Public drinking water systems in the United States provide drinking water to 90% of the populace. As a result, the safety of our drinking water supply is one of the foundations of protecting the public health.
Drinking water is regulated by the EPA, states, and tribes in compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act. Water systems and bottled water manufacturers must meet strict standards set by the EPA, state, and industry regulations for the purity of drinking water provided to consumers.
Common Drinking Water Contaminants
Coliform Group Bacteria
When present in drinking water, Coliform
Group Bacteria (including E. coli) indicate that the water is bacteriologically polluted. Consuming water contaminated with these microorganisms can lead to water-borne illness. Certain strains of E. coli can be deadly.
Nitrate is an inorganic compound that can be a natural or man-made contaminant in drinking water. Due to its high solubility in water, Nitrate is one of the most common contaminants in rural and suburban areas. Nitrate and Nitrite can be an indicator of serious pollution problems as they are associated with septic waste and agricultural endeavors. Farmers and homeowners using nitrate bearing fertilizers often use a variety of pesticides and herbicides which may migrate to ground water supplies. The EPA has established a maximum contaminant level for Nitrate of 10 mg/L and for Nitrite of 1 mg/L.
Lead and Copper
Whether you are on a well or municipal water supply, corrosive waters can leach Lead and Copper from your plumbing (especially older plumbing), resulting in high concentrations of these metals in your water. Consuming waters containing high Lead and/or Copper concentrations can cause specific health problems, especially with children. The EPA has established a maximum contaminant level for Lead of 0.015 mg/L and for Copper of 1.0 mg/L.
If your well water tastes or smells “funny”, stains your fixtures or clothing, or has an abnormal color or cloudy appearance, it may contain a “secondary contaminant”. Some secondary contaminants common in this area are iron, manganese, sulfate, fluoride, TSS and TDS (total suspended and dissolved solids) and hardness. Often, several of these contaminants are present at once, requiring multiple treatment systems in order to make the water aesthetically pleasing. To isolate your particular problem, we recommend testing for the following parameters: Hardness, Alkalinity, Conductivity, pH, Turbidity, Chloride, Fluoride, Sulfate, Iron, Manganese, Sodium, Magnesium and Calcium.
Your well has an increased likelihood of contamination if the soil around it is sandy or if it:
- is older,
- is shallow,
- is dug or driven rather than drilled or
- is near possible sources of contamination, such as: Cropland, Feedlots, Landfills, Industrial sites - active or abandoned.
For homeowners with a well, we recommend testing your water for Coliform Group Bacteria, Chloride, Fluoride, Sulfate, Nitrate & Nitrite. These tests can indicate bacteriological pollution as well as contamination from septic waste (sewage), fertilizer runoff (from yours or an adjoining property), animal waste, road salt or water softener backwash. We recommend you test your water annually or at any time that you notice a change in your water quality, or work on (or disturb) your well.
Iron Bacteria and Sulfur Bacteria
Iron bacteria is generally more common than sulfur bacteria, simply because iron is abundant in ground water. Iron bacteria are “oxidizing agents” - they combine iron or manganese dissolved in ground water with oxygen. A side effect of the process is a foul smelling brown slime which can coat well screens, pipes, and plumbing fixtures. This slime isn’t a health hazard, but it can cause unpleasant odors, corrode plumbing equipment, and clog well screens and pipes. There are several signs that may indicate an iron bacteria problem including water discoloration, slime deposits, and a strange smell resembling fuel oil or cucumbers. Sometimes the odor will only be apparent in the morning or after other extended periods of non-use.
Sulfur-reducing bacteria (SRBs) live in oxygen-deficient environments. They break down sulfur compounds, producing hydrogen sulfide gas in the process. Hydrogen sulfide gas is foul-smelling and highly corrosive. The most obvious sign of a sulfur bacteria problem is the distinctive “rotten egg” odor of hydrogen sulfide gas. Blackening of water or dark slime coating the inside of toilet tank may also indicate a sulfur bacteria problem.
Fluoride is a major, naturally occurring contaminant in drinking water in many regions of the world. Exposure to high levels of fluoride can cause structural tooth damage and skeletal damage. Several wells in the Ramsay/Fairmont area surrounding Butte have contained elevated levels of fluoride. The EPA has established a maximum contaminant level for fluoride of 4 ppm in drinking water and a 2 ppm standard set to protect against dental fluorosis.