With more than 30 years’ experience in the residential and commercial water treatment space, Mark Nelson is a Class 1 Drinking-Water Operator and a CBWA (Canadian Bottled Water Association) Certified Plant Operator. As founder and president of Nelson Water in Ottawa, Mark focuses on dealing with challenging water treatment system designs for problem water. He also heads the largest water bottling plant in the city of Ottawa with a delivery network throughout the Valley.

We rely on a supply of clean and fresh drinking water for optimal health. There are regulations in-place to secure water from the tap that’s cleaned to a basic level. But, there can be chemical, mineral and biological contamination issues to worry about. Even if the water is cleaner when it leaves the treatment plant, it can be contaminated on the journey to your home. Our water infrastructure requires significant investment and breaks in the water lines can allow contaminants to enter our drinking water. In this article, we will take a closer look at eight signs that your drinking water may be contaminated.

1.  Visible Sediment Deposits

The vast majority of our potable water supplies are sourced from wells, aquifers and water tables. When water falls onto the ground during rainfall, it sinks into the soil, and then it passes through various layers of sand, rock and soil. Water is a solvent, it takes on the characteristics of materials it passes through and this is a natural process. So, you can expect a certain level of mineral content in your water, but there should be no visible sediment. During effective water treatment, pre-sediment filters are used to remove tiny particles which are regarded as contaminants. If you pour a glass of water and you can see sediment, there could be a break in the water main line. The sediment is entering at that point and it’s added to the cleaned water supply.

2.  Turbidity

If your water looks cloudy, it should not be consumed because it may be contaminated. Your drinking water should be clean and clear and this is a good sign that it’s probably safe to drink. It’s important to realize that the safe level of mineral content in public water supplies is measured in parts per billion (ppb). So, it would be impossible to see the mineral content with your naked eye unless the levels were very high. The only sure way to know the makeup of your drinking water is with a laboratory water test. But, if your water looks cloudy, it’s probably unsafe to drink.

3.  Orange or Brown Colors

Safe drinking water should be clear and if you notice colors in the water, it should not be consumed. If you notice orange or brown colors, this usually indicates high concentrations of manganese or iron. There are two common reasons for this phenomenon, they are: corroded water pipes and excavation near the water supply.

4.  A Strong “Swimming Pool” Odor

The source of this odor is chlorine or chloramine (chlorine mixed with ammonia) which is added to the water as a disinfection agent. Chlorine is effective at killing bacteria and it’s added to swimming pools to keep the water clean. The main problem with chlorine is that it loses efficacy as it travels further from the water treatment plant. To compensate for this, more chlorine is added and if you live closer to the plant you will notice the difference. Excessive volumes of chlorine can cause intestinal distress and there is a tenuous link to more serious health issues caused by chlorine byproducts. If you run your kitchen faucet and you can smell that “swimming pool” odor, it can make the water unpalatable.

5.  An Oily Film

If there is a residue or oil film on the surface of standing water, there is a good chance that you have grease or oil present in your water. This can be hard to detect from a running faucet and it’s more noticeable in a filled tub or sink. There are a few possible causes, they are poor water filtration, a leaky water main, and a deficiency in water treatment.

6.  A Sour or Metallic Taste

When drinking water is clean, it shouldn’t have a very strong or distinct flavor. Although some mineral content or salts can impart a taste, this is not desirable. After all, when you’re spending money on good coffee or tea, you want to taste the true flavors. Cooking food in strong tasting water can affect the flavors and it may even be unsafe to eat. If you can detect a sour or metallic taste in your drinking water, there are a few possible causes. The three main contaminants that you need to worry about are pesticides, industrial chemicals, and medications. The best solution to this problem is to add an extra layer of protection for your home with a water filtration system.

7.  A Sulfur Odor

Sulfur occurs naturally, it’s present in the ground and because water seeps through the ground, there will be traces in the groundwater sources. A low level of sulfur will not cause health issues and you will probably not even notice its presence. But, when higher concentrations of sulfur are in your drinking water, the situation is more serious. One of the primary and more dangerous components of sulfur is hydrogen sulfide gas. This is the source of the “rotten egg” odor that often accompanies the presence of larger deposits of sulfur in nature. This foul odor should be taken as a warning sign that the water should not be ingested. There is another possible cause of a sulfur-like odor that’s caused by bacteria which may be present in private well water. Bacteria can be removed with well disinfection and the odor will disappear.

8.  Tarnished and Rusty Silverware

When you have high concentrations of iron in your water supply, it can tarnish and even corrode your silverware. This usually occurs in the dishwasher when iron sticks to the surface of your silver during the wash cycle. When you take the dishes out of the dishwasher and they are exposed to air, the iron is oxidized and rust is produced. High concentrations of iron can turn your water to a reddish/brown color leading to stains in sinks, tubs, shower trays, and on your laundry. If the water doesn’t have an unnatural color, the health risks are much lower, but this iron-rich water could still corrode your plumbing pipes and fixtures. The best way to deal with a high concentration of iron is to install a dedicated iron filter or you could install a water softener that can remove it.

If you want to learn more about improving the quality of your drinking water, contact your local water treatment specialist today.