What’s In Your Water?
Your Consumer Confidence Report (CCR), also known as a water quality report, states the levels of contaminants detected in the water and how that compares to the EPA’s drinking water standards. The EPA requires community water suppliers to provide a CCR to customers every July. If you rent an apartment, contact your building manager or local water company for a copy. Community water systems providing water to 100,000 or more people must post the reports online. The EPA doesn’t regulate private wells so a CCR isn’t required. The CDC offers information on testing and treatment.
The water-quality report tells you about the water in your municipality, not necessarily about what’s coming out of your particular tap. And if your home was built before lead-free pipes were mandated in 1986, a test is the best way to access your home’s water quality.
There’s no safe level of lead exposure, according in to the EPA. One way to reduce lead is to run the water until it’s as cold as it will get-up to two minutes or so-when the faucet has not been used for at least six hours.
Your state or local health department might offer free test kits, and test kits are sold at home improvement stores. The EPA suggests sending samples to a certified lab for analysis. Your local water authority can offer a list of labs, check the EPA’s list, or call the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791.
Where Different Tap Water Tastes Come From
Water systems can be very complex, and tracing the causes of different tap water flavors can be just as complicated.
What Different Tastes Mean – Here is a look at some of the flavors of tap water, and what causes them.
Fishy, earthy, dirty, moldy, musty:
The likely reason for any of these tastes is algal blooms in the source water, and for that reason, this taste may be more apparent in spring or other times when blooms are more likely, Heiger-Bernays said. Municipal water is treated, so there shouldn’t be any algae in it, but the taste may linger, she said. Another reason for this flavor could be bacterial growth within the water system or even a person’s own sink, all of which are usually harmless.
Chlorine, bleach, chemical:
These tastes may be the most common flavor in tap water, Heiger-Bernays said. Water may taste like chlorine because many systems use chlorine to disinfect their water supply. Smaller systems are particularly likely to use chlorine as a disinfectant because it’s less expensive than other options, such as ozonation (the process of using ozone to disinfect water), she said. Chlorine is generally present in small amounts in treated water and is safe to drink at these levels.
The presence of copper in the water, usually from the corrosion of copper plumbing, can cause these tastes, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC). People can taste copper at levels of 1.3 milligrams per liter, and at that level, the metal can turn light hair greenish and be toxic to aquarium fish. However, copper only causes health issues — such as stomach cramps and intestinal discomfort — at levels above 60 mg/L.
This taste can also result from a higher-than-normal level of total dissolved solids (TDS), which are dissolved minerals in the water. TDS will cause a medicinal taste if they are mostly sulfates, such as Glauber’s salt (sodium sulfate) and Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate). These can cause a temporary laxative effect in people new to drinking this water, according to the SCDHEC. Elevated levels of zinc can also result in a medicinal taste. Zinc can cause nausea and vomiting, but only at levels far above those that would cause people to taste the mineral. Wright said he’s never heard of anyone getting sick from zinc in drinking water.
Animals falling into open water supplies may cause this taste, which is often actually more of a smell, according to Southern Water, a company in West Sussex, England. This problem only needs to be addressed if the scent persists, the company says. However, a gasoline smell may also indicate dangerous contamination from nearby fuel sources.
The City of Milwaukee advises checking whether this smell is coming from only one faucet in a home or all of them. If it’s only one, it’s likely a temporary problem, and even if it continues, it could be fixed by a plumber. But if all faucets have a gasoline odor, people should not drink the water, and the water supplier should be notified as soon as possible. There could be gas or fuel in the water, the city says.
Zinc, iron and manganese can all cause metallic tastes in water. The presence of zinc is generally due to the corrosion of galvanized plumbing, whereas iron and manganese occur naturally in water sources. Water with both iron and manganese may darken the color of tea and coffee, and stain plumbing fixtures, appliances and laundry. These minerals can also build up in water heaters, which then need to be drained regularly to combat deposits. At the levels they are found in drinking water, even though they can be tasted, none of these elements should cause any health problems, according to the SCDHEC.
Chloride compounds occur naturally in water, dissolving in the water as it moves through the earth. High concentrations of chlorides can cause a salty taste and will increase corrosion of plumbing and appliances. The amount of sodium in water can also affect its taste. In certain areas, salt water may get into the drinking water supply. A sudden increase in the saltiness of water could indicate a leak from a saltwater system, and should be reported, Wright said.
A sudden change in saltiness can also mean that sewage has gotten into the water supply, as human and animal waste is high in sodium and chlorides, the SCDHEC says. This is one of the tastes that can signal an increased risk of illness. The sodium in drinking water may be problematic for people on sodium-restricted diets, the SCDHEC says.
Sulfur, rotten egg:
Water that tastes or smells like rotten eggs can be the result of various bacteria in the system or may come from hydrogen sulfide, which occurs naturally in water systems due to the decay of organic material. Water agencies don’t consider this issue dangerous, but hydrogen sulfide can increase corrosion of plumbing and lead to blackened water that may stain.
Water that tastes or smells like a wet dog may be caused by metal plumbing, bacteria, treatment chemicals or organic material in the source water, according to Waterlogic, a water cooler and dispenser company. Water with this smell is likely safe to drink but should be tested for bacteria, the company says.
This is a unique water flavor that has a burdensome solution. This taste comes from antioxidants found in plastic pipes, and the only way to get rid of it is to replace the plumbing, according to England’s Southern Water.