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drinking water safety is a top priority for Americans.

ALABAMA A&M UNIVERSITY, Ala.—Drinking water safety is a real concern for many with questionable local water supply. A 2019 Gallup poll indicated 83 percent of Southerners are more concerned about contaminated drinking water than climate change.

Karnita Garner, an Extension environmental specialist, said although regulations to test local water supplies have long been in use in communities, public concern over the safety of drinking water is still on the rise.

“The Safe Drinking Water Act was put in place in 1974,” Garner said. “However, recent water quality issues—such as the elevated levels of lead in drinking water found in Flint, Michigan, and Newark, New Jersey, have served as a worry for consumers nationwide.”

Water Quality

Water quality refers to bacterial, biological, chemical, and the physical characteristics of water based on state and federal guidelines. The federal guidelines describe what is suitable for human consumption and domestic use. The guidelines also act as safeguards against pollutants found in local water supplies, as many factors can cause water pollution.

“Water contaminants, like heavy metals, bacteria, pharmaceuticals, pesticides and other materials, have been linked to some human health problems,” Garner said. “Scientific findings are even more disturbing for small, private and unregulated water supplies. These water supplies may not have multi-staged water treatment processes, such as settling (removal of particles) and disinfection.”

Groundwater a Primary Water Source for Alabamians

The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) estimates 2.1 million Alabamians are dependent on groundwater as their primary drinking water source.

“As many as 20 percent of these Alabama consumers use private water supplies—like wells,” Garner said. “As a result, these individuals are responsible for guaranteeing the safety of their own drinking water.”

Garner recommends testing water supplies a minimum of one time per year. Although, if a well is shallow, she recommends testing more often because shallow wells are more prone to contamination.

Water Quality Testing Kits

Many water authorities send annual water quality reports to consumers. However, water quality tests and other in-depth lab tests are options that environmentally conscious individuals should consider.

Garner said consumers do not need specialized training—or a lot of money—to test the water in their homes.

“Many companies offer inexpensive do-it-yourself (DIY) water testing kits that can be purchased at home improvement stores or online,” Garner said. “DIY kits are sensitive enough to detect bacteria, lead, pesticides, nitrates, chlorine and hardness.”

There are several DIY test kits to choose from. Always follow testing procedures carefully for accurate results.

  • Cost-Effective. Test strips are inexpensive, chemical-free and offer quick results.
  • Color-Coded. Color comparators are more efficient than test strips and provide color-coded results that identify contaminants.
  • Greater Efficiency. Electronic colorimeters are the most expensive and efficient of the tests. They remove many of the problems associated with human interpretation.

Some contaminants are only detectable by an in-depth lab analysis. Therefore, Garner said consumers have the option of having experts test the water.

However, in this case, consumers should be prepared to spend anywhere from $50 to hundreds of dollars, depending on the type of test. This process usually requires completing a short form and sending several containers of water off to a certified laboratory for testing.

Finding Contaminants

Garner suggests the following actions if contaminants are present in drinking water:

  • Notify the local health department or municipality if testing confirms unsafe contaminant levels.
  • Install a carbon or reverse osmosis filter or a water purification system to remove specific contaminants from drinking water. Ensure the apparatus meets standards set by the American National Standards Institute.
  • Request a copy of the local annual water quality report or Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) to learn more about their water quality.
    • Those with well water will not receive a CCR. The consumer is responsible for well water testing. The ADPH may provide some assistance with testing for bacteria or nitrates.
  • Call the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791 or visit www.epa.gov/safewater/labs to find a state-certified laboratory in your area.

More Information

Find more information on safe drinking water by visiting www.epa.gov/dwreginfo. Additional information can also be found by visiting Alabama Extension online and viewing Garner’s “Is Your Drinking Water Safe?” in full.

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