Total and Fecal Coliform Bacteria

USEPA Contaminant Classification: Primary, (Health-related)

EPA Maximum "Safe" Levels: None allowed

Source: Total Coliform Bacteria is a classification of numerous different bacteria of the Coliform Group. These organisms are very common and are found in large quantities in the soil down to about forty-fifty feet. Most of the Coliform bacteria are harmless to humans, and some even aid in our digestion of plant materials. If your water sample is found to contain Coliform bacteria, we automatically test for the presence of fecal bacteria, (specifically E. Coli). Fecal Coliform bacteria flourish in the digestive tracts of mammals, (including humans). Some of these mutated organisms may cause diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and in the very old, very young and the immuno-suppressed, may even cause death. If any bacteria are present in your water sample, (Total and/or Fecal), the Health Department labels your water non-potable, (undrinkable) and recommends immediate action, (usually well chlorination). Consult with your local Health Department or Certified Laboratory for corrective actions if you have bacteria in your water supply. A spring, hand-dug well, buried well, Cistern, or wells with a one-piece (non-vermin-proof) well cap are all very likely to be contaminated with Coliform bacteria.

Health Effects: While most of the Coliform bacteria are harmless to humans, a small percentage of Fecal Coliform bacteria may cause intestinal distress and in more severe cases nausea, vomiting and even death.

Home Damage Effects: Total/Fecal Coliform bacteria in regular numbers are not known to cause any damage to your home plumbing or appliances. They may clog or damage certain water treatment products, (mainly reverse osmosis systems) or any other product that filter water using a small pore size less than ten microns.

How to Fix Contaminated Water:

1. Well Inspection- If you have Coliform bacteria in your water, your well should be inspected and by a licensed plumber to check for possible infiltration sources.

2. Chlorination- In most cases, a proper chlorination is all that is needed to clear up the contamination once the source is identified and fixed. The EPA recommends at least three chlorination attempts before any bactericidal treatment equipment is installed.

3. Install 2-piece well cap- These replace the old caps and prevent insects and surface water from entering your well and contamination the water.

4. Treatment Equipment- A well chlorinator, chemical feed system, Ultra-violet purifier or Ozonation system are all effective at killing bacteria. Consult with your Local Health Department and get at least three estimates before buying a system. Make sure the system is EPA-approved and NSF-certified.


USEPA Contaminant Classification: Primary, (Health-related)

EPA Maximum "Safe" Levels: 0.5-1.0 NTU*

Source: Turbidity is a measurement of the clarity, ("clearness") of the water. The less suspended solids floating in the water, the lower the Turbidity is going to be. It is the measurement of the blockage or absorbency of light transmittance through the water due to suspended particles in the sample. For the most part, these particles are comprised of non-harmful inert materials such as sand, clay, silt, Iron and rust. Sometimes, bacteria, algae, and plankton can be found in water in high enough concentrations to effect turbidity, making the water cloudy in appearance. Turbidity is measured in the Laboratory using a Spectrophotometer or a Nephelometer and is reported in a unit of measurement known as Nephelometric Testing Units, (NTU's).

Health Effects: If the Turbidity reading is high due to biological contamination, especially bacteria, then the health risks are apparent. If the Turbidity reading is high due to inert silt, clay, sand, etc., then its main health threat is in interfering in the decontamination process of the water. Water with a high Turbidity reading will require more chlorine, Ozone, Ultra-Violet light, etc., to disinfect it then water with a Turbidity reading below 1.0 NTU.

Home Damage Effects: Besides effecting water quality, many common contaminants that increase Turbidity can also change the taste and odors of the water. Water that has high Turbidity may cause staining or even clog pipes over time. It may also foul the laundry and interfere with the proper function of your dishwater, hot water heater, showerheads, etc.

How to Fix Contaminated Water:

1. Mechanical sediment filter- These filters can be installed at the point where the water comes into your home and physically removes inert particles. Depending on the composition of the contaminants, these filters can remove large particles all the way down to 5m . (m = Micron; 1m = 1/24,500th of an inch).

2. Automatic sediment filter- These large, whole-house systems use an aggregate mineral bed to filter out particles of all sizes. They have automatic regeneration settings that clean the filter aggregate on a regular basis for optimal performance.

3. Reverse Osmosis Units- These units are very effective at removing extremely small particles from the water at a molecular level. They are limited in function by the type and size of the sediment they can effectively remove. These units are usually installed under the sink and have a separate faucet to use for drinking and cooking. They can also be connected to your automatic ice make assuring you of safe drinking water.

NTU = Nephelometric Testing Units


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

EPA Maximum "Safe" Levels: 0.3 mg/l*

Source: Iron is mostly leeched out of ore-bearing rocks and soil by acid rain, (the average pH of rainwater is 5.6, but may even be more acidic (4-5) in some regions due to atmospheric pollution). This is known as soluble, reduced or "clear water iron". It is called "clear water iron" because the water out of the tap appears clear at first. After it sits and is exposed to the air, (oxidizes) it becomes reddish-brown. Iron can also be added to the water in either particulate or soluble form from old and/or rusted plumbing. Iron in the water may interfere with water treatment and may even support the growth of iron bacteria, (iron algae). Iron bacteria produce as a by-product Hydrogen Sulfide, which if bacteria are plentiful may cause a noticeable "rotten egg" smell to the water. Iron levels as low as 0.12 ppm may cloud the water and stain laundry and plumbing fixtures orange-brown.

Health Effects: Iron may interfere with water treatment. During chlorination, iron by combines with chlorine to form Ferric Chloride, which is not as effective as free chlorine in killing bacteria. High iron levels in water, by interfering with chlorination, may allow some bacteria to survive and flourish in treated water supplies. There is no evidence that ingesting iron in the amounts water can hold can cause any discernable health problems. Iron in levels above 5.0 ppm may make the water taste and smell so bad as to render it undrinkable without treatment.

Home Damage Effects: Iron in fairly low levels may cause orange-brown staining on plumbing fixtures, sinks, toilets and laundry. Iron bacteria/algae that are associated with the presence of soluble iron also cause a brownish-green slime forming in the pipes, especially at effluent areas. These bacteria cause a "rotten egg" smell in the water by releasing Hydrogen Sulfide. Hydrogen Sulfide can be altered to form Sulfuric Acid, which decreases water pH, (acidifies) and can promote deterioration of the plumbing.

How to Fix Contaminated Water:

1. Softeners/Conditioners- These units are effective at removing clear water iron at levels up to 3-5 ppm depending on water pH. These units automatically clean their resin beds with a strong brine (salt) solution.

2. Automatic Iron filters- Similar to conditioners, these units utilize "special" media specifically designed to remove iron from water. These systems can remove iron up to levels of 8-15 ppm. Resin maintenance usually requires a strong cleaning agent such as (Potassium Permanganate) which is caustic and difficult to handle.

3. Aeration Systems- These systems neutralize the water and inject when the homeowner uses water. The air oxidizes, (precipitates) the iron which is captured by a sediment filter which cleans itself automatically. These systems can remove up to 40.0 ppm of soluble iron.


USEPA Contaminant Classification: Not Classified

EPA Maximum "Safe" Levels: None Set

Water Quality Association (WQA) Degrees of Hardness

Soft Water 0.0 to 1.0 grains per gallon

Slightly Hard Water 1.1 to 3.5 grains per gallon

Moderately Hard Water 3.6 to 7.0 grains per gallon

Hard Water 7.01 to 10.5 grains per gallon

Extremely Hard Water 10.5 grains per gallon or more

Source: Hardness in water is caused as acidic rainwater filters through a mineral layer in the Earth. When the water comes in contact with mineral (Limestone mainly consisting of Calcium and Magnesium) it dissolves them into the water. The more mineral the water contains; the "harder" the water is said to be. Hard water interferes with the function of soaps and detergents making them less effective in lathering. Hardness minerals are mainly composed of Calcium, Magnesium, Manganese and Potassium.

Health Effects: Hard water may cause dry, itchy skin. Hard water can also clog hair follicles causing unnecessary hair loss. Calcium, Potassium, and Magnesium are essential minerals and are beneficial when consumed. Hardness in water is neither classified as a Primary or Secondary water contaminant because it is not thought to have any adverse health effects.

Home Damage Effects: Hard water can stain plumbing fixtures with a whitish "soap scum". This staining appears wherever the water pools and evaporates. It is this mineral staining which appears on shower walls, clings to hair, clogs skin pores, and make house cleaning much more difficult. Hardness also clogs and obstructs pipes, drains and faucets. Mineral hardness can coat the heating element in hot water heaters causing them to operate inefficiently using a lot more energy and shortening their lifespan. The minerals when heated precipitate out of solution and may clog the hot water heater tank.

How to Fix Contaminated Water:

1. Softeners/Conditioners- These units are effective at removing hardness from water at very high levels. These units automatically clean (regenerate) their resin beds with a strong brine (salt) solution. These systems are very effective at softening water and require only the occasional addition of salt to the brine tank.

gpg = grain per gallon, (1.0 grain per gallon equals 17.1 parts per million)

pH, (Acidic Water)

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

EPA Maximum "Safe" Levels: 6.50-8.50

Source: The text book definition of pH in an aqueous solution is the negative of the logarithm of the molar concentration of hydrogen ion. When referring to water, an acidic pH can cause plumbing damage. The pH scale goes from extremely acidic (1.0) to extremely basic (14.0), with a neutral pH being right in the middle at (7.0). Water with a pH at either end of the pH scale will be corrosive to your plumbing. The Water Quality Association (WQA) has set the following classification of water based on its pH:

Water pH WQA Classification

> 8.6 Basic

7.0 to 8.5 Neutral

6.6 to 6.9 Slightly Acidic

6.0 to 6.5 Moderately Acidic

< 5.9 Extremely Acidic

Stream waters usually range from a pH of 6.5 to a pH of 8.5. Rain water is naturally acidic (~5.6), and in some areas may be even more acidic, (4.0-5.0) due to atmospheric pollutants. The more acidic the water, the greater its ability to dissolve and carry substances.

Health Effects: Since acidic water can dissolves most materials over time, any substance that the water comes in contact with may be dissolved and carried. This is especially important if the plumbing contains harmful materials such as Lead and Copper, (usually found in the joint solder or brass parts and fixtures). The more neutral the water, (pH 7.0) the less likely it is to dissolve and carry harmful metals in your water.

Home Damage Effects: Acidic water over time will damage and destroy your pipes, faucets, water tanks and heating element, (in your hot water heater) by corroding the metals over time. Acidic water is the major cause of plumbing leaks in older systems. Depending on pipe composition, acidic water may also cause staining to your plumbing fixtures. Acidic water through Copper pipes causes blue-green staining.

How to Fix Contaminated Water:

1. Regenerating/upflow neutralizers- These units use an acid neutralizing mineral, (usually Calcium Carbonate) to dissolve in the acidic water raising the pH until the water cannot dissolve anymore. Since the media dissolves, it will have to be replaced as needed depending on raw water acidity and household water usage.

2. Chemical feed systems- These units must be used on extreme acid water conditions, (pH under 5.4) or if the TDS levels are above 500 ppm. Under these conditions, standard neutralizers cannot effectively bring the pH up to 7.0. These systems add caustic chemicals; (usually Sodium Hydroxide or Soda Ash) metered as the water is used to bring the pH up to neutral.

Hydrogen Sulfide, (H2S)

USEPA Contaminant Classification: Not classified

EPA Maximum "Safe" Levels: None set

"Odor Threshold", Human Detection Limit: 0.025-0.25 parts/billion

Source: Sulfur in the form of Hydrogen Sulfide is present in most ground water, but is particularly abundant in hot springs, swampy, marshy areas, and water with an elevated Iron content. It's signature characteristic is a "rotten egg smell". There are three main sources for Hydrogen Sulfide: the decomposition of plant and animal matter, seepage of human and industrial waste, and most commonly from the bacterial reduction of Sulfate. Hydrogen Sulfide is mainly a taste and smell nuisance but can effect pH in higher concentrations. The Hydrogen Sulfide smell is usually more pronounced in the hot water supply of a home.

Health Effects: While Hydrogen Sulfide has not been linked to specific health problems, its presence in high concentrations can make the water so foul-smelling as to render it undrinkable. High concentrations of Hydrogen Sulfide usually, (although not always) indicate a bacterial presence, (mainly Coliform or iron bacteria). Most of the bacteria that reduce Sulfate are not known to be harmful to humans. High Sulfate levels, (the oxidized form of Sulfide) in drinking water may have a laxative effect when consumed.

Home Damage Effects: High Hydrogen Sulfide levels in water are usually accompanied by elevated Iron levels that may stain plumbing fixtures reddish-orange or brown. Hydrogen Sulfide is oxidized by bacteria into Sulfuric acid (H2SO4) which acidifies water lowering the pH. Acidic water causes corrosion, pitting and dissolving of the plumbing system and can also dissolve harmful metals, (Lead/Copper) into the drinking water.

How to Fix Contaminated Water:

1. Well Chlorination- A thorough chlorinating of the water system will significantly reduce the amount of bacteria reducing Sulfate to Sulfide. This will not however stop the reoccurrence of bacteria and may need to be repeated on a regular basis.

2. Whole house "specialized" media systems- Similar in operation to a softener; these systems utilize a Manganese Dioxide resin to bind the Hydrogen Sulfide removing it from the water. These systems regenerate either with raw water or bleach to cleanse the resin and improve efficiency.

3. Aeration and Ozonation Systems- These systems inject Oxygen in various forms (aerators = O2, Ozone systems = O3-) to oxidize Sulfides to Sulfates. These Sulfates may be grouped together and precipitated out by micron filtration. These systems are effective at removing the problem causing smells associated with Hydrogen Sulfide.