What’s in the Water?

Onsite testing offers real-time results and gives water treatment professionals a base point from which to work

Water testing has certainly evolved from the ancient days of tasting and swirling water in the mouth like a good wine. Taste and odor are parameters that have taken on new meaning. What’s in the water? How did it get there? Is it harmful? Is it regulated? What are the limits of exposure, and what can be done to rid the water of undesirable contaminants?

Many contaminants are odorless, colorless and tasteless, and can only be detected by chemical testing. Some of these tests can only be done in a laboratory setting with highly specialized testing equipment, but many other tests can be performed in a local or onsite testing area. When it comes to testing, the scope of most water treatment dealers seems to be very limited, unless they are in an area where certain contaminants are known to occur or are highly publicized.

Most dealers offer free water testing as a method of getting their foot in the door to demonstrate products. The free test usually gives the salesperson a basic idea of the system necessary to treat the customer’s water, but the parameters are very limited. Dealers generally only test for hardness, iron and TDS, depending on what water treatment professionals in the area have established as rules of thumb. Because water is different throughout the world, experienced dealers tend to know what to look for in order to treat the water in their area. Hydrogen sulfide, chlorides, sulfates and a host of other contaminants might be tested to determine proper treatment; however, for the most part, the free test is very simplistic, and its purpose is to open the customer’s door.

Bacterial Testing

One of the many tests that dealers and homeowners often overlook is bacterial testing. The EPA recommends that private wells be tested once a year for Coliform bacteria. Other bacteria present may be responsible for health problems and foul-smelling water as well. Despite this, real estate transactions are usually the driving force behind much of the bacterial testing performed. This is because some states, counties, banks and mortgage companies have specific water testing requirements for homes with private wells that are being sold.

Although rarely performed, dealers should consider bacterial testing because heterotrophic plate counts and IRB (iron-reducing bacteria) or SRB (sulfate-reducing bacteria) tests can be used to determine if these contaminants are the culprit of foul-smelling water.

A careful assessment of water is necessary to find the appropriate solution to water quality issues. A one-size-fits-all or cookie-cutter approach is not the answer in every situation. In today’s information age, dealers need to add more testing equipment to their arsenal. Consumers are more educated and demand more information. The salesperson or service technician needs to be ready for an onslaught of questions.

Expanding Testing Parameters

The realm of testing varies from one area to another, but all dealers should strive for the same outcome—to find a solution to the consumer’s water quality issue. Dealers can find these solutions more quickly by expanding their testing parameters. Depending on the application, expanding parameters could be as simple as adding handheld testers for pH, TDS and temperature, or using ion-specific testers to test iron, manganese, chlorine, hardness, etc. Simple titration test kits offer an accuracy that can help a salesperson or service technician determine a problem while in the field and render a solution.

On the other hand, waiting for lab results can be time consuming, but this process can save dealers headaches later on. Laboratory testing offers countless testing parameters and a higher accuracy level. A lab analysis can uncover contaminants that onsite tests kits may miss, and these contaminants can significantly impact the type of treatment recommended.

Both field tests and lab tests have their place and uses, and a combination of both types is sometimes the best solution. A simple test, such as one for nitrates or arsenic, could be used as a signal to gather a sample to be tested by a lab. Even simple bacterial tests that are on the market should be followed up with more accurate results provided by a laboratory.

The key to proper water treatment is closely analyzing the water to be treated; determining how the water is to be used; and finding the end user’s desired result. The average homeowner does not require the same quality water that a pharmaceutical or electronics manufacturer would need, but testing is integral to the water treatment outcome in each case.

The effluent water source in many applications, such as bottled water, needs to be monitored on a regular basis to be sure the end user receives a quality product. Onsite testing offers real-time results so that any breach in a treatment system can be detected and corrected in a timely fashion to reduce product contamination and loss of revenue.

Onsite Testing

Onsite testing can be beneficial for both water treatment equipment dealers and bottled water companies. Dealers who test for more contaminants get a broader perspective of what’s in the water. With this information, dealers can set themselves apart from competitors by installing treatment systems that are less likely to fail or require callbacks. In addition, dealers can outfit salespeople with test kits or have them available for use in the office.

Some examples of contaminants recommended for testing would be TDS, iron, pH, manganese, nitrates, phosphates, sulfates, chlorides, alkalinity, hardness, dissolved oxygen, ORP (oxygen reduction potential), hydrogen sulfide, lead, copper and arsenic. The use of a lab for more extensive testing of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) or SOCs (synthetic organic compounds) or certain metals, such as arsenic, is always suggested to ensure good, healthy water.

Onsite testing is also beneficial for bottled water suppliers, but they should still use lab testing to determine the water quality of the source being processed and to meet the ongoing FDA and state testing requirements. After an initial evaluation and determination of water treatment needs, bottled water suppliers can use onsite testing to monitor the production of the bottling procedure. This helps ensure product quality and determines if there was a breach in the treatment system. Catching a system failure early could alleviate downtime, lost time in production or even a costly product recall.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, both onsite testing and lab testing have their place in water treatment. Each can offer an array of parameters and cost effectiveness. While the lab offers higher accuracy and more parameters, the cost of transportation and shipping can add to the cost of testing. In addition, false positives can occur if the sample is not handled properly, which adds to the total cost because new samples must be gathered and retested.

Onsite testing, on the other hand, offers real-time results and gives water treatment professionals a base point from which to work. Onsite testing can also help bottlers and manufacturers monitor treatment systems to help alleviate problems in production and reduce lost revenue.

Overall, onsite testing is an option that more water treatment professionals should consider. In residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural applications, this testing can increase the proficiency of operations.

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About the author

Marianne R. Metzger is general products business unit manager for National Testing Laboratories, Ltd., Cleveland, Ohio. She can be reached at 800.458.3330, ext. 223, or by e-mail at [email protected].
Jeffrey H. Roseman, CWS-V, is the owner of Aqua Ion Plus+ Technologies in La Porte, Ind. Roseman is a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of Water Quality Products. He can be reached at 219.362.7279, or by e-mail at [email protected]m.