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Water quality testing
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The quality of our water can have a direct and persistent effect on our health.

The EPA sets standards that public water sources routinely be checked. This is not the case with private water supplies, such as a well. Having your well water tested once a year serves as a good precaution and will keep you aware of any contamination.

One common myth is that there is no cause for concern if your water looks clear and tastes good. This is false because many contaminants do not affect the taste and appearance of your water.

Another myth is one test checks for all contaminants.

No one test can represent all types of contaminants. Bacteriological tests check for presence of total coliform bacteria. The local Environmental Health Agency will conduct this test for you.

Mineral tests check for calcium, magnesium and other minerals, and will tell you if an abundance of these minerals will lead to hard water.

Pesticide and chemical tests are performed when there is a reason to believe a specific contaminate has entered the water supply. Mineral and chemical tests are offered through your local extension office.

Unless in-house contaminations are suspected, it is usually not necessary to test public and municipal water supplies.

However, water testing should be considered when:

• Your water source is from a well, spring, or cistern.

• Your water stains plumbing and laundry.

• Your water pipes show signs of deterioration.

• Your family/guests complain of gastrointestinal illnesses.

• You are concerned about lead pipes or soldering in your house.

If no specific concerns exist but you want to be proactive, start by testing for common contaminants such as nitrate, total coliform bacteria, etc. This will determine if your water system is vulnerable to contamination.

If tests reveal you should invest in a treatment system, remember the concept of ‘buyers beware.' Be aware of in-home demonstrations that indicate poor water quality (sales people are not necessarily scientists).

Listen out for any claim that a treatment system was tested or registered with the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA does not register or test any systems.

Educate yourself. Remember, public water supplies are required by law to be tested.

Here are a few home water treatment systems:

• Activated Carbon Filters remove tastes, odors and small amounts of organic contaminants. These include pour-through filters, faucet-mounted filters and high-volume filters.

• Water softeners are useful in treating hard water, which interferes with the cleaning action in soaps.

• Distillers essentially remove all contaminants. However, they are not easy to maintain and work slowly.

• Sand filters remove silt, sediment, organic matter, etc. from your water.

• Shock chlorination is a treatment procedure that serves to kill bacteria.

Information from this article was taken from University of Georgia publications on water quality.

For more information, view ‘Home Water Quality & Treatment,' ‘Testing for Water Quality,' and ‘Protecting Your Well and Wellhead.'

These publications are located at your local county extension office.

Clark MacAllister is the Dawson County extension agent. For more information, call (706)265-2442.