September 1

Explanation of Certain Water Quality Test Results

Explanation of Certain Water Quality Test Results

Testing of water can be completed on over 250 chemical elements/derivatives, which would be cost-prohibitive to test all risks.  We recommend that you request information from local experts as to those elements of specific concern in your area. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established the maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) in drinking water for many chemicals that pose human health risks.  All comparisons should be referenced in contrast to the EPA’s MCLs.

Below we provide descriptions, guidance and potential impacts of the following water attributes with which we have first-hand experience, and

  • Bacteria
  • Nitrates
  • Turbidity
  • pH
  • Harness
  • Iron
  • Total Dissolved Solids
  • Lead
  • Radium
  • Arsenic
  • Radon
  • Copper
  • Chloride

Bacteria – Total coliforms are a group of closely related, mostly harmless bacteria that live in soil and water as well as the gut of animals. The extent to which total coliforms are present in the source water can indicate the general quality of that water and the likelihood that the water is fecally contaminated. Total coliforms are currently controlled in drinking water regulations (i.e., Total Coliform Rule) because their presence above the standard indicates problems in treatment or in the public distribution system.

Bacteria – Fecal coliforms.  Fecal coliforms are bacteria that are associated with human or animal wastes.  They usually live in human or animal intestinal tracts, and their presence in drinking water is a strong indication of recent sewage or animal waste contamination. Your water was tested for the presence or absence of bacteria.

Care should be taken in obtaining the sample for such testing, since bacteria may not be present in the water supply, but can be introduced in sampling, if not taken properly.  Your water test results should reflect NO Coliform or E-Coli bacteria in the properly sampled tests. Results indicating positive for bacteria should be chlorinated to remove /destroy all bacteria.

Nitrates – milligrams per liter – This is a pervasive chemical intrusion in water associated with water supplies in current or previous farming communities.  Infants below the age of six months who drink water containing nitrate in excess of the MCL could become seriously ill and, if untreated, may die. Symptoms include shortness of breath and blue-baby syndrome.  High concentrations of Nitrates are also unhealthy for seniors and those with compromised immune systems.  Ten (10) is the level determined by the EPA to be critical; Your water test results should reflect less than 10 mg/L, or should be treated with an installed and maintained Reverse Osmosis System.

Turbidity – NTU –Turbidity is a measure of the cloudiness of water.  It is used to indicate water quality and filtration effectiveness (e.g., whether disease-causing organisms are present).  Higher turbidity levels are often associated with higher levels of disease-causing microorganisms such as viruses, parasites and some bacteria. These organisms can cause symptoms such as nausea, cramps, diarrhea, and associated headaches. The standard for turbidity is 10 Nephelometer Turbidity Units (NTU).  If the standard is exceeded, an iron test is required to determine whether the turbidity is due to high iron, or a defect in well construction.  Your water test results should reflect a value of <10.  If over 10, this can frequently be remedied by “running off” your well for several hours, or you should consider chlorination of the well.  

pH – pH is a general measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a water sample.  The symbol pH stands for the potential for hydrogen. The pH of water, on a scale of 0 to 14, is a measure of the hydrogen ion concentration. Water contains both H ions and OH ions. Pure distilled water contains an equal number of H and OH ions and is considered neutral (pH 7), and is neither basic nor acidic. If water contains more H than OH ions the water is considered acidic with a pH less than 7. If the water contains more OH ions than H ions, the water is considered basic with a pH greater than 7. The US EPA standard range is 6.5 to 8.5.  Acidic waters tend to be corrosive to plumbing and faucets, particularly if the pH is below 6. Alternatively, alkaline waters are less corrosive but can lead to accumulation within plumbing and potentially adversely affect water flow.  Waters with a pH of above 8.5 may tend to have a bitter or soda-like taste. The pH of your water should be between 6.5 and 8.5; both lower an higher amounts can be treated with Acid neutralizer equipment. 


Under Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules, the following are considered secondary or “aesthetic” contaminants.  The EPA does not enforce these “secondary maximum contaminant levels” or “SMCLs”; they are established only as guidelines to assist public water systems in managing their drinking water for aesthetic considerations, such as taste, color and odor. These contaminants are not considered to present a risk to human health at the SMCL.  Private water supplies are not subject to such rules, but the guidelines can be used to evaluate water quality of private water wells.

 Hardness – Hardness is caused by compounds of calcium and magnesium, as well as from a variety of other metals, and is calibrated in milligrams per liter (mg/L) or grains per gallon (gpg).  General guidelines for the classification of water samples are as follows:

0 to 60 mg/L      or            0.0 to  1.0 gpg  —              is classified as soft;

31 to 60 mg/L    or            1.1 to  3.5 gpg                    is classified as slightly hard;

61 to 120 mg/L or            3.5 to  7.0 gpg —               is classified as moderately hard;

121 to 180 mg/L or         7.0 to 10.5 gpg–               is classified as hard; and

Over 180 mg/L or             over   10.5 gpg —              is classified as very hard.


The hardness of your water test result can be remedies with water softening equipment, and should be maintained for optimal performance.

 Iron – The present recommended limit for iron in water is 0.3 mg/L (also known as parts per million – ppm) and should be considered to improve water taste and appearance rather than on any detrimental health effect.  For instance, when the level of iron in water exceeds the 0.3 mg/L limit, you may experience red, brown, or yellow staining of laundry, glassware, dishes, and household fixtures such as bathtubs and sinks. The water may also have a metallic taste and an offensive odor.  Water system piping and fixtures can also become restricted or clogged over time.  The iron level in your water can be tested and remediated with applicable water treatment equipment.

 Total Dissolved Solids – Total dissolved solids (TDS) comprise inorganic salts (principally calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, bicarbonates, chlorides and sulfates) and some small amounts of organic matter that are dissolved in water and are measured in milligrams per liter (mg/L).  This can be converted from another calibration referred to as grams per gallon (gpg).  TDS in drinking water may originate from natural sources, sewage, urban run-off, industrial wastewater, and chemicals used in the water treatment process, and the nature of the piping, hardware, and other plumbing used to convey the water.  The TDS level in your water can be tested and remediated with applicable equipment.

Lead – Lead is a very toxic element, causing a variety of effects at low dose levels.  Brain damage, kidney damage, and gastrointestinal distress are seen from acute (short-term) exposure to high levels of lead in humans.  Chronic (long-term) exposure to lead in humans results in effects on the blood, central nervous system (CNS), blood pressure, kidneys, and Vitamin D metabolism.  Children are particularly sensitive to the chronic effects of lead, with slowed cognitive development, reduced growth and other effects reported.  Reproductive effects, such as decreased sperm count in men and spontaneous abortions in women, have been associated with high lead exposure.  The developing fetus is at particular risk from maternal lead exposure, with low birth weight and slowed postnatal neurobehavioral development noted.

The greatest exposure to lead is swallowing or breathing in lead paint chips and dust.  But lead in drinking water can also cause a variety of adverse health effects. In babies and children, exposure to lead in drinking water above the action level can result in delays in physical and mental development, along with slight deficits in attention span and learning abilities. In adults, it can cause increases in blood pressure. Adults who drink this water over many years could develop kidney problems or high blood pressure.

Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures, and solder. However, new homes are also at risk: even legally “lead-free” plumbing may contain up to 8 percent lead. The most common problem is with brass or chrome-plated brass faucets and fixtures which can leach significant amounts of lead into the water, especially hot water.

The Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) set for lead by the Environmental Protection Agency is .015 mg/L, over which public water systems must take action to lower these levels.  Again, private water wells are not subject to EPA remediation rules, but the guidelines can be used to evaluate the water quality of private water wells.  We refer you to for further consideration and analysis.

The level of Lead in your water can be tested and remediated with applicable water treatment equipment.

 Radium Measured in picocuries per liter (pCi/L), uranium, radium, and radon are naturally occurring radionuclides found in the environment.  Radium is the heaviest alkaline earth metallic element; it occurs naturally and is extremely radioactive.  Radium is formed by uranium and thorium decay.  The three isotopes of radium are (1.) Radium-224 -this has a half-life of 3.64 days; (2.) Radium-228 – this has a half-life of 5.75 years; and (3.) Radium-226 – this has a half-life of 1,622 years.  Radium-224 and Radium-226 are Alpha particle emitting radionuclides, while Radium-228 is a Beta particle emitting radionuclide.   Testing can be performed on either Alpha and/or Beta emission bases, giving more definition to the elements contained in the water.

No information is available on the acute (short-term) non-cancer effects of the radionuclides in humans.  Animal studies have reported inflammatory reactions in the nasal passages and kidney damage from acute inhalation exposure to uranium.  Chronic (long-term) inhalation exposure to uranium and radon in humans has been linked to respiratory effects, such as chronic lung disease, while radium exposure has resulted in acute leukopenia, anemia, necrosis of the jaw, and other effects.  Cancer is the major effect of concern from the radionuclides.  Radium, via oral exposure, is known to cause bone, head, and nasal passage tumors in humans, and radon, via inhalation exposure, causes lung cancer in humans.  Uranium may cause lung cancer and tumors of the lymphatic and hematopoietic tissues.  EPA has not classified uranium, radon or radium for carcinogenicity.

Radium is found in soil, water, plants, and food at low concentrations. The greatest potential for human exposure to radium is through drinking water, where levels are usually less than 1 picocurie per liter (pCi/L) but higher levels (>5 pCi/L) have been detected.  The standard for Radium Alpha particles is 15 pCi/L.  You should discuss test results over MCL with your water Treatment Professional, who can recommend the applicable equipment to treat unacceptable levels of Radium in your water.

 Arsenic – Arsenic is a semi-metal element in the periodic table. It is odorless and tasteless. It enters drinking water supplies from natural deposits in the earth or from agricultural and industrial practices.

Arsenic occurs naturally in rocks and soil, water, air, and plants and animals. It can be further released into the environment through natural activities such as volcanic action, erosion of rocks and forest fires, or through human actions.  Approximately 90 percent of industrial arsenic in the U.S. is currently used as a wood preservative, but arsenic is also used in paints, dyes, metals, drugs, soaps and semiconductors. High arsenic levels can also come from certain fertilizers and animal feeding operations. Industry practices such as copper smelting, mining and coal burning also contribute to arsenic in our environment.

Higher levels of arsenic tend to be found more in groundwater sources than in surface water sources (i.e., lakes and rivers) of drinking water.  The demand on groundwater from municipal systems and private drinking water wells may cause water levels to drop and release arsenic from rock formations. Compared to the rest of the United States, western states have more systems with arsenic levels greater than EPA’s standard of 10 parts per billion (ppb).  Parts of the Midwest and New England have some systems whose current arsenic levels are greater than 10 ppb, but more systems with arsenic levels that range from 2-10 ppb.  While many systems may not have detected arsenic in their drinking water above 10 ppb, there may be geographic “hot spots” with systems that may have higher levels of arsenic than the predicted occurrence for that area.

Non-cancer effects can include thickening and discoloration of the skin, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting; diarrhea; numbness in hands and feet; partial paralysis; and blindness. Arsenic has been linked to cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney, nasal passages, liver, and prostate.

EPA has set the arsenic standard for drinking water at .010 parts per million (10 parts per billion) to protect consumers served by public water systems from the effects of long-term, chronic exposure to arsenic.  You should discuss test results over the MCL with your water Treatment Professional, who can recommend the applicable equipment to treat unacceptable levels of Arsenic in your water.

Radon – Radon is a gas that has no color, odor, or taste and comes from the natural radioactive breakdown of uranium in the ground. You can be exposed to radon via (a) radon in the air in your home (frequently called “radon in indoor air”) and (b) radon in drinking water.

Radon is not a concern in water that comes from lakes, rivers, and reservoirs (called surface water), because the radon is released into the air before it ever arrives at your tap.  Radon gas can also dissolve and accumulate in water from groundwater, such as wells. When water that contains radon is used in the home for showering, washing dishes, and cooking, radon gas escapes from the water and goes into the air.

While only about 1-2 percent of radon in the air comes from drinking water, some radon stays in the water.  And drinking water containing radon also presents a risk (as well as breathing air-based radon) of developing internal organ cancers, primarily stomach cancer. However, this risk is smaller than the risk of developing lung cancer from radon released to the air from tap water.

There is currently no federally-enforced drinking water standard for radon. EPA has proposed to regulate radon in drinking water from community water suppliers (water systems that serve 25 or more year-round residents). EPA does not regulate private wells.

The EPA has proposed to require community water suppliers to provide water with radon levels no higher than 4,000 pCi/L, which contributes about 0.4 pCi/L of radon to the air in your home. This requirement assumes that the State is also taking action to reduce radon levels in indoor air by developing EPA-approved, enhanced State radon in indoor air programs (called Multimedia Mitigation Programs). This is because most of the radon you breathe comes from soil under the house, not from the water supply. You should discuss test results over the MCL with your water Treatment Professional, who can recommend the applicable equipment to treat unacceptable levels of Radon in your water.

Copper – Copper is an abundant naturally occurring trace element found in the earth’s crust that is also found in surface waters.  Copper is a micronutrient at low concentrations and is essential to virtually all plants and animals.  At higher concentrations copper can become toxic to aquatic life. Mining, leather and leather products, fabricated metal products, and electric equipment are a few of the industries with copper-bearing discharges that contribute to manmade discharges of copper into surface waters.  Municipal effluents (plumbing hardware) may also contribute additional copper loadings to surface waters.  For well owners, copper’s source is in the natural trace element, and plumbing fixtures, particularly if installed prior to new regulations prohibiting the use of lead soldering of joints, and with the increased use of PVC piping.

Copper is an essential nutrient, required by the body in very small amounts. However, EPA has found copper to potentially cause the following health effects when people are exposed to it at levels above the Action Level.  Short periods of exposure can cause gastrointestinal disturbance, including nausea and vomiting.  Use of water that exceeds the Action Level over many years could cause liver or kidney damage.  People with Wilson’s disease may be more sensitive than others to the effect of copper contamination and should consult their health care provider.

Copper is measured in the water in terms of milligrams per litre (mg/L).  The EPA recommends that action be taken when this measure exceeds 1.3 mg/L.  You should discuss test results over the MCL with your water Treatment Professional, who can recommend the applicable equipment to treat unacceptable levels of Copper in your water.

Chloride –Almost all natural waters contain chloride (and sulfate ions).  Their concentrations vary considerably according to the mineral content of the earth in any given area.  In small amounts, they are not significant.  In large concentrations they present problems.  Low to moderate concentrations of both chloride and sulfate ions add palatability (sweetness) to water. In fact, they are desirable for this reason. Excessive concentrations of either, of course, can make water unpleasant to drink.

Chlorides give water a salty taste. At what concentrations this becomes noticeable again depends upon the individual.  In large concentrations, chlorides cause a brackish, briny taste that definitely is undesirable.  Although chlorides are extremely soluble, they possess marked stability. This enables them to resist change and to remain fairly constant in any given water unless the supply is altered by dilution or by industrial or human waste.

Chlorides and sulfates can be substantially removed from water by reverse osmosis.  Deionization (demineralization) or distillation will also remove chlorides and sulfates from water, but these methods are less suitable for household use than reverse osmosis.

While generally tested for aesthetic purposes, the EPA Secondary Drinking Water Regulations recommend a maximum concentration of 250 mg/1 for chloride ions (expressed as Cl).  You should discuss test results over the MCL with your water Treatment Professional, who can recommend the applicable equipment to treat unacceptable levels of Chloride in your water.

We would be happy to discuss these factors or their remediation should you have further questions


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