Whether your water is from a well or municipality, use a state certified lab to test your water. The EPA keeps a list of agencies by state to find a lab in your area.
Whether you have municipal water or well water, you should have it tested for contaminates. What you test for and how often depends on your budget and what your water supply is potentially exposed to.
Testing Well Water
Well water can become contaminated from a variety of sources. It can be from an improperly constructed or damaged well or septic system. It can be from bacteria living inside the well, well casing, or plumbing, or it can be from runoff of any number of places, like landfills, farms, or industries. Naturally occurring deposits can lead to elevated concentration of many contaminates as well.
Your local health department or state certified lab may be able to council you on the potential contaminates your drinking water might be exposed to.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends having well water tested annually by a lab certified in your state. They maintain a list of certified officers by state, with a link to approved labs in each specific state.
Testing Municipal Water
While municipalities are required by the EPA to produce annual water quality reports, they do not cover any potential sources of contamination along the distribution line from the main source to your home, such as lead from soldering in plumbing or lead pipes.
How Much will it cost?
Pricing depends on what lab you choose and what contaminates you are looking for. The more contaminates you test for, the more expensive the report will be. A simple test for an individual contaminate can cost $5, whereas a robust test can cost $250 or more.
Online laboratories offer competitive pricing, but may not be certified in a given state and cannot provide a certifiable “chain of custody” since they do not collect the samples, but instead rely on the consumer to provide the samples.
What About Home Test Kits?
Home test kits are available in hardware stores, department stores, and online stores, such as Amazon. While cheaper than having an independent laboratory testing your water, home test kits are less reliable, and don’t provide the benefit of a report detailing helpful information.
What If My Water Is Contaminated?
If your water is contaminated, follow the advice of your testing lab or contact your local health department. Different contaminates require different treatments. Issues with wells can be addressed structurally and with chemicals. For municipal water, you will be required to work with your local health department, unless if contamination originates from your home, such as the case with lead soldering or lead pipes.
For drinking water, consider a water filtration system. Don’t forget about the water you use to brush your teeth or shower, this may require filtration as well if contaminate levels are high enough.
- National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) Directory of Local Health Departments by State http://www.naccho.org/about/lhd/
- EPA Directory of State Certified Labs: http://water.epa.gov/scitech/drinkingwater/labcert/statecertification.cfm