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Is My Municipal Water Safe To Use?

Municipal Water Contamination, Fact or Fiction?

If it is clear, it doesn’t mean is safe. Water quality changes extremely quickly, and just because the water doesn’t make you sick today, doesn’t mean it won’t make you sick tomorrow.

We are all worried about South Africa’s aging infrastructure, the economy and the availability of fund allocated and set aside for municipal specific projects.

Not only in South Africa but all over the world, the water issues we face are numerous and varied due to the impact of climate change, aging infrastructure, a rapidly growing population, the demand of agriculture to feed the population and industries to supply goods to it.

Municipal infrastructure woes are just some of the issues plaguing South Africans. From overloaded and outdated water treatment plants to crumbling pipes nearing the end of their life, these concerns are forcing people everywhere to pay more attention to where their water comes from and how it gets to them, as well as learn how to protect themselves and their families from the risks of water-borne illnesses. Municipal or city water is delivered to our homes from a Public Water Supply and is regulated by health authorities. Nevertheless, water quality issues can arise. Being aware of the challenges facing municipalities can help you choose what type of water treatment you want for your home or office.

Clean water is fundamental to our economy and our health.

Municipal infrastructure woes are just some of the issues plaguing South Africans. From overloaded and outdated water treatment plants to crumbling pipes nearing the end of their life, these concerns are forcing people everywhere to pay more attention to where their water comes from and how it gets to them, as well as learn how to protect themselves and their families from the risks of water-borne illnesses. Municipal or city water is delivered to our homes from a Public Water Supply and is regulated by health authorities. Nevertheless, water quality issues can arise. Being aware of the challenges facing municipalities can help you choose what type of water treatment you want for your home or office.

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Even though water leaving the municipal water facility may be relatively clean, contaminants in large distribution pipes or even in household plumbing can be introduced into the tap water. There are many different ways that contaminates can enter the water supply to your home. In South Africa we mostly source water from a municipal water supply. While the water may leave the water treatment plant without contaminants, it can become contaminated along the way. There are various ways water can get contaminated by gas leaks, animals waste, sewage waste and runoff just to name a few.

Another issue, for public water supplies of all sizes, is the matter of disinfection by-products. Chlorine is absolutely necessary as disinfection residual when water has to travel many kilometres before reaching our homes and offices. No one however, wants to be tasting chlorine in their water, nor risk the exposure to the by-products.

Comprehensive Water Analysis

As we try to identify the appropriate treatment for different water supplies, it’s a priority to know and understand which water contaminants are present. Once the contaminants are identified through a comprehensive water analysis, the appropriate technology can be applied.

This exercise is similar to a medical examination by your doctor, based on questions designed to detect the problem, often followed up with a laboratory test (e.g. blood work). This selection considers different variables such as speed, effectiveness, and safety. In the water treatment industry, something very similar takes place with a good water analysis allowing for safe and effective treatment recommendations.

Water Contaminants

Water contaminants can generally be grouped into three groups: suspended solids, dissolved solids and microbiological concerns. These may not be the only classifications, but cover the vast majority of problems encountered in water supplies worldwide.

Suspended Solids

This describes material that exists in a suspended (insoluble) form in water, which will typically settle on the bottom of a glass or bottle as visible sediment. This type of contamination is very common in surface waters, such as rivers where water movement generates high turbidity. To remove this type of contamination, the physical method of filtration is employed. Different filter pore sizes allow for removal of particles to specific “micron” (millionth of a meter) ratings.

Dissolved Solids

This contaminant refers to material dissolved the water. The solids are chemically dissolved as part of the water, and their concentrations are measured overall as total dissolved solids (TDS), and the maximum concentration allowed in drinking water is usually around 1000 ppm.

Total dissolved solids is a general measure of all solids dissolved while more detailed analysis will report the levels of individual dissolved species (for example, calcium, magnesium, bicarbonates, and nitrates). Dissolved solids are generally in the form of “ions”, cations carrying a positive charge and anions carrying a negative charge.

Microbiological

This type of contamination is a major challenge in many parts of the world where water distribution systems are lacking or not in a good state of operation and where water is stored for use in drought conditions. In these situations, the primary concern is to eliminate illness-causing pathogens that may be present in the water, including bacteria, viruses, and parasites. In these same areas of high heat and humidity, reproduction of harmful organisms is often very rapid.

There are three main problem microbes that are often found in private well water sources that can cause illness in humans. These are Giardia, Cryptosporidium, and e.coli. Most people are aware of e.coli, as it’s often discussed in media as a food contaminant, but it is also a water contaminant.

E.coli is a type of Coliform bacteria. Coliforms are bacteria that live in the intestinal tracts of animals, and any type of coliforms in the water is an indicator of some kind of fecal contamination of the water. Not all coliforms are dangerous, but the presence of them in a water sample indicates that there is a possibility that some of those coliforms could be e.coli.

Giardia and Cryptosporidium are both organisms that live in the intestinal tracts of animals. As part of their lifecycle, both of these organisms are flushed out with feces and form an extremely difficult-to-penetrate cyst to protect them, even in harsh environments. These organisms can persist, even in cold water, for months in the environment until they are ingested and start the cycle over again.

They can be an indication that fecal contamination is in the water, either from flooding events, bad well construction, septic or a myriad of other reasons. Both of these microbes can cause illness, and in children, the elderly, or immune-compromised people, they can be serious illnesses. Because of their protective cyst coatings these organisms are highly resistant to chlorine water treatment.

Ultraviolet disinfection eliminates all of these microbes in water without the use of harmful chemicals that can create disinfection byproducts. It can combat chlorine-resistant microbes, and does not change the taste or odor of water.

Typical Signs Your Tap Water Might Be Contaminated

Unusual Taste

Your taste buds have incredibly delicate sensors that protect you from bad or dangerous substances, including poor-quality water. If your water has a fishy, oily, bitter, or metallic taste, it may be time to look into buying a filter.

Chlorine Smell

Chlorine is added to public water supplies to remove bacteria or harmful microorganisms, and while it’s not typically found in dangerous amounts, it can make your beverages unappetizing. Consider buying a water filter to eliminate any trace of lingering chemicals.

Sulfur Smell

If your water smells like rotten eggs, sulfur is to blame. The naturally occurring mineral is prevalent in some water systems but isn’t typically harmful. As with chlorine, a sulfur smell can be eliminated with a water filter.

Flat Baked Goods

If your favorite French bread recipe falls flat, it may not be your fault. The same chlorine that is added to water treatment systems to kill harmful microorganisms can also wreak havoc on the beneficial bacteria (yeast) that makes bread or pizza dough rise. A water filter can often solve the problem with minimal effort and expense.

Low Water Pressure

If the kitchen faucet seems to be running more slowly than usual, you may have some clogged pipes. This can happen over time when pipes become corroded and then fill up with sediment and scale. Unfortunately, the only solution is running new copper or PVC plumbing throughout the house, which is an expensive (albeit necessary) project.

Cloudy, Foamy Water

Many municipal water systems don’t filter out minerals and other naturally occurring substances from drinking water, and these harmless compounds can sometimes give water a cloudy or foamy appearance. If the clouds and foam do not disappear over time, however, they may be caused by bacteria. Have your water tested for contamination if the problem persists.

Dirt and Sediment

Have you ever seen dirt, sand, clay, or other sediments suspended in your tap water or settled in the bottom of your sink? Most of the time these particles aren’t dangerous, but they certainly aren’t attractive. Try installing a point-of-use sediment filter to alleviate the problem.

Spots, Stains, and Scale

Some parts of the United States have naturally “hard” water, water that contains a high percentage of dissolved minerals like calcium and magnesium. Although hard water isn’t dangerous, it can prevent suds from lathering and reduce the effectiveness of dish soaps, hand soaps, and laundry detergent. Hard water also causes spotting and leaves scale deposits on glassware, serving pieces, and plumbing—thus shortening the effective lifespan of your hot water heater, boiler, and other appliances. To solve issues associated with hard water, install a water-softening system to remove excess minerals.

More people are taking ownership for the quality of the water in their own homes. Investing in a water treatment system is the added insurance you need to know your family is getting the best tasting and healthiest water possible. With the emphasis on drinking enough water at every age to maintain good health, it’s comforting to know you can control for some of the water issues facing society today.
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