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Problems with Drinking Water

Drinking water treatment plant operators work around the clock to provide you with safe drinking water. Even with the best efforts, problems can sometimes occur for several reasons.

Contaminants iron & manganese bacteria sodium Total Dissolved Solids chlorides fluoride copper zinc acidic water lead hydrogen sulfide Hardness Nitrate Radium

These reasons include:

  • Contaminants getting into the source of your drinking water
  • Improperly maintained distribution system (pipes, fixtures, etc.)
  • Drinking water that is not properly treated or disinfected

If you’re concerned about your drinking water, you may want to have it tested.  Below is more information to help you decide.

Signs & Effects of Common Drinking Water Problems

If you notice a change in your drinking water, you may want to have it tested. Below is information to help you decide what contaminant may be the problem.

Contaminant Signs & Symptoms Effects
Bacteria

No signs or symptoms

Gastrointestinal illness, which may include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, & diarrhea
Chlorides

Salty Taste

Not generally considered harmful to humans or animals.
May contribute to the corrosion of household appliances and plumbing.
Copper

Blue-green stain on plumbing fixtures

Very bitter, medicinal taste found when above 1.3 mg/l

Short term exposure can cause stomach cramps and intestinal discomfort
Long term exposure may cause liver and kidney damage
Corrosive or Acidic Water

Copper Plumbing: blue-green stains in tubs & sinks. Water may have bitter, medicinal taste.

Steel Metal: rusty stain in fixtures. Water may have metallic taste and appear cloudy.

Shortens the life of household plumbing
If you notice problems, allow the water to run for several minutes before using.
Fluoride

Children exposed to excessive amounts may develop white or brown spots on their teeth.

Excessive fluoride is a concern only when water is used for cooking and drinking.
Hardness

Soaps won't lather.

Excessively hard water will cause a hard, chalky scale to form when the water is heated.

Not considered a health hazard.
Excessive hard water may cause reduced water heater capacity leading to a burn-out.
Hydrogen Sulfide

Rotten egg odor

Sulfur taste.

Speeds up the corrosion of metal plumbing materials.
Iron & Manganese

Bitter, metallic taste

Stains on plumbing fixtures, appliances, and laundry

No evidence to indicate the amount normally found in a well is harmful.

Lead

See information on high risk groups

Corrosion of home plumbing materials containing lead

Damage to brain, nervous system, kidney, and red blood cells.
Pregnant women, fetuses, infants and young children are at a greater risk.
Permanently stunt growth if children are overexposed during growing stage.

Nitrate

See information on high risk groups

In babies: shortness of breath, blueness of skin.

In healthy adults: relatively little affect, even when consumed at large quantities.

Infants, pregnant women, individuals with reduced gastric acidity, and individuals with a hereditary lack of methemoglobin reductase.
Causes severe oxygen deficiency and can lead to death for those at high risk.
Radium

No signs or symptoms

A lifetime of drinking water with high levels of radium may increase the risk of certain cancers.
Sodium

Salty taste, if sodium & chlorides are present

Bitter taste, if sodium & sulfates are present

Increases blood pressure that can eventually lead to hypertension.
Total Dissolved Solids (TDS)

Salty taste when chlorides are present.

Bitter taste when sulfates are present.

Medicinal taste when bicarbonates are present

Temporary laxative affect may occur after drinking water when sulfates make up most of the TDS.
Household plumbing and appliances will deteriorate faster.
Zinc

Bitter, medicinal taste

May make water appear milky at concentrations of 30 mg/l

When water is heated, elevated levels may produce a greasy film on the top of the water.

At normal levels, zinc is not a health hazard.
In high concentrations (675 mg/l and above), zinc can act as an intestinal irritant, causing nausea and vomiting.

(Source: DHEC’s Common Water Quality Problems and their Treatment and EPA)

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Information for High Risk Groups

Some populations are at a greater risk of experiencing health effects when exposed to certain contaminants. These sensitive populations include:

  • Pregnant women
  • Fetuses
  • Infants
  • Young children
  • Individuals with reduced gastric acidity
  • Individuals with a hereditary lack of methemoglobin reductase

These groups (listed above) should be particularly careful about exposure to the following contaminants:

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Additional Information & Links

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