Now that you know how to find out what is in your water, here are the the top five most common contaminants in drinking water.
1) Hard water
Having hard water isn’t bad from a health perspective but it will wreak havoc on your appliances that use hot water. Hard water is comprised of calcium and magnesium which have dissolved into groundwater over the course of centuries. Having a low level of hardness is fine but once you start getting over 12 grains per gallon (205 parts per million) you may want to consider installing a water softener.
Iron is another common contaminant frequently present in drinking water. Similar to hardness, iron is present in water due to the dissolution of minerals over the course of centuries. Again, having iron in your water is only bad from an aesthic effect. Iron exists in water in the ferrous form but once it comes into contact with oxygen iron changes form into ferric and becomes the bright red color most are familiar with. On the bright side, most who suffer from high levels of iron also have very hard water and the water softener will also work to remove iron. Iron is a secondary contaminant for the EPA, who recommends that you keep your iron level below 0.3 ppm for optimum tasting water.
This contaminant is most frequently found in the drinking water for those who live in older cities such as Chicago and Washington DC. Lead is introduced into the drinking water through the distribution system, picking up lead from pipes, solder, and fittings that all were once made with lead. Now the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) requires that products like fittings must have a weighted average of less than 0.25% lead. The only way to know if your water has lead in it is to test the water and the most accurate way to accomplish this is to have your water analysed by a certified laboratory. There is no safe level of lead in water, but there is an EPA action level of 15 parts per billion which means that once that level is reached the water authority must take action to replace 7% of the portion of lead service lines they control each year. If you have lead in your water an undersink reverse osmosis system is going to provide the most benefit to you.
4) Chlorine and chloramines
Technically these are two separate contaminants but they act in many of the same ways. In order to protect drinking water from microbiological contamination the drinking water treatment plant will frequently add a disinfectant such as chlorine or chloramine to the water. This leads to drinking water typically having a concentration between 0.2 to 1 parts per million of chlorine. The EPA has a maximum residual disinfectant level of 4 parts per million as an annual average. If your water has a chlorine taste or odor, a simple carbon filtration system (such as a Brita filter) will be most effective at creating a more aesthetically pleasing water.
5) Disinfection Byproducts
When water has high concentrations of total organic compounds (TOC) or other naturally-occurring matter in the water, disinfectants such as chlorine and chloramine themselves can react to form byproducts which may pose health risks. It is widely understood that chlorination will produce chlorinated and brominated disinfection byproducts (DBPs) with potential carcinogenic effects on humans. While there are 80+ known disinfection byproducts, the EPA only currently regulates 11 of them. Other DBPs may be present in water at levels too low for detection, or the health effects may not be known. Again, a simple carbon filtration system (such as a Brita filter) is useful for removing these organics from the water.
(Photo credits: Eagle Water, Culligan Tulsa, Plumbing Problems Today, Grand Slam Pools, and Water Help)