Common Concerns in Regard to Water Quality
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Coliform Bacteria– Coliform bacteria are a group of several bacterial species that live naturally in the intestinal tracts of humans and animals. Some types of coliform bacteria also live naturally in soil and surface water. Coliform bacteria are used as a standard for bacterial quality in drinking water, as their presence in groundwater indicates sewage or surface water is entering and contaminating the water supply. An indicator organism is used to determine if water is likely to contain pathogens. Ideally, water should contain no coliforms.
Nitrate – Nitrate may be an indication of water contamination if found at unusual levels. It is especially important that mothers-to-be and infants less than 6 months old are cautious about their drinking and cooking water because too much nitrate in drinking water can cause a blue baby syndrome in infants, which is a result of the blood not being able to transport oxygen, causing asphyxiation. Although nitrate occurs naturally in soil and water and low levels are not toxic, the drinking water standard for nitrate as nitrogen is 10 milligrams per liter.
CDC’s Fact Sheet, Nitrates in Drinking Water
Hardness – The hardness of water is a measure of the number of minerals, primarily calcium and magnesium, it contains. Water softening, which removes these minerals from the water, maybe desirable if an accumulation of scale is present on fixtures and in plumbing, or if a large amount of detergent is necessary to produce a lather when doing laundry.
Sulfates – Sulfates in groundwater are caused by natural deposits of magnesium sulfate, calcium sulfate, or sodium sulfate. The water may have a “rotten-egg” odor. It is not a health concern, but is unpleasant and can cause gray or black tarnish and stains.
Chlorides – Chlorides in groundwater can be naturally occurring in deep aquifers or caused by pollution from seawater, brine, or industrial or domestic wastes. Chloride concentration above 250 mg/l can produce a distinct taste in drinking water. A “salty” or “bitter” taste may be evident due to a large number of dissolved minerals (such as sodium, chloride, and sulfate) in the water.
Iron – Iron is an abundant element, making up at least 5% of the Earth’s crust. Rainwater dissolves the mineral, allowing it to seep into groundwater. Iron can also be introduced into drinking water from iron pipes in the water distribution system. Iron is not hazardous to health. However, at levels greater than 0.3 mg/L, Iron can be objectionable because it can give a rusty color to laundered clothes and may affect taste.
IDPH’s Fact Sheet, Iron in Drinking Water
Lead – Lead was once used in water lines and household plumbing components. Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead plumbing components. However, new homes are also at risk. Even legally “lead-free” plumbing may contain up to 8% lead. Lead is highly toxic and can accumulate in the body, causing health effects. In children, exposure to high levels of lead in drinking water can result in delays in physical or mental development. For adults, it can result in kidney problems or high blood pressure. Lead contamination can go unnoticed due to it being undetectable by taste or smell. For more information on lead contamination, visit the following websites listed below:
U.S. EPA’s website, Lead in Drinking Water
Water Systems Council’s Fact Sheet, Wellcare® information for you about Lead
Synthetic Organic Chemicals (SOCs) – These manufactured chemicals do not occur naturally, and are widely used on farmland throughout Illinois. The majority of SOCs are made up of pesticides, herbicides, or insecticides. The presence of these SOCs is an indication of surface contamination. Many pesticides have various drinking water standards associated with them.
IDPH’s Fact Sheet, Alachlor & Atrazine In Groundwater. Alachlor and atrazine are used as selective herbicides for controlling grasses and broadleaf weeds. Alachlor is used mainly on corn and soybean fields but also can be used in commercial nurseries. Atrazine is used mainly on cornfields.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Cooperative Extension Service, Fact sheet, Pesticides, and Groundwater: Pesticides as Potential Pollutants
Natural Resources Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Pesticides: Health Effects in Drinking Water
Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs) – These are man-made chemicals that do not occur naturally. These chemicals are commonly used as solvents, degreasers, dry-cleaning chemicals, and octane enhancers in gasoline.
IDPH’s Fact Sheet, Vinyl Chloride in Groundwater
U.S. EPA, Contaminant Specific Fact Sheets
Additional information regarding the analysis of water samples may be found at the following links:
Commonly Found Substances in Drinking Water and Available Treatment
Emergency Hauling, Storing and Disinfecting Water Supplies