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1 PSS-2912 Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service Drinking Water Testing Hailin Zhang Director, Soil, Water and Forage Analytical Laboratory Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Fact Sheets are also available on our website at: The taste, odor, and appearance of your drinking water can give you an indication of its quality, but do you know if your water is really safe? A glass of water may contain dissolved minerals, organic compounds, or even live organisms. Some of these materials, if present in very small amounts, are no problem for drinking water. Other materials, however, may be serious health risks. Public water supplies present few concerns because they are routinely disinfected and tested for a long list of potential contaminants according to rules and regulations set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is responsible for assuring that public water supplies satisfy SDWA standards. The SDWA requires that water treatment plants notify customers if any of these standards are violated. In 1996, Congress amended the SDWA requiring water suppliers to put annual drinking water quality reports into the hands of their customers beginning in 1999. The report is referred to as Consumer Confidence Report (CCR). It is possible for water to meet SDWA standards when it leaves the public water treatment plant, but not meet those standards by the time it reaches your kitchen or bathroom sink. For example, water can extract lead from lead solder. Therefore, if you live in a home with plumbing that pre‑dates the 1987 plumbing codes, or if you have a very old home in which there are lead pipes, you may wish to have your water tested for lead. Few other problems require testing by public water supply users. If you get your water from a private well, it is your own responsibility to monitor its quality. Aside from your health ‑ concerns, most lending institutions require a water test be fore they will approve a loan for purchase or construction of your home. Much of Oklahoma’s groundwater meets SDWA standards without any treatment. In some areas, however, there are health concerns, such as nitrate, fluoride, or arsenic concentrations above the drinking water standard. The more common problems, like hardness or high concentrations of iron, sulfate, or chloride are not health concerns. Private well users may experience health‑related water Water testing labs will give you instructions on collecting quality problems from chemical use or waste disposal near a sample of your water. For routine drinking water tests wells, poor well construction and maintenance, the their done by the State Department of Environmental Quality, proximity of septic systems, chemical use or water disposal your local health department can provide a sample bottle, on adjacent land areas, or drastic weather events, such as instructions, and a label and box for mailing the sample. severe drought or flooding. The only way to be certain your water supply is safe is to test it regularly for the most likely contaminants and conduct additional tests if you suspect a particular contaminant. Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources • Oklahoma State University

2 would be prohibitively expensive. Instead, tests should be The Oklahoma Department of Environmental conducted for the most common problems or for suspected problems. Table 1 provides a summary of typical problems Quality (DEQ) is responsible for assuring that public observed in drinking water, the possible contaminants, and water supplies in Oklahoma meet Safe Drinking Water the recommended tests. Table 2 presents reasons to suspect Standards. Public water supply systems are required to contamination and the recommended tests. Use this information collect water samples on a regular basis (frequency of as a guide to determine which water tests you need. sampling depends on the size of the population served ‑ In general, water analyses can be classified as bacterio by the system) and submit the samples for analysis by an approved laboratory. DEQ enforces standards for logical, inorganic, and organic tests. The bacteriological tests check for indicator species of bacteria (for example, coliforms inorganic chemicals, organic chemicals, volatile organic - E. coli ‑ ). Inorganic tests measure the concentration of dis chemicals, turbidity, radionuclide contaminants and mi or crobiological contaminants. If the maximum allowable solved minerals and the pH, or acidity. If other contaminants ‑ are suspected, the water may be tested for organic chemi level of any contaminant is violated, the public water cals (including volatile organic compounds, pesticides, and system is required to issue public notices in a local newspaper and on monthly water bills to customers ‑ petroleum products), radiological contaminants (such as ura nium, radium, and radon), or heavy metals (such as arsenic, until the violation is corrected. Consumers will receive an annual water quality report from the public water mercury, lead, or cadmium). supplier. Bacteriological Tests The standard bacteriological test screens for coliform bacteria. These bacteria do not necessarily cause disease What Should I Test For? themselves, but their presence indicates contamination and A number of tests can be performed to check for specific the possible presence of disease‑causing organisms such as water contaminants. To test for all possible pollutants, however, ‑ pathogenic bacteria, viruses, or intestinal parasites. The pres Table 1. Water Quality Problems and Recommended Tests. PROBLEM: IF YOU EXPERIENCE: TEST FOR: Brown or yellow Iron, tannin Appearance of Water Frothy or foamy Detergents Cloudy Turbidity Organism brown precipitate Iron, pH Black flakes Manganese, pH Staining of fixtures or clothing Red or brown Iron, pH Iron, hydrogen sulfide, hardness, pH Yellow Manganese, hydrogen sulfide, pH Black Green or blue Copper, pH Odor or taste of water Bitter Nitrate, sulfate Rotten egg Hydrogen sulfide Soapy Detergents, surfactants pH, iron, zinc, copper, lead Metallic Salty Total dissolved solids, chloride, sodium, electrical conductivity Septic, musty, earthy Total coliform bacteria, iron, pH Gasoline, oil, kerosene Hydrocarbons, organic compounds Tarnished silverware Hydrogen sulfide, pH Other Stomach ache, diarrhea Total conform bacteria, nitrate, sulfate, manganese Fluoride Discoloration or mottling of children’s teeth White deposits on pots and Hardness, alkalinity, sulfate, total fixtures or soap scum dissolved solids Corrosion of plumbing Electrical conductivity, pH, lead, iron, manganese, copper, sulfate, chloride PSS-2912-2

3 Table 2. Reasons to Suspect Water Contamination and Recommended Tests. Reason for Concern: Consider Testing for: Water supply for infant less than 6 months Nitrate Lead pipe or lead solder in plumbing (older home) Lead, copper, zinc, pH, alkalinity Close to old fuel storage tanks Hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds Close to gas and oil drilling Chloride, total dissolved solids, sodium, barium, lead, pH, electrical conductivity, volatile organic compounds Close to confined livestock area Nitrate, total coliform bacteria Close to a chemical/pesticide spill or sprayer loading/rinsing area Specific chemical or pesticide Close to a landfill or dump site Volatile organic compounds, heavy metals, synthetic organic compounds ence of coliform bacteria means contamination from surface Table 3. EPA Standards for Drinking Water. water sources, as these are not found in ground water. The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality recommends Analyte Limit private wells be tested for coliform bacteria every year. This is ‑ especially important if the well is shallow, old, or of substan 10 ppm Nitrate*‑nitrogen dard construction. Frequent testing is also recommended if it 150 ppm Chloride is located close to a source of human or animal waste, such 250 ppm Sulfate ‑ as a septic tank drainfield, barnyard, or animal feeding oper Total Soluble Salt 500 ppm ation. If a well appears to be substandard, DEQ can provide pH 6.5‑8.5 guidance for inspecting and upgrading it. * Only Nitrate is a primary drinking water standard. Other Tests Heavy metals may occur naturally in ground water because Inorganic chemical tests screen for specific minerals of underlying rocks and soils. However, mining, construction, and salts, such as calcium carbonate, nitrate, chloride, and and industrial activities may release these metals into the sulfate. Homes constructed prior to 1987 should also test groundwater. Examples of heavy metals are arsenic, mercury, for lead. Although some of the inorganic chemicals found in cadmium, chromium, selenium, and lead. drinking water may not present a health hazard, they may be a nuisance. For a private well, inorganic chemical tests are recommended every three to five years; more frequently if Where to Get Water Testing Done you suspect contamination. The Oklahoma DEQ conducts routine bacteriological Organic chemical tests are used to check for synthetic and and inorganic chemical tests of water. Contact your local volatile organic compounds, petroleum products, pesticides and DEQ office for information on how to take the water sample, other organic chemicals. These tests are relatively expensive. how to get it to the laboratory, and the cost. In addition, if you Interpretation of the test results requires knowledge of the suspect contamination of your drinking water by any type of (MCLs) established under the maximum contaminant levels contaminant (requiring a routine or nonroutine test), contact SDWA (Table 3). However, MCLs have not been established your local DEQ office. They will work with you to determine for many organic chemicals, and the health effects of long term whether contamination has occurred, to find the source of the exposure to small quantities of these chemicals are generally contamination, and, if necessary, to find an alternative source not known. of drinking water. DEQ also maintains a statewide hotline In general, testing for pesticides is recommended if the for reports or questions concerning possible environmental well is close to cropland where pesticides are used extensively, contamination: 1‑800‑522‑0206. if the well is particularly shallow (50 ft or less), or if there is ‑ The Soil, Water, and Forages Analytical Laboratory at Okla evidence of surface contamination by a pesticide. homa State University can provide routine inorganic chemical Radiological contaminants generally occur naturally testing for household water. A nominal fee is charged. Contact because of geological characteristics. Radiological tests may your County Oklahoma Cooperative Extension office for DEQ focus on specific contaminants, such as radon, or they may sample bottles and details on drawing the water sample and measure total alpha or beta emission. Knowing the geology getting it to the laboratory. in your area well will help you determine whether such a radiological test is needed. PSS-2912-3

4 criteria to assure the quality of their procedures and results. Shop carefully for private laboratory services. For You may acquire a list of laboratories certified by DEQ from: most labs, testing private drinking water samples is a Oklahoma Department Of Environmental Quality very small part of their overall workload, so ask about State Environmental Laboratory turnaround time. Also ask what information will be 707 N. Robinson provided with the test results. A good lab should help Oklahoma City, OK 73102 you interpret the results. If you have questions about 405‑702‑1000 the report, call and ask. You can also contact your local [email protected] Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Office if you have questions about whether contaminants detected in your DEQ also posts the information about currently certified water exceed safe levels. laboratories on the internet at: www.labaccreditation.deq. Certification is normally good for one year, therefore, some laboratories may lose certification DEQ not only provides drinking water test services but also and other labs may become certified. Contact the lab before certifies other laboratories to provide drinking water testing in you submit samples. Oklahoma. To be certified, a laboratory must satisfy specific For more information, visit or call the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1‑800‑426‑4791. Oklahoma State University, in compliance with Title VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Executive Order 11246 as amended, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and other federal laws and regulations, does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, age, religion, disability, or status as a veteran in any of its policies, practices or procedures. This includes but is not limited to admissions, employment, financial aid, and educational services. Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Director of Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma. This publication is printed and issued by Oklahoma State University as authorized by the Vice President, Dean, and Director of the Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources and has been prepared and distributed at a cost of 20 cents per copy. Revised 0714 GH. PSS-2912-4

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