Is your drinking water safe? The only way to find out is to test it periodically--once a year or more often. Who can do the tests?
One possibility is a mail-order water testing firm that delivers high quality results at reasonable prices, such as the WaterTest Corporation of Manchester, NH. The cost of their service includes the cost of door-to- door overnight sample pickup, sampling bottles, instructions for taking the samples, and a chemical pack that freezes samples so they arrive at the New Hampshire laboratory fresh. You receive written results in 6 to 10 days, a booklet that helps you interpret the results, plus access to WaterTest's technical staff on an 800 hotline phone.
WaterTest has three basic groups of tests they perform; the simplest, called the Basic Test, costs $54.95 and is recommended if you drink from a well, if you purchase water from a public supply that's drawn from a well, or if there have been reports of bacterial problems in your water supply. The Basic Test covers 10 common measures of water quality: fluoride, chloride, pH, hardness, copper, iron, manganese, sodium, nitrates, and bacteria. The Standard Test covers everything in the Basic Test plus lead, mercury, arsenic, chromium, silver, selenium, barium, cadmium, zinc, nickel, calcium, sulfate, potassium, magnesium, total dissolved solids, and alkalinity. The federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) requires this test once each year for all public water supplies. (Twenty percent of all public systems fail this test, and the public is almost never told.) The federal law does not cover private wells, so if you drink from a well, you're on your own.
If you suspect the presence of hazardous organic chemicals, you should consider WaterTest's SuperTest; it's $174.95 and it covers everything in the Standard Test, plus 33 organic chemicals: carbon tetrachloride, 1,2-dichloroethane, 1,1dichloroethane, 1,1,2,2-tetrachloroethane, 2-chlorovinyl ether, 1,1-dichloroethylene, 1,2-dichloropropane, methylene chloride, methyl bromide, tetrachloroethylene (PCE), dichlorodifluoromethane, dichlorobromomethane, chlorodibromomethane, chloroform, bromoform, benzene, ethylbenzene, 1,4-dichlorobenzene, 1,2-dichlorobenzene, chlorobenzene, 1,1,1-trichloroethane, 1,1,2- trichloroethane, chloroethane, trichlorofluoromethane, 1,2-trans-dichloroethylene, 1,3-dichloropropylene, chloromethane, trichloroethylene (TCE), ethylene dibromide (EDB), vinyl chloride, toluene, chlorobenzene, and 1,3-dichlorobenzene.
These 33 organic compounds represent typical chemicals found in dry cleaning, gasoline stations, manufacturing, toxic dumps, and household garbage. WaterTest will test for the 33 organics alone for $104.95.
A test for bacteria alone in your water supply costs $29.95, and a test for lead alone costs $31.95. A test (called GC-608) for 20 pesticides costs $400. WaterTest will also do special tests (for example, PCBs) on request.
If you check prices locally from certified laboratories, you will see that WaterTest is competitive; the quality of their service is widely respected.
For more information, contact Kent Threlfall at WaterTest, 33 S. Commercial St., Manchester, NH 03101-
2610; phone 800-426-8378.
--Peter Montague, Ph.D.
Descriptor terms: drinking water; testing; sdwa; watertest corporation;