Nitrate-Nitrogen

USEPA Contaminant Classification: Primary, (health-related)

EPA Maximum "Safe" Levels: 10.0 mg/l

Source: The most common source of nitrate as nitrogen in drinking water is from agricultural usage of the land, specifically the use of nitrogen fertilizer in farming. Over time, (usually several years), the fertilizer seeps down to the water table increasing the nitrate levels in the aquifers. Other sources of nitrate contamination are sewage, feed lots for live stock, and normally occurring geological activity. Nitrate levels in drinking water tend to be very stable and change only very slowly over time. Nitrate can also be reduced to nitrite by naturally occurring processes. Nitrite-nitrogen is found in much lower concentrations, (usually 10-100 times) lower then the existing nitrate levels.

Health Effects: Nitrate-nitrogen in the drinking water is classified by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, (U.S, EPA) as a Primary drinking water contaminant and therefore considered a serious health concern. Nitrate as nitrogen when ingested may interfere with blood Oxygenation. This is an especially serious health concern to infants, (up to two years of age) and the elderly. Pregnant women who consume excessive amounts of nitrate as nitrogen during pregnancy runs the risk of a birth condition known as Methomoglobenemia, (Blue Baby Syndrome). This is thought to be due to Nitrate interfering with blood oxygenation across the placenta. The baby is actually born with a bluish tint due to lack of oxygen in its bloodstream.

Nitrate nitrogen is sometimes converted to Nitrosamines that are suspected to have links to cancer. Several scientific studies have shown a link between elevated Nitrate levels in drinking water and various forms of digestive system cancers.

Home Damage Effects: No home damage effects are known to be linked to elevated Nitrate as nitrogen levels in drinking water.

How to Fix Contaminated Water:

1. Reverse Osmosis Systems, (ROs)- These units very effective at removing Nitrate nitrogen, (95-98%) from drinking water. These units are usually installed under the sink and have a separate demand faucet to use for drinking and cooking. They can also be hooked up to your automatic icemaker to remove nitrate as nitrogen in the ice. These systems are usually limited by the daily amount of product water they can produce and are usually only a one-location potable water source.

2. Whole house Ion exchange units- Similar to conditioners, these units utilize a charged resin media, (positively charged instead of the negatively charged resin in traditional softeners) which remove negatively charged molecules, (Nitrate is NO3-). These systems offer a whole-house approach to nitrate as nitrogen removal instead of the single source provided by most reverse osmosis systems. They are expensive ($2,000.00 to $4,000.00) and their product water is extremely acidic and must be neutralized before it is distributed throughout the house.


Lead

USEPA Contaminant Classification: Primary, (health-related)

EPA Maximum "Safe" Levels: 15.0 m g/l, (parts/billion)

Source: The most common source of Lead in drinking water is from the residential plumbing itself. Copper and brass fixtures, brass O-rings, 50/50 solder that is used to hold galvanized pipes together are all sources of lead contamination in residential drinking water. When acidic well water runs through metallic pipes, metals, (mainly Lead and Copper) are leeched out of the metal and into the water. New homes are using low lead solder or even C-PVC (Chlorinated- Polyvinyl Chloride) plastic pipes to reduce or eliminate lead contamination into the water. Lead pipes and valves were sometimes used in older municipal systems, but most have been replaced.

Lead may also exist in some aquifer systems that are fed by areas close to highways, (auto exhaust). Other sources of Lead contamination in water may come from automobile junkyards, (lead batteries), and manufacturing facilities.

Health Effects: Lead ingestion is a serious health concern. A safe amount is estimated to be 300 m g per day or up to 15 parts per billion in your drinking water. Chronic Lead ingestion, (known as Plumbism) occurs when the rate of Lead ingested exceeds the rate the body can remove it. Humans primarily store excess lead in the skeletal system, (bones). When the body cannot store any more in the bones, the excess is put into tissues and the circulatory system. In the blood, Lead interferes with the binding of Oxygen to Red Blood Cells leading to anemia. Lead also damages the kidneys, resulting in the abnormal secretion of Glucose, Proteins, and Amino Acids. Excess Lead consumption mainly effects the neurological system damaging the brain and causing behavior changes, mental retardation, blindness, coma and even death.

Home Damage Effects: While the presence of Lead in the water has no known home damage effects, we must look at the cause or source of the Lead. The majority of Lead occurring in the water of a residential well is usually from the home's deteriorating plumbing. When acidic water dissolves the metals from the pipes into the water, leaks may occur. Blue-green staining on fixtures and in sinks is evidence of pipe deterioration. While the blue/green color is actually caused by Copper, colorless Lead may also be present in the water in such cases.

How to Fix Contaminated Water:

1. Reverse Osmosis Systems, (ROs)- These units very effective at removing Nitrate nitrogen, (95-98%) from drinking water. These units are usually installed under the sink and have a separate demand faucet to use for drinking and cooking. They can also be hooked up to your automatic icemaker to remove nitrate as nitrogen in the ice. These systems are usually limited by the daily amount of product water they can produce and are usually only a one-location potable water source.

2. Neutralizers- These systems are designed to raise the pH to a neutral level so as to limit the Corrosivity of the water. This is a whole house approach to Lead and acidic water treatment. This approach is not guaranteed to lower Lead below the EPA's MCL level, because it is not specifically removing Lead.


Total Dissolved Solids, (TDS)

USEPA Contaminant Classification: Secondary, (non health-related)

EPA Maximum "Safe" Levels: 500.0 mg/l, (parts/million)

Source: Total Dissolved Solids, (TDS) is a broad term that encompasses any dissolved material in drinking water. The majority of the dissolved solids are minerals such as Calcium and Magnesium known collectively as "hardness minerals". Sodium is also included as a dissolved solid, although potable water should contain no more than 20 mg/L of Sodium. These minerals are dissolved into the water as rainwater filters through the Earth down to the water table. The amount of dissolved solids water can hold is determined by its temperature, pH and purity. Areas that have high mineral levels in their soil are most likely to have high TDS levels in the drinking water. Metals, (especially iron), can also be dissolved in the water, but is less common then minerals.

Health Effects: High Sodium levels in drinking water may add to health problems of high blood pressure and hypertension. It is recommended that people who do have chronic high blood pressure drink water with no sodium in it. High TDS levels caused by minerals may also effect the taste and odor of the water. High TDS levels also interfere with water treatment, especially neutralization. Certain dissolving neutralizers will not raise the pH of acidic water if TDS levels are above 500 mg/L due to the saturation of the water with ions.

Home Damage Effects: High TDS levels may cause staining and plumbing damage, clogging pipes, and coating the heating element in the hot water heater. This acts to insulate the heating element causing it to come on more frequently and stay on longer to heat the water, shortening the expected operational life of the hot water heater. High TDS levels may also interfere with the function of various "comfort equipment" such as humidifiers, hot tubs, and water treatment equipment. Mineral stains on plumbing fixtures, (mostly chalky white or pinkish-gray) are unsightly and are difficult to remove.

How to Fix Contaminated Water:

1. Reverse Osmosis Systems, (ROs)- These units very effective at removing minerals both suspended and dissolved (95-98%) from drinking water. These units are usually installed under the sink and have a separate demand faucet to use for drinking and cooking. These systems are usually limited by the daily amount of product water they can produce and are usually only a one-location potable water source.

2. Softener/conditioners- The removal of the dissolved hardness minerals, (Calcium and Magnesium) is usually accomplished by the installation of a whole-house conditioner. These systems contain negatively charged resin, which binds with the positively charged hardness minerals removing them from the water. These systems are effective in reducing TDS levels in water caused by hardness minerals.


Volatile Organic Compounds, (VOCs)

 

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC's) refer to an entire group of EPA regulated and unregulated compounds. These Compounds derive from various sources such as fuels, solvents and even chlorination by-products. They are all organic, (Carbon-containing) and reactive, (volatile). Below is a list of Compounds and their maximum "safe" level were applicable that are included in the standard VOC drinking water profile, (EPA Method 524).

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) by EPA Method 524, MCL = m g/l, (parts/billion)

 

EPA MCL EPA MCL

5 Benzene 1000 Toluene Dibromomethane 1,2,3-Trichlorobenzene

5 Carbon Tetrachloride 700 Ethylbenzene m,p-Xylene n-Propylbenzene

600 1,4-Dichlorobenzene 10000 Total Xylenes o-Xylene n-Butylbenzene

5 1,1-Dichloroethene 100 Styrene 1,1-Dichloropropene Naphthalene

5 1,2-Dichloroethane Methylene Chloride trans-1,3-Dichloropropene Hexachlorobutadiene

200 1,1,1-Trichloroethane 1,2,4-Trichlorobenzene cis-1,3-Dichloropropene Isopropylbenzene

5 Trichloroethene 1,1,2-Trichloroethane 1,1,2,2-Tetrachloroethane 1,2,3-Trichloropropane

2 Vinyl Chloride Chloromethane 1,3-Dichloropropane 1,3,5-Trimethylbenzene

100 trans-1,2-Dichloroethene Bromomethane 2,2-Dichloropropane p-Isopropyltoluene

70 cis-1,2-Dichloroethene Dichlorodifluoromethane 2-Chlorotoluene tert-Butylbenzene

1,2-Dichlorobenzene Trichlorofluoromethane 4-Chlorotoluene sec-Butylbenzene

5 1,2-Dichloropropane Chloroethane Bromobenzene Bromochloromethane

5 Tetrachloroethene 1,1-Dichloroethane 1,2,4-Trimethylbenzene 1,1,1,2-Tetrachloroethane

100 Chlorobenzene 1,3-Dichlorobenzene

Bold = Regulated VOC’s

Plain = Unregulated VOC’s

Source: VOC's are not naturally occurring compounds. If they are present in drinking water, it is due to pollution either intentional or unintentional. Leaking underground fuel storage tanks, and chlorination by-products caused when municipality-added chlorine combines with organic molecules are the two most common groups of volatile contaminants found in drinking water.

Health Effects: Due to the wide range of compounds in VOC's, health effects vary widely. A lot of the compounds in this list are suspected carcinogens, (cancer-causing agents). Some of the parameters could be fatal if consumed in high enough concentrations. Fortunately, since these substances are so volatile, they are usually detected by taste or odor before harmful levels are consumed.

Home Damage Effects: Wells that contain VOC's are usually condemned. While treatment systems do exist to remove Volatile Organic Compounds, a contaminated well significantly reduces property values.

How to Fix Contaminated Water:

1. Activated Carbon Systems- Granular or block activated carbon removes VOC's through a physical process known as adsorption. While these systems are very effective at removing the pollutants, they do not dispose of it. Therefore, these systems concentrate VOC's in the carbon and need to have carbon change-outs performed regularly.


Metal Profile by EPA Method 200.8

EPA Method 200.8 refers to a methodology using an instrument, (ICP/MS) in detecting metals in drinking water. Below is a list of different metals that we analyze on the ICP/MS and their EPA MCL's were applicable.

Metals in drinking water by EPA Method 200.8, MCL = mg/l, (parts/million)

EPA MCL EPA MCL EPA MCL

N/A Aluminum N/A Cobalt 0.10 Nickel

0.005 Antimony 1.3 Copper 0.05 Selenium

0.05 Arsenic 0.3 Iron 0.10 Silver

2.0 Barium 0.015 Lead 0.002 Thallium

0.004 Beryllium 0.05 Manganese N/A Vanadium

0.005 Cadmium 0.002 Mercury 5.0 Zinc

0.10 Chromium N/A Molybdenum

 

Bold = Regulated metals

Plain = Unregulated metals

Source: Metal contaminants found in the water have two main sources, naturally occurring and man-made. Some of the metals can be found in the soil layers and are picked-up by rainwater as it filters through the soil. Metal pollution resulting from industrial discharge, dumping or improper waste disposal facilities poses a far greater health threat. Certain metals, (see Lead and Copper) may actually be leeched into the water from the plumbing in your house.

Health Effects: The body is limited in the amount of metal consumed that it can excrete. Additional metals consumed are stored in the bones and soft tissue, including brain and nerve tissues. Consumption of metals in the drinking water above "safe" levels can cause everything from skin rashes and intestinal irritability to retardation and organ failure. Certain metals, (iron and manganese) are considered nuisance metals in that they cause only taste odor, and staining problems. Other metals, (Arsenic and Thallium) are very toxic and may be lethal in small doses.

Home Damage Effects: Staining of plumbing fixtures is the main problem from some of the most common water-borne metals, (iron = reddish-brown, Copper = bluish-green). Certain metals can effect the taste and odor of water virtually rendering it undrinkable. Iron and Manganese can interfere with water purification and biocidal agents such as chlorination and Ultra-violet sterilization.

How to Fix Contaminated Water:

1. Reverse Osmosis Systems, (ROs)- These units very effective at removing metals, (95-98%) from drinking water. These units are usually installed under the sink and have a separate demand faucet to use for drinking and cooking. They can also be hooked up to your automatic icemaker to remove nitrate as nitrogen in the ice. These systems are usually limited by the daily amount of product water they can produce and are usually only a one-location potable water source.


Copper

USEPA Contaminant Classification: Primary, (health-related)

EPA Maximum "Safe" Levels: 1.3 mg/l, (parts/million)

Source: The main source of Copper in the drinking water in houses that draw their water from wells is from the plumbing itself. Because of it's resistance to heat, even houses whose main plumbing system is comprised of plastic (C-PVC) pipes usually have a run of Copper pipe coming out of the hot water heater to dissipate heat. Copper plumbing is very rugged and durable under normal conditions. However, long-term exposure to acidic water, (pH lower than 6.0) will slowly dissolve the pipes and solublize Copper into the water. The presence of Blue-green staining in sinks and on fixtures is evidence of acidic water leeching Copper from the pipes.

Health Effects: Copper, consumed in large quantities has been linked to several health-related maladies. Consuming high levels of Copper are known to cause stomach and gastric distress. The main symptoms may include nausea, diarrhea, pains, inflammation, and excessive gas production. In severe cases, it can lead to chronic dehydration. Excessive Copper ingestion can also lead to Wilson's disease, a neurological disorder. This disease is characterized by uncontrollable tremors caused by Copper accumulation in the brain resulting in lesions on the Cerebellar pathways. Dystonia, is a movement disorder in which parts of the body are held in abnormal positions for varying periods of time. This is the most common manifestation of Wilson's disease.

Source: Pathophysiology, 2nd Edition, Price et. al

Home Damage Effects: As mentioned above, Copper in the drinking water can cause blue-green staining on plumbing fixtures, toilet bowls, washers, faucets, sinks, etc. The Copper staining is normally only a problem in the presence of acidic water, (pH of 6.0 or lower). Water that is naturally neutral or remedied by a treatment system to a pH of 7.0 or above is not able to dissolve and solublize the Copper pipes at levels that would result in staining.

How to Fix Contaminated Water:

1. Reverse Osmosis Systems, (ROs)- These units very effective at removing Nitrate nitrogen, (95-98%) from drinking water. These units are usually installed under the sink and have a separate demand faucet to use for drinking and cooking. They can also be hooked up to your automatic icemaker to remove nitrate as nitrogen in the ice. These systems are usually limited by the daily amount of product water they can produce and are usually only a one-location potable water source.

2. Whole house neutralizers- These units dissolve mineral into the water as needed, buffering the acidic water up to a neutral pH. These dissolving neutralizers work best when the water has low TDS levels. Chemical-feed neutralizers utilizing Soda Ash or Sodium Hydroxide may be used in extremely acidic applications, (below pH 5.2).


Chlorine, (Free and Total)

USEPA Contaminant Classification: Not Classified

Ideal Municipal Water Chlorine Levels: 0.5-2.0 mg/l, (parts/million)

Source: Chlorine is added to municipal water supplies by municipalities and public water suppliers to kill biological contaminants such as Total and Fecal Coliform Bacteria. Chlorine is a powerful oxidizer and has shown to be very successful in decontaminating our drinking water supply. Chlorine has not been as effective at eliminating encysted organisms such as Chryptosporidium and Giardia Lamblia. Fortunately, outbreaks of these organisms are extremely rare. Chlorine is probably the most cost effective oxidizing decontaminant available.

There are two basic forms of chlorine in the water at any given time. Free Chlorine refers to Chlorine ions that have not been bound to any other molecule, (CL-). These are the oxidizing or active molecules that effectively decontaminate the water.

Total Chlorine refers to both free chlorine and bound chlorine and chlorine compounds, (such as NaCl, KCl, and MgCL). These bound compounds do not posses the same bactericidal properties as the free chlorine ions.

Health Effects: Until recently, adverse side effects of consuming chlorinated water had only been speculative. Research has now shown that when chlorine combines with organic matter, (leaves, bacteria, algae, etc.) it can form Trihalomethanes, (THM's) and /or Haloacetic Acids, (HAA5). Long-term exposure to these "Disinfection By-Products" has been shown to increase the risk for certain cancers. The most common complaint with the addition of chlorine to drinking water is its effects on taste and odor. This can easily and completely be removed by activated carbon before consumption. Point-of use, (POU) removal of chlorine is recommended as both safe and effective. The benefit of using chlorine as a disinfectant far outweighs the known negatives at this point.

Home Damage Effects: Chlorine can combine with certain hardness minerals, (mainly Calcium and Magnesium), and form compounds which can coat pipes, heating elements, etc., staining and shortening the effective life of your hot water heater and over time restricting water flow through your pipes.

How to Fix Contaminated Water:

1. Activated Carbon Systems- These units are effective at removing chlorine and chlorine by-products by a physical process known as adsorption. This removes or "polishes" the taste and odor effects that chlorine may have on your water. These treatment systems range from pitchers that store in your refrigerator to whole-house Units that remove all chlorine as it enters the house.