State University Extension
Home Maintenance And Repair - 01500633
Water absorbs dissolved minerals, organic compounds and organisms as it
moves through the air and soil into surface and ground water supplies.
Unacceptable materials may find their way into the water due to some of
Public water systems are required to regular test and treat water for
certain contaminants according to the rules and regulations set by the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Safe Drinking Water
Act. Testing your water from a public system could indicate problems in
your home's plumbing, connections or treatment system.
Most private systems are in rural or suburban areas. Private well
owners are responsible for monitoring the quality of their water.
Testing for possible contaminants on a regular schedule is the only way
to be certain your water supply is safe.
Occasional problems do occur in the state's water supplies. Nuisance
problems generally do not present a health risk, but the water may not
be acceptable for all household activities. The most common nuisance
problems are objectionable taste, odor, color and hardness. Once
properly identified, these problems can often be corrected with water
Testing for every possible contaminant is unnecessary and expensive.
This will help you identify the tests you need for your water supply.
Testing confirms a problem exists so appropriate treatment can be
recommended and you do not purchase expensive, unnecessary treatment
Your first concern is to provide your family with a safe source of
water. Private well-owners should test for total coliform bacteria and
nitrate. The presence or absence of bacteria or nitrate often indicates
the safety of your water supply. Testing must be done to detect these
contaminants since both are typically invisible, odorless and
Coliform bacteria are found in the digestive tract of all birds and
mammals. Most coliform bacteria are not harmful themselves, but point
to an unsanitary condition and possible presence of disease causing
agents. In some cases the bacteria are found in the pipes or well and
not the water supply itself.
Sources of nitrate include food, water and soil. High levels of nitrate
in the water supply can cause infant cyanosis (blue baby) in children
under six months. Chronic, long-term risks are not known at this time.
Like coliform bacteria, the presence of nitrate indicates the
possibility other contaminants.
The following table lists problems found in water supplies and the
appropriate tests to request. You should review your particular
concerns with your county Health Department, Cooperative Extension
office or water testing lab when selecting the appropriate tests.
fixtures or clothing:
||Red or Brown
|Green or Blue
Iron, Zinc, Copper, Lead
Dissolved Solids, Chloride,
Scan,Aromatic Volatile Organic Chemicals
pots and fixtures,
of children's teeth
guests become ill
Coliform Bacteria, Nitrate, Sulfates
infant less than six
pH, Lead, Iron, Zinc, Manganese, Copper Sulfates,Chloride
Suspect or Observe
pipe or solder
Copper, pH, Zinc
Scan, Aromatic Volatile Organic Chemicals
Dissolved Solids,Iron, Sulfates, pH, Corrosion Index, Manganese,
|Gas and oil
Dissolved Solids, Chloride, Sodium, Barium,Lead, pH, Corrosion Index,
Dissolved Solids, pH, Volatile Organic Scan, Heavy Metal Scan
Coliform Bacteria, Nitrate, Detergents, Total Dissolved Solids,
Chloride, Sodium, Sulfates
application of sludge
Coliform Bacteria, Nitrate, Metals (Lead, Cadmium)
Coliform practices Bacteria, Nitrate, Pesticide Scan, pH, Total
Coliform Bacteria, Nitrate, Total Dissolved Solids, Total Organic
Dissolved Solids, Chloride, Sodium
When To Test
Private wells should be tested yearly for coliform bacteria, nitrate,
hardness and pH. Tests for iron, sulfates and chloride should be done
every three to five years. If you are expecting a baby in your home you
should test for nitrate at the beginning of the pregnancy. Depending on
the test results, you may wish to test again before bringing the baby
home and during the baby's first six months.
Even if you have a public water supply your water should be tested for
total coliform bacteria if you make any changes in your plumbing or
water treatment system which could introduce a contaminant. Before
buying a new house have the water tested for bacteria and nitrate to
insure its quality. Lending agencies often require the bacteria test
before approving a loan.
If you have an old or shallow well, it is especially important to test
your water regularly. Older methods of well construction, and the
well's location in relation to septic or livestock facilities on many
farms, makes older and shallow wells prone to contamination.
You should test for bacteria if your well head becomes flooded or
submerged. Following a chemical spill or leak within 500 feet of your
well, test your water for possible contamination. Also test your water
supply if your neighbors have found contamination. Report unknown
contamination or objectionable taste, odor or color in a private well
to: Department of Public Health.
Discuss your water problems with your county Health Department or water
testing lab. After contacting the lab your next step will be to take
the sample. Follow the instructions from the lab closely. Keep a record
of the test results. The records will show any change in your water
quality you may not have noticed. Records are also necessary if you
need to prove an outside activity, such as a spill or leak, affected
your water supply.
Home screening tests
Currently on the market are screening tests to conduct various water
tests in your home, such as tests for hardness, iron or nitrate. Many
public agencies also conduct screening programs as a public service.
Keep in mind these tests are a simplified version of the tests
conducted by a lab. The results do not indicate if your water is safe
to drink, only whether your sample contains the tested contaminant and
the approximate level. These screening tests serve as useful tools for
indicating if further testing is needed. If the results are positive,
you should follow up with a test from a lab.
For Further Information: For further information on water testing or
suspected contamination in your area, contact your local Health
Department or county Cooperative Extension office.
This information comes from Purdue Extension bulletin WQ4, Why Test
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educational purposes only. References to commercial products or trade
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not mentioned. This information becomes public property upon
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are open to all without regard to race, color, national origin, gender,
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beliefs, sexual orientation, marital status, family status or veteran
status. Issued in furtherance of MSU Extension work, acts of May 8 and
June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Thomas G. Coon, Director, MSU Extension, East Lansing,MI 48824. This
information is for educational purposes only. Reference to commercial
products or trade names does not imply endorsement by MSU Extension or
bias against those not mentioned.
information.was reviewed as
of June 2008. For more information about the contents please
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