The term surface water refers to water that is on the surface on the planet. It includes sources as shallow as swamp water, such as that in the Everglades, and as deep as the ocean. We use this water for drinking, bathing, irrigation and recreation and expect it to be clean.
Where does contamination come from?
While the United States has some of the safest public water supplies in the world, it may become tainted. Contamination may come from:
- By-products of local manufacturing facilities. Among the most dangerous pollutants are cyanide and heavy metals.
- Dangerous chemicals and minerals such as radon, arsenic or uranium. These are natural components of the earth.
- Local farming activity. Cattle feed, fertilizers and pesticides may enter the public water supply. Giardia Lamblia may enter the water supply this way. Giardia is a parasitic, flagellated protozoan that colonizes the intestines of humans and animals. Nonfatal, it causes gastrointestinal disturbances and weight loss.
- Releases of sewage. Cryptosporidium, another parasitic protozoan, enters the water supply in this way. Hepatitis A is an enteric virus that may cause liver damage or even death. It, too, may enter public water systems through this route.
Malfunctioning water treatment systems on-site. Helminths are parasitic worms that enter the body through the skin or by ingestion. These are kept out of the water supply by functioning water treatment systems.
If you worry about the quality of your home’s water system, you can pay to have it tested. Most states have someone in charge of clean water who can give you a list of certified labs. A competent professional should test water supplies for contaminants at least once a year. What follows are four reasons why it may be time to test the water.
- You are thinking about building or purchasing a new home
- There have been structural changes to the water system
If any new components have been installed, e.g., a new pump, well, pipes, etc., then an expert should test the water before the new system goes online.
- Effects on people
Water that contains certain microbes may cause gastrointestinal problems. If a member of the family gets sick often, or other family members get sick, it may be time to test the water. If someone in the household is sensitive to pollutants in the water, then you should have an expert check its purity.
- Water looks, tastes or smells different
Television news editors love to show dramatic footage of water bursting into flames when ignited. This sometimes happens when hydraulic fracturing fluid spills into surface water.
Some contaminants can affect the palatability of water without causing any harm. Others are subtler. They do not make obvious changes to the way the water looks, tastes or smells but may cause lasting damage in the form of cancer or radiation sickness. There is only one way to guarantee safe water, and that is by testing.