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Common Water Quality Problems

High Risk GroupsContaminants and Health EffectsLinks

 

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

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
  • No signs or symptoms
Gastrointestinal illness, which may include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, & diarrhea
  • Salty Taste
Not generally considered harmful to humans or animals.
May contribute to the corrosion of household appliances and plumbing.
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Rotten egg odor
  • Sulfur taste.
Speeds up the corrosion of metal plumbing materials.
  • Bitter, metallic taste
  • Stains on plumbing fixtures, appliances, and laundry
No evidence to indicate the amount normally found in a well is harmful.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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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