mudslide running into the nearest storm sewer. Urban
development can cause short‑term land disturbance and intensify land use
storm water discharges from residential,
commercial, industrial and public sites of new development or significant
redevelopment can be a large source of storm water pollution and can stress the
local storm water drainage system. Owners, developers, engineers, and architects
involved in planning a development project must include long‑term storm
water quality features in their planning process.
We're talking about Storm
Water Quality Management Plans, or SWQMPs, not swamps. The goal of a SWQMP is to
reduce the discharge of pollutants into the storm water drainage system from a
new development or redevelopment project. The steps for preparing a SWQMP to
manage storm water for new development and significant redevelopment projects
are found in the Storm Water Quality Management Guidance Manual developed by the
City of Houston, Harris County, and Harris County Flood Control District. These
steps include everything from collecting site information to preparing the final
inspection and maintenance plan. The Guidance Manual also details pollution
prevention strategies to consider when developing the physical site plan for a
Like the use of
ground cover for natural filtration of runoff, and minimizing the amount of land
disturbance. The Manual also includes guidelines for both structural and
non‑structural Best Management Practices (BMPs) for permanent storm water
quality management. These BMPs include catchment facilities, low impact
development, street sweeping, fueling station practices, spill prevention and
response, and other topics. It is the responsibility of Project sponsors,
designers, and operators to have a thorough understanding of storm water quality
regulations and guidelines as they are adopted and promulgated by the agency or
agencies with jurisdiction.
for Consumers from the Federal Trade Commission
Water Testing Scams -- December 1993
Worried about the safety of your drinking water? You are not alone.
Fears about the purity of our water have increased dramatically in recent years,
along with news reports of leaking landfills, corroding lead pipes, and
crumbling gasoline storage tanks tainting water supplies. These reports paint a
gloomy picture of toxic wastes, pesticides, and other chemicals seeping into
both well and ground water.
Although most households using water from public sources should have few
concerns, potentially harmful contaminants have been found in some water
supplies. If you have serious questions about
the safety of your drinking water, you can take the suggestions described in
this fact sheet to have your water tested and, if necessary, buy a water
treatment unit. This fact sheet also warns you about some home water testing
scams, where unscrupulous salespeople use scare tactics and fraudulent methods
to sell their water treatment devices.
Some Fraudulent Promotions
Not all companies offering water tests are legitimate.
For example, fraudulent sellers that advertise "free home water
testing" may only be interested in selling you a water treatment device,
whether you need it or not. Because there is no charge for the
"testing," you may be willing to allow a company representative into
your home to check your water for impurities.
In doing the test, the representative may add tablets or drops of chemicals to
your tap water, telling you the water will change color or particles will form
if it is contaminated. When your water changes before your eyes, the
representative may warn you that the water is polluted and may cause cancer. The
best solution, you are told, is to buy the company's water treatment device.
You should understand, however, that even spring mineral water would
"fail" the company's test.
Others will try to sell you a water treatment device without testing your
drinking water or without even suggesting it be tested. They may offer water
purifiers as part of a prize promotion, notifying you, either by mail or
telephone, that you have been selected to win an expensive prize.
To qualify for the prize, you are required to buy a water treatment device,
costing hundreds of dollars. Unfortunately, you may discover later that both the
prize and the water purifier are of very little value.
And you probably cannot cancel your order or return the prize and water purifier
for a refund.
If you are invited to participate in such a prize promotion, do not be pressured
into making a decision on the spot. Ask for a copy of the offer in writing and
read it carefully. Sometimes sellers will tell you that they need your
credit-card number for identification or verification, while in reality they
want your number to make unauthorized charges to your account. Remember, never
give your credit-card number over the telephone to someone you do not know.
Some FTC Cautions
The Federal Trade Commission suggests that you take the following steps before
you have your water tested or you purchase any type
of water treatment system.
Avoid "Free" Home Water Tests
Offers to test the tap water in your home for free are almost always part of a
sales promotion. More important, in-home testing does not provide the specific,
in-depth analysis that is required to determine if your water needs treatment
and what kind of system is suited to your needs. For example, in-home water
tests may only check for acidity/alkalinity, water hardness, iron, manganese,
and color, but none of these is harmful. Avoid dealing with salespersons who
tell you strictly on the basis of their in-home testing that your drinking water
is polluted, contaminated, or bad for your family's health.
Be Wary of Claims of Government Approval
Fraudulent sellers use many different sales techniques. Some fraudulent sellers
claim that certain government agencies require or recommend widespread use of
purification systems. Others claim that the government has approved a particular
method for in-home water testing. Still others claim that the government has
approved or licensed a particular water treatment unit or purification system.
All of those claims are false.
The government does not endorse water tests or water treatment products. If you
see an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registration number on a water
treatment product label, it merely means that the manufacturer has registered
its product with the EPA. A registration number does not mean the EPA has tested
or approved the product.
Determine the Quality of Your Water Independently
To learn about the quality of your water, ask your local water superintendent
for the latest test results of the public water supply and then compare them to
state and federal standards available from your state government and the EPA. If
you use well water, ask your local or state health department if it offers free
water testing. Most will for bacterial contaminants.
Arrange for An Independent Test
If you are concerned about the results you got from your local water
superintendent or are worried about possible contaminants in your water supply,
have your water tested by a private laboratory that is certified by your state
health department or environmental agency. To find out where you can get a list
of state-certified laboratories, call the EPA's Safe Water Drinking Hotline at
When having your water tested, deal with the laboratory directly. Some
fraudulent sellers ask for a sample of your water to send to
an Independent laboratory for testing, and then alter or misrepresent the
laboratory's test results.
You should understand that the costs of different water tests vary widely. Tests
for bacteria range from $15 to $45, while tests for chemical contamination can
cost hundreds, even thousands of dollars, depending on the depth of the
Decide What You Need
If tests on your water indicate problems, the next step is to determine what
type of system you need to treat the water. This can be a difficult decision
because there is a wide variety of water treatment devices on the market today.
Water purifiers range from relatively low-cost, simple filter devices for a
kitchen faucet to more expensive, sophisticated systems that treat water from
its point of entry into a home.
Keep in mind, no one water treatment device can solve every problem. Some
systems only soften water by removing calcium and magnesium, while others
eliminate virtually all minerals and other foreign matter present in the water.
Ask the testing firm or local government officials what kind of water treatment
or purification system will suit your needs.
Remember, first you need to identify the water problem, and then you need to
shop for the right device or filter to correct the problem. Once you decide to
purchase a particular type of water treatment system, you will have to make
choices in terms of price, installation, maintenance, and warranties. To become
familiar with the most commonly available treatment methods and devices, ask for
a free copy of the FTC's brochure "Home Water Treatment Units,"
developed in cooperation with the EPA. Contact: Public Reference, Federal Trade
Commission, Washington, DC 20580; 202-326-2222. You also may request Best
Sellers, which lists all of the FTC's consumer publications.
If You Have a Complaint
To report problems about fraudulent sales practices, call:
National Fraud Information Center
Consumer Assistance Hotline
9 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. EST, Monday _ Friday
You also may file a complaint with the FTC. Write:
Federal Trade Commission
Washington, DC 20580
Although the FTC cannot intervene in individual disputes, it needs to learn
about home water treatment sales practices you believe to be deceptive.
|Clear choices for clean
Concerned about your water's safety? We'll
help you check your tap water.
Nearly 30 years after the passage of the
Safe Drinking Water Act, the safety of the water we drink is still
in the news and on consumers' minds. In March 2003, the nation's
water utilities will begin reporting to the federal government on
their preparedness in the event of terrorist attack; water-system
vulnerability assessments are required by an antibioterrorism bill
passed by Congress last year.
This year, too, water companies will be
required to tell consumers whether they measure up to new, more
stringent standards for the poison arsenic. The standards were
approved by the Bush Administration in 2001 after a 10-month delay
rife with political controversy.
Absent vague threats of bioterrorism,
should you be worried about the quality of your drinking water?
No, say officials of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),
which monitors drinking-water quality. "By and large the
drinking water is safe," says Cynthia Dougherty, director of
the EPA's Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water. "In the
U.S. we have some of the most reliable water systems in the
In reality, our systems may be reliable,
but they're not perfect. Incidents of contamination do occur.
You're particularly well-protected if your
water company serves more than 20,000 people. In recent years, the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has seen fewer
outbreaks of waterborne disease in such communities, says Dennis
Juranek, a senior scientist. A 1993 outbreak of disease caused by
the parasite Cryptosporidium in Milwaukee prompted some
water-treatment facilities to beef up their filtering to levels
stricter than what the EPA requires, he adds. The outbreak killed
over 50 people.
But localized incidents of tap water
contamination or poor taste occur often enough to spook consumers.
American consumers spent more than $1 billion on all manner of
home water-filtering gear last year, according to Frost &
Sullivan, a market research firm. One-third of the water they
drank was bottled.
How can you tell whether your water is
safe? Federal law requires utilities to provide consumers each
year with a water-quality report, also called a
consumer-confidence report. By and large, the reports portray an
optimistic picture. In 2001, 91 percent of the public served by
community water systems drank water that met federal health-based
standards, according to the EPA. Yet a 20-state study of
consumer-confidence reports conducted in 2000 by the Campaign for
Safe and Affordable Drinking Water, a coalition of environmental
and consumer groups, indicates that the reports fall short. An EPA
spokesperson said the agency has been "working with the
utilities to improve their compliance with our consumer-confidence
report standards." As a result, "most annual reports now
provide the information the consumers need to make informed
decisions about their drinking water."
But Consumer Reports' examination of
a number of reports underscores the importance of reading these
documents thoroughly. Here's why:
allowable limits, levels of some contaminants cited in the reports
may not be appropriate for vulnerable populations, such as
pregnant women, infants, the elderly, and those with compromised
immune systems. Reports must state that fact prominently, but not
all do. Only 26 percent of the reports prominently stated that
warning, according to the 20-state study.
Your report may
indicate that your water had safe levels of a contaminant, when it
actually experienced potentially harmful spikes. Water utilities
monitoring contaminants like nitrate must note such spikes in the
report. But the report might not list it as a violation when, say,
spring rains raise nitrate levels above the maximum allowable
level. That's because compliance is generally based on an annual
average measurement, not on individual samples.
A report can't tell
you about problems in your own individual home, such as lead
solder on pipes.
Whether you'd like to improve the taste of
your water, are concerned about possible contamination, or you
simply want to learn more about the water in your home, our report
can help. Based on interviews with government officials,
manufacturers, and consumer groups, and drawing upon our own tests
of 19 water-filtering
systems, it provides a comprehensive guide to clean drinking
This report describes
some of the most serious contaminants in drinking water and what
to do about them.
REASONS FOR CONCERN
your counter has an extra opening for a
spigot, installing a second faucet for an
undersink filter may mean drilling a hole
through the sink or counter. Or, you can
plumb the filter directly into your
faucet�s cold water line. But that may
slow the flow of water through that tap.
While most drinking water is safe, the EPA
says that in 2001, about 3,200 water systems in the U.S.--mostly
systems that serve small populations--reported at least one
health-based violation. Here are some of the most widespread
Total coliform. These are bacteria
whose presence in high numbers indicates that potentially harmful
bacteria may be present. Last year, residents of Irwin, Wash.;
Bonanza, Ore., Littleton, Mass., and other cities were told to
boil water or drink bottled after their water was found to contain
Escherichia coli (E. coli), bacteria that produces
diarrhea, cramps, and vomiting.
Lead. High lead levels in water have
been linked to lower IQs in children. Last year, in South Knox
County, Tenn., and The Pines, Ind., some residents were put on
alert that their well-water was tainted with lead and arsenic. The
presence of lead in your water supply should prompt you to further
test your tap water. A low lead level on the water company's
consumer-confidence report does not guarantee low levels of lead
in your home. Very old homes can have lead or galvanized water
piping; new homes can have lead as well--in the lead-based solder
used on copper pipes or in faucets.
One way to reduce lead in your water
without filtering is to let the tap run cold for up to 2 minutes
before the first use each day. This wastes water, but it flushes
out water that has become concentrated with lead while sitting.
chloroform--are byproducts of chlorination suspected of causing
bladder and other cancers. The current EPA safety limit for total
trihalomethanes is 80 parts per billion (ppb).
READING INTO YOUR WATER REPORT
If you are among the 264 million consumers
served by a community water system, you should receive a
consumer-confidence report by July of each year. The report
reflects how safe your community's drinking water has been and the
problems it may have experienced in the prior year. Many water
suppliers mail reports to homeowners. If you're a tenant, look for
the report on your building's bulletin board or at the public
library. Or contact your local health department or the water
company itself. Systems that serve 100,000 or more consumers must
post their reports online; some publish monthly updates.
At the heart of the consumer-confidence
report is a list of contaminants detected in the local drinking
water over the last year, and which levels of those contaminants
have violated the accepted standards. Besides total coliform,
lead, and total THMs, these other contaminants may be mentioned in
Arsenic. This poison shows up mainly
in water supplies drawn from wells. It has been linked to several
cancers and has been found to harm nerves, heart, blood vessels,
and skin. Water systems have until 2006 to comply with new EPA
guidelines of 10 ppb.
Cryptosporidium. If your water
system detected Cryptosporidium, the report will note it. This
parasite from animal waste takes a dormant form, called a cyst,
that can be filtered out or killed by boiling water you use for
drinking, cooking, bathing, or brushing teeth.
Read your consumer-confidence report
carefully, even if it says your water is safe. The
consumer-confidence report issued last year by Hanover (N.H.)
Water Works, for instance, says on its first page: "We are
pleased to report that our drinking water is safe and meets
federal and state requirements." Further on, however, the
report notes violations in total coliform and lead levels.
"That's the language the EPA gives you to say," says
Peter Kulbacki, Hanover's director of public works. "They're
basically saying the water is safe to drink, but here are the
That kind of equivocating is something
environmental groups would like to see addressed when, later this
year, hearings are scheduled on the reauthorization of the Safe
Water Drinking Act. "If your report says on the cover that
your water is safe, probably 9 out of 10 people toss it,"
says Eric Olsen, a senior staff attorney at the nonprofit Natural
Resources Defense Council. "It concerns us that people who
are vulnerable may never see the information they need to
WHEN YOU NEED MORE TESTS
If your annual report notes any seasonal
elevations in levels of a contaminant, consider taking further
action, such as ordering a test of your own water at the
appropriate time of year or installing a filtering system, to
address the particular issue. Even minor spikes can cause
problems. For example, a 1997 study in the Philadelphia area by
Harvard School of Public Health researchers linked small increases
in water cloudiness--an indirect indicator of elevated bacteria
levels--to a rise in gastrointestinal infections.
If there are immune-compromised individuals
in your home--those with HIV or undergoing chemotherapy--we
recommend additional tests for microorganisms. (If tests turn up
bacteria, consult your health department. Filtering systems won't
remove those.) Fetuses, the elderly, and infants are at a
potential risk of harm even from contaminants at around the legal
If you suspect that your
pipes may be leaching lead, get your water tested. We found
lead-only home-test kits online ranging from $25 to $40. Tests for
various combinations of other common contaminants ranged from $24
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