Tis the Season – for Water Main Breaks?

Tis the Season – for Water Main Breaks?

 It’s that time of year again when the temperature dips and those of us located in the northern United States can experience some pretty treacherous weather.  Over the last couple of years this colder weather seems to have migrated further south, including a freak snow storm in Atlanta last year and significantly lower temperatures in Texas and other surrounding states.  

With the cold weather, comes the increased possibility of water mains and pipes bursting and wreaking havoc. Pipes and mains are affected more so in colder weather due to the expansion and contraction of the pipe material, making it weaker. Even a 10°change in temperature of air or water can cause significant stress on the pipes.     Other things, including the material that makes up the pipe, corrosion, soil condition, infrastructure age and ground movement also contribute to breaks. 

Water main breaks can lead to water pouring into streets and freezing causing problems for motorist and backing up traffic.  Customers in the area of the break may experience a shut off of water while repairs are being made.  Additionally, if customers do have access to water they may be under a boil advisory.  There are approximately 250,000 water main breaks every year in the United States, which breaks down to 685 per day.  That’s a lot of people inconvenienced every day.

For those with water treatment equipment, knowing what to do can be confusing.  Many just assume that “water treatment equipment” may take care of it.   This is not necessarily the case. Water softeners or ion exchange systems mainly reduce hardness minerals, so there is no protection against bacterial contamination. If an Ultraviolet Light is part of the equipment, then there is some protection against events that lead to bacteria in water.  Those who have Reverse Osmosis units have some additional protection, as they can filter out some particles, including some microbiological contaminants.  Reverse osmosis units have small pore sizes which are effective at removing small particles and some bacteria. However, studies show that living organisms can “squeeze” thru small pore sizes, so additional protection is recommended for microbiological contaminants.  Those with other types of treatment equipment may be faced with additional maintenance once the “boil order” is lifted. It is good practice to change out any carbon-based cartridge filter after a boil advisory as carbon can provide the optimum environment for any bacteria that may be present as a result of the break.  Don’t forget the carbon filter in your refrigerator. For water softeners, it is a good rule of thumb to disinfect the system according to the manufacturer’s instructions after any boil advisory, to ensure bacteria are not present. 

If you are under a boil advisory and have treatment equipment, you may want to reach out to your water treatment professional for assistance in maintaining your equipment properly.  If you do not know who to contact because you inherited the equipment or your dealer has gone out of business, you can search for a professional on the Water Quality Association’s website by visiting: www.wqa.org. If you want to test your water to ensure it is free from bacteria, give us a call and we would be happy to help you.  1-800-458-3330

Gas Drilling and Private Wells – Baseline Water Analysis

There has been a significant amount of media attention being given to natural gas drilling and how it may be adversely affecting groundwater, specifically drinking water wells. The question of whether or not hydrologic fracturing causes groundwater contamination still remains unclear as the EPA and various groups grapple with mountains of data. While the EPA will be slow to move in establishing regulations with regards to hydrofracturing (AKA fracking) and water protection; individual states are taking action and establishing regulations aimed at protecting their drinking water sources including wastewater discharges into surface water that is used for drinking water. If you are in an area where fracking is inevitable due to forced pooling and high pressure tactics, it’s important to take steps to protect your drinking water source, especially if you have a private well because it can affect property values and your quality of life. A drill site nearby can mean high levels of noise early and late. Increased truck and equipment traffic on neighborhood streets and air quality are becoming bigger concerns. Make sure a lawyer reviews the lease to address these concerns in your land lease if that is applicable. With all that being said, natural gas is a largely untapped energy resource in the United States and with proper regulation and oversight, it could be done with minimal impact on our environment.
This discussion will focus on what homeowners should consider when they are faced with fracking occurring in their neighborhood, and want to have their private well tested in order to establish a legal baseline. The first thing to consider is the water quality. Do you have past results including those from treatment dealers which will be helpful in determining any existing problems with the water, including hardness and mineral content including calcium and magnesium as well as iron, manganese and hydrogen sulfide. You want to document these levels as drilling activities may increase these levels thus making the water highly unpalatable. Additionally, you should look for the major indicators of frack water, which includes total dissolved solids (TDS), sodium, chloride, bromide and other contaminants known to be present. The frack water can also contain high levels of uranium, strontium and other radiologicals presence, but these contaminants can start to add significant costs to your tests. Additionally, you may also consider adding a volatile organic chemical scan, which looks for the major components of gasoline including BTEX (Benzene, Toluene Ethyl benzene and Xylene) which may be of concern due to the use of heavy equipment and trucks in the area.
Another factor to consider is that the sample should be collected by an independent party who is trained in proper collection procedures. It is important that the samples are collected in proper bottles and meet the requirements of the testing methods, which include having the sample collected in proper bottle with preservatives which can include hydrochloric acid. The samples need to arrive at the lab so they can be analyzed within the proper holding time and meet the preservation requirements which also includes keeping the samples cool (usually within 2- 6 ? C depending on the analysis). Proper paperwork should accompany the sample to ensure proper chain of custody.
We offer a variety of testing packages based on various state requirements. Additionally, we do have sample collectors in certain areas and can assist with coordinating sampling in some areas. Call 1-800-458-3330 to discuss your specific testing needs. We would love to hear from you on this topic, if you have experiences you would like to share or further questions, post them and we will respond. My next couple of posts will delve deeper into the various state regulations surrounding fracking and how they pertain to water quality.

Is your Laboratory EPA Certified?

Is Your Laboratory EPA Certified?

This is one of the most commonly asked questions we receive from homeowners. The following information provides an explanation of the different types of certifications and the requirements needed to achieve certification. There are many forms of certification based upon the type of laboratory. For example, wastewater laboratories are certified to meet the Clean Water Act (CWA) requirements; whereas, drinking water laboratories are certified to meet the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) requirements. In most cases, the EPA does not directly certify laboratories. They have assigned this responsibility to states that have primacy. In order for a state to have primacy, they need to prove to the EPA that they are capable of adopting or setting standards as well as enforcement of the standards. Wyoming and the District of Columbia are regulated directly by a Regional EPA office as they do not have primacy in their state/district. Another exception for the EPA directly approving laboratories includes certification under the Information Collection Requirements, because the EPA directly implements this rule. This includes the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule, which assists the EPA in determining what contaminants may be considered for monitoring based upon potential occurrence in water sources, available testing methods and technology available for removal or reduction of contaminants.

There are several options for obtaining certification: direct state certification, state reciprocity or NELAP (National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program), as well as other accreditations such as International Organization of Standardization commonly referred to as ISO.

The certification process typically requires a laboratory to submit an application directly to the state agency overseeing the certification program. A typical application includes legal name of the laboratory, location, personnel educational qualifications and experience, analytes/contaminants and methodology for which they are seeking certification, and their quality assurance plans. Direct certification means the lab will apply for certification directly from the state agency. Reciprocal certification is when a state will accept another state’s certification, which usually requires some type of application and exchange of paperwork. The drawback to reciprocal certification is the lab will only have certification for the analytes/contaminants covered by the original state’s certification, and some states regulate different contaminants. For example, some states will not certify for secondary contaminants that cause aesthetic issues, while some states do. This can be challenging for laboratories to manage.

NELAP was developed for laboratories looking for multiple state certification. It was meant to include all the states and US Territories, but currently only 14 states have accepted NELAP. Those states include California, Florida, Kansas, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Texas and Virginia

In order to receive and maintain certification, laboratories must submit Performance Evaluation (PE) studies for the applicable analytes. The PE samples, which the laboratory must purchase from a state approved vendor, have a known concentration of the analyte. The laboratory must analyze and report the results to the state agency. The state has specified ranges for each analyte or method in which the laboratory’s reported results must fall into, in order to pass. Depending on the state’s requirements, the lab must pass one or more of these PE studies. Some states can have differing requirements for PE samples in terms of schedule and frequency, which can make it complicated when dealing with various state requirements. Many states require on-site auditing of the laboratory, where their auditors inspect and verify that the laboratory is following all applicable procedures. The state will determine how often the laboratory must be audited in order to maintain their certification.

Finally, the laboratory must pay all the applicable fees, which may include travel expenses for the on-site audits. Some states charge as much as $10,000 in fees, which can ultimately affect the price of testing services. A big advantage to reciprocal certification is the cost savings of additional on-site audits, since the state offering reciprocity will rely on the original state’s audit.

As you can see certification can get complicated. Our representatives understand the purpose of certification and can assist you with meeting your regulatory or legal requirements by ensuring we have the proper certification for your project. NTL is ISO 17025:2005 accredited and holds certifications across the country; visit our certification page for more information.

Do You Know What’s In Your Water? Test and Find Out!

How To Choose The Right Test For You

We continuously talk to people who want to have their drinking water tested. Since we offer such a variety of testing packages, we are often asked to help people determine exactly what test will best meet their needs. Consider these questions when determining what testing you need.

First question usually deals with regulatory requirements. Is testing needed to meet any federal, state, county or township regulatory requirements or is there a possibility that the results may be used for litigation purposes (gas drilling, real estate transactions)? Answering yes to either of these questions, will require you use certified compliance testing. I recommend calling and speaking to one of our Technical Service Representatives at 1-800-458-3330 to discuss your specific requirements. You can find additional information at www.ntllabs.com/compliance.html which discusses compliance testing versus informational testing at great length.

Next, consider the water source. Does your drinking water come from a private well or does it come from a city source? The source of your water matters tremendously. If on a private well, you are responsible for making sure it is safe for consumption. If you are on a city water supply, your municipal water supplier is responsible for testing in accordance with USEPA Safe Drinking Water Act; however, they are testing from their treatment facility, not your home, so the water in your home could be contaminated with things that the water has come in contact with along the way to your home.

If your water source is from a private well, spring or rainwater, consider these tests:

Well-check: An affordable option which tests for bacteria, metals and minerals, other inorganic compounds and physical characteristics. This is a good option to consider because it does test for bacteria, which should be monitored at least annually on these types of water sources. This test provides an accurate general chemistry analysis, which is also useful when determining possible treatment needs.

Watercheck: This comprehensive test includes everything in the Well-Check and also adds a Volatile Organic Chemical (VOC) scan. This includes petroleum components including Benzene, Toluene, Xylene, Ethyl Benzene, and Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (MTBE), so if you suspect a gasoline spill or you live nearby a gas station, this test is an excellent option. This scan also includes TCE and PCE which are common volatile contaminants in some groundwater. If suspect you have diesel, kerosene, oil or natural gas in your water, give us a call to discuss your options.

Watercheck with Pesticide Option: This test builds on the Watercheck and includes a scan for 20 pesticides, herbicides and PCBs. This is a scan for regulated and some unregulated pesticides and herbicides. Keep in mind this is a limited list as there are thousands of pesticides in use across the US. If you have a specific concern, give us a call to discuss your additional testing options.

If you are concerned with radiological contaminants in your geographic area, you may want to consider testing for radiologicals in your groundwater. Radiologicals in water can affect water treatment options. We offer the following testing packages, however, if you have other radiological concerns, give us a call to discuss additional testing options.

Basic Radiological: This test covers uranium and all gross alpha and beta emitting contaminants. The gross alpha/beta reading is useful in determining your general exposure level to these radiological contaminants. A high alpha or beta reading may indicate the presence of radium, which is important when considering a water softener. Radiologicals are common in certain areas of the country, specifically, in the northeast and southeast. These tests is recommend if you never had your well tested for radiologicals and already have or are considering a water softener/ion exchange.

Standard Radiological: This test adds radon testing to the basic package. You may have performed a Radon in Water test if you purchased a home with existing radon in the air. Radon may be present in groundwater. Radon in groundwater is not necessarily a health risk; however, it becomes a risk when it volatilizes in the air when using heated water such as showers, dishwashers and washing machines. Airborne radon is the number two cause of lung cancer next to smoking. If you have elevated Radon in the Air levels and/or never had the water tested for radon, you should definitely consider this option.

Deluxe Radiological: This test builds on the standard test and adds radium 226 and 228. Unless you really must know which radium isotope is present, this test may be a bit much for the average person looking for a basic analysis.

If you have city supplied water I recommend one of the following:

City-Check Basic: This basic package looks at the very most common contaminants of concern in city water including lead, chlorine and other disinfection byproducts. This is a great value for a basic snapshot of your home’s water quality.

City-Check Standard: This test builds on the basic package by adding more metals, minerals and other inorganic content, which is more common for a municipality using a groundwater source. Additionally, it includes a full volatile organic chemical scan, which may also be found in some city supplied groundwater sources as well as from new plumbing installations within the household.

City-Check Deluxe: This test builds on the standard and adds the pesticides and herbicide scan. This is important for surface water sources, which are at greater risk of contamination due to run-off. Keep in mind this is a limited list as there are thousands of pesticides in use across the US.

Are you experiencing problems (staining, taste, odor) with your water? If you are experiencing some specific aesthetic issues, such as hardness, iron, tannins or iron bacteria you may want to consider our Problem-Check. This test covers most contaminants that cause issues with taste, odor and discoloration. If you are experiencing pin hole leaks in your copper pipes or you if you are experiencing blue-green staining in your sinks or fixtures, you may want to consider our Corrosion-Check, which focuses on contaminants that may cause corrosive conditions.

Lastly, if you see a change in your water regardless of the water source, you should consider having some form of testing performed to ensure your family is drinking safe water. The information we’ve provided covers some of our most commonly used water testing kits. If you are interested in more information or would like to discuss your water issues with one of our Technical Service Representatives, please call us at 1-800-458-3330 or post a reply.