5 Things You Need to Know Before Testing your Drinking Water

Posted on June 23, 2020

Testing your Drinking Water

There’s a saying that we shouldn’t “judge the book by its cover”, and the same concept can be applied to drinking water: Visual inspection or taste doesn’t always tell you if the water is safe to drink. To ensure your drinking water is safe (or “potable”), CARO provides water testing services for a suite of parameters that include inorganics, organics, metals and microorganisms, all of which may have significant health impacts.

If you’re still on the fence about getting your water tested, or wondering how to make the science happen, you’ve come to the right place! CARO is an iso-accredited laboratory that will help you understand what is in your drinking water, so you can hydrate with complete peace of mind. Here are the who, what, when, where and how surrounding drinking water testing:

1. WHY should I test my water?

According to the Canadian Water and Wastewater Association, more than 14-15% of all Canadians rely on private wells. There are many factors that can affect the quality of your well water and many actions that can be done to prevent contamination, but the journey to safe water cannot begin until you know what is in your water. Groundwater contamination can occur as easily as movement between contaminated and clean aquifers, and the water coming out of your tap has contacted a lot of piping before reaching your sink.

2. WHEN should I test my water?

Any new source of water should be tested before consumption to be sure that the water is safe, with the Essential Drinking Water package being conducted subsequently every five years. HealthLinkBC’s Well Water Testing program provides a recommended general assessment of drinking water quality. If your home or business is in an older builder, more frequent testing (annually, for example) may be considered to monitor for metal leaching. Health Canada recommends that private owners have their water tested every six months for total coliforms and E. coli, and every two years for a complete potability assessment.

3. WHO should test their water?

If you own your own private source of water, it’s your obligation to keep it clean and monitored. If you draw your water from a public source it is likely already tested on a routine basis, but it never hurts to learn what is coming out of your taps. In many cases, contaminated tap water is the result of fixtures and plumbing in your home rather than source contamination.

4. WHAT parameters should I be testing for?

The Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality, as issued and maintained by Health Canada, provide a detailed summary of the contaminants that could lead to adverse health effects and which may be detected in water sources across Canada. CARO offers an Essential Drinking Water Test Kit that covers the more common contaminants from this list, including:

  1. Total coliforms and E.coli can be present as a result of nearby septic systems, sewage discharges, and domestic or wild animal life. E.coli is considered the best indicator of fecal contamination with the possibility to carry pathogens. Total Coliform is a primary indicator of “potability”, or suitability for consumption, of drinking water.
  2. Heavy metals occur naturally in groundwater in many regions, however, elevated levels of certain metals can be harmful:
    • Uranium and Arsenic are common metals of concern in the BC interior. Arsenic is an odorless and tasteless
      semimetal that occurs naturally in the earth and the seas. Consumption of food and water are the major sources
      of arsenic exposure, most of which originate from industrial activity. Much like Arsenic, Uranium occurs naturally
      in the Earth’s crust and is therefore found in low concentrations in groundwater. Elevated Uranium concentrations are often the result of leaching from concentrated natural deposits and various industrial activities. Drinking water wells are susceptible to pollutants from weathering, and surface-related arsenic and uranium are easily distributed by rain and snow weathering the ground.
    • Lead and Copper can be concerns in homes with brass fixtures, lead solders and fittings, or copper pipes. Although copper poisoning from water is rare, it does happen. Copper contamination usually occurs from corrosion in the water delivery system, as Copper piping and fittings are widely used in household plumbing. The longer water has stood idle in the pipes, the more likely it is to have dissolved copper from the surrounding plumbing. It may come as a surprise, but this effect is even more pronounced in newer homes, as the pipes haven’t developed a coating to help insulate the water passing through. Short-term exposure to high levels of copper can cause
      gastrointestinal distress. Long-term exposure and severe cases of copper poisoning can cause anemia and disrupt
      liver and kidney functions.
    • Lead is a neurotoxin, a carcinogen, and a heavy metal that bioaccumulates in the body. Children and pregnant
      mothers are the most vulnerable since even extremely low levels of exposure are toxic and very difficult to
      eliminate. Lead gets into the water most commonly from the corrosion of plumbing parts. Hardness in water is caused by dissolved calcium, magnesium, and mineral ions, and is often reported alongside your metals data. Hard water is not harmful from a health perspective but it can lead to scaling in pipes and water heaters, which can cause energy loss in your home’s water system (boilers, cooling systems, plumbing,
      and heating appliances.)
  3. Agricultural contamination from nearby farming activity may include nitrogen compounds.
    Nitrate (NO3) and Nitrite (NO2) for example, are usually introduced into groundwater by leaching of chemical
    fertilizers, animal manure, or groundwater pollution from septic or sewage discharge. Health Canada
    recommends screening private water supplies for nitrate and nitrite periodically, with those drawing water from
    shallow sources to test at least once a year.
  4. General drinking water parameters relate to the physical characteristics of your water. Many of these parameters
    impact the aesthetics of your water, including taste, smell and colour. Although many do not carry a maximum
    threshold according to the Canadian Drinking Water Quality Guidelines, they are limits based on aesthetics

Testing your Drinking Water

5. WHERE do I get the supplies I need to test my water?

CARO’s online store is a great place to start! You don’t need to know what supplies you need – just order the testing you would like based on the information above, and we will send you everything you need to take the sample and get it back to the lab.

Science is easy!*
*science is not actually easy, but we can help make it easy for you.

Extra: HOW accurate are the results?

CARO provides routine data down to part per million (ppm) levels, which is approximately the volume equivalent of one second in 11.5 days. The quality of our data is verified through our accreditation body (CALA) and is based on international ISO17025 standards for testing laboratories. We also undergo routine audits and inter-lab comparison studies to ensure only the highest quality data is released to our clients (who include cities, municipalities, government agencies, and private individuals).


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