Nothing is more refreshing after a strenuous work-out than drinking water. Although water is probably the most beneficial beverage on the planet, it can also carry significant health risks for the unwary drinker.

drinking water contaminantsWhat are drinking water contaminants?

Drinking water can contain millions of unexpected and unwanted particulates, compounds or even living organisms. The Safe Drinking Water Act defines the term “contaminant” as meaning any physical, chemical, biological, or radiological substance or matter in water. Therefore, the law defines “contaminant” very broadly as being anything other than water molecules.



Common contaminants fall into a few basic categories:




Let’s take a look at each type of contaminant and the problems they can cause.

Biological contaminants

drinking water contaminantsMicroorganisms

Cryptosporidium and giardia, the top two micro-organisms found in drinking water, can cause vomiting, diarrhea and cramps. Legionella, the third most common micro-organism found in water, causes Legionnaire’s Disease, a type of pneumonia.

Chemical Contaminants


We add disinfectants to water to help control microbial development. The disinfectants  can cause eye and nose irritation, stomach discomfort and anemia.  Chlorine dioxide can cause anemia and nervous system effects in infants and young children.

Disinfection byproducts

Disinfecting water produces potentially harmful byproducts. Although the hazardous chemicals appear in small concentration, all of these byproducts have been linked to increased risk for cancer. Chlorite is associated with anemia and, in infants and small children, nervous system effects. TTHMS are associated with liver, central nervous system and kidney problems.

Inorganic chemicals

Inorganic chemicals are generally types of metals and come from a variety of sources including:

  • erosion of natural deposits
  • discharge from different types of refineries, industries, factories, mills, and mines
  • run-off from waste batteries and paints, landfills and croplands, fertilizer usage
  • corrosion of pipeline and water distribution systems including household plumbing
  • leaking septic tanks and sewage
  • leaching from ore-processing sites

Chemicals include antimony, arsenic, asbestos, barium, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, copper, cyanide, fluoride, lead, mercury, nitrate, nitrite, selenium and thallium. The chemicals cause a host of problems including high blood pressure, kidney, liver and gastrointestinal damage, skin damage and increased risk of cancer.

Organic chemicals

Organic chemicals are compounds that contain the element carbon. Carbon tetrachloride, benzene, and vinyl chlorides are just three of a long list of organic chemicals currently found in water supplies. A more complete list can be found on the EPA website. These chemicals pose a threat to almost every system of the human body including skin, nervous system, circulatory system, liver, kidneys, spleen, thyroid glands, adrenal glands, reproductive system, eyes and stomach. In addition, they also put their victim at an increased risk for cancer.


Radiological chemicals contain small degrees of radiation. They are produced by the decay of radioactive substances.


The two most common radionuclides found in drinking water are radium and uranium. Both of these find their way into water sources through erosion of natural deposits. Prolonged ingestion of these contaminants can lead to kidney poisoning and increased risk of cancer.

Is your public system tap water safe?

Even public water supply systems are plagued with a variety of potentially harmful contaminants and micro-organisms. Although more regulated than private drinking water supplies from wells, public water systems frequently have outbreaks from contaminants.

Types of Contaminants

The CDC provides a list of the most common causes of outbreaks in the public water system.

Top 10 contaminants causing outbreaks in public water systems

Hepatitis A
E. coli, excess fluoride(tie)

There can be many sources of contamination of our water systems. Here is a list of the most common sources of contaminants:

  • Naturally occurring chemicals and minerals (for example, arsenic, radon, uranium)
  • Local land use practices (fertilizers, pesticides, livestock, concentrated animal feeding operations)
  • Manufacturing processes
  • Sewer overflows
  • Malfunctioning wastewater treatment systems (for example, nearby septic systems)

Health concerns

The presence of certain contaminants in our water can lead to health issues, including gastrointestinal illness, reproductive problems, and neurological disorders. Infants, young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and immuno-compromised persons may be especially susceptible to illness. Many harmful contaminants are regulated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA makes sure that water meets certain standards, so you can be sure that high levels of contaminants are not in your water.


Whether your drinking water comes from a private well or a public water system it can be contaminated. But, there is good news. Scientists and other water specialists have developed a number of methods for treating water – from private and public sources. Be sure to look for the second installment in this series to learn about Basic Water Treatment.


Is your drinking water contaminated? You cannot tell just by looking at it. Let us help. Call Knoxville Water Treatment today and schedule your free water testing appointment.

What is Hard Water?

hard water scale

Water Hardness scale by Danial David, image source courtesy:

Hard water is water that contains minerals. How do the minerals get into the water? As water flows through the ground it partially dissolves minerals through which it flows. Dissolved mineral particles, such as calcium and magnesium, then flow along, suspended in the water. Although calcium and magnesium are the most common minerals found in hard water, some water also contains ferrous iron, manganese, and hydrogen sulfide gas. Water treatment experts measure the hardness of water based on how many grains of contaminant are found per gallon of water.

Is Hard Water Really a Problem?

   The short answer?


calcium depositsHard water can cause a number of problems. Chalk-like calcium and magnesium leave residue on the insides of pipes known as scaling. Scaling will eventually clog pipes and cause serious plumbing problems.These minerals also reduce the effectiveness of soaps and detergents. Calcium and magnesium prevent soap and detergent from dissolving completely. They also bond with the undissolved soap and detergent to form a sticky coagulated curd.


hard water spots

This clumping of soap and detergent makes rinsing difficult. stained sinkHair washed in hard water eventually becomes dull and listless. Dishes, clothing, and even cars sport chalky-white streaks and spots.

Ferrous iron creates the nasty-looking rust stains in your sinks and manganese, often found with ferrous iron, leaves even nastier-looking black stains. Sometimes hard water also contains hydrogen sulfide gas. You’ll know your water has this problem if it has that characteristic “rotten egg” smell.

So, What Can You Do if You Have Hard Water?

hard water

You can deal with your hard water issue in a few different ways. 

Filters: Some people choose to use home water distillation or reverse osmosis appliances. Others install water filters either under the sink or on the faucet. While distillation and water filters can improve the taste of drinking water, they are far too expensive to be practical solutions household-wide.

hard water solutionsAdditives: Powdered chemicals such as Borax and baking soda, prove useful in reducing hard water problems in laundry. Even so, they make water undrinkable. They can be harsh on clothing and sometimes contain phosphates harmful to the environment. These issues also make them a non-reliable solution for treating hard water on a large scale.

hard water solutions

Descaling: Speaking of scale, descaling is another option many people choose for dealing with the damaging effects of hard water on pipes and fixtures. Descaling addresses the results of hard water on pipes, shower heads, and faucets. It uses industrial strength chemicals to “eat away” at the calcium, lime, and rust deposits. One problem with descaling is that once you add it into your main water line, you have to be sure to flush the whole system thoroughly before drinking water or bathing.  The other problem is that the chemicals can also potentially cause corrosion to your pipes themselves. If you want to descale your pipes, your best bet is to call a professional.hard water solution

Water Softeners: By far the most popular method of dealing with hard water is a water softener. They use a process of removing damaging minerals from the water without adding any corrosive chemicals. Water softeners come in a variety of sizes and styles to fit any situation. Easy to use, water softeners provide demineralization on a large scale and are unquestionably the most cost-effective means of dealing with hard water.


How to Know if You Have Hard Waterhard water test

This DIY test may give you semi-accurate results, but if you want to know for sure how many and which kind of minerals are in your water, you need to get it tested. Hardware stores and many online stores sell test kits you can use to test your water. Of course, your plumber can provide the most accurate testing — for free. If you do have hard water, you definitely want to talk to your plumber about options for dealing with the situation.



While the United States of America contains some of the safest drinking water in the world, our consumers should know the process behind community water treatment. These sites mostly provide surface water treatment. If you need specialized work, you should consider buying a unique water filter for your home or business.

The more you understand can help protect your family from waterborne germs and pathogens that do run through people’s water supplies. In recent memory, there was a case of e.coli affecting the well water at CLIMB works in Sevier County.

community water treatment site


1. Coagulation and Flocculation

In the community water treatment facility, their workers add positively-charged chemicals into the water supply. These positively-charged chemicals react to dirt and particles in the water and that binds the two particles together so they coagulate. When these bigger particles form, they’re called floc.

2. Sedimentation

The floc becomes heavy so it drifts to the bottom of the water supply for ease of separation. This process makes the floc easier to remove compared to the original smaller particles when workers continue into water filtration.

3. Filtration

As a result, the community’s water supply becomes clear on top. The water, then, passes through filters of different compositions like charcoal, gravel, and sand, and different pore sizes to remove dissolved particles. These particles can include dust, parasites, bacteria, viruses, and chemicals that one doesn’t want in their drinking water.

4. Disinfection

The workers will proceed to throw in a disinfectant into the filtrated water supply. For example, the popular choices are chlorine and chloramine, which kills any left-over germs so you can have safe drinking water. While there are safe levels of drinking chlorine in your community water, there are scientists who study the long-term, negative effects of drinking chlorine.

Why Should You Get a Home Water Treatment Unit?

When you purify your water with a home filtration system, you protect your family and friend from harmful toxins. You’ll find that extra chemicals, bacteria, and chlorine does get through community water treatment sites. Even if the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides regulations, they don’t inspect for all contaminants.

If you have a person in your home who has a compromised immune system, it’s best you don’t take the chance for them to fall ill, due to an unclean water supply. The right water filtration system protects your health and makes your drinking water taste great.

Waterworks is not just a piece of the Monopoly game board, but an actual industry that is quite complex. Water is a beloved topic to many because of its mysterious, but ever-present influence in our lives. Our bodies are made up of around 60% water and our hearts and brains, closer to 75%. Water will always be a highly studied subject and it’s for that reason, we’ve decided to compile this list of resources for anyone as in love with water as we are! Here are 8 water blogs and resources in the waterworks industry, and why you should check them out.

WEF WaterBlog – The Water Environment Federation

This WaterBlog is one of the greater resources of water information because it features interviews and information from water quality experts on the latest news, and ideas in the waterworks industry, while other blogs might focus on one or two specific water topics.

Centre for Alternative Wastewater Treatment

Another great resource for an abundance of scholarly information on all things water treatment, The Centre for Alternative Wastewater Treatment (CAWT) is at the School of Environmental and Natural Resource Sciences at Fleming College, a research institution that’s committed to excellent research and education production and presentation. The organization is head by a number of scientists, faculty researchers, and technologists, as well as other members of academic, industrial, and private organizations.

Drink Tap – American Water Works Association

Drink Tap is a resource written by the very organization who set the guidelines for waterworks standards. The AWWA was established in 1181 and is the oldest, largest non-profit dedicated to safe and sustainable water practices. They’ve been responsible for many advancements of public health safety by uniting the community about important water topics.

Water Main Break Clock – Unibell (PVC) Pipe Manufacturer

Each day, 850 water mains break in North America. This site features a clock that shows you how many have occurred today alone! Corrosion, leaks, and water main breaks are responsible for the degradation of our water delivery and sewage treatment efficiency, so this topic is important, too. – Water and Sanitation Advocates

Founded by Matt Damon and Gary White, is a non-profit dedicated to clean water and solving sanitation problems around the world. This organization has put pressure on the water industry to form new solutions, it’s financed these solutions, and emphasizes transparency and partnerships to further this movement. They hope that one day ALL people will have safe drinking water and the use of toilets.

Pump Aid – Water Treatment Pumps in Africa

Pump Aid is an organization that funds and installs water treatment pumps in Africa, to remove waste from existing water lines and provide the residents with cleaner water. Pump Aid is well-known for its “Elephant Pump”, named for its shape because it resembles a trunk and ears. Over 7,600 Elephant Pumps have been installed in Africa where residents once suffered from a lack of water.

Water World – News/Magazine Style Information Output

Water World is an easier read for water and wastewater info. Its website is an impressive online news platform that many engineers, managers, and constultants frequent for the most up to date, trending information on water and wastewater worldwide.

Water Chat – Water Strategist – Another Online Water News Source

The Water Strategist is another valuable news source for anyone working in or who is interested in the topic of water conservation, treatment, and waste solutions because it’s considered a community that is partnered with over 250 other organizations who contribute to the database that provides the latest news releases.


Water testing is recommended for well owners, if the water changes in taste, appearance, or odor, once if you’ve moved into a new home or area of the city, if the septic system has recently malfunctioned or some other circumstances that would cause you to worry about contamination, recurring gastrointestinal illness in the family/residents of the home, if or when an infant is residing in the home, and to monitor the efficiency regularly of any at-home water treatment equipment you are employing.

If you don’t know when you should test your water beyond these suggestions, you can contact your local health and/or environmental agency for the recommendations for your area. At-home water testing kits are available, otherwise you can employ a professional like any other home service such as a plumber or electrician, or your water works company. If you do a home water test and you are unsure how to interpret the results, a professional can help you interpret them as well.

Some common markers to look for are:

Coliform Bacteria

This is the most common marker for bacterial contaminants. The presence of this element is an indicator of contamination of human or animal waste. Total Coliform is a broad category of bacteria and poses little threat to humans unless the number is incredibly high. The marker can also be caused by soil, vegetation, insects and others. This marker is important because it gives you a place to begin, so future water testing can indicate whether or not your water condition is worsening. If fecal matter is a concern, further testing can determine if it’s a matter in need of attention, such as the e-coli test.


Nitrates typically come from fertilizers, septic systems, animal manure, and sewer lines. It can also occur naturally in the breakdown process of soil and rocks. High levels indicate a health risk and additional testing will be necessary to check for other markers of bacteria and pesticides. This particular contaminant is especially harmful to babies and children and should not be used to mix with formula or food.

Other Natural Contaminants

As previously mentioned, your city or state may have guidelines for which testing will best suit your region. Some water-quality concerns in certain areas may include arsenic and radon testing. Arsenic ca occur in water that comes into contact with certain types of rock and soil and Radon is a colorless, odorless, and taste-free gas that comes from radioactivity of uranium in the ground. Areas that are at risk for Radon exposure have to test both the air and water, because they can be ingested into the body by both.

Other parts of home water testing including checking the PH balance and hardness, iron, manganese, and sulfides that can cause problems with plumbing, staining things it comes into contact with, the way the water appears, its odor, and how it feels on your body and hair. If your water appears cloudy or oily, your fixtures become visibly disturbed, or water treatment equipment seems to have malfunctioned, be sure to bring in a professional prior to consuming or using any more of the water.


A municipal water disaster can present itself without warning. The potential for adverse health effects can be great. Contact your city’s municipal water department for the latest report on the safety and quality of your water. The following are examples of water disasters that took the residents of these cities by surprise.

Most recently the Flint Michigan water disaster comes to mind. Flint had switched using the Detroit water system to using the Flint River. Soon after, high levels of lead were detected in tested homes. The water from the river was corrosive to the city water pipes which leached lead into the water supply. Lead poisoning can cause organ damage. In children it can cause brain damage.

Our nations capitol Washington, D.C. faced a water crisis when it was discovered that their lead levels were unacceptable. It was found that the change from using chlorine to chloramine caused premature pipe corrosion resulting in lead leaching into the water supply.

Cryptosporidium, a parasite, lives in the intestines of infected humans and animals. Feces from hosts can enter municipal water supplies by farm runoff and storm water. Milwaukee Wisconsin had a cryptosporidiosis outbreak in 1993 which caused illness to 400,000 people. Of which at least 69 people died. This incident became the largest documented waterborne disease outbreak in U.S. History. Cryptosporidium oocysts are tiny and were able to pass through the water facility’s filtration system. Milwaukee has put in place practices that has improved water quality security including water monitoring equipment and updated filters.

In 2014, the Toledo , Ohio metropolitan area residents were under an order not to drink or cook with the water. Samples taken from a water treatment plant indicated a toxin call microcystin. This toxin was a result of a large bloom of algae on Lake Erie. Microcystins form with the conditions of warm stagnant water and oversupply of nutrients. Fertilizer runoff from cropland contributing to the process. Ingestion of this toxin can cause liver damage.

It is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to have an emergency supply of water in an event of a water crisis. Your water supply should include one gallon of water per person for three days. Ideally This water should be commercially bottled and sealed to ensure its safety. Rotate out bottles with close expiration dates. Include extra water if you have pets.

The loudest indicator you may want to get your water checked out is if it contains a funny taste, color, or odor. There may not be anything wrong with the water, just like seemingly clean water may have unwanted contaminants. Water that smells might have high levels of hydrogen sulfide or sulfur bacteria. Taste and color can vary along with many properties found in water. All these things can easily be explained with quick and simple testing.

If you’ve moved into a new home, especially if you’ve purchased a home, it’s a great time to test your water and make any adjustments necessary to optimize your water supply. If over time you realize that your water use appliances are working less efficiently or have residue build up, this is another indicator that your water levels should be checked and optimized for the life of your appliances, as well as other fixtures around the home. Another instance you may want to call a professional is if there is a resident in the home with a compromised immune system and you want to take the most precautions possible.

If you’ve found yourself in any of these situations, you can find yourself a local water treatment professional and make an appointment for them to come to the home and test.. Another option is to take a sample of the water yourself and mail it to a qualified laboratory for testing. If done in the home, the test only takes but ten minutes. Some of the things being tested for are the following: bacteria, micro-organisms, hardness, PH, acidity, alkalinity, sulfur, nitrite, nitrate, metals, chlorine and pesticides.

Once the results are obtained, you or your water treatment professional will be able to compare what you’ve got against the recommendations for safe levels of each element. From there you will be given the appropriate suggestions to modify your home to eliminate or balance any issues. This may include installing water filters (of many sizes, placements, types and purposes) or a water softener, and further water testing appointments in the future!

Somewhat common and potentially poisonous elements that could be found in your water include fluoride, chlorine, many types of pesticides and gasoline additives. These things can cause serious damage to vital organs with long term exposure. Testing is an excellent first step and beyond that, you may decide to just use the water for certain purposes and purchase drinking water you know is pure. A simple test is worth the time and expense if you aren’t already aware of what kind of water you are working with!