Geothermal Field in Haukadalur, Iceland
Water is one of the most fundamental, essential components of life. When it is pure, it is very simple: H2O. However, almost all of the available freshwater is no longer pure. It contains different physical, chemical, and microbiological contaminants which include bacteria, viruses, and toxic material such as heavy metals. This makes good water difficult to categorize and describe. In order to define the quality of water, especially drinking water, researchers or experts have developed many parameters to categorize the water and the various contamination levels within. By doing so, people can now determine what water is clean and safe for drinking.
There are some general parameters such as temperature, color, total suspended solids (TSS), and turbidity to describe the physical appearance of water but this does not tell the whole story. There are many biological characteristics and chemical characteristics, such as hardness, total dissolved solids (TDS), and pH that help to complete the picture. Once these characteristics are known, it is possible to determine what water treatment options can be employed to make the water more drinkable.
There are several possible ways one can determine the quality of their drinking water. The easiest method is to obtain a copy of the drinking water quality report water suppliers are required to send to their consumers. The drinking water quality report will outline what contaminants are in the drinking water and if the contaminants would affect their health. If nothing is available for the drinking water you have, the Environmental Working Group has created a database for tap water throughout the United States. Another option is to find a local independant lab to test the water. This can be done by calling around to the water bureaus in your area and/or surrounding areas to see who they’d recommend. It also possible to test the water yourself with a single use test kit, but this option should really just be used to see if the water should be further analysed by a professional.
It’s important to keep in mind that due to the advanced analytical techniques required to test for many contaminants, it’s not feasible to test the water for everything that could be present. Instead the water is tested for common drinking water contaminants or those suspected to be present in the water.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) maintains a list of legally enforceable standards called the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations. These standards apply to public water systems and serve to protect public health by limiting the levels of contaminants in drinking water. A National Secondary Drinking Water Regulation list is also maintained by the EPA to serve as a non-enforceable guideline for contaminants which cause aesthetic or cosmetic effects in drinking water.
Knowing what contaminants are present in your drinking water and where their levels fall in terms of the regulations, will help you determine what treatment methods (if any) are best for your situation.
(Photo: Kristen Brastad)