How to Test Your Water

Green Tips | May 13, 2017

Water issues might not be making as many headlines anymore, but even if your local supply hasn’t made it to the news, you might remain at risk without knowing it. Given the number of contaminants that can make their way into shared or even private wells, you’ll need to make sure your drinking water stays clean and safe.

So how can you safeguard your water supply? With these steps, you can identify potential hazards and test for any contaminants.

Are You At Risk?

If you live in an area with cause for concern, you might want to skip right to testing. With over twenty percent of private wells nationwide yielding at least one major contaminant, and potentially a third of wells hosting trace amounts of E. coli, water contamination can cause serious damage. Look no further than the news – lead poisoning incidents have skyrocketed across the country, much of it from tainted water. The New York State government typically warns of a handful of harmful microbes and chemicals, including bacteria, lead, iron, manganese, sodium, nitrates and nitrites. Of course, other chemicals, such as perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA the central chemical in the Hoosick Falls incident, can take their toll as well.

The most common sources of contamination come from outdated septic tanks and poor agricultural infrastructure. Improperly stored livestock waste and aged fertilizing systems can seep toxic agents into the ground, while inadequate sewage can fail to filter out these chemicals. If you live near a livestock yard or a known, aged septic tank, you might want to consider a water test. On Long Island, for example, public officials have raised the alarm over aged septic systems and widespread nitrogen. With new revelations regarding  water contamination, however, other sources have made themselves known, including factories that produce mass amounts of poisonous chemicals. In the case of Hoosick Falls, a long-standing teflon factory wreaked havoc on the populace.

A flimsy well could also make the water susceptible to contamination. Check yours to see if the well casing has corroded.

How Can You Tell?

Most know to let water run and flush out contaminants if it looks dark, or gives off an unusual odor. Unfortunately, aesthetic signs don’t often go hand-in-hand with the worst contaminants. Lead poisoning does not leave any physical signs; according to a number of government agencies, you cannot know if your water contains hazardous levels of lead unless you test it. Nitrate, meanwhile, shows no physical traits whatsoever, but can cause extreme and potentially life-threatening conditions in infants. Water that looks sullied from a visual perspective – brown or even black – can point to unhealthy amounts of sediment, but the major, problematic chemicals can go unnoticed if you’re looking for a clear signal.

You can, however, detect chlorine by smell and taste. As a general rule, the easier you notice the sources of contamination, the easier you can get rid of them. Conditioners designed to remove high mineral content such as calcium and magnesium can prove pricey, but straightforward, while a simple carbon filter can cut out the Chlorine.

Get Testing

So what do you do about the heavy hitters – lead, nitrate, E. coli and PFOA just to name a few? The New York State Department of Health suggests getting a laboratory test of your private well. Fortunately, the state’s Wadsworth Center has compiled a database of all the labs in the area – simply search for your city, county or zip code and find one that does the right test for you. No test can cover every possible contaminant, so you can do your best by tackling the most common water-borne pathogens. The Center for Disease Control offers a broad list of the major risks, though it still lacks some notable entries, such as PFOA. Companies such as Long Island Clean Water can not only test your water, but also suggest the proper kind of filter to keep it clean in the future.

If you’re already noticing physical signs of water-related health issues, the EPA offers a list of symptoms to help you narrow down the scope of your testing. Items such as recurring gastrointestinal illness and can point to the presence of harmful agents such as coliform bacteria. Not all of these signs are obvious, however, and even something as simple as the rapid wear of water treatment equipment can point to contamination problems.

Your best bet is to play it safe and invest in a broader test. As always, when it comes to the environment, it’s better to err on the side of caution. Recent events have shown that our water supply remains at risk. With dwindling resources and the increased frequency of droughts, it becomes imperative to make sure the water we have stays clean. Our health depends on it.

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