Evaluating household water
If anything about the odor, color, clarity, or taste of your water seems odd, it’s a good idea to try to determine the reason why. Even if the water looks and tastes fine, you should consider having it tested if your source is a spring, well, or cistern M a highly populated, industrialized, orfarmingarea.
Your county health department or Cooperative Extension Service may test the water for you or send you a list of laboratories that charge fees. A water-treatment company will do certain tests for free.
For a test sample, use a sterile bottle; fill it from a cold-water faucet that isn’t leaking. If there’s an aerator, remove it. Fully open the cold-water tap: let the water run hard for 2 minutes. Reduce the pressure to one-third; let the water run for 2 minutes more. Fill the bottle to within 1/2 inch of the top, cap it, and get it to a laboratory as soon as possible. A delay of more than 24 hours may affect test validity.
What to test for
A test for coliform bacteria will reveal pollution by human or animal wastes. If an unhealthy count is found, boil drinking and cooking water until treatment equipment is installed.
Nitrates in concentrations of more than 45 milligrams per liter can be harmful, especially to infants. So can a high level of chloroform (a by-product of chlorinating water).
The presence of any lead, cadmium, mercury, or arsenic in the water is dangerous. The occurrence of other metals, such as copper or iron, above certain levels can also be harmful.
A pH test will determine whether your water is acidic (a pH of less than 7) or alkaline (pH above 7). Acidic water corrodes pipes and can leach harmful metals into the water supply. You can test the pH yourself with a kit available where swimming-pool supplies or fish tanks are sold.
Many treatments are available for water problems. Each one’s effectiveness depends on several conditions. Before installing equipment, consult an expert