Understanding Your Home’s Water Quality & Associated Health Risks

Water bacteria testing may seem like just another thing to check off your list, but knowing what’s in your home’s water supply can help keep you, your family and your property safe.

When getting a home inspection, water quality is rarely top of mind. As long as the plumbing checks out and there are no major red flags, you don’t think too much about what’s coming out of the tap. However, unusual odors, flavors or colors are just a few of the warning signs indicative of water quality issues that could have long-term impacts on you and your family’s health. Learn why water bacteria testing should always be part of the inspection process.

Common Water Quality Issues for Private Wells & Public Utilities

Where your water comes from matters. Whether you live in a large city or have a private well on your property, there are a number of ways contaminants can unknowingly affect the water you use every day. Here are some of the most common water quality issues for both private and public water supplies and how they can impact your health.

Water Quality Issues & Health Risks for Private Wells

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 13 million households in the United States rely on private wells for drinking water. While there are numerous benefits to having your own water supply, this also means you’re responsible for its safety and maintenance. These are some of the common contaminants found in well water testing and their associated health risks:

Microorganisms. Bacteria, viruses and parasites are all examples of microorganisms. You might recognize some of the more prevalent names like giardia, E. coli and salmonella. Commonly found in human and animal waste, these microorganisms can infiltrate your well water through heavy water runoff or snowmelt. Additionally, be aware of nearby septic systems and leach fields that may be seeping into your water supply. 

Often referred to as water borne diseases, health risks from microorganisms include gastrointestinal illness and infections. These manifest in symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and fever.

Chemicals and nitrates. These commonly enter the water supply due to surface runoff and seepage of chemical fertilizers. This sort of contamination is more commonly found in agricultural areas. Nitrates reduce the blood’s ability to carry oxygen, and are especially dangerous for infants. Chemical contamination can also lead to long-term health issues such as kidney disease and cancer.

Heavy metals. Often a byproduct of industrial activity or leaching from plumbing lines, dangerous heavy metals include lead, arsenic, copper, chromium and more. They typically find their way into the water supply through seepage and runoff. Water that contains high levels of heavy metals can lead to liver and kidney damage, as well as anemia and cancer.

Water Quality Issues & Health Risks for Public Utilities

Public water supplies in the United States are highly regulated. The Environmental Protection Agency sets strict standards for acceptable levels of pollutants and chemicals to ensure you’re not drinking dirty water from the tap. Despite the EPA’s best efforts, contaminants can find their way in even after treatment has occurred. These are some of the most common water quality issues for public utilities:

Naturally occurring chemicals and minerals. Public utility systems regularly test for the presence of contaminants such as arsenic, radon and uranium. Though not common, improper treatment or faulty testing can allow higher-than-normal levels of these elements through. Long-term exposure is associated with kidney damage and increased cancer risk.

Land use and manufacturing. The introduction of fertilizers, chemicals and heavy metals to public utilities is much less common than in well water, but can happen when distribution systems are not properly maintained. As these contaminants seep through the ground, they can be introduced to a public water supply. At elevated levels, health impacts can range from birth defects to cancer.

Lead. Lead contamination seems to be in the headlines often these days. It typically enters the water supply as pipes and fixtures corrode due to the water’s high acid content. Lead pipes that connect to the water main are most commonly found in homes built before 1986, which makes water testing doubly important if you own an older home.

Most dangerous for children and pregnant women, lead has been shown to result in slowed growth, lower IQ, behavioral problems and premature birth. Adults may also experience cardiovascular issues, decreased kidney function and reproductive problems.

Hard water. Hard water is caused by dissolved minerals such as calcium and magnesium. While not dangerous to your health, it can have household impacts you notice every day. If you have hard water, you may experience buildups of mineral deposits that clog pipes, reduce the lifespan of appliances and leave a film on dishes and other surfaces.

Benefits of Water Bacteria & Water Quality Testing

No matter where you draw your water from, water bacteria and water quality testing should be a part of your regular routine. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends those with well water should test their supply annually. Even if your home utilizes public utilities, there are many reasons to get a water test.

Unseen contaminants. Unusual tastes, odors or colors are all indicators that something strange might be happening with your water. However, there are numerous contaminants that are imperceivable without advanced lab testing. These labs will provide you with an easy-to-understand report that details anything potentially harmful in your water supply.

Rule out symptoms. If you’re regularly experiencing any of the symptoms commonly associated with water contaminants, it’s not a bad idea to have your water tested. This will help rule out potential causes and help you get to the bottom of the issues.

Mortgage lender requirements. If you’re getting a mortgage to purchase a home with well water, you may be required by the lender to get a water quality test. This applies to both conventional loans as well as FHA/VA loans. Testing can typically be performed during a standard home inspection without added time or the need for additional equipment.

Peace of mind. You go to the doctor for regular checkups. You take your car to the mechanic for regular maintenance. There’s no reason you shouldn’t do the same for your water supply. Testing is quick and affordable, and will let you sleep easy about what you and your family are putting in your body.

Find the Certified AmeriSpec Inspector Near You

AmeriSpec has more than 150 locations across the United States with certified inspectors who can perform water bacteria testing, well water testing and numerous other specialty inspection services. They’ll even review the test results with you to help determine your best course of action for treatment. If you’d like to know more about what’s in your water, connect with an expert today!