What's in your water?™
What is in your water? How do you find out?
If you live in a major city, finding out what's in your water is simple as a search on the EPA's website by your zip code.
“Each year by July 1st you should receive a Consumer Confidence Report (CCR), also known as an annual drinking water quality report from your water supplier. Your CCR tells you where your water comes from and what's in it.”
If you are on well water, call 615-975-8688 to fill out our quick questionnaire over the phone to get a recommendation from one of our top water specialists.
If you were unable to find your City's Water Report, please contact us at 615-975-8688 to find out more information.
The Nature Of Water & Common Water Problems
The Nature Of Water:
The need for safe, healthy water is critical to all human life.
So we need to consider the nature of water. The primary answer is water's ability to dissolve some portion of nearly everything with which it comes in contact. No matter if the material is natural or man-made, water seems to always dissolve, and hold in solution, some part of what it passes through or is contained in. In fact, water is referred to as the 'universal solvent.' If the substances that water dissolves were all good for us, and if they did not damage our plumbing systems and personal possessions, there would be no need to study this manual.
The substances that water dissolves can be unhealthy or even toxic. These substances can also ruin expensive plumbing fixtures and clothing. In addition, they can be offensive to our senses of taste, smell and aesthetic appearance.
Water can also "carry along" with it particles of sediment, dirt and rust These are not dissolved in the water, but simply carried with the flowing water, or held suspended in standing water. Nevertheless they can do damage just the same.
A final troublesome characteristic of water is that water is a welcome home (or medium) for all types of bacteria and micro-organisms. When allowed to go unchecked, this condition can cause problems ranging from minor intestinal irritation to serious illness or death.
If we think back to our school days, most of us can remember studying the "hydrological cycle". You remember the process of how water vapor condenses in the atmosphere and falls to earth as precipitation. Once on the surface of the earth, most of the water evaporates back into the atmosphere, where it will again condense and fall back to earth as precipitation. About 30% of the precipitation, however, does not evaporate. Instead, it seeps into the ground or runs off into streams, rivers, or lakes. As the water seeps in to the ground or as it flows over the surface, it dissolves minerals and other substances contained in the ground. Under the surface, the water tends to collect in porous portions called 'aquifers.' These aquifers are the source of our well water.
POINTS TO KEEP IN MIND
Water as found in nature, will always have some substances dissolved in it.
It will always have the potential to have particles suspended in it.
It will always have the potential to be a suitable home to disease causing organisms.
This is true of "fresh" mountain streams, well water, and even municipally treated water systems. To achieve "pure water", or anything close to that goal, water must be filtered or treated in some way.
As you now can begin to see, the problem for us to solve will depend upon what the water has had contact with. These conditions can vary greatly, not only from one region of the country to another, but also within the same general location. Water drawn from wells in the same area may not be exactly the same. The quality of water from a municipality owned treatment facility will depend upon the age and condition of the equipment. Even though the water may be classified as safe to drink, the aesthetic quality may be less than desirable.
Fortunately, our knowledge of the nature of water has increased steadily over the years. The most frequently occurring problems have been studied very closely. We now know the symptoms, the cause of the symptoms, and how to cure the problem itself. Sometimes the symptoms are easy to read and easy to cure. Other times, several problems exist in the water at the same time. Then it gets more complicated, and usually more costly to correct.
Let's examine these water problems as they will be reported to you by your customers ... the symptoms they see, taste, smell or fear. Along with the symptoms we will provide the cause of the condition, so you will be able to explain to our customer exactly what is going on with their water supply.
COMMON WATER PROBLEMS
The term hardness refers to the quantity of dissolved calcium and magnesium in water. These minerals, which come primarily from limestone type rock formations, are found to some degree in almost all natural waters. Calcium and magnesium cause problems for two principal reasons:
When the water is warmed, they precipitate out of solution and form a hard, rock-like scale. This scale accelerates corrosion, restricts flow, and reduces heat transfer in water heaters and boilers.
When they combine with soap, they react to form a curd, which interferes with cleaning, dries out skin, and leaves deposits on plumbing and clothes (bathtub ring; ring around the collar).
Hardness is measured in parts per million (or the equivalent mg/L) or in grains per gallon (gpg). Note: if the water analysis is given in ppm as CaCO3 then 1 gpg = 17.1 ppm. A common aspirin tablet weighs 5 grains). There is no established limit for the acceptable level of hardness in water, but it is generally considered to become problematic at around 3 gpg.
Levels of hardness are referred to as follows:
0 - 1 grains per gallon (gpg)
Slightly Hard Water
1 - 3.5 grains per gallon (gpg)
Moderately Hard Water
3.5 - 7 grains per gallon (gpg)
7 - 10.5 grains per gallon (gpg)
Very Hard Water
over 10.5 grains per gallon (gpg)
Waters which naturally contain very little hardness can also be problematic because they may be corrosive in some applications (see acidity).
For some applications, sequestering agents (Siliphos) are good for hardness conditions under 15 gpg. The only practical method for hardness removal above 15 gpg in residential applications is through cation exchange process employed by water softeners (also called conditioners).
Water which contains excess acidity tends to act aggressively towards plumbing and fixtures, causing corrosion and staining (i.e.-blue green stains on fixtures from copper pipes). Relative acidity/alkalinity is measured on the pH scale, ranging from 0- 1 4, where 7 is neutral, numbers lower than 7 are progressively more acidic, and numbers higher than seven are increasingly alkaline (basic). The pH value refers not to the quantity of acidity, but rather to the relative acidity/alkalinity of a particular sample.
Alkalinity acts as a buffer to deactivate the acidity, a process called neutralization. For example, limestone (calcium carbonate) is often applied to soil to offset the acidity which comes from acid rain and decaying organic material. The acceptable range for water is 6.5-8.5.
Acidity cannot be removed from water. However, it can be neutralized by raising the pH with alkalinity. This can be done by injecting a highly basic (alkaline) solution with a feed pump or by passing the water through a bed of processed limestone or similar material.
The presence of Iron is a very common water quality problem, particularly in water from deep wells. Water containing even a significant quantity of iron may appear clear when drawn, but will rapidly turn red upon exposure to air. This process is called oxidation, and involves the conversion of ferrous (dissolved) iron, which is highly soluble, to ferric (precipitated) iron, which is largely insoluble. The ferric iron then causes red/brown staining on clothes, fixtures, etc.
Iron concentration is measured in ppm or mg/l (milligrams per liter, where 1 ppm = 1 mg/l). Staining usually becomes a problem at concentrations greater than 0.3 ppm. Removal is through ion exchange (water softener) or oxidation/filtration (APIR).
Manganese is a metal similar to iron which causes a grey/black stain. It can cause staining in concentrations as low as 0.05 ppm. Manganese is removed in a manner similar to iron, although oxidation is more difficult, requiring a pH of at least 8.5.
Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S)
Hydrogen Sulphide is a gas which smells strongly like rotten eggs. It results from the decay of organic matter with organic sulphur and the presence of certain types of bacteria. Even very low concentrations are offensive as well as highly corrosive (silver tarnishes almost immediately upon contact with H2S).
Because it is in a gaseous form, H2S cannot be collected in a sample bottle for laboratory analysis. Therefore, its presence must be reported when a sample is submitted for a treatment recommendation. It can be removed by oxidation/filtration, aeration, or well sanitization.
Turbidity is a measure of suspended particles in water and can range from large particles which settle out of solution rapidly (such as sand), to extremely fine sediment which may stay suspended in solution even after standing for hours. Treatment depends upon size, which is measured in microns.
Tastes and Odors
Most tastes and odors are caused by the presence of organic matter and chlorine. The vast majority of these can be removed with activated carbon.
Organic Chemical Contaminants
The presence of toxic chemicals at various concentrations has been widely documented in many water supplies. Detection can be difficult as these contaminants often have no taste or odor. Treatment depends on type and concentration. These chemicals may be industrial solvents or agricultural pesticides and herbicides. One of the most common is Trihalomethane (THM) which is formed when chlorine in the water reacts with natural organic matter.
Total Dissolved Solids (TDS)
TDS is the sum of the mineral salts in water and if too high can result in objectionable taste, cloudy ice, interference with the flavor of foods and beverages and scale left behind in cookware. Generally speaking, the lower the TDS the more acceptable the drinking water. TDS of 1,000 ppm or more is unacceptable for drinking water. Reverse Osmosis (R0) process has proven itself as the most practical and cost effective method of correcting problems caused by high TDS.
Nitrates are inorganic chemicals dissolved in some water supplies as a result of feedlot and agricultural activities. Nitrate levels over 45 mg/L as actual NO3 (or 10 mg/L as Nitrogen, N) can be a serious health risk to infants and children. Reverse Osmosis has proven itself as an effective method of reducing Nitrates to safe levels.
The so-called heavy metals are toxic elemental metals such as Lead, Cadmium, Mercury, and Arsenic that find their way into water supplies from natural and industrial sources as well as home plumbing. These metals, especially Lead, can seriously affect the mental and neurological development of infants and children. Reverse Osmosis (R0) is recognized as the most practical method of reducing Lead to insignificant levels in drinking water. Carbon Block technology that incorporates ceramic ion exchange media is also an effective method of reducing lead.
Radium 226/228 (Ra)
Radium occurs in ground water due to the radioactive decay of Uranium in geologic formation. There is a health risk if the Radium level exceeds 20 pecocuries per liter (pCi/L). Cation exchange water softeners using proper regeneration procedures are effective in reducing Radium for POE applications. Reverse Osmosis systems are effective for reducing Radium for POU applications.
MEASURING THE "INGREDIENTS" IN WATER
The world of water treatment has its own language that is used to express information. It's worth spending a little time learning this language so we will have an easier time understanding the extent of a particular water problem.
Particulate matter suspended in water is referred to as turbidity and is measured in Nephelometric Turbidity Units (NTU). A range of 0.5-1.0 NTU is the required limit for potable water. Higher levels of turbidity should be corrected with filtration.
Another measurement, the micron, is useful for measuring the size of particulate matter. A micron is one millionth of a meter or about 1/25,000 of an inch. Particles smaller than 30-40 microns cannot be seen with the naked eye and a 5 micron particle is about the size of a single grain of talcum powder.
Objectionable color in water is expressed in APHA units. Typically, color levels above 25 APHA are noticeable. At levels of 50-60 APHA the water typically requires treatment.
Objectionable odor from water is measured by the Threshold Odor Number (TON). The TON is the dilution factor required before an odor becomes minimally perceptible.
The pH Scale measures the relative acidity/alkalinity of a particular water sample. There are also several other contaminant measurement units with which you should be familiar. The first of these is pH, which measures the acidity or alkalinity of water due to dissolved substances.
Many minerals and contaminants in water may be harmful to health, especially if the exposure occurs over long periods of time. Substances creating a health risk may be bacterial or chemical in nature. For detailed information about bacterial testing, please refer to our water bacteriology pamphlet.
The Tarrant County North Texas Regional Laboratory offers chemical analysis that includes 23 tests, which may be requested individually or as a complete panel. These tests may be categorized as:
those affecting health; and
those creating practical or aesthetic problems
High levels are most dangerous to children age one and under. Excessive levels of nitrate may react with hemoglobin in the blood to produce "blue baby" syndrome. Nitrate is an oxidized form on nitrogen that may be produced by bacteria converting nitrites to nitrates. High levels of nitrates in water may indicate biological wastes in the final stages of stabilization, or run off from heavily fertilized fields. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and EPA set the maximum contamination level for nitrates at 10mg/L.
Nitrites are an intermediate stage in the decomposition of compounds containing nitrogen. Nitrites easily convert to nitrates in the presence of oxygen, so that nitrites are rarely found in surface water. Water containing large amounts of nitrite indicates that the water contains partially decomposed organic matter. Some home loan agencies require nitrite testing as part of the inspection process.
Excessive lead levels in the body can cause serious damage to the brain, nervous system, kidneys, and red blood cells. Young children are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning. Most lead in household water comes from the plumbing rather than the water supply. Plumbing installed before 1930 is likely to contain lead. Newer copper pipes are frequently soldered with lead; in fact, lead solder is thought to be the leading cause of lead contamination in U.S. home water supplies. New brass faucets and fittings can also leach lead, even if they are called "lead free". Any factors that increase water corrosivity increase lead leaching off plumbing into the water. If the water is not corrosive, mineral deposits gradually coat pipe interiors, insulating the water from lead solder. This explains why new homes have a higher risk of lead contamination during the first five years, before any minerals have built up on the plumbing.
To reduce your risk of lead exposure in drinking water:
Only drink from the cold water faucet, since hot water is likely to contain a higher lead level
Flush the tap to be used until it runs as cold as it will get, especially if the water has not been used for six hours or longer.
In addition to adversely affecting the taste of water, high sulfate levels can have a strong laxative effect, especially on people not used to water with increased sulfate levels. Concentrations above 200 mg/L also increase the amount of lead leached from lead pipes. The EPA has set acceptable sulfate levels at 250 mg/L or less.
The EPA guideline for drinking water sodium is 20 mg/L. This is a very low level, chosen because long term exposure may increase blood pressure in susceptible individuals. Excessive sodium may also produce a salty taste. The World Health Organization has a maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 200 mg/L for sodium. TNRCC does not currently have a standard for sodium.
Fluoride occurs naturally in some ground waters. Public water supplies are generally supplemented with fluoride to maintain a level of 1 mg/L and aid in the prevention of dental caries. Fluoride levels of 2 mg/L may cause a brownish discoloration of the teeth, while levels of 4 mg/L or greater are considered toxic and associated with skeletal damage. Fluoridation is controversial. While studies have shown fluoride to decrease the incidence of tooth decay, other studies link fluoridation with increased rates of bone and joint disease.
Drinking water normally contains low concentrations of copper, with concentrations over 1 mg/L producing a bitter taste. High levels of copper are toxic and may be associated with gastrointestinal distress and Wilson's disease. High copper levels also contribute to plumbing corrosion and porcelain staining.
Calcium, Magnesium & Total Hardness
Water hardness is caused by dissolved minerals, mainly calcium and magnesium, but ions of iron, zinc, manganese, etc. may also be present. Excessively hard water limits the effectiveness of soaps and detergents, and may build up as a coating in plumbing.
Low water hardness is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, perhaps due to deficiencies of calcium and magnesium.
Practical & Aesthetic Considerations
pH is a measure of hydrogen ion activity in a solution. pH 7 is neutral, while pH's below 7 are acidic, and those above 7 are basic. TCEQ's standard for pH in Texas water is pH 7 or greater. EPA's pH guideline is 6.5 - 8.5. pH's below 6.5 are corrosive.
Alkalinity is a measure of the capacity of water to neutralize acids. Alkalinity is primarily due to the presence of bicarbonate, carbonate, and hydroxide ions. Salts of weak acids may also contribute, such as silicates. Alkalinity acts as a pH buffer and must be considered in selecting the appropriate water treatment process. Alkalinity may also affect water taste.
Total Solids are a measure of matter dissolved in water. It is a general test of water quality, usually reflecting mineral content. Water with a high total solid content may be unpalatable and aesthetically unsuitable for bathing. The effectiveness of soaps and detergents may also be compromised. A limit of 500 mg/L of dissolved solids is desirable for drinking water.
Conductivity measures the ability of an aqueous solution to carry an electrical current. This measurement is a gauge of the concentrations of ions present. It is a general, non-specific measure of mineral content and general water quality. Most safe drinking water in the USA has a conductivity of 50 to 1500 µohms/cm.
Iron may be present in our domestic water due to leaching of natural deposits or iron-bearing industrial waste. Iron is generally more of a nuisance than a health hazard. Iron levels greater than .1 mg/L may result in a bitter taste. High levels also cause the staining of laundry and porcelain.
Manganese is often found in water with a high iron content. Like iron, it is more of a nuisance than a health problem. Manganese may cause dark gray or black stains on porcelain and laundry, and a black precipitate in water lines. Levels above 0.1 mg/L may give water a bitter taste.
Silica is the second most abundant element in nature. Silica is added to water as a water conditioner and corrosion inhibitor. Silica can cause problems in industry, forming glassy deposits on tubes of boilers and heat exchangers. Measuring silica in water is useful when efficiency of demineralizers is being monitored, as silica is one of the first impurities detected when the exchange capacity of a demineralizer is exhausted.
Chloride is an element considered essential to the human diet. Chlorides are present in all water supplies, usually as chloride ions. Concentrations of chloride over 250 mg/L may give water a salty taste, but high chloride levels are not known to have any toxic effects on humans. However, high chloride levels may harm metallic pipes and plants.
Chlorine is a chemical disinfectant used in water treatment. It is also used for its bleaching ability and odor control. Fort Worth city water typically reaches its customers with a residual chlorine level of about .5 mg/L. Residual chlorine dissipates over a matter of a few hours.
Chlorine gas is irritating to the respiratory tract and mucous membranes. Its odor is detectable at 3.5 parts per million (ppm). Used in high concentrations during World War I in chemical warfare, chlorine gas is fatal at 1,000 ppm. Carefully used as an additive to our drinking water, chlorine protects us from harmful microorganisms.