What Is Water Quality Testing?

Water Quality Testing Colorado provides information about the healthiness of your water. It can measure bacteria, pH, turbidity, and salinity.

There are a variety of home test kits available, depending on your budget and desired precision level. Some include color comparison tests or a kit that allows you to mail samples to certified laboratories for extensive testing.

water testing

The bacteria in your water could cause illness if they are disease-causing or irritating if they make your eyes or mouth feel strange. Most bacteria found in drinking water are called “indicator bacteria” because they can help indicate whether harmful germs like viruses or protozoa are present as well. While tests for these organisms are expensive and require specialized lab equipment, most professional bacteriological testing services check for indicator bacteria, total coliforms, and E coli.

Most professional bacteriological tests also look for iron bacteria, which are not disease-causing but create nuisance problems, such as the formation of grayish or red/orange gelatinous deposits in pipes, toilets, and water storage tanks. They produce hydrogen sulfide gas, which has a distinctive rotten egg odor. A disinfectant can kill these bacteria, but it is best to identify them as soon as possible so that treatment can be started.

Some types of bacteria can cause illness quickly; others gradually deteriorate the quality of your water over time. If you use a private water supply such as a well or a spring, consider having your water tested at least twice a year. If you have a well close to or shares its supply with livestock or a septic system, get the water tested more often. If a public incident of mass contamination (like the Flint water crisis) makes you wonder about your private water, ask your local UMaine Extension county office or your health department for advice on what to do.

In some countries, fecal contamination is a major problem with drinking water. Over 2.2 billion people don’t have access to safe drinking water, and many of them die from diarrhea caused by inadequate water, sanitation, and hygiene. Testing for all the different bacteria that can be harmful is impossible, but a few “indicator” pathogens, such as E coli, are recommended by the World Health Organization.

For home testing, there are inexpensive test kits available to measure the presence of indicator bacteria. There are also portable digital testers that can provide rapid, accurate results using luminescence or electrochemical methods. However, these devices require special training and calibration to operate properly and should be used only by professionals.

The chemical aspect of water quality testing focuses on measuring the quantities of mineral and organic substances that affect water quality. This can include determining the pH, chlorine levels, hardness, dissolved solids, and total suspended solids. It also includes measuring the odor, color, and taste of a water sample. These tests can help a company or person determine if the water is safe to drink or use in any other manner.

Various agencies, such as the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control, set exposure standards or safe limits for some chemicals that may be present in drinking water. The EPA oversees public water supplies that serve more than 90% of the American population and requires regulated water systems to adhere to these limits for the most common contaminants. Private well owners can test their water by purchasing a kit with a small device for detecting the presence of specific chemicals in water. The device changes color to indicate the contaminant level, and the owner can compare this result with charts in the kit that show the acceptable levels for each chemical.

Other chemical tests are available for assessing the quality of groundwater, surface water, and wastewater. These tests provide a snapshot of the environmental conditions in an area and help managers and engineers decide how to improve the quality of a water supply. They can also be used to monitor the effectiveness of a treatment system.

Comprehensive water testing should include analysis for regulated pollutants, such as pesticides, semi-volatile organic compounds, metals, and disinfection byproducts. It should also involve emerging contaminants, such as PFAS and hormones. The increasing number of public incidents that involve contamination of water is a reminder of the importance of water testing and monitoring.

A centralized laboratory with ELAP accreditation can conduct extensive drinking water testing for a reasonable fee. Private well owners who do not receive water from a regulated source should check with local health or environmental departments for guidance on what to test for and how to interpret the results.

Most water quality tests are conducted in laboratories, where specialized equipment is used to measure the physical and chemical properties of a sample. Samples are collected from an environmental site and transported to the lab for analysis. Results from these tests are then compared to regulatory standards and guidelines. If the samples fail to meet these standards, then measures can be taken to remediate the problem and ensure the water is safe for consumption.

Water testing is essential for maintaining a healthy ecosystem, ensuring the safety of drinking water, and protecting plumbing systems and appliances. Tests can detect many contaminants, including harmful bacteria and algae, heavy metals, and toxins. These contaminants can corrode pipes and damage household appliances, leading to costly repairs or replacements. Regular water testing can also help identify contamination sources and prevent the spread of contaminants to other areas.

In addition to measuring the physical characteristics of water, such as temperature and turbidity, water testing can determine the amounts of mineral and organic substances present. These tests can help determine the suitability of water for industrial purposes, such as process and cooling water.

Water samples are tested for various parameters, including dissolved oxygen levels, pH, conductivity, and total dissolved solids. Dissolved oxygen levels are important for aquatic life, and low levels can cause fish kills. Conductivity and dissolved solids can indicate the presence of salts, minerals, and other inorganic substances.

Toxic inorganic substances are a serious concern, as even low concentrations of these compounds can harm human health. These include cadmium, mercury, lead, and arsenic. These contaminants are commonly found in surface and groundwater and can be caused by agricultural runoff, waste disposal, industrial operations, and urbanization.

Water quality testing can be an excellent way to monitor the environment, whether you live in a regulated public water supply system or use untreated well water. However, it is crucial to understand the cost of testing and how these costs can affect your budget. Contact a certified laboratory for pricing information.

Many bacteria, protozoa, and helminths can make people sick from drinking contaminated water. However, testing for every possible waterborne pathogen is a costly and time-consuming endeavor. A more practical solution is to try for an indicator organism that acts as a sign of fecal contamination. In the US, the preferred indicator organism is Escherichia coli (E. coli).

Several different types of bacteria-testing methods exist, including traditional culture methods in which samples are added to differential media and counted and membrane filtration tests that measure the number of E. coli cells in a 100 mL sample. Other tests include luminescence testing devices that detect the presence of bacteria and electrochemical testers that determine the pH, dissolved solids and salt, dissolved oxygen, and electrical conductivity of a water sample. Some of these tests are available as handheld digital instruments, but they require proper training and calibration to obtain accurate results.

The bacterial contaminants of greatest concern in most drinking water supplies result from fecal contamination. Such contaminants may come from various sources, from animal droppings to leaking sanitation infrastructure to homeless encampments near storm drain channels.

In regulated public water systems, fecal indicators and total coliforms, as well as turbidity and natural organic matter (NOM), are routinely tested. In some cases, Giardia, Cryptosporidium, and enteric viruses are monitored, particularly in groundwater-supplied supplies subject to fecal contamination from surface water sources.

Water quality tests can be expensive, especially for private well owners and small supply systems. Ask an accredited lab for a cost estimate before starting any sampling.

While various water quality tests are available, the above list provides a comprehensive overview of some of the most important and commonly used ones. To learn more about a specific type of test, visit the website for an accredited laboratory. The site should have detailed descriptions of the various tests it offers, as well as contact information to get in touch with a representative for more information. Water quality testing empowers consumers to protect themselves from environmental threats impacting their health and finances.