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Get drinking water tested

May 11, 2008
By LINDA E. WEGNER, For The Leader-Herald
Why should you test your drinking water?

It is important to know the quality your drinking water.

Consuming one glass of water containing just a few disease causing bacteria could get you or your family quite sick.

Are you drinking bottled water because you are unsure of the quality of your well or spring water?

Getting your drinking water tested will inform you whether your water is safe to drink or whether you need to take corrective action to rid your water of contamination.

Public water supplies are tested frequently for contaminants and suppliers are required to present test results to their customers annually.

If you are on a public watersupply, get and read a copy of the test report.

Tests are usually done on the water at the treatment plant. Residents may have concerns about the quality of municipal water reaching their home (after it has been distributed through their home plumbing) and may want to conduct further tests on their water.

Testing a private water supply is generally the responsibility of the property owner.

Private water supplies should always be tested before a home is purchased and whenever a new water supply is being developed.

If you suspect that your water supply is unsafe to drink, or you are having serious nuisance problems such as rust and hard water, you have several options.

Regardless of your water source, you can have your water tested for specific contaminants of concern.

You will generally pay for the testing of your water, but some communities may offer free testing and in cases such as a chemical spill, it may be possible to obtain help from your local health department or state agency.

The New York State Department of Health provides a list of certified commercial laboratories for potable water sampling. Yearly testing for common contaminants such as bacteria and nitrate is recommended to ensure continued safety of your water supply.

Occasional testing for specific contaminants, such as pesticides and other chemicals, may be appropriate depending upon where you live and what activities take place at your water supply.

Testing results should guide your decisions about whether you need a water treatment system, and if so, what kind.

No individual water treatment device removes every contaminant from drinking water.

Depending on the severity of contamination, it may be necessary to replace the source of the drinking water by developing an alternative water supply or purchasing bottled water.

These options can be costly and inconvenient, so it is important to have your water tested regularly and be informed of community water quality issues and decisions.

When should I test my water?

Late spring or early summer are the best times to test your well, since contamination is most likely to show up during wet weather.

How often should I test my well?

What tests should I have done?

Yearly testing for common contaminants such as bacteria and nitrate is recommended to ensure continued safety of your water supply. If you don’t have any obvious problems, you should still get baseline information on your well and continue to test regularly.

Occasional testing for specific contaminants, such as pesticides and other chemicals, may be appropriate depending upon where you live and what activities take place in your area.

In addition, depending on problems you observe in your well water (color, taste, odor, hardness, corrosion, etc.), you may want to test for additional contaminants and/or test more frequently.

Remember, you cannot tell by the look, taste, or smell of the water if disease-causing organisms are in it.

Should I test for coliforms? Wegner suggests that individuals test their water at least once per year for coliform bacteria.

If you have experieced bacteria problems in the past, it is recommended that you test your well more frequently.Tests for bacteria are often called “coliform,” “fecal coliform,” or “total coliform.” Coliform bacteria are a sign that these and other types of bacteria are entering your well.

While some coliform bacteria themselves may not cause disease, they can warn you of the presence of more harmful bacteria.

When your water is tested for coliforms, you’ll also learn whether E.coli is present. E. coli is the major species in the fecal coliform group. The presence of E. coli in your drinking water is a cause for concern. This is particularly true if there are young children or elderly living in the house as they are the most susceptible to getting sick. E. coli is generally not found growing and reproducing in the environment. Thus, E. coli is considered to be the species of coliform bacteria that is the best indicator of fecal pollution and the possible presence of pathogens.

Where do I find a lab to test my water? Municipal water is frequently tested by the supplier. If you are on a public water supply, you should receive an annual Consumer Confidence Report. The New York State Department of Health provides contact information for municipal suppliers. Your water quality can be affected by the distribution system from the treatment plant, to you home and to your tap.

To have your water tested, keep in mind that samples must be collected using proper containers and following the lab's instructions. Most labs provide their own sterile sample containers for you to use. Keep careful records of your test results.

Cornell Cooperative Extension recommends that individuals residing in New York State make use of a lab certified by the New York State Department of Health. You may check out the Health Department’s Web site at http://www.health.state.ny.us for a list of certified commercial laboratories, sorted by county, that perform “potable water” testing.

For more information call me at 762-3909, Ext. 114 or e-mail lew9@cornell.edu.

 
 

 

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