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Friday, November 09, 2007

About Your Home's Drinking Water

Here are some interesting notes you may not know about water quality and your home's drinking water:

  • In 1970, a study concluded that about 360,000 Americans were drinking "dangerous" water.
  • The average person can survive for two months without food, but only a few days without water.
  • Concern over contaminated water is not new:
    • A Sanskrit manuscript from 2000 B.C. states:  "It is good to keep water in copper vessels, to expose it to sunlight, and filter it through charcoal"
  • By the mid-1800's, contaminated water in the U.S. had caused two cholera epidemics, and typhoid fever was one of the ten leading causes of death.
  • In 1908, chlorination was added to the water systems in the U.S.  This killed the typhoid and cholera germs, as well as improved the taste and smell of the water.
  • Later it was discovered that chlorine can interact with other elements in water to form carcinogenic compounds.

A Brief Survey of Federal Action

  • 1912 - Congress passes the Public Health Service Act, which authorized surveys and studies of water pollution.  Two years later, the first drinking water standards were put in effect listing safe levels of contaminants.
  • 1948 - Congress approves the Water Pollution Control Act.  It was later amended via the Clean Water Act of 1972.
  • 1972 - The Clean Water Act of 1972 contained comprehensive provisions for restoring and maintaining all bodies of surface water in the U.S.  For the first time, it also set limits on the amount of industrial effluents that could be discharged into surface waters.
  • Early 1970's - The Safe Drinking Water Act provided technical assistance, information, training and grants to states in maintaining clean water supplies.
  • 1986 - The Safe Drinking Water Act was amended for the regulation of key contaminants.
  • 1988 - Despite these efforts, the US Geological Survey in October of 1988 found groundwater contamination increasing in every state.
  • 1989 - EPA adopts rules aimed at eliminating microbes from public drinking water.

The Source Of Drinking Water.  The world contains 326 trillion gallons of water.  The amount doesn't change, only its form changes.  Half the drinking water in the U.S. is surface water (from rivers and streams).  The other half is groundwater.  These reserves of water under the surface of the earth are known as aquifers.

How Water Becomes Contaminated...

Today, industry and agriculture use over 70,000 toxic chemicals.  About 1,000 more toxic chemicals are introduced each year.  Contamination of water by man commonly occurs when:

  • A water storage tank is defective
  • Hazardous waste landfills leak
  • Fertilizers and pesticides run off farmland into surface water or groundwater
  • Rainwater causes surface run-off from overflowing storm sewers, oil-slicked or salt-treated highways, and chemical spills
  • When septic tanks leak

There are four major categories of contaminants

  1. Microbiological Contaminants
  2. Inorganic Chemicals
  3. Organic Chemicals
  4. Radionuclides

The higher the concentration of the contaminant, the greater health risk it posses.  Age will affect one's susceptibility to a contaminate, and so will the amount of water you drink (children drink twice the amount of water per body weight as do adults, indoor people drink more water, etc).  The EPA set two standards for water.  The more important one is the "primary drinking water standards", which consists of enforceable maximum contaminant levels (MCL) set by the EPA for all contaminants which are considered harmful.  The less important "secondary drinking water standards" are for aesthetic reasons such as color, smell and taste of water.  Secondary drinking water standards also measure Copper, Ph, Chloride (put in the water to kill bacteria), and Hardness (total dissolved solids, mainly magnesium & calcium, in the water).

Primary Drinking Water Standards:  How MCL's Are Measured.  Contaminants are measured in different ways:

  1. Bacteria is measured in total coliforms in parts per milliliter
  2. Organic and Inorganics are measured in parts per million (ppm), per billion (ppb), milligrams per liter (mg/l) or micrograms per liter (ug/l)
  3. Radionuclides (radioactive atoms) are measured in Picocuries per liter (pCi/l) - one-trillionth of a curie

MICROBIOLOGICAL CONTAMINANTS.  Bacteria is responsible for more deaths than any other contaminant in water.  Most bacteria are not harmful.  The harmful bacteria are called pathogens: 

  • Salmonella, Vibrio Cholera, Shigella, Pathogenic E.Coli, Yesinia and Edwardsiella
  • Protozoa Parasites - Giardia lamblia
  • Viruses survive longer than bacteria and are more resistant to chlorination.  Some well known viruses are polio and hepatitis.

INORGANIC CHEMICALS include minerals such as mercury, silver and zinc that do not have a structure or characteristics of living organisms.  Lead is one of the most common and can leach into water from lead pipes or lead solder.  Nitrates in fertilizers can run off into surface or ground water.

  1. Arsenic - from rocks, pesticide runoff, shellfish decay, industrial waste, smelter operations
  2. Barium - leaches from metal plating operations & industrial waste
  3. Cadmium - leaches from pipes into water, soft water corrodes and quickens this process
  4. Chromium - comes from rocks, mining and smelter operations
  5. Fluoride - present in most soils and groundwater - added to many water systems - the more fluoride, the greater the discoloration.  Downside to fluoridating water is discolored teeth or dental fluorosis
  6. Lead - one of the major and most dangerous contaminants of water
  7. Nitrates - main source are nitrogen fertilizers and manure fields - If you have a well, the deeper it is and the farther away from the septic field, the lower the level of nitrates will be found
  8. Selenium - a natural chemical found in soil - more common in groundwater than surface water
  9. Silver - found naturally in the earth - high concentration around mining operations

ORGANIC COMPOUNDS.  In the early 1980's, the EPA sponsored the Groundwater Supply Survey (GWSS) to determine the dimensions of the problem of groundwater contamination in the U.S.  All fifty states were surveyed and tested for 34 volatile organics.  The study concluded that if you live near a dump site, in a community of more than 10,000 people, your chances of having organic contaminated water are higher than if you live in the country.

  • Benzene is an additive in gasoline and a by-product of oil refining, which gets into groundwater from leaking tanks.
  • Carbon Tetrachloride (CTC) is used in many cleaning agents and solvents.  CTC is also found in industrial waste from manufacture of coolants, and in grain fumigants.
  • Trichloroethylene (TCE) is found in the waste from the disposal of dry cleaning materials.  It's also found in many household products such as spot removers, rug cleaners and air fresheners.  Because it's so widely used, it's the synthetic organic substance found most often in groundwater.  TCE is a possible carcinogen with a recommended level of ZERO.

RADIONUCLIDE.  Radon is the most frequent in this class.  Radon is the decay product of radium 226, which is the decay product of uranium.

How Safe Is Your Water?  If you are one of 40 million people with a private well, your water is not regulated and you, for the most part, are responsible for it.  You should test it regularly.  If your home has city water, you should find out what contaminants your water is tested for.  To do your own water testing, you can ask for a recommendation to a local laboratory or call a Home Inspector!

Water Treatment & Filtration

  • Filtration is primarily used for keeping the particles and bacteria in the water from reaching you - two basic filters, depth and screen.
  • Activated Carbon Filtration uses granular, powdered and coated paper filters.  Given enough time, activated carbon filters can remove many organic substances.
  • Reverse Osmosis (RO) can reduce virtually all contaminants found in water; bacteria, most giardia lamblia, some viruses, organics, inorganics and particulates.

For more information about water in Arizona, contact the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) or the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

Martin Spilo, Arizona Realtor with Gateway Properties in Phoenix, AZ      
Contributed By: Martin Spilo
Gateway Properties
2430 W. Red Range Way
Phoenix, AZ  85085
Business: (623) 363-5685
Email me

Posted by Martin Spilo on November 9, 2007 | Permalink


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