Many physical, chemical, and biological parameters can be tested in the field with portable test kits. These kits include strips and color disks that change colors to indicate the presence of certain chemicals in water samples.
Testing for dissolved oxygen, electrical conductivity, and total dissolved solids is important. For a comprehensive analysis, professional laboratory testing is required. For help, contact the experts at Water Quality Testing Colorado.
The concentration of minerals and chemicals in water is a significant factor in water quality. Water quality testing can provide information about the levels of these substances and indicate whether they are acceptable or hazardous. Most tests measure the concentration of a particular substance in a sample of water and are reported in units such as milligrams per liter or parts per billion.
Some common water testing parameters include dissolved oxygen, pH, and conductivity (EC). Typically, these measurements can be influenced by natural conditions such as altitude or mineral composition, but they can also be affected by man-made point source pollution, such as discharge from sewage treatment plants, or by non-point sources such as agricultural runoff or urban stormwater.
Other common tests include fluoride, nitrates, and trichloramines. Nitrates can be caused by agricultural fertilizers, and trichloramines are used in swimming pool disinfectants. These pollutants can cause a variety of health problems, including kidney and liver damage, respiratory disease, and skin irritations.
Many of these test results are determined by comparing the sample to a standard or a range of acceptable concentrations. The result indicates whether the water is safe for human consumption or whether it requires additional treatment to remove any hazardous contaminants.
The most accurate and thorough method of testing water quality is to send a sample to an accredited laboratory for laboratory analysis. This method takes days and can cost hundreds of dollars, but it can reveal the presence or absence of hundreds of physical, chemical, and biological parameters. It is a good option for private well owners or people who receive their water from non-regulated sources. Laboratory testing should be considered a periodic concern rather than a one-time check, as the quality of water is not static and changes over time. Periodic sampling will allow for more comprehensive monitoring and may help uncover any problems before they become an emergency or a serious health risk. Some states have programs that cover the cost of water testing for those who need it most. This includes people receiving radiation or chemotherapy, transplant patients, and pregnant women.
All water contains bacteria, but the presence of these microscopic organisms does not necessarily indicate that the water is unsafe to drink. Only certain disease-causing microorganisms, known as pathogens, can make people sick. Because testing for individual pathogens in drinking water is expensive and difficult, it is more practical to test for a group of bacteria known as “total coliforms.” This group of bacteria is found in the intestinal tracts of warm-blooded animals and is also present in soil, vegetation, and untreated surface water. Since fecal contamination is the most common source of disease-causing microorganisms in well water, testing for a high level of these bacteria is one indicator that the well and its water system have not been adequately protected.
Traditional methods of bacterial counting, such as multiple tube culturing techniques or pour and spread plate counting, require that large volumes of water be tested and can be slow to produce results. Modern microbial analysis methods are faster, more accurate, and can be performed on small samples of water. The most sophisticated of these methods uses a technique called DNA probe technology, which relies on the fact that E. E. coli and other common bacteria carry specific genes that can be detected in water samples. The test works by treating the water to release the bacteria’s nucleic acid, which is then searched for by a gene probe containing the E. coli gene. If the probe finds the gene, a radioactive signal is emitted that can be detected by an instrument.
In addition to the benefits of speed and accuracy, using a DNA probe method eliminates the need to prepare and analyze cultures and thus reduces labor costs. Moreover, the ability to run tests in-house can help assure that client water samples are processed promptly. In some cases, it can be the difference between closing a sale and losing a customer.
In addition to traditional laboratory-based testing, there are many portable water quality testers available for use at the point of sale. For example, the PATH global health non-profit organization has worked with a consortium to develop Aquatest, a device that takes reliable quantitative water testing directly to the source of contamination (see this article for more information). Another convenient device is the Compartment Bag Test from Aquagenx, which consists of a clear plastic bag divided into five compartments and a chromogenic growth medium for E. coli. coli. If all the compartments turn blue, the water is safe to drink; if any of the five do not, the water is questionable.
Water testing can determine whether or not the water is contaminated with chemicals. This type of water quality testing is a concern for public drinking water supplies, where contamination may result in health issues and even death. Fortunately, many communities have established methods for monitoring the presence of potentially dangerous bacteria and other contaminants in their drinking water. Private well owners and those who live near septic systems, chemical use, or waste disposal sites should also conduct regular water tests on their own to ensure that their water is safe for human consumption.
Several types of water tests can be performed with inexpensive equipment, including tests for nitrate-nitrogen (NO3-N), pH, turbidity, total dissolved solids (TDS), and odors. These basic tests provide important information on the general state of the well or pond water and can alert the consumer to any deterioration in water quality that would not be obvious from the appearance or smell of the water itself.
More advanced water tests may include those for the presence of organic chemicals (such as volatile organic compounds, pesticides, and petroleum products), radiological contaminants (including radon), and heavy metals (including arsenic, mercury, lead, and cadmium). These tests are usually conducted by a laboratory, but a variety of at-home test kits exist for some of these more expensive tests.
Bacteriological testing is done by examining a sample of the water for indicator organisms such as coliform bacteria. Each person’s intestinal tract contains countless rod-shaped bacteria, and the presence of coliform bacteria in a drinking water sample indicates that fecal pollution is likely present as well.
Water testing laboratories must be accredited by the Environmental Lab Accreditation Program to perform drinking water tests, so look for this designation when choosing a laboratory to test your water. Some of these laboratories are large, while others are primarily focused on servicing the needs of individual homeowners or businesses. It is also important to shop around for lab services; prices can vary dramatically. Ask each laboratory for a cost estimate before sending any samples. Labs may charge for shipping and handling as well, which can add to the overall cost of the laboratory test.
Water quality is impacted by both natural and anthropogenic factors. It can be tested at home or in a laboratory, with results reflecting a specific set of standards and guidelines. Laboratory evaluations can measure multiple physical, chemical, and biological parameters of collected samples. These tests are highly accurate but require significant time to perform. Home test kits and test strips can provide rapid but less accurate results.
Among the many physical parameters of water quality are temperature, color, taste and odor, turbidity, electrical conductivity, and total dissolved solids. Biological water quality testing includes the measurement of bacteria, algae, and protozoa in the sample. Process water is used in industrial settings and requires special considerations for proper utilization because a number of specialized processing operations can be damaged by water contaminants.
In addition to bacterial contamination, there are a variety of other germs and harmful chemicals that may be present in water samples. Some of these are easily boiled away, but others are not. Lead, for example, can hardly be eradicated by boiling and is known to cause a variety of health problems. It is especially important to test water for dangerous contaminants if it will be consumed by infants, children, or pregnant women, since they are more susceptible to illness due to exposure.
The EPA recommends that most residences have their water tested annually for chlorine levels, ph, nitrate levels, and bacteria. The frequency of these tests may increase based on the age of the home’s occupants, whether there is a known risk of contamination, or if the household is experiencing plumbing repair or construction work. It is also recommended that those who are taking medications or undergoing radiation or chemotherapy, transplant recipients, and anyone suffering from a serious disease or illness have their drinking water tested regularly.
Most public water suppliers, including municipalities and bottled water companies, make their water quality reports publicly available each year by July 1. You can find this information through the EPA’s website or through your water supplier’s own site. An online water quality interpretation tool has been developed to help you evaluate your own water test report results.