Water Treatment For Dummies
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Water
Treatment
WQA Special Edition
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Water Treatment For Dummies®, WQA Special Edition
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Table of Contents
Introduction................................................................... 1
About This Book.............................................................1
Foolish Assumptions......................................................1
Icons Used in This Book.................................................2
Where to Go From Here.................................................2
Chapter 1: What Is Water, Anyway?......................... 3
Where Does Water Come From?...................................3
How Water Gets to Your Home or Business................5
Counting Your Gallons...................................................8
The Bottom Line.............................................................9
Chapter 2: Benefits of Good Water Quality............ 11
Water and Health Are Linked......................................11
Good for Appliances, Too............................................12
The USEPA Talks Sense................................................14
Water Quality Tips........................................................15
Chapter 3: What’s in Your Water?........................... 17
How Pure Is Pure?.........................................................17
Diagnose Your Water...................................................18
Is My Water Hard or Soft?............................................25
Is My Water pH Neutral?..............................................26
What Do You Call Safe?................................................26
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iv
Chapter 4: Finding the Right Water
Treatment Products.................................................... 29
Condition Your Water..................................................29
When to Seek Professional Help.................................38
Finding the Best Products...........................................40
Greener Water Treatment............................................41
Chapter 5: (More Than) Ten Questions
to Ask a Water Quality Professional....................... 43
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Introduction
W
ater, water everywhere. But is it good and safe to
drink or use? How can you tell if the water in
your home is healthy for you, your family, and for that
prized front-loading washing machine? What can you do
if your water doesn’t measure up? Read on to find out.
About This Book
Water Treatment For Dummies, WQA Special Edition,
answers your water quality questions. This book shows
that you have options and tools available to help you
take steps to ensure good quality drinking water for
you and your family.
Foolish Assumptions
When we wrote this book, we made some assumptions
about you. For example:
✓
You drink and use water every day (well, duh!),
and you want that water to be clean and safe.
✓
You have some say in ensuring the quality of your
water — most likely, you’re a homeowner.
✓
You don’t want to earn a PhD in water quality —
you just want to be able to turn on the tap and be
confident in the H2O that comes out.
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Icons Used in This Book
We want to help you soak up the most important points,
so we’ve used handy icons to get your attention.
These sentences are among the most important ones when it comes to understanding
your water quality.
You want to make your life easier? Then focus
your attention on the item shown here.
We know you don’t want a PhD in these topics,
but here are extra details you might find
interesting.
We’re talking matters of health here, so watch
out when you see this icon.
Where to Go From Here
Onward, of course! Or backwards! It’s your book; read
it any way you like. The point is, we’ve tried to make it
easy for you to do just that. Read it all the way through
if you want, or skip from here to there to find just the
tidbits you need.
Turn to Chapter 1 to find out where your water comes
from and how it gets to homes and businesses. Chapter 2
explains the benefits of good water quality. Chapter 3
explains why cleaner or conditioned water is good for
you, your appliances, and your budget. Chapter 4 goes
over the various options available for your water needs.
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Chapter 1
What Is Water, Anyway?
In This Chapter
▶ Getting water to your tap
▶ Calculating the cost of water
W
hat is water? Water is a molecule called H2O
that contains two atoms of hydrogen and one
atom of oxygen. It’s a transparent, odorless, tasteless
liquid that you can find in lakes, rivers, and oceans. It
falls from the sky as rain or snow.
Water is bottled and sold commercially, but it is also a
key ingredient in thousands of products, from lotions
and cosmetics to cleaners and beverages.
Where Does Water Come From?
If you’re fortunate, water is all around you, in
just the right amounts and in the right places.
But it didn’t just get there by magic. Ultimately,
fresh water is the result of the Earth’s water or
hydrologic cycle (see Figure 1-1). Basically, the
sun’s heat causes surface water to evaporate. It
rises in the atmosphere, then cools and condenses to form clouds. When enough water
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vapor condenses, it falls back to the surface
again as rain, sleet, or snow. The process
repeats itself in a never-ending cycle.
Figure 1-1: The water cycle.
The water we consume and use every day
comes from two main sources: groundwater and
surface water. Other sources such as snow melt,
rain, and recycled wastewater have only limited
use, but they’re getting more attention these
days because of water scarcity issues in dry climates. Just 1 percent of all water is accessible.
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Water from the ground
When rainwater or melting snow seeps into
the ground, it collects in underground pockets
called aquifers, which store the groundwater
and form the water table, another name for
the highest level of water that an aquifer can
hold. Water levels can reach the water table or
fall well below it depending on such factors as
rainfall, drought, or the rate at which the
water is being used. Groundwater usually
comes from aquifers through a drilled well or
natural spring.
Water on the surface
Surface water flows through or collects in
streams, rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and oceans —
and not underground like groundwater. Surface
water can be beautiful, even pristine-looking, but
most of it isn’t directly fit for drinking. Fully 97
percent is found in the oceans and can’t be used
for drinking because of its salt content. The
other 3 percent of water is fresh, and most of
that is locked up in ice or glaciers.
How Water Gets to Your
Home or Business
Typically, pipes bring the water supply from a facility that
treats the water to your home or business. A well built
and maintained distribution system of pipes helps ensure
its quality. Another format to provide water specific for
drinking to a home or business would be the installation
of a water cooler or the delivery of bottled water.
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Treating the water
Water treatment involves disinfecting and purifying untreated ground and surface water. The
purpose of a public or private water treatment
facility is to make water potable — that is to
say, safe to drink — as well as palatable — good
tasting. The facility also ensures that there’s
an adequate supply of water to meet the
community’s needs.
Given that many people think of water as something
they use to clean other things, how exactly is water
itself cleaned through water treatment? Raw and
untreated water is obtained from an underground
aquifer (usually through wells) or from a surface water
source, such as a lake or river. It is pumped, or flows,
to a treatment facility.
Once there, the water is pretreated to remove debris
such as leaves and silt. Then, a sequence of treatment
processes — including filtration and disinfection with
chemicals or physical processes — eliminates diseasecausing microorganisms. It’s a highly complex process,
and you’ll be glad to know that it’s closely monitored
for quality control. When the treatment is complete,
water flows out into the community through a network
of pipes and pumps that are commonly referred to as
the distribution system.
What’s the difference between public and private water
treatment facilities? Public, municipal systems are
owned and operated by the cities or towns they serve,
and they’re typically under the management of a mayor
or other elected official. Private systems range from individual wells serving a single household, to small corporate associations that provide water to a small group of
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homes, or to large corporations that have their own
water service divisions. Whether public or private, all
U.S. water utilities that serve more than 25 people must
adhere to water quality standards established by the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) as well
as state and local regulations.
Wells
A well is a strategically placed access point drilled into
an aquifer, combined with a pump to withdraw the
water and a basic filtering or screening system.
As mentioned, public or private wells that serve
more than 25 individuals are subject to the
guidelines of the USEPA and other local regulations, but individually owned private wells
aren’t, which means that the homeowner bears
the full responsibility for ensuring water quality.
About 15 percent of Americans, most of them in
rural areas, rely on privately owned wells.
Through your pipes to the faucet
Whether your water is coming in from a treatment
plant across town or the well in your backyard, the
final step to access clean water is your home plumbing.
If you’re connected to municipal water, there’s usually
a main valve installed where the main line from the distribution system enters the home.
Water from a bottle
Bottled water is popular. Studies suggest that half of all
Americans drink bottled water from time to time, and
about a third consume it regularly. As with tap water,
the source of bottled water is usually a municipal water
system or a natural spring, and from there it may go
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through additional purification. As a packaged product,
bottled water is regulated under the guidelines of the
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USFDA). To find
out more, check out www.bottledwater.org.
Counting Your Gallons
How much water do you use? If you’re a typical U.S.
resident, the answer is between 80 and 100 gallons
every day. If that sounds like a lot, consider that the
total includes not just drinking water, but also the
water you use for washing, watering your lawn and
garden, and waste disposal.
Quenching your thirst
Of all that water you use, you don’t drink that
much — people actually drink less than 1 percent of the water coming into their homes.
The rest goes for other purposes.
Getting stuff (and you) clean
Water is the universal solvent, because given enough
time it can dissolve nearly anything. That means it’s
great for cleaning, and explains why so much of our
water usage is involved in washing one thing or
another (or ourselves).
Quenching your plants’ thirst
If you have a big yard or a thirsty vegetable garden,
you probably already know that watering can really run
up your water bill, especially in hot, dry climates.
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Water down the drain
Flush a modern toilet and you just used about 1.6 gallons. Got an older toilet? The usage can be as much as
5 gallons per flush.
The Bottom Line
Unless you have your own well, you’re likely to have to
pay something for the water you use. A typical U.S.
household pays about $1.50 per 1,000 gallons, or $0.0015
per gallon. For a family of four using 100 gallons per
person each day, that adds up to about $18 per month.
Some places are more or less expensive, though.
Bottled water has a higher price tag, although
it may be preferred for businesses or homes
that want a low-maintenance source of quality
drinking water. According to the Beverage
Marketing Corp., the wholesale cost of domestic, nonsparkling bottled drinking water was
$1.21 per gallon in 2011. Drinking water sold in
20-ounce bottles may cost more than $6 per
gallon.
Also, many homeowners have to pay for sewage (water
that leaves the home). In the U.S., the average monthly
cost for sewage is $84 a month, but depending on the
city, it can range from less than $15 to more than $200.
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Chapter 2
Benefits of Good Water Quality
In This Chapter
▶ Keeping healthy
▶ Maintaining appliances
▶ Listening to the EPA
▶ Ensuring that your water is clean
U
nderstanding the effects of poor water quality
can help you appreciate the benefits of good
water quality.
Water and Health Are Linked
According to the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (better known as the CDC), the top causes
of disease outbreaks related to drinking water are
Giardia intestinalis, hepatitis A, norovirus, and Shigella.
Bad as that sounds, it’s far from a complete list. There
are also health risks related to water contaminated
with organic and inorganic matter, other bacteria and
viruses, and other pollutants.
Some studies link high levels of lead in drinking water to
delays in physical and mental development, short attention spans, and learning difficulties in children. There’s
also evidence that arsenic in drinking water can lead to
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12
nerve, heart, skin, and blood vessel damage. And
Cryptosporidium is responsible for potentially life-­
threatening diarrhea.
Still, water is essential. The human body is, after all, 70
percent water, and although a human being can survive
a month or more without food, a week without water
can be fatal.
Yes, bad water is bad for you, but safe water is
key to life — and good for you! Water has so
many health benefits that the CDC recommends drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water
a day. It is not hard to meet this, if you recognize that hydration can be achieved in various
formats such as the water cooler at work,
public drinking fountains, or the tap at home.
Good for Appliances, Too
Good water is good for your home and appliances, too. A 2009 study commissioned by the
Water Quality Research Foundation (WQRF)
and conducted by the Battelle Memorial
Institute found that adding a water softener
helps water heaters and major appliances operate as efficiently as possible, while preventing
clogs in showerheads, faucets, and drains.
For example, researchers ran dishwashers and washing
machines for 30 days and 240 wash cycles. They ran
softened water through half of the units, while using a
hard water source for the others. At the end of the
month, the washers using softened water were nearly
free of scale buildup, but the washers using hard water
required scale removal to work well.
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As for water heaters, the researchers found that when
they used softened water, the units maintained their
original factory efficiency rating for as long as 15 years.
Running hard water through the units cut efficiency by
up to 48 percent. Scale buildup shortened the lifespan
of the heating elements inside electric water heaters,
and some tankless water heaters using hard water
failed after just 1.6 years!
The researchers found that showerheads performed
well on soft water, but those running with hard water
lost 75 percent of their flow rate in less than 18 months.
When running hard water through faucets, the strainers on the faucets clogged within 19 days.
Softened water can save you money by keeping appliances at top efficiency, and making
them last longer. The amount of dish and laundry detergent you use can be cut by half, or
even more, if you use softened water. You can
also lower wash temperatures from hot to
cold without a drop in performance, according
to two other independent studies.
Studies conducted by the independent test firm
Scientific Services S/D, Inc., of New York, showed that
using softened water can:
✓
Reduce detergent use by 50 percent in washing
machines and save energy by making it possible
to wash in 60ºF cold water instead of 100ºF hot
water, while achieving the same or even better
stain removal along with whiter clothes.
✓
Achieve the same cleaning results in dishwashers
while using less than half the detergent.
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Save appliances, save money, and save the
planet, too. If you’re using less energy to heat
(softened) water, you’re reducing your carbon
footprint. And if you’re using less detergent,
that means less is going down the drain,
reducing harm to the environment.
The USEPA Talks Sense
The USEPA WaterSense program helps you save water
and protect the environment. Look for the WaterSense
label (see Figure 2-1) on products for your home, yard,
or business. To earn WaterSense certification, a product
or service must be at least 20 percent more efficient
than other similar products without any loss in
performance.
Figure 2-1: The recognizable WaterSense label.
An independent, third party certifies WaterSense-labeled
products to meet USEPA standards for water efficiency
and performance. WaterSense certifies showerheads,
toilets, faucets, irrigation systems, urinals, and more.
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Look for a complete, searchable list of products at
www.epa.gov/watersense/product_search.html.
Is it worth the trouble? Yes. According to the
USEPA, if one of every ten homes installed a
WaterSense faucet, it would save about 6 billion gallons of water per year and more than
$50 million in energy costs. And that’s just one
faucet in a tenth of all homes! Imagine how
much water and energy could be saved if more
homes took action.
Water Quality Tips
We’ve talked about water quantity and reducing usage.
What about water quality?
Keep your water filters clean
If you have a filter to remove contaminants,
maintain it according to the manufacturer’s
specifications. This might include cleaning it,
replacing filter cartridges, and sometimes calling in a professional for service. Filters overdue for cleaning or replacing may no longer
work properly to remove contaminants and
may let foul tastes and odors remain in your
tap water.
Wash water containers regularly
You can have the best water treatment in the world,
but if you put clean water into a dirty container, it may
no longer be safe or palatable to drink. It’s critical to
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properly and regularly clean water containers, from
household pitchers to water bottles.
Mix a few drops of dish detergent into clean
water and pour it into the storage container.
Agitate the liquid, and scrub the inside with a
nonabrasive scrub brush or a clean dish rag,
then rinse the container thoroughly. If you
want to achieve a higher level of cleanliness,
disinfect the container with a mixture of
unscented chlorine bleach and water. Mix it
according to instructions on the bottle, and
then swish the mixture around inside the container to ensure that it hits every surface.
Leave the mixture inside the container for
about 30 minutes, and then thoroughly rinse
with tap water.
Maintain your water softener
A typical water softener uses resin beads to
capture hardness ions, and periodically uses
salt to cleanse the beads and prepare the unit
to remove more hardness ions. If you have a
basic system, check salt levels at least once a
month; it’s easy to do. Just lift the tank lid and
look inside; if the tank is less than half full,
add more salt. Or find a water professional at
www.wqa.org, and have them check and
maintain it for you.
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Chapter 3
What’s in Your Water?
In This Chapter
▶ Understanding water purity
▶ Diagnosing your water
▶ Examining the regulations
K
now what’s in your water, so, if a problem is
found, you can do something about it.
How Pure Is Pure?
Your water isn’t just molecules made up of two parts
hydrogen to one part oxygen, or H2O. Pure water is a
relative term because almost all the water you’ll
encounter contains minerals, impurities, contaminants,
and microorganisms. These substances may be present
in incredibly tiny amounts, and they don’t necessarily
have negative health impacts. Some of them might
impart the flavor you expect from water — if you drank
pure H2O, you might not even like it.
Knowing your household water has stuff in it
besides just plain H2O, the USEPA has created
standards that enable water to be classified as
potable water, even if it does have traces of
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18
other elements in it. Of course, these standards require that the water be free of diseasecausing microbes, and also require it to be
clear, palatable, odorless, noncorrosive, and
free of any other objectionable particles or
gases.
Water gains other ingredients in many ways. Acid rain,
industrial waste dumping, runoff from storms, and pesticides can contaminate surface water. Contaminants may
come from older combined sanitary/storm sewer systems that overflow during wet weather. Groundwater
might be contaminated by chemicals leaching into soil
from landfills, septic systems, or improper disposal of
agricultural or household chemicals.
Water can become impure after it leaves a
treatment facility, and it can even pick up
some additives from the facility itself. Most
municipalities add chemicals such as fluoride,
chlorine, or chloramines to treated water, to
help protect your teeth and to keep the water
free of harmful germs on its way to your tap.
Beyond that, silt, sediment, and other minerals can build up inside water mains and household plumbing. When a water main breaks or
is repaired or replaced, it’s possible for silt,
sediment, and microorganisms to enter the
system. Sediment can also build up in your
own hot water tank, introducing more contamination. Corrosion of pipes can add metals
such as lead and copper to water.
Diagnose Your Water
There are many ways to find out what’s in your water
and whether it’s safe. Below are tips.
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The most obvious possibilities
Your first diagnostic tools are your senses.
You can, at times, see, taste, smell, and feel
contaminated water.
Use your eyes
When artists show water in landscape scenes, they
often make it blue or blue-green. But you wouldn’t want
water that color coming out of your tap. Quality water,
when you view it up close, is clear and colorless.
Water that is red, orange, yellow, brown, or
cloudy can signal iron, rust, or other contaminants in the mains or your household plumbing. Tannins from decaying vegetation and
leaves can also give water a yellow or brownish hue.
Manganese may make water appear brown, red, orange,
yellow, or even black. Iron may give it a reddish-orange
cast, or it might even have a yellow, tealike appearance.
Like that scenic painting or photo, water might have
blue or green in it. That may indicate the presence of
copper, possibly coming from corroded plumbing. You
might also see blue or green water if there’s corrosion
of the bronze alloys in pumps and valves, a sign that
there also may be zinc in the water.
If your water has these issues, try to identify
the source. Consider these tips for sleuthing.
Contamination from water mains will most likely show
up in these three ways:
✓
Clear water suddenly becomes discolored.
✓
Cold water looks discolored but hot water looks
clear.
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✓
Discoloration from faucets continues even after
the water has been running for a few minutes.
Or, if the issue comes from your home plumbing, there
are two ways that it will reveal itself:
✓
There’s discoloration after the water hasn’t been
run for a few hours.
✓
The water runs clear after a few minutes.
Follow your nose, trust your tongue
Stinky or bad-tasting water are signs of impurities.
Here are common water odor or taste problems you
might encounter:
✓
A rotten-egg or sulfur smell or taste suggests the
presence of hydrogen sulfide. That’s often caused
by a certain type of bacteria in the water. Sulfates
can also cause the water to taste salty. Investigate
further to pinpoint the source, such as bacteria
growing in drains, water heaters, wells, or on the
inside of pipes.
✓
Musty, earthy odors and tastes may signal dissolved solids. Such aromas and tastes may be
caused by decaying organic matter in the plumbing or even in the source water itself.
✓
Then there’s the smell and taste of chlorine. It’s
there for disinfection to make water safer to drink
and originates during the normal chlorination
treatment process, but to enjoy the taste you may
want to get rid of it.
✓
If water smells or tastes like turpentine or other
chemical (yikes!) that might indicate the presence
of MTBE (short for methyl tertiary butyl ether) or
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xylenes, byproducts of gasoline refining, paints,
detergents, or inks.
✓
Metallic smells and tastes may be a sign of mercury, lead, copper, arsenic, or iron in the water.
Manganese and zinc may also cause a metallic
smell or taste. These chemicals may come from
the pipes themselves.
Diagnosing stains and deposits
It isn’t just the water that can be discolored. Discoloration
of surfaces can also be a sign of impurities.
Got bathtub rings or white scale, spots on dishes and
cutlery, or deposits on clothes coming out of the wash?
Those are signs of hard water or excess total dissolved
solids (experts call these TDS for short) in your water.
The biggest culprits in hard water are calcium (limestone) and magnesium. TDS can include all minerals,
salts, or metals dissolved in water, and might include
plant material.
The invisible contaminants
It’s bad enough to be able to see, smell, or taste a contaminant. But what if your water looks, smells, and
tastes just fine — is it? Not necessarily.
Microbial and organic contamination
Microbial and organic contaminants aren’t always seen,
smelled, or tasted. You might go years before realizing a
problem exists. Many folks never become suspicious
until people in the community start to get sick.
Although some waterborne microbes can
cause illness, many microbes are harmless or
even beneficial. Very small levels of microbes
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22
are naturally present in many water supplies,
but some are more dangerous than others.
Some of the more dangerous microbial contaminants, such as E. coli, Giardia, and
Cryptosporidium, can cause gastrointestinal
problems and flulike symptoms commonly
attributed to undercooked or improperly
stored food.
To kill or remove these microbes, water treatment facilities often use chlorination. Problem
is, disinfection chemicals such as chlorine are
reactive and can combine with other substances in water, such as natural organic
chemicals and bromide compounds, to form
hazardous byproducts such as bromate, chlorite, haloacetic acids (HAA5), and trihalomethanes (you might hear them described as total
trihalomethanes or TTHM). The USEPA says
that long-term exposure to these hazardous
chemicals can increase the risk of illnesses
such as cancer and anemia, along with liver,
kidney, and central nervous system problems.
Water near agricultural areas may contain
harmful organic material from pesticide or fertilizer application. Chemicals from pesticides
and fertilizers in water may increase cancer
risk and reproductive problems, and can
impair eye, liver, kidney, and other body functions. Similar problems can result from exposure to water near industrial plants.
Inorganic and mineral substances
There are still more possible pollutants in water. These
include:
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23
✓
Nitrates and nitrites: Sometimes found in small
amounts in well water in agricultural areas; they
can make infants and others ill
✓
Arsenic: A natural well water contaminant
thought to contribute to skin damage, circulatory
system issues, and increased cancer risk
✓
Lead: From some plumbing fixtures and pipes,
and known to impair physical and mental development in children, contribute to kidney disease,
and cause high blood pressure in adults
✓
Mercury: Usually from industrial pollution, possibly contributing to kidney damage and more
At low levels typically found in water, these
substances are invisible, odorless, and tasteless, but nevertheless harmful.
Taking the test
The USEPA’s Safe Drinking Water Act requires
municipalities to test water supplies once,
twice, or several times per year, depending on
the potential contaminants and the size of the
population served. But just because the water
has been tested, you can’t necessarily assume
that all is well.
The Safe Drinking Water Information System produces
a report titled Annual Public Water System Statistics. The
report cites thousands of violations across the country,
violations that affect millions of people each year.
Likewise, the CDC reports that outbreaks caused by
water quality issues lead to more than 4,000 illnesses
every year. More than half of these illnesses were
related to untreated or inadequately treated groundwater, says the CDC.
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24
Water that leaves the treatment facility can
become contaminated by the time it shows up
at your tap.
Municipalities don’t continuously monitor the water
pipes that transport water to homes.
Also, in some cases, home well water hasn’t been
tested in years, possibly not since the well became
active. No standards govern the testing of private well
water. There are rules in certain places — some states
or the USEPA recommend annual testing, and in some
cases require testing when a home or business is sold.
Otherwise, private well water quality is largely undefined and unmonitored.
The Consumer Confidence Report (CCR)
If your home is served by a public water
system, get a copy of your municipality’s CCR.
Community water systems (those providing
service to more than 25 people or 15 households) are required by the USEPA to issue a
CCR every year, usually at the beginning of
July. The report details what contaminants, if
any, exist in the water supply and how these
contaminants might impact health.
The CCR informs consumers about the source of their
drinking water, details recent water quality testing
results, then compares the results to the USEPA’s
health-based standard. The document also provides
info about Cryptosporidium and lead, even if these contaminants aren’t found in the water supply.
If your CCR states the water is considered
safe, and yet it still tastes, smells, or looks
bad, you may wish to do further testing
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25
through a certified water-testing laboratory.
You can check with the Water Quality
Association (WQA) to find a water quality professional (www.wqa.org) or connect with a
certified water-testing lab to test your water
(http://water.epa.gov/scitech/
drinkingwater/labcert/state
certification.cfm).
Is My Water Hard or Soft?
Water hardness refers to the level of certain minerals,
particularly calcium and magnesium, found in your tap
water. Hard water causes both aesthetic and usage
problems, such as spots on dishes or sink fixtures,
scale buildup on showers, tubs, sinks, and toilets, and
poor soap lathering. It can clog pipes over time,
increase the energy for heating water, and damage
internal parts of household appliances that use water.
The unit for measuring water hardness is grains per
gallon, or gpg. Table 3-1 is a simple chart from WQA
showing what these numbers mean.
Table 3-1
Water Hardness Classification
Grains Per Gallon (gpg)
Hard or Soft?
Less than 1.0
Soft
1-3.5
Slightly Hard
3.5-7.0
Moderately Hard
7.0-10.5
Hard
10.5-above
Very Hard
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Is My Water pH Neutral?
It’s possible for water to be acidic, or the opposite,
basic. Or, it could be in the middle — neutral, which is
desirable. Acidic or basic water is measured on the pH
scale.
What Do You Call Safe?
The USEPA has been in charge of the quality of U.S.
drinking water since 1974, when the Safe Drinking
Water Act (SDWA) passed. This law requires the USEPA
to set standards for drinking water quality and monitor
whether states, local municipalities, and water suppliers are in compliance.
The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)
Under the SDWA, the USEPA sets limits on
levels of certain contaminants in drinking
water. It also sets standards for testing schedules and test methods, and determines which
water treatment processes are acceptable.
The SDWA, however, doesn’t regulate private
wells that serve fewer than 25 individuals.
Regulating the byproducts of disinfection
In 1998, the USEPA began requiring public
water systems to use treatments that reduce
the formation of disinfection byproducts.
Specifically, the rule regulates hazardous
chemicals such as TTHM, HAA5, bromate,
and chlorite.
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27
Microbial regulations
The USEPA’s Surface Water Treatment rule
focuses on pathogens or disease-causing
microorganisms in drinking water. Under this
rule, a public water system must have treatment sufficient to reduce water concentrations of Giardia and other pathogens. The
ruling sets limits on disinfectant residuals and
turbidity, which is water discoloration or
cloudiness from the particles suspended in
water. The USEPA’s list was later expanded to
include Cryptosporidium and other harmful
microorganisms in water, and acceptable
levels of disinfection byproducts were
lowered.
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28
These materials are the copyright of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. and any
dissemination, distribution, or unauthorized use is strictly prohibited.
Chapter 4
Finding the Right Water
Treatment Products
In This Chapter
▶ Solving your water problems
▶ Finding the right people and products
▶ Examining green treatment options
Y
ou often know when your water is “bad.” It smells,
doesn’t lather your soap, has a funny taste, or
comes out of the faucet in odd colors. Or, perhaps
water testing has detected contaminants of concern.
What do you do next?
Condition Your Water
Whether your water is hard or contaminated, there are
effective water treatment technologies ready to help.
Water conditioning is the treatment of water to modify,
enhance, or improve it so it meets a specific water
quality need, desire, or standard. Or just call it water
treatment. There are many different treatment technologies that get the job done.
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Exchanging ions to make water softer
Ion exchange water softeners are among the
most common ways of softening water. The
typical ion exchange system consists of a pressure tank filled with sulfonated, polystyrene
beads that are capable of removing hardness
ions from water, and replacing them with
softer ions, such as sodium. These units are
connected to a brine tank that’s filled with
salt, which periodically regenerates the resin
beads.
The unit’s tiny beads attract and hold onto calcium and
magnesium ions as water passes through them. When
the beads become so saturated they can’t hold any
more, the unit rinses them with salt, which scrubs off
the mineral deposits and gets them ready to absorb
hardness ions again.
If you’ve got this type of water softener, you can set it
to regenerate at preset times, or if it’s a bit more
sophisticated, it can base regeneration on your actual
water use. Systems that measure water use and regenerate accordingly, called demand initiated regeneration
(DIR), may be more efficient because they only regenerate as needed. Systems that automatically regenerate
on set time intervals, called time clocks, certainly simplify the process. But sometimes these regenerate
more often than necessary, wasting salt, or they leave
users with hard water when water demand is higher
than normal.
Filtration may be the answer you need
Although water softeners get rid of some
heavy metals along with hardness, water filtration systems are the best way to remove
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31
organic and inorganic materials such as microbiological contaminants and particulates such
as sand, rust, or silt. Water filters remove
these impurities with a fine physical barrier,
chemicals, or some other method to help
clean water and make it suitable for drinking
or other use.
There are many filtration solutions available; they generally fit into two categories.
Point-of-Use
Point-of-Use (POU) devices treat water at the point of
consumption. The technology provides the final barrier
to the contaminants of concern before the water is consumed or used. Among the choices are:
✓
Gravity devices: Such as countertop pitchers that
use carbon filters.
✓
Inline filters: Packed with filtration media or
membranes and installed in, or perhaps underneath, a sink.
✓
Reverse osmosis units: Installed on, in, or underneath a sink.
✓
Ultraviolet (UV) technologies: Uses light to deactivate pathogens so they can’t grow and reproduce.
✓
Distillers: Turns water into steam and back again
and in the process gets rid of nearly all kinds of
biological pathogens and a host of contaminants.
Appropriate final barrier treatment can reduce chemicals like:
✓
Disinfection byproducts
✓
Corrosion products (for example, lead) from the
distribution system and home plumbing
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32
✓
Disease-causing microbes
✓
Trace levels of endocrine disruptors, personal
care products, and pharmaceuticals
Point-of-Entry
Point-of-Entry (POE) devices are whole-house treatment systems mainly designed to reduce contaminants
in water intended for showering, washing dishes and
clothes, brushing teeth, and flushing toilets. Options
include:
✓
Water softeners: Discussed in the “Exchanging
ions to make water softer” section.
✓
Sediment and tank filtration systems: Removes
contaminants as water enters the home.
✓
Large inline filtration systems: Installed where
water enters the home plumbing system.
✓
Final barrier systems: Sometimes used by municipalities to supplement or even replace centralized
water treatment facilities. These systems do the
treatment at the location of the end user, which
means contaminants that are picked up between
the treatment plant and the home are no longer a
problem. (See previous section for more about
this technology.)
Choose filtration media guided by the specifics of your situation. For example, you may
need a system that uses greensand media. It’s
good for getting rid of contaminants such as
hydrogen sulfide. As with the resin beads in a
water softener, many types of media need
recharging or replacement from time to time.
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33
Activated carbon is a widely used filtration
substance that targets various volatile organic
compounds, such as benzene, trichloroethylene, and various pesticides and petroleumrelated compounds. Maintenance is as simple
as swapping out a cartridge once or twice a
year. Activated carbon may be granular or in a
solid block. Some carbon block filters can
have greater filtration capabilities that can
remove lead, asbestos, and some microbes
out of the water.
You also may choose ceramic or synthetic fiber microfilters, which can sift out tiny contaminants including
various microbes and tiny sediment particles.
Moving forward with reverse osmosis
Sometimes shortened to the acronym RO, these systems force water, under pressure, into a module that
contains a semipermeable membrane and a number of
other filtration steps. A typical RO system has a prefilter designed to capture larger particles, chlorine, and
other substances; a semipermeable membrane that
captures more contaminants; an activated carbon filter
that removes residual taste, odor, and some organic
contaminants; and a storage tank to hold the treated
water for use.
You can get a whole-house RO, but more commonly, a
point-of-use RO system would be on your countertop or
installed under the sink. They’re great for treating water
for cooking and drinking, but they don’t usually produce
large amounts of treated water — more like 3 to 10 gallons a day. For that reason, typically people choose to
install RO-treated faucets in the most popular areas of
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34
the home such as kitchens and bathrooms, as opposed
to installing it for every drinking tap.
Just like any other kind of filter technology, reverse
osmosis systems require regular maintenance. That
includes periodically replacing the unit’s prefilters,
postfilters, and membrane modules.
Distilling purer water
Distillation is one of the oldest water-purification
methods around. Distillation will effectively
remove minerals, most chemicals, and many
bad tastes from tap water. These systems heat
water until it reaches its boiling point and
begins to vaporize, and then feed the vaporized water into a condenser that cools the
steam and converts the water back to liquid
form.
A vent to discharge gases is a common feature, and
these units may also include an activated carbon filter
to pull out even more contaminants. Most home distillers produce only small amounts of treated water daily.
They require periodic cleaning and descaling to
remove mineral buildup.
Disinfection is a clean choice
for private well systems
Water disinfection is just what it sounds like — it gets
rid of the stuff that’s infecting the water. It removes,
deactivates, or kills microorganisms, viruses, cysts,
and bacteria. If water wasn’t disinfected, it would likely
contain disease-causing agents that would make a lot of
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35
people sick. Municipalities disinfect water at the water
treatment plant. Consumers in homes with private
wells must disinfect water themselves.
There are both chemical and physical ways to
disinfect water. Chemical disinfection often
uses halogens such as chlorine, iodine, bromine, or ozone, while common physical
choices are ultraviolet (UV) light, ultrafiltration, and distillation. These processes can
eliminate anywhere from 99.9 to 99.9999 percent of harmful microorganisms.
Ultraviolet light (UV)
The UV disinfection method, which doesn’t
involve chemicals, has long been popular for
commercial use, and it’s becoming more
common in homes. UV systems expose water
to light at just the right wavelength for killing
microbes. It’s a way to kill bacteria, viruses,
fungi, protozoans, and cysts that may be present in the water.
How effective it is depends on the strength and intensity
of the light, the amount of time the light shines through
the water, and, of course, the quantity of particles in the
water in the first place. The light source must be kept
clean and the UV lamp replaced periodically.
UV light treatment can’t remove gases, heavy metals,
and particulates, and for that reason higher-end
systems may include additional filtration such as
activated carbon. If so, that means you’ll need to
occasionally clean or replace those filters or perform
other maintenance.
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36
Chlorination
This method of disinfection involves adding
chlorine to water to make it safer to drink. It’s
common, cost-effective, quick, and effective,
killing many pathogenic microorganisms. It
can even oxidize or break down iron, manganese, and hydrogen sulfide, which can result
in water that is clearer and tastes better.
Some people find that chlorine gives water its own
objectionable chemical taste and odor. It also can produce disinfection byproducts (which may cause health
issues) by reacting with other substances in water
when stored. These byproducts can often be filtered
out with activated carbon.
Ozone
You get ozone when you expose oxygen to high-voltage
currents. Introduce ozone into the water treatment
process, and you’ll destroy viruses, bacteria, and other
microorganisms, and also remove iron, sulfur, and
manganese. Ozone does its job quickly and then rapidly decomposes, and that cuts down on the introduction of harmful disinfection byproducts and foul tastes
or odors associated with chlorination. This process
tends to be more costly and energy-consuming and is
typically used commercially or by large municipalities.
Newer ideas for treating your water
Do you like cutting-edge technology? That may be a
great idea when buying phones, TVs, or cars, but you
should think twice about purchasing water treatment
products before national testing and certification programs are in place to validate claims. Find out more
about these programs later in this chapter. Here are
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37
some of the latest concepts for treating your water
along with notes about what to consider before a
purchase.
Antiscaling treatment
Antiscaling treatment isn’t new, but it’s new for household use. These types of devices may use magnets,
conductive ceramic plates, or even citric acid, to
attract, disrupt, or remove hardness ions. Because
they’re new to the home, there aren’t many conclusive
studies about the efficacy of these devices for home
use, and there aren’t yet national standards for testing
and certifying antiscaling device performance.
Until product testing for household antiscaling
products is available, consumers can’t tell for
certain which products best reduce scale
buildup in the home. Although some of these
products may work at the industrial level,
water quality varies from house to house,
making antiscaling much harder to consistently
work for individual homes. Furthermore, even if
mineral scale doesn’t build up, some of these
products don’t remove hardness, which means
they might leave a residue on surfaces, or the
feel of water may be undesirable. Investigate
product claims prior to making a purchase.
Standards and protocols are in development that may
offer testing and certification of these household products in coming years. Keep an eye on antiscaling technologies such as:
✓
Template-assisted crystallization that uses surfacetreated resin beads to convert (not remove) hardness ions to scale-resistant forms.
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38
✓
Electrochemical demineralization used in point-ofentry devices to remove hardness ions and other
dissolved solids through electrochemical means.
✓
Capacitive deionization, which is an electrostatic
process that removes hardness and other
compounds.
✓
Electrically induced precipitation that uses a direct
electrical current to precipitate water hardness
and other compounds.
Alkalizer/ionizer
These systems are relatively new, with sparse
and potentially inconclusive studies verifying
claims, and you’ll have a difficult time finding
peer-reviewed medical literature and national
standards regarding the health effects of alkaline water. Be sure to thoroughly review
claims that are made. Performance of carbon
or reverse osmosis features can be tested and
certified, but health effects of alkaline water
can’t be tested and certified to national standards. So, be cautious if there isn’t robust science backing up claims.
When to Seek Professional Help
If you’ve noticed your water has a bad taste, smells,
doesn’t lather, leaves scale or spots on surfaces, or if
you’ve had lab testing done and you aren’t sure how to
solve the problems, it’s time to contact a water quality
professional. A pro can help you sort through options
because water is complex, has many potential contaminants, and there’s no “one size fits all” when it comes
to water treatment.
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39
After finding a reputable water quality professional, be sure you’re getting a high-quality
treatment system, based on what you and
your advisor decide you need.
Fortunately, there are ways to determine both the quality of the product and the professional (see Chapter 5
for a list of questions to ask when searching for a water
quality professional).
Finding a water quality professional
The Water Quality Association, which has more than 2,500
company members, is a not-for-profit international trade
association representing the residential, commercial, and
industrial water treatment industry. Its membership consists
of both manufacturers/suppliers and dealers/distributors of
equipment and services. WQA is a resource and information
source, an educator of professionals, a laboratory for testing,
a certifier of products and professionals, and a means for
helping the public make the best choices.
The WQA was founded in 1974 and started offering
certification of water treatment professionals in 1977. It sets
standards for water treatment businesses and equipment
installers and promotes ethical selling practices among
those offering water quality solutions. Professionals earn a
three-year certification by meeting strict criteria, passing an
exam on water chemistry and treatment technologies, and
abiding by a strict code of ethics and legal requirements.
To find WQA-Certified Professionals or WQA-Certified
Products, visit the WQA website at www.wqa.org.
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40
Finding the Best Products
WQA provides third-party certification — notably its
Gold Seal (see Figure 4-1) — for products consumers
can buy for water treatment. This program, after
decades in existence, is the oldest third-party testing
and certification program in the water treatment industry. The Gold Seal is easily recognizable and informs
consumers that products are safe and work properly.
The Gold Seal Program is accredited as a reputable certification agency in the United States and Canada by
ANSI (American National Standards Institute) and SCC
(the Standards Council of Canada). Other accredited
certifiers include NSF International, CSA Group, UL
(Underwriter Laboratories), and IAPMO.
Figure 4-1: The WQA Gold Seal.
Manufacturers and suppliers can seek Gold Seal certification for most products that contact household water.
Certification covers everything from chemicals to
plumbing components to filtration systems and water
softeners.
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41
Product certification indicates a third-party
organization has monitored the manufacturer’s operations to ensure they meet guidelines
for manufacturing processes and materials
used. Products are tested to ensure compliance with industry standards, performance,
and certification requirements.
Standards are detailed and rigorous and specific to the
products certified. Some standards cover UV disinfecting systems, for example, while others ensure that
reverse osmosis systems perform as claimed.
Certification also helps verify that manufacturers have
good customer service measures in place and offer
adequate product literature or information.
Once companies go through this demanding process,
they can’t rest on their laurels. They must retest their
certified products regularly and submit to annual facility inspections.
There are more than 10,000 Gold Seal-certified
products. Search for desired products on the
WQA website at www.wqa.org.
Greener Water Treatment
WQA also has a Sustainability Mark (see Figure 4-2) to
help consumers select greener water treatment products that help ensure safe drinking water while showing sensitivity to the environment.
Products earn the mark only after they demonstrate
best practices in manufacturing for sustainability.
Rigorous examination is required to audit and assess
the manufacturer according to independent standards
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42
developed by a WQA task force of environmental
experts, consultants, regulators, manufacturers, industry professionals, and other stakeholders.
Figure 4-2: WQA’s Sustainability Mark.
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Chapter 5
(More Than) Ten Questions to
Ask a Water Quality
Professional
In This Chapter
▶ Questions to ask
B
efore you choose and install a water treatment
system, here is another tool to help in your quest.
This chapter contains- a list of questions to ask your
water quality professional.
✓
Are you a WQA-Certified Water Specialist, WQACertified Sales Representative, or a WQA-Certified
Installer?
✓
Do you have a contractor’s license, business
license, and liability insurance (if these things are
required in your area)?
✓
How long have you been in business, and who can
I call for a referral?
✓
What do my water testing results show?
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✓
How do I know that the test results cover the main
contaminants of concern for my home? Could you
be missing something?
✓
Do these results indicate health hazards in my
water?
✓
Do the water quality issues in my home require
whole-house treatment, or will I be okay with a
single-tap or other Point-of-Use device?
✓
Will the device you’re recommending treat
enough water to accommodate my family’s needs?
✓
What is the total purchase price, and how much
more can I expect to pay to maintain the system
year in and year out?
✓
Will you be installing and servicing the device? Is
that free, and if not, what will it cost?
✓
Can I maintain the system myself? Will you show
me how to do this?
✓
Has a third-party organization certified the performance of the products you offer?
✓
What type of warranty comes with this product?
✓
How will I know if the equipment is operating
correctly?
✓
What secondary effects might this water treatment
unit have on my water quality? Any byproducts?
✓
Will you provide free follow-up water testing a few
months after installation to ensure that the equipment is doing its job?
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These materials are the copyright of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. and any
dissemination, distribution, or unauthorized use is strictly prohibited.
These materials are the copyright of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. and any
dissemination, distribution, or unauthorized use is strictly prohibited.
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