Microorganisms are extremely small organisms, and include bacteria, protozoa and viruses. Some of these are so small that they cannot be seen under a conventional microscope.
Bacteria cells generally range in size from less than 1 to 10 microns long, and from 0.2 to 1 micron wide. While small, there is a huge quantity and variety of them the world over, and they greatly outnumber humans.
The lower forms of bacteria can be categorized as either helpful or harmful to humans. The harmful bacteria we know as those that cause disease. The helpful bacteria speed up the process of decomposing organic waste, and thus aid in purifying water.
Coliform bacteria are a type of bacteria which are mostly harmless, but the group does contain E. coli (Escherichia coli). E. coli grows as part of the normal microbe population in our own digestive tract, as well as in other warm-blooded animals, and serve as a good indicator of sewage contamination in a drinking water source.
The total number of coliform bacteria that may enter a source of drinking water is reduced by three major factors: 1) these bacteria die in large numbers because they generally cannot survive very well in either sewage or cleaner water; 2) they are removed during the water purification process; and 3) they are destroyed during sewage treatment.
Protozoa are single-celled organisms that live mainly in water. Many protozoa we know as parasites, but like bacteria, they can be classified as helpful or harmful. At times, drinking water can become infested with certain protozoa which are not disease causing, but will give the water a fish taste and odor.
One important group of protozoa are those which form cysts, a protective wall these organisms form around themselves when in unfavorable surroundings. Once inside the body of a warm-blooded animal where the conditions are more favorable, the cyst abandons the protective wall and lives in the animal's blood stream. Protozoa are often found in groundwater that has being influenced by surface water sources.
Among the more common of these cysts is the one which carries the waterborne disease, amoebic dysentery. In addition, Giardia lamblia and cryptosporidium are a cause of acute gastrointestinal illness, the most frequently diagnosed waterborne illness. Cryptosporidium is a major cause of severe diarrhea in children. Giardiasis is usually linked to unfiltered surface water that has not been disinfected sufficiently. Other protozoa found in water supplies are microsporidium, toxoplasma and cylclospora.
Not all available home water filters on the market remove protozoa. The good news is that these cysts are usually 2 to 50 microns in diameter, much larger than bacteria, and can be removed from water by Culligan reverse osmosis filtration, the best protection in home filtration.
Viruses are the smallest of the infectious microorganisms. They cannot be seen under a microscope, as they are only 0.004 to 0.1 micron in diameter, and thus can pass through porcelain filters capable of screening out bacteria.
Viruses are a unique kind of parasite that are incapable of growth unless they are in the presence of living cells. They can survive both freezing and drying.
While viruses are more difficult to directly detect in a water source, they can be carried in feces of both animals and humans. This is why fecal coliform bacteria is a good indicator of sewage contamination. The presence of coliform bacteria in sewage may mean that the water source itself is contaminated with other parasites. It is important to note, however, that the absence of coliform bacteria in a water source does not necessarily indicate the absence of parasites in that water source.
(Source: Water Treatment Dealer, July/August 2002, "What are bacteria, protozoa and viruses?" by Lou Smith, Water Quality Consultant, Canadian Water Quality Association)
Lead, a metal found in natural deposits, is commonly used in household plumbing materials and water service lines. The greatest exposure to lead is swallowing or breathing in lead paint chips and dust. But lead in drinking water can also cause a variety of adverse health effects. In babies and children, exposure to lead in drinking water above the action level can result in delays in physical and mental development, along with slight deficits in attention span and learning abilities. In adults, it can cause increases in blood pressure. Adults who drink this water over many years could develop kidney problems or high blood pressure.
Young children, infants and fetuses appear to be particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning. A dose of lead that would have little effect on an adult can have a big effect on a small body. Also, growing children will more rapidly adsorb any lead they consume. A child's mental and physical development can be irreversibly stunted by over-exposure to lead. In infants, whose diet consists of liquids made with water—such as baby formula—lead in drinking water makes up an even greater proportion of total lead exposure (40 to 60 percent).
Lead is rarely found in source water, but enters tap water through corrosion of plumbing materials. Very old and poorly maintained homes may be more likely to have lead pipes, joints, and solder. However, new homes are also at risk: even legally "lead-free" pipes may contain up to 8 percent lead. These pipes can leave significant amounts of lead in the water for the first several months after their installation.
Federal standards initially limited the amount of lead in water to 50 parts per billion (ppb). In light of new health and exposure data, EPA has set an action level of 15 ppb. If tests show that the level of lead in your household water is in the area of 15 ppb or higher, it is advisable—especially if there are young children in the home—to reduce the lead level in your tap water as much as possible. (EPA estimates that more than 40 million U.S. residents use water that can contain lead in excess of 15 ppb.) Note: One ppb is equal to 1.0 microgram per liter or 0.001 milligram per liter (mg/1).
You should have your water tested for lead. Since you cannot see, taste, or smell lead dissolved in water, testing is the only sure way of telling whether or not there are harmful quantities of lead in your drinking water. You should be particularly suspicious if your home has lead pipes (lead is a dull gray metal that is soft enough to be easily scratched with a house key), if you see signs of corrosion (frequent leaks, rust-colored water, stained dishes or laundry, or if your non-plastic plumbing is less than five years old. A number of cartridge type filtering devices are available. These devices use various types of filtering media, including carbon, ion exchange resins, activated alumina and other privately marketed products.
If you own a well or another water source, you can treat the water to make it less corrosive. Corrosion control devices for individual households include calcite filters and other devices. Calcite filters should be installed in the line between the water source and any lead service connections or lead-soldered pipe.
The presence of nitrate in a water analysis is a danger signal. Nitrate is an indication that your water supply may be contaminated with bacteria. Even small amounts of nitrate make the water supply suspect. In farming areas, like Illinois, nitrates are a real problem.
Large amounts of nitrate are dangerous to infants. Babies drinking high nitrate water develop a blue color of skin because the blood has a decreased ability to carry oxygen. Continued drinking of the water will cause the baby to become ill, or may even result in death.
Partial removal of nitrate can be accomplished by reverse osmosis. Complete removal of nitrate may be accomplished by deionization treatment. If the water supply is found to be contaminated, chlorination may be needed to kill the bacteria. If nitrate water cannot be reduced to an acceptable level through water treatment, we suggest that bottled water be used for drinking.
Iron can be present in water in several forms: colloidal iron, oxidized iron, soluble iron and iron bacteria. Colloidal iron is a special case of extremely small particles of oxidized iron that do not settle out. Oxidized iron is insoluble in non-acid water. Water containing oxidized iron is filled with some red rust when first drawn from the tap. Soluble iron is called "clear water iron" because the water is not red unless it stands.
Iron oxide deposits can plug up plumbing and other equipment that uses water, like farm equipment, home washing machines, hot water heaters and dishwashers. The other objection to iron in water is that it can cause reddish-brown stains on laundry, plumbing fixtures and cooking utensils. Iron causes a disagreeable metallic taste and, in some cases, can have a sewer type of odor. Iron causes coffee, tea, liquor and other beverages an inkier black. As little as 0.3 ppm is enough to cause iron staining.
Iron bacteria are living organisms that feed on iron in your water and on iron in wells, piping, tanks and iron fixtures. The bacteria build slime in toilet water tanks and clog pipes, pumps, water heaters and appliances. Until the last few years, iron bacteria were not too common a problem but their presence has increased rapidly throughout the country. These bacteria are now quite prevalent. You may expect that any iron water will at some future time, if not already, be invaded by iron bacteria. Iron bacteria must be killed by chlorination.
The presence and amount of iron in your water can be determined with testing. Iron is normally removed from water through mechanical filters, water softeners and reverse osmosis.
Every natural water supply contains some sodium, with concentration depending upon the exposure of the water to soluble compounds which are present in the earth or in the atmosphere.
The natural contamination of fresh ground water by saltwater is an important water-quality issue in many areas of Illinois. This saltwater comes from naturally occurring salt minerals in the subsurface. Proper management of ground water reduces, and frequently avoids, intrusion of saltwater into freshwater supplies.
Contaminants that may cause health problems, such as nitrate, are of significant concern. For owners of private wells, the issue of ground-water contamination is particularly serious. Most private domestic supplies are neither tested nor treated on a routine basis.
Although the distinction between surface water and ground water seems simple, they are connected in such a way that surface water can become ground water and vice versa, and such surface-ground water interactions generally are difficult to observe and measure. Aquifers are often fed partially by seepage from streams and lakes. These same aquifers may discharge through seeps and springs to feed the streams, rivers, and lakes.
Private water supplies are not regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, although some state and municipality standards apply to wells. If you have a private well, you are responsible for testing your water to make sure it is safe. This is especially important in areas where homes and nearby businesses are on septic systems. Since many contaminants are colorless and odorless, testing is the only way to determine whether your well water is safe to drink. EPA drinking water standards and health information are good guidelines for you in protecting your own drinking water.
Wells should be tested annually for nitrate and coliform bacteria to detect contamination problems early. Test more frequently and for more potential contaminants, such as radon, pesticides or industrial chemicals if you suspect a problem.
Many people determine the quality of the water they consume by how it smells, tastes or looks. Although these are important criteria, they are primarily aesthetic properties of the water. A glass of water may not look, smell or taste good, but it could still be suitable to drink from a health standpoint. If you are concerned about your water—you really need to have it tested.
Yet, we know that you will still want to use the way water looks, smells and tastes to help determine what type of treatment is necessary to improve the quality of your water. The following guidelines will help you make some educated guesses about any problems with your water and what the most likely cause of those problems might be. You can confirm your guesses when your water is actually tested.
To perform this experiment, all you need is a clear container to take a water sample and then use your senses of sight, smell and taste.
(Source: NDSU Extension Service, AE-1045, June 1992)
The following chart is intended to serve only as a general guide for determining the cause of problems with water. In some cases, these symptoms may indicate a serious problem—in others, only the taste and smell (its aesthetics) may be affected, but not its safety.
Although information below will help you identify your concerns about your water, we believe that it is safest to have your water tested.
|Symptom||Possible Cause||Possible Health Effects||Means of Treatment|
|Soap scum in sinks and bathtub, or yellow or whitish scum on flower pots||Calcium (limestone) and magnesium salts (hard water)||Aesthetic only||Water softener|
|Abrasive texture to water when washing or residual left in sink||Excessively fine sand, silt in water||Various (sand could trap contaminants leading to health risk)||Point of use sediment filter or whole house filter|
|Musty, earthy or wood smell||Generally, harmless organic matter||Aesthetic only||Activated carbon filter or reverse osmosis|
|Chlorine smell||Excessive chlorination||Could occur from formation of disinfection byproducts||Dechlorinate with point of use activated carbon filter or whole house filter|
|Rotten egg odor, or tarnished silverware||
|Hot water, rotten egg odor||Action of magnesium rod in hot water heater||Various Effects||Remove magnesium rod from heater|
|Detergent odor, water foams when drawn||Seepage of septic discharge into underground water supply||Disease-causing microorganisms may be present|
|Gasoline or oil (hydro-carbon) smell||Leak in fuel oil tank or gasoline tank seeping into water supply||Fuel components may be toxic or carcinogenic||No residential treatment. Locate and eliminate seepage|
|Methane gas||Naturally occurring caused by decaying organics||Various effects||Aeration system and repump|
|Phenol smell (chemical odor)||Industrial waste seeping into surface or ground water supplies||Various—compounds may be carcinogenic||Point of use activated carbon filter or whole house system will adsorb short-term.|
|Salty or brackish||High sodium content||Aesthetic only||
|Alkali taste||High dissolved mineral containing alkalinity (Stained aluminum cookware)||Aesthetic only||Reduce by reverse osmosis|
||Various depends on cause||
|Dirt, salt, clay||Suspended matter in surface water pond, stream or lake||Turbid water may contain disease causing microorganisms||"Calcite" or Neutralize (media) type filter—up to 50 ppm|
|Sand grit, silt or clay substances||Well sand from new well or defective well screen||Turbid water may contain disease causing microorganisms||Sand trap and/or new well screen|
|Rust in water||Acid water causing iron "pick-up"||Turbid water may contain disease causing microorganisms||Neutralizing calcite filter to correct low pH acidity and remove precipitated iron|
|Gray string-like fiber||Organic mater in raw water algae, etc||Turbid water may contain disease causing microorganisms||Constant chlorination followed by a point of use activated carbon filter to or whole house system to dechlorinate|
|Green stains on sinks, or, blue-green look to water||Water which has high carbon dioxide content (pH below 6.8) reacting with brass and copper pipes and fittings||Could lead to health effects if acid water causes leaching of lead and copper||
|Brown-red stains on sinks or clothing. Water turns brown-red when used for cooking||1. Dissolved iron in influent (more than 0.3 ppm Fe+) water appears clear when first drawn at cold water faucet. Above 0.3 ppm Fe causes staining||Various effects||
|2. Precipitate iron (water will not clear when drawn)||Various effects||
|Brownish cast does not precipitate||Iron pick-up from old pipe with water having a pH below 6.8. Organic (bacterial) iron||Various effects|
|Reddish color in water sample after standing 24 hours||Colloidal iron||Various effects||Constant chlorination followed by a point a of use activated carbon media filter or whole house system for dechlorination|
|Yellowish cast to water after softening and/or filtering||Tannins (humic acids) in water from peaty soil and decaying vegetation||Various effects||
|Cloudiness of water when drawn||
|Blackening and pitting of stainless steel sinks||
Source: EPA Office of Water
Water described as "hard" means it is high in dissolved minerals, specifically calcium and magnesium. These substances leave a hard scale on surfaces that come in contact with the water. The degree of hardness becomes greater as the calcium and magnesium content increases.
Hard water is not a health risk, but is a nuisance because of its tendency to cause mineral buildup in water pipe and heating systems, and its poor soap and/or detergent performance when compared with soft water. Hard water can cause more expense in increased water use and more frequent plumbing repair bills.
Water is a good solvent and picks up impurities easily. When it combines with carbon dioxide in the air to form very weak carbonic acid, an even better solvent results.
As water moves through soil and rock, it dissolves very small amounts of minerals and holds them in solution. Calcium and magnesium dissolved in water are the two most common minerals that make water "hard." The degree of hardness becomes greater as the calcium and magnesium content increases.
True to its name, hard water can hit you—and your pocket—hard. It works against you in most indoor uses, such as bathing, washing dishes, and shaving. Hard water can clog plumbing in appliances, cutting down on efficiency and hiking up energy and maintenance bills. You can tell you have hard water if there's build-up on your sinks and bathtubs, or if you have to use large amounts of soap to clean dishes or wash your hair.
Clothes washed in hard water often look dingy and feel harsh and scratchy. The hardness minerals combine with some soils to form insoluble salts, making them difficult to remove. Soil on clothes can introduce even more hardness minerals into the wash water. Continuous laundering in hard water can damage fibers and shorten the life of clothes by up to 40 percent.
Bathing with soap in hard water leaves a film of sticky soap curd on the skin. The film may prevent removal of soil and bacteria. Soap curd interferes with the return of skin to its normal, slightly acid condition, and may lead to irritation. Soap curd on hair may make it dull, lifeless and difficult to manage.
Hard water also contributes to inefficient and costly operation of water-using appliances. Heated hard water forms a scale of calcium and magnesium minerals (limescale deposits) that can contribute to the inefficient operation or failure of water-using appliances. Pipes can become clogged with scale that reduces water flow and ultimately requires pipe replacement. Limescale has been known to increase energy bills by up to 25%.
Hard water can have a serious impact on your pocketbook. It can shorten the life span of your appliances by as much as 30%, which can lead to costly repairs or replacement. That means a washing machine that should last 13 years may last only nine years because of hard water damage; a dishwasher that should last 10 years may last only seven, and a hot water heater that should last 11 to 13 years may last only eight or nine.
Another factor to consider is the high cost associated with repairing major appliances. How much would you be willing to pay to repair a 5-year-old washing machine? Replacement is often the best option once hard water has wreaked havoc on an appliance. By installing a water softener, you can add more than three years to the life of most of your appliances—and save yourself the expense of replacing them sooner than expected.
Culligan Water Softeners are mechanical water softening units that can be permanently installed into your plumbing system to continuously remove calcium and magnesium.
Water softeners operate on the ion exchange process. In this process, water passes through a media bed, usually sulfonated polystyrene beads. The beads are supersaturated with sodium. The ion exchange process takes place as hard water passes through the softening material. The hardness minerals attach themselves to the resin beads while sodium on the resin beads is released simultaneously into the water.
When the resin becomes saturated with calcium and magnesium, it is recharged. The recharging is done by passing a salt (brine) solution through the resin. The sodium replaces the calcium and magnesium which are discharged in the waste water.
We can determine the hardness of your water when we perform a water analysis. Once we've tested your water supply, the hardness of your water will be reported in grains per gallon, milligrams per liter (mg/l) or parts per million (ppm). One grain of hardness equals 17.1 mg/l or ppm of hardness.
|Classification||mg/l or ppm||grains/gal|
|Soft||0 - 17.1||0 - 1|
|Slightly hard||17.1 - 60||1 - 3.5|
|Moderately hard||60 - 120||3.5 - 7.0|
|Hard||120 - 180||7.0 - 10.5|
|Very Hard||180 and over||10.5 and over|