When it comes to the safety and security of the water that is flowing to your homes and through your faucets, it’s imperative that you are aware of what pollutants you might be up against in order to make informed decisions on how to best tackle them and subsequently, get rid of them altogether.
Continuing on with the “Know Your Enemy” series that us here at Water Filter Planet have created to better arm you with the right information regarding water safety, today we bring you two more contaminants that are often found in water systems here in American and all around the world: copper and Cryptosporidium.
What is copper?
Copper is a metal found in natural deposits such as ores containing other elements.
What is copper for?
Copper is widely used in household plumbing materials.
What health effects can copper influence?
Some people who ingest water that have copper in excess of the action level may, with short term exposure, go through gastrointestinal distress, and with long-term exposure may suffer liver or kidney damage. People with Wilson’s Disease should also talk with their physician if the amount of copper in their water is more than the action level.
What are Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) drinking water regulations for copper?
In 1974, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act. This law mandates EPA to examine the level of contaminants in drinking water at which no negative health effects are likely to happen. These non-enforceable health goals, based on potential health risks and exposure over a lifetime with a sufficient margin of safety, are called maximum contaminant level goals (MCLG). Pollutants are any physical, chemical, biological or radiological substances or matter in water.
The MCLG for copper is 1.3 mg/L or 1.3 ppm. EPA has established this level of protection based on the best available science to keep potential health problems from happening.
For most pollutants, EPA sets an enforceable regulation called a maximum contaminant level (MCL) based on the MCLG. MCLs are set as close to the MCLGs as feasible, considering cost, benefits and the ability of public water systems to detect and remove contaminants using suitable treatment technologies. However, because copper contamination of drinking water often results from corrosion of the plumbing materials belonging to water system customers, EPA established a treatment technique rather than an MCL for copper. A treatment technique is an enforceable procedure or level of technological performance which water systems must follow to ensure control of a contaminant. The treatment technique regulation for copper (referred to as the Lead and Copper rule) requires water systems to control the corrosivity of the water. The regulation also requires systems to collect tap samples from sites served by the system that are more likely to have plumbing materials containing lead. If more than 10 percent of tap water samples exceed the copper action level of 1.3 milligrams per Liter (mg/L), water systems must take additonal steps to reduce corrosiveness.
EPA passed the Lead and Copper Rule in 1991, and updated the regulation in 2000 and in 2007. States may set more rigid regulation for copper in drinking water than EPA.
How does copper get into drinking water?
The primary sources of copper in drinking water are corrosion of household plumbing systems; and erosion of natural deposits. Copper goes into the water (“leaches”) through contact with the plumbing. Copper leaches into water through corrosion – a dissolving metal due to a chemical reaction between water and plumbing. Copper can leach into water mainly from pipes, but fixtures and faucets (brass), and fittings can also contribute to the said leaching. The amount of copper in your water also relies on the kinds and amounts of minerals in the water, how long the water stays in the pipes, the amount of wear in the pipes, the water’s acidity and its temperature.
How will I know if copper is in my drinking water?
If you are wary about copper in your drinking water, have the water checked for copper by a certified laboratory. Since you cannot see, taste, or smell copper dissolved in water, testing is the only surefire means of knowing whether there are dangerous quantities of lead in your drinking water. You should be particularly suspicious if your home has copper pipes. Testing is especially important in high-rise buildings where flushing might not work.
How can a public water system eliminate copper from drinking water supplied to my house?
EPA has established that public water suppliers can utilize corrosion control, which is an efficient treatment method to lessen the amount of copper in drinking water.
How do I learn more about copper and my drinking water?
It is important for people to learn more about their drinking water, and to back local efforts to protect the supply of safe drinking water and upgrade the community water system. Your water bill or telephone book’s government listings are a good starting point for more information and significant data.
Get in touch with your water utility. EPA requires all community water systems to prepare and deliver an annual consumer confidence report (CCR) for their customers by July 1 of each year. If your water provider is not a community water system, or if you have a private water supply, request a copy from a nearby community water system.
What characteristic of Cryptosporidium and Giardia makes them resistant to disinfection?
The formation of oocysts, in the cases of Cryptosporidium, and cysts, in the cases of Giardia, make them resistant to disinfection.
What are pathogens?
Insufficiently treated water may hold disease-causing organisms, or pathogens. Pathogens are comprised of different kinds of bacteria, viruses, protozoan parasites, and other organisms.
What pathogens does EPA regulate in drinking water, and what are their impacts on health?
|Pathogen||Definition and Health Effects|
|Cryptosporidium||Cryptosporidium is a single-celled protozoan parasite commonly found in lakes and rivers, especially when the water is contaminated with sewage and animal waste. Cryptosporidiumcan cause gastrointestinal illness (e.g., diarrhea, vomiting, cramps).|
|Giardia lamblia||Giardia lamblia is a single-celled protozoan parasite that lives in the intestine of infected humans or animals. It is found on surfaces or in soil, food, or water that has been contaminated with the feces from infected humans or animals. Giardia lamblia can cause symptoms such as nausea, cramps, diarrhea, and associated headaches.|
|Legionella||Legionella bacteria are found naturally in the environment, usually in water. The bacteria grow best in warm water, like the kind found in hot tubs, cooling towers, hot water tanks, large plumbing systems, or parts of the air-conditioning systems of large buildings. Legionella bacteria in water are a health risk if the bacteria are aerosolized (e.g., in an air conditioning system or a shower) and then inhaled. Inhalation can result in a type of pneumonia known as Legionnaires disease.|
|Viruses (enteric)||Enteroviruses are small viruses that live in the intestines of infected humans or animals. This group includes the polioviruses, coxsackieviruses, echoviruses, and other enteroviruses. In addition to the three different polioviruses, there are 62 non-polio enteroviruses that can cause disease in humans: 23 Coxsackie A viruses, 6 Coxsackie B viruses, 28 echoviruses, and 5 other enteroviruses.4 Illness from viruses ranges from gastroenteritis caused by viruses such as rotavirus and norovirus (Norwalk-like virus) to meningitis caused by echovirus to myocarditis caused by Coxsackie B.|
What are indicators?
Indicators are physical, chemical, or other variables whose presence at a level outside of particular limits may reflect an issue in the treatment procedure or in the integrity of the distribution system.
What indicators does EPA regulate in drinking water, and how do they reflect problems?
|Turbidity||Turbidity refers to cloudiness of water. Turbidity has no health effects, but can interfere with disinfection and provide a medium for microbial growth. Turbidity may indicate the presence of disease-causing organisms. These organisms include bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can cause symptoms such as nausea, cramps, diarrhea and associated headaches.|
|Total coliforms||Coliforms are bacteria that are naturally present in the environment and used as an indicator that other, potentially harmful, bacteria may be present. Coliforms found in more samples than allowed is a warning of potential problems.|
|Fecal coliform and Escherichia coli (E. coli)||Fecal coliform and E. coli are bacteria whose presence indicates that water may be contaminanted by human or animal wastes. Microbes in these wastes can cause short term effects, such as diarrhea, cramps, nausea, headaches, or other symptoms. They may pose a special health risk for infants, young children, and people with severely compromised immune systems.|
|Fecal indicators (Enterococci or coliphage)||Fecal indicators are microbes whose presence indicates that the water may be contaminated with human or animal wastes. Coliphage are viruses that infect the bacterium E. coli.Enterococci are bacterial indicators of fecal contamination. Microbes in these wastes can cause short-term health effects, such as diarrhea, cramps, nausea, headaches, or other symptoms. They may pose a special health risk for infants, young children, some of the elderly, and people with severely compromised immune systems.|
What are EPA’s drinking water regulations for pathogens and indicators?
A treatment technique is an enforceable process or level of technological performance which public water systems must follow to ensure control of a contaminant. States may set a more stringent MCL or treatment technique level for pathogens and indicators in drinking water than EPA.
|Treatment Techniques Pertaining to Pathogens|
|Pathogen||MCLG||Treatment Technique and Regulation(s)|
|Cryptosporidium||Zero||Surface Water Treatment Rule requirements:
Systems using surface water or ground water under the direct influence of surface water (GWUDI) must disinfect and filter their water so that 99 percent of Cryptosporidiumoocysts are removed or inactivated (killed). Unfiltered systems (systems that meet criteria for avoiding filtration) are required to include Cryptosporidiumin their existing watershed control provisions.
|Giardia lamblia||Zero||Surface Water Treatment Rule requirements:
Systems using surface water or GWUDI must disinfect and filter their water so that 99.9 percent of Giardia lamblia is removed or inactivated. Unfiltered systems (systems that meet criteria for avoiding filtration) are also required to include Giardia lamblia in their existing watershed control provisions.
|Viruses||Zero||Surface Water Treatment Rule requirements:
Systems using surface water or GWUDI must disinfect and filter their water so that 99.99 percent of viruses are removed or inactivated.For Ground Water Rule requirements pertaining to viruses, see “Fecal Indicators” in the Indicators table below.
|Legionella||Zero||Surface Water Treatment Rule requirements:
Systems using surface water or GWUDI must (1) disinfect their water, and (2) filter their water or meet criteria for avoiding filtration.There is no limit specific to Legionella, but EPA believes that if Giardia lamblia and viruses are removed/inactivated according to the treatment techniques in the surface water treatment rules, Legionella will be controlled.
|Treatment Techniques and MCLs Pertaining to Indicators|
|Indicator||MCLG||Treatment Techniques and MCLs and Regulation(s)|
|Turbidity||No MCLG||Surface Water Treatment Rule requirements:
|Total coliforms||Zero||Total Coliform Rule requirements:
Systems are required to take samples for total coliforms based on the population served, source type and vulnerability to contamination. No more than 5.0 percent of samples for total coliforms can be positive in one month. (For systems that collect fewer than 40 routine samples per month, no more than one sample can be total coliform-positive per month). If a sample tests positive for total coliforms, the system must collect a set of repeat samples within 24 hours, and also analyze for fecal coliform or E. coli.
|Fecal coliforms and E. coli||Zero||Total Coliform Rule requirements:
For Ground Water Rule requirements pertaining to E. coli, see Enterococci, and coliphage in the Indicators table below.
|Fecal indicators (Enterococci or coliphage), and E. coli||Coliphage and Enterococci: No MCLG
E. coli: Zero
|Ground Water Rule:
Public water systems that use ground water* must take corrective action if a sufficient deficiency is identified, or if the initial source sample (if required by the state) or one of the five additional ground water source samples tests positive for fecal contamination (E. coli, Enterococci, or coliphage). The systems must implement at least one of the following corrective actions:
The following drinking water regulations apply to pathogens and indicators:
• Total Coliform Rule
The Total Coliform Rule set both health goals and legal limits for total coliform levels in drinking water. The rule also details the type and frequency of testing that water systems must do.
• Surface Water Treatment Rule (SWTR)
The Surface Water Treatment Rule seeks to prevent waterborne diseases caused by viruses, Legionella, and Giardia lamblia. These disease-causing microbes are present at varying concentrations in most surface waters. The rule requires that water systems filter and disinfect water from surface water sources to reduce the occurrence of unsafe levels of these microbes.
• Interim Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule (IESWTR)
The Interim Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule improves control of microbial contaminants, particularly Cryptosporidium, in systems using surface water, or ground water under the direct influence of surface water, that serve 10,000 or more persons. The rule builds upon the treatment technique requirements of the Surface Water Treatment Rule.
• Filter Backwash Recycling Rule (FBRR)
The Filter Backwash Recycling Rule requires public water systems (PWSs) to review their backwash water recycling practices to ensure that they do not compromise microbial control.
• Long Term 1 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule (LT1ESWTR)
The Long Term 1 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule strengthens control of microbial contaminants, particularly Cryptosporidium, for small systems—those systems serving fewer than 10,000 people. It is the smaller system counterpart of the Interim Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule.
• Long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule (LT2ESWTR)
LT2 rule is to reduce illness linked with the contaminant Cryptosporidium and other disease-causing microorganisms in drinking water.
• Ground Water Rule (GWR)
Ground Water Rule specifies the appropriate use of disinfection while addressing other components of ground water systems to ensure public health protection.
The Safe Drinking Water Act requires EPA to review the national primary drinking water regulation for each contaminant and update the regulation, if needed, based on new scientific information.
How do pathogens and indicators get into my drinking water?
When routine monitoring determines that pathogen or indicator levels are in violation of a treatment process or above a maximum contaminant level, your water supplier must take measures to boost treatment operations such as upgrading filtration or raising disinfection to diminish pathogens levels and indicators so that the system returns to compliance. Water suppliers must let their customers know within the period of time specified in EPA’s Public Notification Rule as described below. More actions, such as delivering alternative drinking water supplies or suggesting that consumers boil their water before consumption, may be needed to keep dangerous risks to public health.
When must water suppliers inform their customers of a violation?
|Pathogen or Indicator||Public Notification Requirements|
|Cryptosporidium, Giardia lamblia, Legionella or viruses||Water suppliers must notify their customers as soon as practical, but no later than 24 hours after the system learns of the violation.|
|Total coliforms||When a non-acute/monthly MCL violation for total coliforms occurs (more than one total coliform-positive sample in a month for systems that take fewer than 40 samples/month; greater than 5.0% total coliform-positive samples for systems that take at least 40 samples/month), water suppliers must notify the state as soon as practical after the supplier learns of the violation and notify their customers no later than 30 days after the system learns of the violation.|
|Fecal coliform or E. coli||When an acute MCL violation for total coliforms occurs (if a repeatsample tests positive for total coliform following a fecal coliform positive or E. coli positive routine sample or a repeat sample tests positive for fecal coliform or E. coli), water suppliers must notify the state and their customers as soon as practical, but no later than 24 hours after the system learns of the violation. When a routinesample tests positive for fecal coliform or E. coli, water suppliers must notify the state within 24 hours, but public notification is not required because this is not an acute MCL violation. The water supplier must take steps to reduce the amount of fecal coliform or E. coli to meet the MCL. Also, when the water system fails to test for fecal coliform or E. coli when any repeat sample tests positive for total coliforms, water suppliers must notify customers as soon as practical, but no later than 24 hours after the system learns of the violation.|
|Turbidity||When turbidity exceeds the maximum allowable limit (e.g., 1 NTU for conventional or direct filtration), water suppliers must notify the state within 24 hours. For violations of the 95th percentile limit (e.g., greater than 0.3 NTU for conventional or direct filtration), water suppliers must notify their customers as soon as practical, but no later than 30 days after the system learns of the violation.|
|Fecal indicators (Coliphage or Enterococci)||Water suppliers must notify their customers as soon as practical, but no later than 30 days after the system learns of the violation.|
How are pathogens and indicators removed from my drinking water?
|Pathogen or Indicator||Treatment methods proven to be effective for removal or inactivation|
|Cryptosporidium||Disinfection with ultraviolet light or ozone and/or filtration.|
|Giardia lamblia||Disinfection and/or filtration.|
|Legionella||Disinfection and/or filtration.|
|Viruses (enteric)||Disinfection and/or filtration.|
|Total coliforms, fecal Coliform, E. coli (NOT including E. coli O157:H7)and Fecal Indicators (Coliphage or Enterococci)||Disinfection with chlorine, ultra-violet light or ozone, all of which act to kill or inactivate E. coli. Systems using surface water sources are required to disinfect to ensure that bacteria are inactivated.|
To learn more about the first pollutants that we tackled in this series: chlorine and E. Coli, just head over here.
To find out what the health effects of drinking unfiltered water are, just click here.
And before installing a water filter for your household, make sure you are picking the right one by arming yourself with the right information on what’s best for your particular situation.