Today, many people are saying no to bottled water and switching to alternative modes instead. With the information available on both print and online resources, people are getting educated about the side effects of plastic bottles on the environment. Furthermore, they are enlightened with the water quality of these products.
According to studies, water bottles are over-priced big companies with almost the same quality as tap water. Americans are being robbed of their hard-earned money with items they dispose of, such as water bottles.
With that, many people are making a move to demand improved water quality in their communities, especially tap water. They wish to switch to the use of tap water and save money than buy plastic bottles instead.
Also, many are voicing their issues with authorities and would like to understand the water quality report. Indeed, the citizens have the right to know what’s in their drinking water, according to the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1996.
This article aims to know the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1996 and discuss America's water condition. Also, this will tackle how to find, read, and understand the information included in the water quality report.
The Safe Drinking Water Act of 1996
The Safe Drinking Water Act was passed in 1976 and was put into action in 1996. This law has greatly improved public access to information about the quality of drinking water.
As such, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can set drinking water standards in all water systems in America as one of the government agencies.
They have the power to monitor water utility providers and compel them to follow the standards set by federal laws. They must treat the drinking water and notify the public regarding any contamination detected in their monitoring.
With this law, it is required that there must be an annual water quality report of each community in America. Such reports intend to help the consumers decide about their choice of water to drink. However, it can be confusing since it contains too much jargon.
Alarming Condition of Water Pollution
About 4 million Americans live in areas where the condition of drinking water is poor and unsafe. Marginalized citizens often dwell in these areas, and they are more affected by the issue than the wealthy families that can afford various methodologies to cleanse the water.
The Environment Working Group (EWG) released a tool that contains a record of about 30 million water resources around America. It contains data from 2010 to 2015, and most are from state agencies. Using this tool, any citizen can type their ZIP code and get a comprehensive report of the contaminants found in their water.
Although the EWG has not analyzed all the data collected, it already did some preliminary analysis.
According to the authorities, agriculture is one of the biggest pollutants in drinking water. For example, the fertilizers and pesticides used in many places can runoff in rural communities to the water resource.
EWG has also found out that the East Los Angeles Water District had the most polluted water, and they have been catering to more than 115,000 people. Also, they have found out that there are 14 contaminants in the water, which is above the EWG’s guidelines.
Meanwhile, the EWG found out that Merrick, New York, has the cleanest water system in America. It serves about 117,000 people, and it only contains one contaminant above the water guidelines issued in 2015. Also, the income of Merrick was 2.5 times more than the national average.
With the aid of the database, any people can have access to the updated information of the water contaminants like the Chromium-6. For example, one can find in the database that there are about 218 million Americans whose water is contaminated with Chromium-6.
Understanding What is Water Quality
Water quality is the physical, chemical, radiological, and biological characteristics of water. It refers to the water condition according to the requirements of one or more biotic species according to the needs of human beings.
People use it as a reference to set standards to comply accordingly. The most common standards used to assess water quality can relate to the safety of human contact, the health of ecosystems, and drinking water.
The standards set for water quality are determined according to its usage. The contaminants in the untreated drinking water may include viruses, bacteria, and protozoa. It can also include inorganic contaminants like metals and salts. Furthermore, organic contaminants like industrial petroleum wastes, herbicides, pesticides, and medical and radioactive wastes can also have organic contaminants.
Meanwhile, the quality of water can sometimes depend on the ecosystem plus the local geology of the community. It can also pertain to the disposal of sewage, materials thrown by the big industries, and the overuse of water sources.
The EPA establishes the limitations of contaminants that must be found in the tap water in the public water systems in the United States. Meanwhile, the FDA prohibits such contaminants in the bottled water, and companies must protect public health.
Water Quality Report Basic Features
Meanwhile, each community is entitled to receive a water quality report regularly. Once the laboratory has already completed testing the water sample in your area, you will receive a report.
It contains information such as the list of the contaminants tested, the highlight of the problematic contaminants, and the concentrations.
One important feature of the water quality report is the units used to measure the contaminants found in the water. For example, the milligrams per liter of mg/L are used for substances like nitrates and metals.
The equivalent of mg/L is one part per million or ppm, and it means one part contaminant to one million parts of water. Take note that the equivalent of one ppm is 0.03 of a teaspoon of sugar dissolved in a bathtub of water.
Meanwhile, for toxic substances like agricultural wastes and pesticides, units used are smaller, and laboratories use parts per billion or ppb. Other values like the hardness, pH level, turbidity, and conductance are included in the report in specific per test units.
Apart from these, the laboratory can also make notes on the contaminants that exceeded the standards set by the PA DEP. You can see below in Figure 1 that the laboratory noted that the total iron and coliform bacteria are beyond the standards set by the authorities.
It will be best if you keep the water quality report in a safe place. If there is an issue of mining activities and polluted your water resource, you can present the water quality report to prove that your water supply has been affected.
Water Test Parameters
Meanwhile, we can see some of the common water quality parameters in the water analysis report.
There are three categories in the water test parameters: general indicators, health risk parameters, and nuisance parameters.
These guidelines are not yet exhaustive of the indicators. However, these are already enough to provide you with the information, limits, symptoms, problems, and effects of such problems in the community.
Health Risk Parameters
The examples below are some of the health risk parameters and their effects. This lists the acceptable limits, possible uses, potential health effects, and sources of the contaminant.
- Atrazine-Heart and liver damage
- Benzene-Blood disorders, immune system depression
- Lead at tap- Impairment or disorder of the nervous system
- Nitrates-Blue baby disease
- Coliform-diarrhea and hepatitis
- Radon-Lung cancer
General Water Quality Indicators
Meanwhile, the general water quality indicators are the parameters used to indicate the harmful contaminants in the water. With such indicators, you can eliminate the costly tests for the specific contaminants. In general, if there is an indicator present, then the water supply may contain a contaminant too.
For example, the lack of clarity or the turbidity of the water may indicate that there are existing bacteria on it.
Also, the level of pH value is considered a general water quality indicator. If the water level has a high or low pH level, it can also indicate that it can be corrosive. As such, corrosive water can mean that metals like copper or lead are dissolved in the water as it passes through the water pipes. Here are some of the General Water Quality Indicators.
- pH value-An an important overall measure of water quality, pH can alter the corrosivity and solubility of contaminants. Low pH will cause pitting of pipes and fixtures or a metallic taste. This may indicate that metals are being dissolved. At high pH, the water will have a slippery feel or a soda taste.
- Turbidity-Clarity of the sample can indicate contamination.
- Total Dissolved Solids (TDS)-Dissolved minerals like iron or manganese. High TDS also can indicate hardness (scaly deposits) or cause staining or a salty, bitter taste.
Lastly, the nuisance parameters are the third kind of contaminants in the water quality report. Indeed, this group of contaminants doesn't have adverse health effects. However, it can make drinking water taste bad. Also, it can reduce the effects of detergents and soaps.
Apart from this, nuisance contaminants cause stains in the fabrics, such as iron and hydrogen sulfide.
Meanwhile, hardness is another common contaminant in the water quality report. Hard water can cause the soap and detergents to have scaly deposits in the plumbs inside the home. It also disables soap to do its job. Furthermore, hard water can lead to scale buildup in the water heater plus reduce its lifeline.
Indeed, one can express Hardness by either mg/L or grains per gallon (gpg). Laboratories prefer to use gpg as a hardness unit, equivalent to around 17 mg/L or ppm.
Most people disagree with categorizing water as 'hard' or 'very hard.' However, in all kinds of water treatment, you must carefully consider the pros and cons of softening the water before purchasing a water softener.
Decoding the Contaminants in Your Water
Apart from these categories, you will also find codes and abbreviations in the water quality report that can be technical and hard to understand. Here are some of the terms included:
- MCL: Refers to the Maximum Contaminant Level. This is the highest level of a contaminant permitted in the drinking water in your area. This is the health-based guideline set by the EPA.
- MCLG: Refers to the Maximum Contaminant Level Goal. This is the minimum level of a contaminant allowed in the drinking water, and there is no known or expected health risk. MCLGs can provide the consumers with a safety boundary for each of the contaminants detected.
Options to Try Other Than Municipal Water
Indeed, the water provided by the municipal water system is safe to drink, but sometimes, the minerals are not removed, and the water is hard. Not only do these leave an unwanted stain, but it makes cleaning a real challenge.
If you are looking for great-tasting drinking water, you can invest in-home water treatment like a reverse osmosis water filter system or even a water softener inside your home.
Water softeners can remove various minerals like magnesium and calcium and protects the appliances inside your home. It can also enhance your shower experience and give you crisp water right from the tap water.
If you are still doubtful about the water quality report, you can have your water source professionally tested. Groundwater can be contaminated easily. Thus, the homeowner must have their water wells tested annually.
In a nutshell, the water quality report is important because it tells you about any violations of the EPA water quality standards. You can also be informed that the water is unsafe for consumption, and you must not drink it.
Currently, public utilities have been complying with the standards, and more than 90% of the water systems are by the EPA regulations.
Also, the water quality report lists all the detected contaminants in the water. The EPA sets the maximum level of contaminants which is the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL). This is the allowed level of drinking water according to the treatment and filtering capabilities of the technology available today.
Finally, the report can also show the potentially harmful substances found in the water at levels below the required legal limit. As such, you and your family can take some precautionary measures and look for an alternative method to make drinking water safe for consumption.