How to Identify Contaminants in Your Drinking Water

Posted by
John Woodard on January 17, 2019

Contaminants in drinking water range from unpleasant tastes and odors to deadly bacteria and viruses. Most contaminants are microscopic and tasteless, which makes them more dangerous. The EPA sets maximum contaminant levels to regulate the safety of public water supplies, but contaminants may seep into your water through other sources, like corroded pipes or industrial pollution. 

How can you detect contaminants in water? We've compiled our knowledge on contaminants to help you discover which ones may be present in your drinking water and how to remove them.

Learn why fresh water is so important and how contaminants enter your faucet.

Acidic Water

Acid in Water

Acidic water is one of the most common culprits behind pipe corrosion in private home drinking water systems and wells. The pH of a liquid reflects its concentration of hydrogen ions. The lower the pH, the more acidic the concentration. A pH of 7, or neutral, is the target for household water. Acidic water has a pH of less than 7. The properties of acidic water make it much more corrosive to metals used in plumbing (especially copper) than alkaline water (water with pH levels greater than 7). Acidic water affects plumbing and fixtures and can literally destroy water heaters. Corrosiveness increases with the temperature of the water almost 10 times. You can test your water's pH using pH test strips.

Symptoms of Acidic Water

Common causes of acidic water include acid rain due to airborne pollutants, the composition of soil and bedrock, coal mine drainage, chemical dumping, plant decomposition, local flooding, and other natural disasters. Acidic water creates a blue staining (from copper pipes) or rust red staining (from iron pipes) on pipes and fixtures and in sinks. In addition, acidic water ha a sour or metallic taste.

The corrosive nature of acidic water causes toxic metals, such as lead, copper, zinc, iron, and manganese. These toxic metals leach into your water from your pipes, leading to serious health concerns. It can cause your pipes to deteriorate at a much faster rate, also. Acidic water creates pinhole leaks and total pipe failure over time. This can burden you with huge expenses to replace the infrastructure.

Acid Neutralizing Solutions

Calcite is a high grade of naturally occurring calcium carbonate. This media is an inexpensive way to bring acidic water to a neutral, less corrosive pH. One of the greatest advantages of calcite compared to other acid neutralizing media is its self-limiting property. Calcite, when applied correctly, will only correct the pH enough to reach a non-corrosive equilibrium. It will not over-correct and make the water too alkaline. Calcite neutralizer tanks can neutralize acidic water from a 5.8 to 6.6 pH. Below 6, calcite needs a little help from a blend of calcite and FloMag Corosex media.

FloMag Corosex is a naturally-occurring mineral made of magnesium oxide. Because the media is highly reactive, it is most effective with a starting pH of 4.5 - 6.0 or with high water flow conditions. However, FloMag Corosex can neutralize five times as much acidity as calcite on a per-weight basis, Corosex may over-correct and create a highly basic condition (water over 8.5 pH) under low flow conditions. Consequently, Corosex should only be used when blended with calcite at a calcite/Corosex ratio of 80/20 or 90/10.

The All-In-One acid neutralizing system includes everything you need to correct pH levels and reach a non-corrosive equilibrium. Vortech technology allows the system to operate without adding gravel. This system features a valve for superior upflow filtration, a corrosion-resistant fiberglass tank, and options for whatever calcite and FloMag Corosex ratio you need. As the media dissolves and raises pH, it slightly increases the hardness in the water. This acid neutralizing system is frequently used with a water softener to reduce water hardness.

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Aluminum in Water

Aluminum (Al) is one of the most abundant metals, making up about 8% of the Earth's surface. Aluminum is used in the production of many personal care items, including antacids and deodorants. Aluminum sulfate (alum) is also used as a coagulant in water treatment plants. The EPA lists aluminum as a secondary contaminant, meaning it has few negative effects on human health.

Symptoms of Aluminum

Humans encounter aluminum daily. High levels of exposure are required to cause many adverse side effects. Short-term exposure to high levels of aluminum in drinking water may lead to nausea, vomiting, and mouth and skin ulcers. Long-term exposure effects are unknown, and studies have been inconclusive.

Filtration Solutions for Aluminum

A cation exchange cartridge can be used to remove aluminum from water, but hydrochloric acid or sulfuric acid must be applied to remove the aluminum from the resin. Although this is suitable for industrial water treatment applications, it is not recommended for home use unless in the form of a cation exchange tank. Reverse osmosis systems reduce aluminum in drinking water by more than 98%. Water distillers reduce the aluminum content of water by more than 99%. Contact us, and we can help you choose the right system for your needs.

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Ammonia in Water

Ammonia (NH₃) is a colorless, gaseous compound with a sharp distinctive odor. It is the natural product of decay from organic nitrogen compounds that is vital to plant and animal life. Ammonia in surface and tap water supplies often results from runoff in agriculture where fertilizer has been applied. High levels of ammonia in drinking water are not usually found in well water because bacteria in the soil convert the ammonia to nitrates, a different type of contaminant. Toxic levels of ammonia in water are generally a result of improper waste disposal.

Symptoms of Ammonia Exposure

Long-term exposure to ammonia from drinking water is unlikely because ammonia usually breaks down in water. However, toxic amounts of ammonia can lead to bone and kidney damage. Some studies have found that toxic levels are harmful to the reproductive system.

Filtration Solutions for Ammonia

First, test your drinking water before seeking out treatment solutions since ammonia in your water supply is unlikely. Ammonia treatment generally involves chemical chlorination. Initially, this type of water treatment reaction forms chloramine. The chloramine must then be broken down to get chlorine residual. Organic contaminants in the waste stream are destroyed by the chlorine before it reacts with the ammonia in water. Ammonia may be removed and treated by cation exchange resin.

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Arsenic in Water

Arsenic (As) is a naturally occurring element found in water and soil. It is used in wood preservation and paint and dye production. It may also be a by-product of other industrial or agricultural processes. Arsenic can seep into groundwater through farm runoff or industrial waste. Mining or metallurgical operations can create arsenic-laced pollution.

Symptoms of Arsenic

Arsenic has no smell or taste, but its effects can be deadly. Short-term exposure can lead to skin irritation, skin discoloration, stomach problems, nausea, and vomiting. Long-term exposure to arsenic in drinking water has been shown to lead to various types of cancer including liver, prostate, and bladder cancer.

Filtration Solutions Arsenic

Since arsenic is invisible and has no taste, tap water should be tested to ascertain arsenic levels. EPA standards require municipalities to test for and treat water that is over 10ppb (10 parts per billion). Because private wells are not regulated by governments, owners should test at least annually for the presence and species of arsenic. Arsenic can be present in well water in two varieties, arsenic 3 (As3) and arsenic 5 (As5).  Arsenic 3 is very hard to remove and must be converted to arsenic 5 in order to be able to reduce it to acceptable levels.  This can be accomplished by oxidizing with chlorine, hydrogen peroxide or ozone.Toxic arsenic 5 levels in drinking water can be reduced in different ways: reverse osmosis, activated alumina, anion exchange, and distillation. Anion exchange reduces it by 90-100%. Reverse osmosis has a 90% removal rate, and distillation will remove 98% of arsenic from water.

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Barium in Water

Barium (Ba) is a naturally occurring alkaline metal found primarily in the Midwest of the United States. Traces of barium are found in surface water and groundwater. Barium may exist in oil and gas drilling muds, waste from coal-fired power plants, jet fuels, and automotive paints. It is used in a wide variety of industries, including the production of electrical components, bleaches, dyes, and fireworks. Barium in drinking water can be highly toxic. The current maximum contaminant level set by the EPA is 2.0 mg/L. Barium can get into drinking water through improper waste disposal or erosion of natural deposits.

Symptoms of Barium

Barium in water has no smell or taste. If you suspect its presence in your water source, you should get your water professionally tested. High levels of barium in drinking water can cause increased blood pressure and may lead to cardiovascular disease. Barium in drinking water can cause stomach and intestinal discomfort. In some studies, it has been found to cause kidney damage.

Filtration Solutions for Barium

The best option for removing barium and other contaminants from drinking water is a water softener featuring ion exchange or reverse osmosis for point of use.

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Benzene in Water

The chemical benzene (C₆H₆) can be formed through natural processes like volcanoes and forest fires, but it's more likely a product of petroleum refining. It is used in the production of synthesized fabric, plastics, and rubber. Benzene is a colorless, sweet-smelling gas. Benzene in water is classified as a volatile organic compound (VOC) and considered a carcinogen by the EPA. Benzene finds its way into drinking water supplies from leaking fuel tanks, industrial chemical pollution, pharmaceutical industry waste, or agricultural runoff. The current EPA maximum contaminant level for benzene is 0.005 mg/L. Any higher concentration is harmful.

Symptoms of Benzene

Exposure to benzene in drinking water over a long period of time can inhibit cellular regeneration, which causes anemia and damages blood cells. Eventually, this exposure can cause leukemia and other cancers.

Filtering Solutions for Benzene

Benzene can be removed from drinking water with activated carbon water filters, which are found in reverse osmosis systems and ultrafiltration systems.

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Bicarbonate Water Alkalinity

Bicarbonate Water Alkalinity in Water

Alkalinity is the measurement of water’s ability to neutralize acids. Bicarbonate (HCO₃) ions are the principal alkaline constituents in almost all water supplies. Different types of rock, soil, and industrial manufacturing can change the alkalinity in groundwater. Alkalinity in drinking water supplies seldom exceeds 300 mg/L. Alkalinity is needed in boiler feed water, cooling tower water, and in the beverage industry. Alkalinity neutralizes the acidity in fruit flavors. In the textile industry, it interferes with acid dying by acting as a "buffer." In these situations, acidic water (the opposite of alkaline water) damages expensive equipment and potentially ruins manufactured products.

Symptoms of Alkalinity

Alkalinity does not generally affect the taste, color, or odor of water. In cases of high alkalinity, the water can cause digestive discomfort and illnesses. Alkalinity is not the only problem with the tap water. Usually, there will be other contaminants present as well.

Water Treatment Solutions for Alkalinity

In the pH range of 5.0 to 8.0, there is a balance between excess CO₂ and bicarbonate ions in water. Excessive bicarbonate water alkalinity can be reduced by removing the free CO₂ through aeration. At a pH level of 5.0, there is only CO₂ and no alkalinity. A strong base anion exchanger removes alkalinity from water.

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Borate - Boron

Borate - Boron in Water

Boron (B) is a rare element found in the Earth's crust. Various boron compounds are commonly found near volcanic spring waters, dry lakes, or river beds. Boron and its related compounds and by-products may be found in groundwater because of pesticide and fertilizer runoff, sewage spills, and coal production. Borax is a form of boron found in many household items like cleaning and laundry solutions.

Symptoms of Boron

Elemental boron and borates, like table salt, in water are non-toxic to humans and animals. Borates are generally more toxic to insects. Boric acid (a variant of boron) is not limited by EPA drinking water standards, but it can damage citrus crops if present in irrigation water and concentrated in the soil. Studies have revealed that high levels of boron or borates lead to diarrhea or vomiting. Since boron in drinking water is tasteless and invisible, its levels should be tested before treatment like any other water contaminants.

Filtering Solutions for Boron

Boron in drinking water behaves like silica. The best options for boron water treatment are an anion exchange filter or a reverse osmosis system with a pH balancer.

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Bromide – Bromate

Bromide – Bromate in Water

Bromine (Br) is a halogen element. The compound bromide is primarily used on marine vessels. Cruise ships, for example, use it as a secondary disinfectant for potable water. However, using bromide in this manner can create harmful by-products. In such instances, special filters should be used to clean water. Various forms are used in industrial and manufacturing processes: ethylene bromide acts as an anti-knock additive in gasoline, and methyl bromide acts as a soil fumigant. Bromine in groundwater may indicate agricultural runoff or improper disposal of industrial waste.

Symptoms of Bromate

Exposure to bromide in drinking water is unlikely. Instead, bromine creates a dangerous by-product called bromate, often more toxic than bromide. Bromate is a carcinogen. Bromide (on its own) is lethal in animals and causes damage to the kidneys and liver in humans. Because it is so dangerous, the EPA has set the maximum contaminant concentration level at a low 0.010 mg/L.

Filtration Solutions for Bromate

Reverse osmosis systems remove up to 96% of bromate and bromide from drinking water. Bromide and its by-products can be removed with activated carbon water filters and ultrafiltration systems.

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Cadmium in Water

Cadmium (Cd) is a metal found in large mineral deposits. Cadmium is also used in a variety of industrial operations, including metal plating, transportation equipment, as well as nickel-cadmium batteries. By-products from mining, smelting, electroplating, and pigmentation production can contain levels of cadmium. Using fossil fuels can produce cadmium emissions. Cadmium in drinking water is generally a result of the deterioration of galvanized plumbing and can be a sign that industrial waste or fertilizers have polluted a private well.

Symptoms of Cadmium

Short-term exposure to cadmium in drinking water can cause nausea, vomiting, and other digestive issues. In addition, cadmium can cause sensory disturbances and convulsions. Long-term exposure to high levels of cadmium can cause kidney, liver, and bone damage. Because this is a dangerous contaminant, the EPA has set the minimum contaminant level (MCL) at 0.005 mg/L.

Filtration Solutions for Cadmium

Conduct a water test to find out if cadmium is present in your tap water. A solution for reducing the presence of this toxic contaminant is a reverse osmosis system. The RO system will remove 95-98% of the cadmium in drinking water.

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Calcium in Water

Calcium in water is the major cause of water hardness and is usually in the range of 5-500 mg/L. When water passes through certain rocks and geological formations, it gathers contaminants and minerals including calcium. Calcium is derived from nearly all rocks, but the greatest concentrations come from limestone and gypsum. Calcium in water occurs when water percolates through limestone or other soluble carbonate rocks. It partially dissolves the rock and then forms hard water.

Symptoms of Calcium

Calcium in water does not have adverse health effects. However, calcium in water (hardness) does affect everything else in your home. Soaps and detergents aren't as effective when used in hard water because they do not dissolve as easily, so extra soap and detergent are required. Clothes will not get as clean because the dirt will get trapped underneath a layer of soap scum. Dishes, windows, and cars washed in hard water will have spots because of the mineral deposits left behind after the water dries. Calcium and hard water cause scale buildup in pipes, leading to clogged and damaged plumbing. Calcium reduction is required in water used for cooling towers, metal finishing, textile operations, and boiler feed applications.

Filtration Solutions Calcium

Calcium in water, as with all water hardness, can be removed with an ion exchange water softener. For those with health conditions that require less sodium, a reverse osmosis system will remove 95-98% of the sodium after the softener.

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Carbon Tetrachloride

Carbon Tetrachloride in Water

Carbon tetrachloride (CCl₄) is a volatile organic compound (VOC) primarily used in industrial and chemical manufacturing processes, including nylon, grain fumigants, fire extinguishers, solvents, and other chemical cleaning agents. Many water supplies across the country contain measurable amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Carbon tetrachloride enters a water supply through industrial waste and chemical manufacturing runoff. The US EPA has classified carbon tetrachloride as a probable human carcinogen, so its maximum contaminant level is 0.005 mg/L.

Symptoms of Carbon Tetrachloride

VOCs, including carbon tetrachloride, pose possible health risks as many of them are probable or known carcinogens. Exposure to high concentrations of carbon tetrachloride in water and other sources (including vapor) can affect the central nervous system and cause liver damage. Some who have been exposed to this contaminant have an increased risk of cancer.

Filtration Solutions for Carbon Tetrachloride

Carbon tetrachloride, like other VOCs, can be removed from drinking water with activated carbon filtration or reverse osmosis systems. The adsorption capacity of carbon water filters varies with different types of VOCs.

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Chloramine in Water

Water treatment plants in the US have used disinfectants like chlorine and chloramine (NH₂CL) for almost seventy years. These disinfectants are known as disinfection by-products or DPBs. As a result, water-borne illnesses like typhoid and cholera have lower rates of transmission, but they come with harmful side-effects.To reduce DBPs, water suppliers began to add ammonia to the chlorine, creating an alternative disinfectant called chloramine. The EPA now estimates that 1 in 5 Americans drink water contaminated with chloramine and its by-products. Chloramine in water reduces the formation of chlorine-related DBPs and provides greater disinfection that's easier to maintain. As the US EPA increases regulations on DBPs, more water suppliers will ultimately move towards using chloramine for disinfection.

Symptoms of Chloramine

Chloramine (also known as monochloramine) has several potential side effects. Those in the food service industry should know that chloramine can lower the quality of coffee, beverages, and soups. Water with chloramine has a bitter or musty taste. It can damage intricate equipment. Tap water with chloramine should not be used in hospitals or dialysis centers since introducing this contaminant into the bloodstream can cause serious health problems. The EPA has warned that those exposed to chloramine are at risk for developing gastrointestinal problems and severe skin rashes. Chloramine can also create a compound called NDMA. NDMA is a probable carcinogen that causes headaches, nausea, and vomiting.

Solutions for Chloramine

Most soda fountains are installed with a chloramine filter by the soda manufacturer to preserve the integrity of the product. We offer several options for reducing chloramine from your tap water, including specifically designed chloramine reduction filters. A reverse osmosis system should have a prefilter specifically designed for chloramine.

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Chlorine in Water

Chlorine was first used to treat water for bacteria in the United States in 1908. By 1995, 64% of all community water systems used chlorination as a disinfectant. Chlorination is the process of adding chlorine to water to kill germs and fight against waterborne diseases and E. coli. Its use has almost eliminated the presence of cholera and typhoid in North America and Europe. It became common because of its low-cost process and easy large-scale regulation. For treated water to be considered safe to drink, chlorine levels must be approximately or below 4 milligrams per liter. Any chlorine levels above 4 milligrams isn't safe to drink.

Symptoms of Chlorine in Water

Chlorine has excellent disinfecting powers, but its reaction creates carcinogenic disinfection by-products (DBPs). Even if chlorine levels are safe, the chlorine can bond with organic matter and form by-products called Trihalomethane (THM) compounds or chloroform compounds. Both are probable carcinogens. Exposure can cause mild side effects, such as itchy, irritated skin and scalp, dried out hair, and altered smell or taste of your tap water.

The food you wash or beverages you make using tap water may taste unpleasant. Removing harmful bacteria and pathogens negates the risk of consuming possible carcinogens.

Solutions to Chlorine in Water

Chlorine may be effective at the municipal plant for disinfecting water, but it should be removed at the water's point of entry. If you are concerned about the presence of the chlorine in your water, there are several options for reducing its harmful effects. Activated carbon filters and reverse osmosis systems with carbon prefilters reduce chlorine in tap water. Filters for the shower or bath reduce exposure and protect from harmful side effects that can occur from breathing in the chlorine vapors. Whole house water filtration systems filter your water at the point of entry, so you get dechlorinated water to all your taps. If you're not sure whether you'll need a whole-house system, or just a shower filter, use a test kit to detect how much chlorine is present in your water.

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Chromium in Water

Chromium is a tasteless, odorless, naturally occurring element in rocks, plants, soil, and volcanic dust. The most common forms of chromium in the environment are trivalent (chromium-3), hexavalent (chromium-6), and the metal form (chromium-0). Chromium-3 is healthy. It's found naturally in many vegetables, fruits, meats, grains, and yeast.

Industrial pollution can lead to harmful amounts of Chromium-6 in drinking water. Chromium-6 is used in industrial processes and finding it in drinking water is a sign of pollution from steel and pulp mills or erosion of natural deposits. Chromium compounds have been released into groundwater at many industrial plants through leakage, poor storage, or improper disposal practices.

Symptoms of Chromium-6 in Water

Chromium-6 is known as a human carcinogen via inhalation. Recent studies on chromium-6 in drinking water have revealed that it increases the risk of internal tumors and organ cancer. Ingesting chromium-6 over a period of years can lead to skin damage.

The EPA regulates chromium-6 as part of the total chromium drinking water standard. This means it doesn't distinguish the total percentage of chromium-6 from the harmless amounts of chromium-3. The current EPA standard is 0.1 mg/L. However, with recent research on the dangerous health effects of Chromium-6, have encouraged agencies to recommend more regulations.

Solutions to Chromium-6 in Water

Although water distillers and some ceramic water filter systems are effective, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) recommends using a reverse osmosis system for home water filtration.

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Color in Water

Color in water that looks dark or has some other hue to it is caused by many different things. Decaying vegetation can leach organic material into water causing greenish-brown colors. Darker hues are common in surface water supplies, while it is virtually non-existent in spring water and deep wells. Colored water may be the result of natural metallic ions (iron and manganese). A yellow water tint indicates that humic acids (called “tannins”) are present. A reddish color indicates the presence of precipitated iron. A gray tint indicates the presence of shale, a fine-grained sedimentary suspended solid. 

Symptoms of Colored Water

Since colored water can be a result of several different contaminants, symptoms may be different. Stains on bathroom fixtures and laundry are caused by contaminants. A reddish-brown color is ferric iron caused when the water is exposed to air. Dark brown water and black water stains are created by manganese. Eroding copper creates blue-green stains that indicate corrosion from acidic water.

Filtration Solutions for Colored Water

Because many different causes of colored water exist, there are several different solutions. To effectively eliminate colored water, your water should first be tested to discover what exactly is causing the decolorization. Solutions range from simple mechanical filtration like a sediment filter, or ion exchange resins to more complex chemical feed systems depending on what is causing the color. 

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Copper in Water

Copper (Cu) is a natural mineral found in many rocks and geological formations. Copper compounds are used in mining, agricultural, and manufacturing processes. Pesticides are made with some copper compound as well. Well owners who live near farms and industrial plants should test for the presence of copper in their drinking water. When copper is found in drinking water, it is due to leaching pipes from corrosive, acidic water.

Symptoms of Copper

Copper in pool water can stain the pool liner and will turn swimmers' hair green. All humans and animals must have a small amount of copper in their diet, which they receive through food or liquids. However, dangerous copper levels are toxic to humans. The EPA proposed a maximum copper water contaminant level of 1.3 mg/L for copper. Exposure to toxic levels of copper in drinking water can cause gastrointestinal issues, damage to the liver, and comlications to kidneys, and can possibly be fatal.

Filtration Solutions for Copper

Pool owners can use our handy test strips to determine the level of copper in their pools. The EPA advises allowing water to run for 15 seconds before drinking water contaminated with copper. This may not be a convenient solution for many people, but it ensures safety. Reverse Osmosis Water Systems will reduce 97-98% of copper in the water supply. Copper presence in a city water supply is typically the result of copper pipes corroding due to acidic water or galvanic corrosion due to improper plumbing connections using dissimilar metals.

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Cryptosporidium in Water

Cryptosporidium (also known as crypto) is a protozoan parasite that exists as a round oocyst about 4 to 6 microns in diameter. Cryptosporidium is virtually everywhere, but commonly found in the intestines and feces of infected humans and animals. Groundwater and surface water can be contaminated with crypto through leaking sewage systems, storm runoff, and agricultural runoff. Well water can become contaminated with crypto if the well has been submerged in flood water or there has had an intrusion of sewage water. Hikers and backpackers who drink unfiltered spring water are likely to be exposed to crypto. Cryptosporidium can be found in recreational water, including pools since it is resistant to chlorination.

Symptoms of Cryptosporidium

Cryptosporidium in water passes through the stomach into the small intestine where its sporozoites invade the cell lining of the gastrointestinal tract. Symptoms of infection include diarrhea, cramps, nausea, vomiting, and low fever. Symptoms can take 1 to 2 weeks to dissipate and may come and go for up to 30 days.

Filtration Solutions for Cryptosporidium

Well water should be tested regularly for the presence of crypto in drinking water. Reverse osmosis and ultrafiltration systems are used to filter out cryptosporidium. Mechanical filters should be rated at 1-micron or smaller. UV systems are a great option for reducing the presence of this contaminant as the UV light will sterilize the parasite, preventing it from producing the symptom-causing sporozoites.

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Cyanide in Water

Cyanide (CN-) is often used to make manufacturing compounds and synthetic fibers, which is why it’s usually found in wastewater from metal finishing operations. One of the more common types of cyanide is hydrogen cyanide (HCN). Hydrogen cyanide is a colorless gas that sometimes has a bitter, almond-like odor. The maximum contaminant level for cyanide is 0.2 mg/L.

Symptoms of Cyanide

Cyanide is extremely toxic and not commonly found at significant levels in drinking water. If it is found in drinking water and wells, it could be a sign that industrial waste has not been properly disposed of and has seeped into the water supply. People who drink water that contains high levels of cyanide could damage their thyroid, liver, or nervous system.

Treatment Solutions for Cyanide in Water

Chlorine may be added to water to remove cyanide, but this is not the best solution for residential homeowners. Instead, reverse osmosis removes 90-95% of cyanide from water. Since cyanide in drinking water sources is rare, well owners should test their water before purchasing filtration solutions.

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Cyclospora in Water

Cyclospora cayetanensis is a tiny parasite found in the fecal matter of infected humans. Cyclospora can be ingested by consuming contaminated drinking water or food that has been exposed to contaminated water either in fields or through the harvest process. Tropical and subtropical regions are at greater risk for cyclospora. Travelers should take caution when drinking water in these regions.

Symptoms of Cyclospora in Water

When ingested, cyclospora causes cyclosporiasis, an intestinal infection that can often be very painful. Symptoms include watery diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, flu-like symptoms, and possibly a low fever. If not treated, symptoms could last over a month. The CDC recommends anyone affected by cyclosporiasis see a medical professional for antibiotics to alleviate the effects of the infection.

Filtration Solutions for Cyclospora

The best way to prevent the ingestion of cyclospora parasites is to wash all produce with clean, filtered water. Cyclospora is larger than the parasite known as cryptosporidium. A 1-micron absolute carbon filtration system reduces the presence of cyclospora and gives you clean water.

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E. Coli

E. Coli in Water

E. coli is a type of coliform bacteria found in different places and species, including the intestines of animals and humans. Most types of E. coli are harmless, but E. coli O157: H7 is the bacteria responsible for intestinal infections. This form of E. coli has been connected to unsafe food handling, including recalls of specific frozen foods, especially leafy green vegetables. E. coli generally enters water supplies from rain, rivers, streams, and agricultural or municipal runoff carrying bacteria from dead animals and human sewage. E. coli O157: H7 is found in wells and surface water. E. coli O157: H7 is especially concerning when large-scale flooding occurs, causing sewage treatment plants to overflow. The flood waters enter wells and contaminate the water with E. coli. 

Symptoms of E. Coli in Water

Once exposed, symptoms may begin to show 2-4 days after exposure. E. coli O157: H7 can cause bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramping. Most people who have symptoms seem to recover after 5-10 days. No antibiotics can decrease the duration of the illness. In some cases, patients are hospitalized and develop hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure. Young children and elderly individuals may experience severe symptoms.

Filtration Solutions for E. Coli

City treatment plants test water supplies for the presence of coliform bacteria first. If the test is negative, then no E. coli is present. If the test returns positive for coliform bacteria, the water must then be tested for E. coli. These test results may take longer if they require incubation. Most at-home tests work the same way. If the presence of E. coli is detected, municipalities will issue a boil order alerting their customers to the dangers of the water. Well owners should test for E. coli at least every six months, but more often if environmental factors have increased the risk of contamination. A point of entry (POE) UV system is the best defense for living organisms such as E. Coli. A UV system is strongly recommended for private well water supplies. They provide protection from contaminated municipal supplies when boil advisories are issued. 

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Fluoride in Water

Fluoride (F-) is a mineral whose chemical compounds occur naturally in many different locations including groundwater and seawater. Wastewater from glass or steel industries contains high concentrations of fluoride. In the United States, municipal water facilities commonly add fluoride at a level around 1-2mg/L to drinking water to protect against tooth decay. The EPA has provided a secondary drinking regulation (which is not enforceable) at 2.0 mg/L because they recognize higher levels harm the appearance of teeth. The EPA has a maximum contaminant level for fluoride of 4.0 mg/L. However, the World Health Organization has recommended that levels stay below 1.5mg/L to avoid damaged tooth enamel.

Symptoms of Fluoride in Water

The CDC estimates that 74% of the American public drinks water with varying levels of fluoride because of fluorinated water treatment. In addition to treated water, Americans are exposed to other sources of fluoride. Some studies have shown that fluorosis cases have increased because of the use of fluoride at dentist offices, over-the-counter fluoride toothpaste, and its presence in most drinking water systems. Fluorosis is a dental defect, causing increased porosity in tooth enamel creating stained or chalky-white looking teeth. Staining and pitting can cause permanent damage and are expensive to treat. High levels of fluoride (over 4.0) cause brittle and porous bones as well.

Filtration Solutions for Fluoride

Reduction of fluoride from tap water can be achieved by ion exchange or with activated alumina. Reverse osmosis water systems and water distillers will filter out 93-95% of the fluoride in tap water. Most drop-in filters will not remove fluoride unless they are specifically marked to remove it.

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Giardia Lamblia

Giardia Lamblia in Water

Giardia Lamblia is a single-celled protozoan cyst found in animal and human feces. People who swim or play in creeks or rivers are at risk for swallowing the cyst. Hikers and campers who drink untreated water are at risk also. People relying on untreated surface water may ingest giardia lamblia. International travelers may be at risk when drinking untreated water.

Symptoms of Giardia Lamblia

Giardia lamblia symptoms include diarrhea, fatigue, and cramps. Symptoms can last 2-6 weeks. Contact with an infected person increases the risk of contracting the parasite. The symptoms can lead to severe dehydration. The elderly, pregnant women, and infants should drink extra fluids to avoid serious side effects.

Filtration Solutions for Giardia Lamblia

Most municipal water suppliers use some type of disinfectant, including ozone, to reduce giardia. Ozone, rather than chlorine, effectively fights against the cysts in the chemical oxidation and disinfection processes. Ultrafiltration and reverse osmosis all effectively remove giardia cysts. The most economical and widely used method of removing giardia is mechanical filtration with a filter that has a nominal 1-micron pore size. Solid carbon block filters, ceramic candles, pleated membranes, or string wound sediment filters at a 1-micron size will eliminate the danger. UV systems are another great option, which disables the parasite and prevents it from harming humans. Because giardia affects hikers and campers, they should always use a handheld UV treatment system before ingesting surface water.

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Hydrogen Sulfide

Hydrogen Sulfide in Water

Hydrogen sulfide (H₂S) is a gas created by decomposing organic matter in the ground. This gas can be found in surface water or wells. Wells dug near peat deposits or oil fields are more likely to have hydrogen sulfide in the water. These water levels will contain from 1 to 5 ppm of hydrogen sulfide. Because hydrogen sulfide oxidizes quickly, the amount in water cannot be tested in a lab. It must be done in the field.

Symptoms of Hydrogen Sulfide

Although the presence of hydrogen sulfide will not cause adverse health effects, it can have a distinctive, rotten egg smell. Water with large amounts of hydrogen sulfide can taste bad and obstruct industrial processes. Hydrogen sulfide can interfere with readings obtained from water samples. It turns hardness and pH tests gray and makes iron tests inaccurate. This gas is corrosive to plumbing fixtures, even at low concentrations. The fumes will blacken or darken painted surfaces, giving them a smoked appearance.

Filtration Solutions for Hydrogen Sulfide

Chlorination can eliminate hydrogen sulfide, but this involves storing and handling dangerous chemicals. A Filox filter can reduce hydrogen sulfide throughout the whole house. A KD85 cartridge is a more cost-efficient option.

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Manganese in Water

Manganese (Mn) is one of the most common elements in the earth's crust, so soil layers and rock formations are likely to contain it. Manganese is used in the manufacturing process of steel to improve corrosive resistance and hardness. Manganese in drinking water may be found in deep wells at levels as high as 2-3 mg/L. Manganese in water is seldom found without iron, so a solution is needed for both contaminants.

Symptoms of Manganese in Water

Small amounts of manganese in food are known to be important in building strong bones and may be beneficial to the cardiovascular system. However, when manganese is in water, it’s a nuisance. Manganese in water is difficult to treat because of the complexities it can form with other minerals, particularly iron. Manganese levels higher than the EPA's recommended 0.05 mg/L cause deposits and brownish-red or dark brown staining on clothing and plumbing fixtures. For this reason, water with manganese is sometimes called "black water" since it leaves a black ring in toilets and sinks. Using chlorine bleach in laundry will set the stains instead of fading them. High levels of manganese in drinking water produce an unpleasant odor and taste. Exposure to significant amounts of manganese over years can harm the nervous system.

Filtration Solutions for Manganese

Test your water before selecting a system. Manganese indicates the presence of iron or other contaminants as well. Treatment and filtering manganese from water can be done by ion exchange (sodium from cation-softener), or chemical oxidation, retention, and filtration. A water softener, effective manganese water filter, or Birm filter with air injection will reduce manganese.

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MCHM: 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol

MCHM in Water

4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol or MCHM is typically used to clean coal particles during the coal manufacturing process. On January 9, 2014, a chemical storage facility run by Freedom Industries leaked an estimated 8,000 gallons of MCHM into the Elk River, an area outside of Charleston, West Virginia. Down the river from the chemical spill, the West Virginia American Water Company operates a water treatment plant that serves 300,000 residents. The local government and the American Water Company issued a warning to residents and businesses in nine counties, advising them to refrain from using the tap water for bathing, cooking, making ice, and washing clothes or dishes. The only approved uses for the contaminated water were toilet flushing and fire suppression. This order lead to many businesses being temporarily closed by the Department of Health.

At least 169 people were treated and 10 hospitalized during incident. The Governor issued a State of Emergency order to assist people in gaining access to water and to recognize the dire situation. Despite recent assurances of West Virginians' safety, on January 16, the CDC advised pregnant women in the area to drink only bottled water until the chemical had been completely removed from the water supply.

Health Concerns of MCHM

MCHM is not a chemical regulated by the EPA. MCHM can cause severe skin and eye irritation. In its undiluted form, it causes burning and rashes. Exposure can cause nausea and vomiting as well. Health professionals don’t know all the dangers of MCHM.

Filtration Solutions for MCHM in Water

Currently, the EPA does not offer any filtration solutions for MCHM, or the newly detected chemical PPH.

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Mercury in Water

Mercury (Hg) is a metallic element that enters the food chain through fish and comes primarily from industrial chemical manufacturing waste or from the leaching of coal ash. Mercury is found in mineral deposits in groundwater and wells or where a volcano has been active. Mercury is used in the production of electrical products and results in industrial pollution. Landfills with batteries or other electrical parts improperly disposed of may introduce mercury into groundwater through runoff. The MCL that water municipalities must test for is 0.002 mg/L.

Symptoms of Mercury

The health effects of mercury are severe. Studies have shown that exposure to high levels mercury in water can cause neurological and renal problems. It can cause vomiting and diarrhea.

Filtration Solutions for Mercury

Effective wastewater treatment to remove mercury includes activated, impregnated carbon filtration. To remove mercury from drinking water, reverse osmosis systems can remove 95-97% of mercury in water.

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MTBE in Water

Methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) is a flammable, colorless liquid that is used as a gasoline additive. MTBE is known to have a minty taste and/or smell of turpentine. It is considered an "oxygenate," which is an additive that raises the oxygen level of gasoline. If the oxygen level is higher, then the gasoline will burn more efficiently. The use of MTBE has seen a decline because of environmental and health concerns. MTBE can easily pollute large quantities of groundwater when gasoline is spilled at gasoline stations or leaked from underground storage tanks. This chemical can enter groundwater through marine vehicles polluting lakes and reservoirs. Those with wells in locations near gasoline manufacturing or storage facilities should be especially wary of this water contaminant.

Symptoms of MTBE

People can be exposed to MTBE in water by drinking or swimming in polluted water. MTBE has been marked as a suspected carcinogen. Agencies including the EPA are continuing to study its health effects. The most common health effects associated with MTBE are nausea, dizziness, lightheadedness, and headaches. Some studies have shown kidney damage from long-term exposure.

Filtration Solutions for MTBE

If you are concerned about MTBE in your water supply, consider getting your water tested to determine whether it is the only contaminant present. MTBE can be significantly reduced from your drinking water with the use of activated carbon block. Make sure that flow rate and size are adequate for appropriate contact time.

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Nickel in Water

Small amounts of nickel (Ni) are often found in groundwater supplies because of its presence in rocks. Nickel’s use in manufacturing electronics and other household items and may create industrial pollution. Leaching pipes and fittings are the most common source of nickel in drinking water.

Symptoms of Nickel

People exposed to high levels of nickel work in manufacturing consumable goods. Exposure to high levels in drinking water may cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, and shortness of breath.

Filtration Solutions for Nickel

Nickel in drinking water can be caused by other corrosive contaminants, so your tap water should be tested for other contaminants. Reverse osmosis systems filter 97-98% of nickel from drinking water. Ion exchange is another option for removing nickel.

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Nitrates & Nitrites

Nitrates & Nitrites in Water

Both nitrates and nitrites are natural compounds that come from nitrogen and oxygen. Surface and groundwater can often have benign amounts of nitrate. Unsafe and unnaturally high levels of nitrate generally enter groundwater and wells through septic system leaks, feedlots, or agricultural fertilizers. The EPA's maximum contaminant level for nitrate is 10 mg/L or 10 parts per million. States have detected high nitrate levels in wells due to drought conditions that often concentrate the number of fertilizers in runoff water.

Nitrates are reduced to nitrites in the saliva of the mouth and upper GI tract of the human body. This process occurs to a much greater degree in infants than in adults, because of the higher alkaline conditions in their GI tract.

Symptoms of Nitrates & Nitrites

Water contaminated with nitrates can cause serious health effects. Once the nitrates have been digested, they are converted to nitrites. According to the EPA and the CDC, pregnant women and infants are particularly susceptible to the effects of nitrates. Nitrates affect a cell's ability to process oxygen. Infants who have ingested nitrate-contaminated water or formula made with contaminated water can develop "blue baby syndrome," a condition that inhibits oxygen's travel in the bloodstream and may result in death if not treated. Once nitrites enter the body, they limit the blood's ability to carry oxygen. Anoxia (an insufficiency of oxygen) and death can occur.

Filtration Solutions for Nitrates & Nitrites

First, test your tap water to determine the nitrate level. Reverse osmosis systems, anion exchange media, and water distillers can reduce nitrate levels in contaminated water. Nitrites can be filtered in the same manner as nitrates.

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Odor in Water

Many contaminants cause drinking water to smell bad, so there is no one universal solution. Chemical compounds, minerals, biological growth, and industrial waste pollution can all contribute to foul-smelling water. Even disinfectants used to treat the water can cause bad odors. Odor-causing contaminants may be introduced in the water treatment plant or the distribution pipes.

Symptoms of Odor

Generally, bad taste or odor will not have dangerous health effects for those on city water supply. Well owners, however, could have bad smelling water from dangerous contaminants. Different contaminants have different smells. For example, hydrogen sulfide gives water a rotten egg smell, while chlorine has a sharp, irritating odor. Algae in water cause a grassy, musty or spicy odor, and large quantities may cause a rotten, fishy, or medicinal odor. Decaying vegetation and natural gasses, like sulfide, cause foul smells.

Filtration Solutions for Odor

Since there are a variety of causes for odor in water, there are different filtration solutions. Odor can be removed by oxidation-reduction and activated carbon absorption. Aeration works if the contaminant is in a gaseous state, like hydrogen sulfide (H2S). Activated carbon block water filters are excellent at removing odors from water. Water distillation and reverse osmosis systems remove many troublesome contaminants, but they are not effective at removing gaseous elements.

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Perchlorate in Water

Perchlorate is a man-made compound of natural sources used in the production of rocket fuel, fireworks, explosives, and some fertilizers. When percolate is found in groundwater and wells, it's a sign of industrial pollution and improper chemical disposal. After 4% of public water systems across the United States have tested positive for this contaminant, the EPA decided it must be regulated by municipal water treatment plants. The maximum contaminant level is 1 ppb. Up to 17 million Americans may be exposed to perchlorate in water at levels higher than 4 parts per billion. Thirty-five states have perchlorate in their water supplies.

Symptoms of Perchlorate

Perchlorate is a toxin, an endocrine disrupter for humans. Exposure to perchlorate in drinking water is dangerous, especially for pregnant women, infants, and children because it can harm the body’s production of hormones necessary for mental and physical development. It can affect the thyroid's function and production.

Filtration Solutions for Perchlorate

Perchlorate as a fuel oxygenate is difficult to remove. Standard carbon absorption has not proven effective unless the carbon is specialized. However, NSF 58 certified reverse osmosis systems provide a 90-95% reduction rate of perchlorate.

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Pesticides in Water

Pesticides are a type of synthetic organic chemical that includes herbicides and insecticides. Pesticides enter groundwater and well water as a result of agricultural runoff. Some pesticides are not soluble in water and are found in soil years after their application. The EPA has banned many pesticides because of their toxicity to humans and their adverse effect on the environment. Other pesticides usually decompose and break down as they perform their intended function. Low levels of pesticides in water are found where complete breakdown does not occur. There is no total EPA maximum water contamination level (MCL) for pesticides. Each pesticide is considered separately.

Symptoms of Pesticides

Symptoms of each pesticide vary. Dichlorophenol is linked to food allergies in children and causes lung and kidney damage. Lindane damages the heart and muscles. Even though some pesticides have been outlawed or limited, they may still be found in water sources.

Filtration Solutions for Pesticides

Activated carbon filtration is the most effective way to remove organics whether synthetic (like pesticides in water) or natural. Reverse osmosis systems that include carbon pre-filtration and post-filtration remove 97-99% of the pesticides in water.

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PFOA and PFOS in Water

Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) are chemicals used to make carpets, clothing, fabrics for furniture, paper packaging, and other materials resistant to water, grease, or stains. PFOA and PFOS are a subgroup of chemicals called perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). They are two of the most studied and used chemicals out of this group. Industrial pollution can lead to harmful PFOA and PFOA-related chemicals in water.

Symptoms of PFOA and PFOS

When these chemicals creep into the water supply at concentrations above 70 parts per trillion (ppt), serious health risks including cancer, liver damage, immune failure, and thyroid effects occur. These effects and can cause lifelong issues in infants and young children. Areas near Airforce or military training bases, firefighting testing areas, or plants that manufacture any products containing PFOS and PFOA are at a higher risk for their water containing these harmful chemicals. According to the EPA, drinking water with combined levels of PFOA and PFOS over 70 ppt is unsafe for ingestion. Based on several peer-reviewed studies, PFOA and PFOS cause developmental problems for fetuses during pregnancy or breastfed infants. They cause cancer (e.g., testicular, kidney), immunity problems, liver damage, thyroid effects, and other effects in adults.

Water Treatment Solutions for PFOA and PFOS

In May 2016, the EPA lowered the amount of PFOS and PFOA allowed in safe drinking water, from 400 ppt to 70 ppt for short-term exposure, due to an increase in health issues. Research from the Water Research Foundation reveals that "nanofiltration and reverse osmosis proved to be the most effective methods of removing even the smallest PFASs. Granular activated carbon (GAC) was shown to be adept at removing most PFASs and it may be the average utility’s best bet for PFOA and PFOS contamination." We recommend a reverse osmosis system as the best way to reduce PFOA & PFOS from drinking water. 

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Prescription Drugs

Prescription Drugs in Water

Since the 1990s, studies have shown that the number of pharmaceuticals and personal care products in drinking water, including veterinary drugs, mood stabilizers, and natural health products like vitamins. For example, oral contraceptives were discovered in California's drinking water. In New Jersey, communities surrounding a manufacturing plant were consuming a mood-stabilizing drug. These products get into the water supply by flushing unused or expired drugs down the drain or toilet. A sewage tank may seep waste and drugs out into the surrounding groundwater. Domestic farm animals or pets treated with prescription drugs can excrete waste that seeps into groundwater or surface water. Manufacturers of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) may dispose of waste improperly causing water pollution. The EPA does not currently require municipalities to test for or look for PPCPs in their water.

Symptoms of Prescription Drugs

So far, no long-range study focusing on the health effects of these PPCPs on humans has been conducted. However, some studies on animals show detrimental effects on the reproduction and neurological systems. Despite the lack of research, harmful side effects may still occur.

Water Treatment Solutions for Prescription Drugs

The presence of PPCPs is a problem for municipal customers and well owners. To ensure that you and your family are not drinking unwanted chemicals and prescription drugs, use a reverse osmosis system or an ultrafiltration system to remove antibiotics, hormones, mood stabilizers, and other drugs from your water supply.

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Radium in Water

Radionuclides are unstable atoms that put out energy, which can be unsafe for humans. However, radionuclides are used in helpful ways, like medical imaging technology (CT scans). Radium (Ra) is a radioactive earth metal found in small amounts in certain geographical locations. Radium enters groundwater through the erosion of natural deposits. Groundwater moves slowly through cracks and pores of underground material and minerals. This slow movement allows minerals and elements to dissolve out of the rock and into the groundwater. They could also enter the water supply through nuclear or toxic pollution. Radium-226 and Radium-228 are particularly dangerous.

Symptoms of Radium

Because of the serious health effects, the EPA's maximum regulatory amounts for radium are zero mg/L. Radium generally passes through the body and exits the kidneys and bowels. However, particles left behind settle in the bones, increasing the risk of cancer and damaging the kidneys.

Filtration Solutions for Radium

Treating your water for radium should start with testing. If radium is present in your water supply, it can be reduced using ion exchange or a reverse osmosis water filtration system, which will remove 95-98% of any radioactive radium in your drinking water.

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Radon in Water

Radon (Rn) is a colorless, odorless, tasteless radioactive gas naturally formed by the decay of uranium. Radon can slip out of the soil and into homes through cracks in the foundation or gaps around pipes. Radon enters homes through water supplies. When water containing radon is sprayed, heated, or exposed to air, radon gas escapes, which increases the concentration of the radon gas in a home. Those with private and community wells are at higher risk for radon in their drinking water than those with municipal water.

Symptoms of Radon

Radon kills more people every year from lung cancer than drunk driving accidents. Radon exposure comes from inhalation, and radon in water increases that exposure while adding the risk of ingestion. Radon increases the risk of internal organ cancer, including stomach cancer.

Filtration Solutions for Radon

Radon is easily removed from water by aeration since it is a gas. Granular activated carbon systems and filters can reduce radon levels below 20,000 pCi/L. If radon in your drinking water is a concern, use a point of entry system to eliminate exposure in showers and baths.

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Selenium in Water

Selenium (Se) is a natural metal found in soil and rocks. In soil, selenium often occurs in the soluble form of selenate, which leaches into rivers through runoff and increases the amount of selenium in groundwater. Selenium compounds are used in glass, petroleum, metal, and textile production. High levels in water systems may come from agricultural runoff in dry, undeveloped lands. High levels of selenium in groundwater or wells may be a sign of industrial pollution. The US EPA has established the MCL for selenium in water at 0.05 mg/L.

Symptoms of Selenium

People exposed to high levels of selenium may have problems with circulation resulting in numbness in extremities and loss of hair and fingernails. Toxic levels can cause skin discoloration and tooth decay.

Filtration Solutions for Selenium

Strong base anion exchange or activated alumina can reduce selenium in drinking water by 60-95%. Reverse osmosis systems and water distillation machines are an excellent way to greatly reduce selenium in drinking water.

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Silica in Water

Silica (SiO₂) is the second most common element on the Earth after oxygen, often found in quartz, sandstone, and other rocks. As water filters down through these structures, it picks up contaminants and minerals like silica. Silica exists in most groundwater, well water, and food. Silicates, a form of silica, are salts that generally combine with other mineral contaminants found in surface and well water in the range of 1 - 100 mg/L. Colloidal silica is a gelatinous substance made up of non-diffusible particles suspended in the water, making it difficult to filter.

Symptoms of Silica

Silica does have detrimental health effects that we know of. Some studies have shown that silica may help to alleviate symptoms of dementia. Even though silica may not be harmful to humans, it can damage industrial water applications. Cooling towers, boiler feeds, semiconductors, and carwashes all need silica-free water. Silica leaves deposits on surfaces, creating a scale build-up. Scale build-up is hard to remove and leads to expensive maintenance or replacement of damaged, rust-filled parts and pipes. 

Filtration Solutions for Silica

The many forms of silica make filtration difficult. Generally, multiple systems must be used to reduce the presence of silica. Reverse osmosis (RO) systems may work but will likely need to be used in conjunction with a water softening system. An RO system produces water that can remove up to 90% of the silica. Various applications or industries may require a lower percentage.

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Sodium Chloride

Sodium Chloride in Water

Chloride is a major anion found in tap water that generally combines with calcium, magnesium, or sodium. Sodium chloride (NaCl) is one of the most common contaminants found in tap water, often the result of saltwater intrusion, road salt runoff, and sewage runoff. Well owners near roads or road salting storage facilities are especially at risk for high levels of sodium chloride.

Symptoms of Sodium Chloride

Water high in sodium chloride tastes unpleasant and damages plants. It’s highly corrosive in plumbing, causing toxic metals to leach into the water. Sodium chloride in water damages appliances and hot water heaters over time. Drinking water with sodium chloride can contribute to high blood pressure and increased heart problems. The American Heart Association has recommended a maximum sodium level of 20 mg/L in drinking water for patients with hypertension or cardiovascular disease. The EPA has no maximum contaminant level published for sodium levels in water; however, they do suggest a level of 20 mg/L in drinking water for those on severe sodium restricted diets of 500 mg/day or less.

Filtration Solutions for Radium

Reverse osmosis water filtration systems remove 90-95% of the sodium chloride from drinking water because of their salt rejection capabilities. Water distillers are effective sodium chloride reducers. Sodium chloride and other contaminants are left behind as the filtered water is distilled into the final storage container. If you are concerned about sodium chloride in your water, use a testing kit to reveal the amount. A TDS meter also tests levels of sodium and other dissolved solids.

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Sulfate in Water

Sodium sulfate (SO₄) occurs naturally in groundwater from the oxidation of sulfite ores and the presence of shale. Higher levels of sulfate in well water may be found in locations with a high concentration in the soil. Sulfate can be a sign of industrial waste. They are used in the manufacturing of fertilizers, glass, papers, soaps, and other common household items. The EPA has suggested sulfate water levels of 250 mg/L, but approximately 3% of public drinking water systems contain higher levels.

Symptoms of Sulfate

Sulfate in drinking water has an astringent or bitter taste. When combined with calcium and magnesium, the two most common components of water hardness, sulfate causes diarrhea and dehydration. This is especially dangerous for those with weak immune systems.

Filtration Solutions for Sulfate

The first step to solving a potential sulfate problem is to test your water. After testing, you can discover the best solution for your needs. Merely having a water softener will not necessarily remove sulfate, but there are several sulfate water treatment options available. Reverse osmosis systems reduce sulfate content in water by 97-98%. Water distillers also reduce the presence of sodium sulfate in water.

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Tannins in Water

Tannins are suspended particles that give water a brown or yellow tint. Sometimes small pieces can have a "shiny" appearance. Tannins are generally found in groundwater supplies, not municipal or well water. Most often these are made up of organic materials and vary depending on the geographical location of the surface water. They are generally created by decaying vegetation or when water passes through peaty soil.

Symptoms of Tannins

Tannins do not cause adverse health effects, but they can make water taste bad. They can cause stains on appliances and laundry. China washed in tannin-contaminated water may stain.

Filtration Solutions for Tannins

A simple test can determine if colored water is contaminated by tannins or iron. Fill a glass with water, and let it sit overnight. If the contaminants and color sink to the bottom, they are likely the result of iron or some other contaminant. If the color still floats, you have tannin contamination. Tannins are difficult to remove, but an ultrafiltration system is a good option. Chemical injection of a flocculant is sometimes necessary. 

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Trihalomethanes (THM)

Trihalomethanes (THM) in Water

Water facilities use disinfectants to treat the water, particularly surface water (like a lake or pond). Disinfectants include chlorine and bromine. When organic materials in the water react with these chemical disinfectants, THMs may be created as a by-product. The US EPA has rated these at 0.08 mg/L. The most common THM is chloroform. THMs are found in pools and hot tubs. Competitive swimmers are more likely to be exposed to THMs in pools rather than recreational swimmers.

Symptoms of Trihalomethanes (THM)

People exposed to THMs in drinking water have been connected to liver and kidney disease. These contaminants affect the central nervous system and increase a person's risk of cancer. Some studies have also connected THMs to birth defects in infants.

Filtration Solutions for Trihalomethanes (THM)

Water municipalities are required to notify customers about their methods of disinfection. When chlorine is used as a secondary disinfectant, THMs are always present in the water. If you are concerned about the levels of disinfectant by-products in your water, have your water tested. Trihalomethanes and other halogenated organics can be reduced with granular activated carbon filter cartridges and reverse osmosis systems.

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Turbidity in Water

Water turbidity is a term used to describe organic or non-organic chemicals suspended in water. Undissolved materials such as sand, clay, silt, or suspended iron contribute to water turbidity. Turbidity is found in most surface waters and may appear in shallow wells and springs after heavy rains. Turbidity gives water a cloudy appearance or looks like dirty sediment. Turbidity is determined by the presence of particles in water consisting of finely divided solids, which are larger than molecules but not visible by the naked eye, ranging in size from .001 to .150 mm (1 to 150 micron). The US EPA has established the maximum contaminant level for turbidity at 0.5 to 1.0 NTU (nephelometric turbidity units).

Symptoms of Turbidity

Turbidity stain sinks and fixtures and discolors fabrics. Although turbidity may not have harmful health effects by itself, it can lead to sickness. Particles carry viruses and bacteria through the water system. Turbidity can shelter and feed pathogens, causing a "shadow" effect that protects them from UV disinfection.

Filtration Solutions for Turbidity

Turbidity is typically removed by mechanical filtration such as sediment filters.

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Uranium in Water

Since uranium (U) is naturally-occurring, people can be exposed to it through the soil, food, and drinking water. Elevated levels of uranium cause health problems, so the EPA has set the maximum contaminant level at 15 pCi/L. Decaying uranium produces radon, another dangerous contaminant. Elevated levels of uranium in drinking water could result from naturally higher levels or from uranium mining. Nuclear power plants use uranium as a fuel, so people around the plants have a higher risk of exposure.

Symptoms of Uranium

Even though uranium has not been listed as a carcinogen, it increases the risk of cancer. Elevated levels of exposure cause kidney damage and disease, particularly in those with weak immune systems. Uranium accumulates in the bones in the same way radium does.

Filtration Solutions for Uranium

Showering in water contaminated with uranium is safe, so a whole house filtration system is not needed. Instead, use a point of use system to filter drinking water. Reverse osmosis systems reduce uranium by 95 to 98%. Activated alumina and water distillation are other effective methods.

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Viruses in Water

Viruses are infectious organisms that range in size from 10 to 25 nanometers, making them invisible to the human eye. Over 100 types of enteric, infectious viruses exist. These viruses enter water through animal or human fecal matter. The US EPA has established says municipalities must have 99.99% reduction or inactivation of the viruses. Well owners or those who get water from surface water are especially at risk for contracting viruses from drinking water.

Symptoms of Viruses

Each virus may have different symptoms. Here are a few that may be communicated through drinking water:

  • Enteroviruses: polio, aseptic meningitis, and encephalitis
  • Reoviruses: upper respiratory and gastrointestinal illness
  • Rotaviruses: gastroenteritis
  • Adenoviruses: upper respiratory and gastrointestinal illness
  • Hepatitis A: infectious hepatitis
  • Norwalk-type: gastroenteritis

Water Treatment Solutions for Viruses

Chemical oxidation removes viruses from drinking water. Chlorine and ozone are used by many municipalities to kill viruses in water. However, chlorine produces harmful chemical by-products. UV water purification disables viruses, preventing them from reproducing and causing illness. Ultrafiltration and ceramic filtration rated at 1-micron reduce the presence of these harmful viruses as well. Hikers and campers should carry hand-held UV treatment systems designed to shock these dangerous viruses if they are planning to drink surface water from lakes or streams.

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VOCs in Water

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) is a general term for chemical compounds that come from different sources. VOCs are man-made and when found in water, they signal a chemical spill or industrial pollution from a manufacturing site. Chlorinated solvents, fuel components, and some pesticides are included in VOCs. MTBE and benzene are two VOCs found in drinking water.

Symptoms of VOCs

There are many different VOCs, and each one has different health effects. Carbon tetrachloride increases the risk of liver cancer. 1,2 Dichloroethane is another carcinogen. Benzene causes anemia, and trichloroethylene causes kidney and immune system problems. Most VOCs are carcinogens or have other serious health effects. The EPA has strict maximum contaminant levels for many of them. Well owners are at risk and should test for the presence of VOCs.

Water Treatment Solutions for VOCs

Activated carbon filtration is the best choice for removing VOCs. The absorption capacity of the carbon varies with each type of VOC. Carbon manufacturers run computer projections on many of these chemicals and give an estimated amount that can be removed before the carbon will need replacing. Aeration may be used alone or in conjunction with an activated carbon filter. Reverse osmosis systems remove 70 to 80% of the VOCs in the water. Electrodialysis and ultrafiltration are also capable of reducing volatile organic compounds.

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