The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established safety levels for all contaminants likely to be found in drinking water. If you are concerned about the quality of your tap water, or if you drink water from a private well, you may want to have your water tested for contaminants.
If you get your water from a utility, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires the utility to test the water quality regularly, and to issue an annual report on the test results to all its customers. You can request a copy of the report by contacting your local utility. The report will detail the levels of all contaminants found in the water.
If you have a private well, it's up to you to get the water quality checked. The EPA and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend that you have the water tested annually.
Getting Your Water Tested
If you've examined the utility's water quality report and are concerned about the levels of contaminants found in your tap water, or if you need to test your well water, you'll have to find a laboratory to run the tests. The state in which you reside certifies local and regional water-testing labs. You can get a list of certified labs by contacting the state certification officer. (See Resources.)
What to Test Your Water For
If you're testing tap water, you should use the results of the water quality report to determine what you want to test for. You may be concerned, for instance, about the lead levels in your city water and decide you want to have a private test run on it.
If you have a well, the Centers for Disease Control recommend testing its water for several different quality indicators and contaminants. Water quality indicators include the total number of coliform bacteria, which usually aren't harmful in and of themselves, but frequently indicate that other, more harmful bacteria also are present; fecal coliform bacteria, which suggest that feces are getting into your water; and the pH level of your water, which will tell you how basic or acidic the water is. Extremely acidic or basic water can eventually damage your pipes and may permit lead to leach out into your water.
Contaminants you should test for include nitrates and volatile organic compounds, which are industrial and fuel-related chemicals. In addition, you may want to test for pesticides, lead, radium, mercury, arsenic and atrazine. The CDC suggests you contact your local health or environmental quality department or the EPA to find out what contaminants are likely to be problematic in your area.
According to the EPA, how much it will cost to have your water tested depends on how many contaminants you test for. The EPA estimates that tests can cost anywhere from $15 to hundreds of dollars.
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