There are a number of problems that can affect the quality of the water you drink. The only way to be certain what's in your water is to have it tested. Water treatment professionals can have your water tested by certified laboratories and help you decipher the results. If you are supplied with water by a local water utility, you can request the results they've recorded from government mandated tests for a variety of contaminants.
While bad odors, unusual colors or metallic tastes usually indicate a drinking water problem, some go undetected. Lead is tasteless, odorless, and colorless and can find its way into your water via soldered pipe connections. Lead-based solder was used in homes built as recently as the late 1980s.
Even though cities generally use chlorine to disinfect water to prevent illness and disease, chlorination is not a foolproof disinfection method. Unexpected outbreaks of certain microorganisms can still occur. Cryptosporidium, a waterborne parasite, caused several hundred thousand people to become ill in Milwaukee in April, 1993. And although it's disinfected, city water may encounter contaminants once it leaves the treatment plant and travels through miles of distribution lines before it reaches your home.
What You Can Find in Your Drinking Water
The most common drinking water quality complaints, because they are easily identifiable and often leave water aesthetically unappealing, include: Chlorine Taste/Odor - generally caused by chlorine used by municipalities to disinfect their water supplies. Musty, Earthy, Fishy Tastes/Odors - caused by algae, molds and bacteria that live in water and can multiply within a home's plumbing system. Cloudiness/Turbidity - results from suspended particles of sediment. "Rotten Egg" Smell - comes from hydrogen sulfide in water. Color - linked to decaying organic matter (tannins) and metals such as iron.
Problems that cannot be easily identified include:
- Chlorine Byproducts - created when chlorine reacts with other substances in water.
- Toxic Metals - metals such as mercury and lead.
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) - include commercial chemicals and pesticides.
- Microorganisms - include cysts, bacteria and viruses that can live in water.
The above contaminants are not necessarily in your water. The only way to be certain is to have your water tested.
Water conditioners may be designed to help with other water problems, too, including the reduction of radium, barium and excess iron. In severe cases, however, a separate system may be required for proper performance.