Chemical Characteristics

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Groundwater dissolves minerals as it moves slowly down through the soil and rocks. Testing individual water supplies will detect harmful substances, corrosive chemicals, or chemicals that may stain fixtures and clothing. Corrosion produces scale that lines pipes and clogs openings. It is affected by water acidity, electrical conductivity, oxygen content, and carbon dioxide content. Acid neutralizers and corrosion inhibitors help, along with various preventive coatings and linings for pipes.

Tests for water pH determine relative alkalinity or acidity. A pH of 7 is neutral, with numbers as low as 5.5 indicating acid, corrosive conditions and as high as 9 representing alkaline conditions. If tap water stains tubs and sinks a bluish-green, it is overly acidic, and a neutralizing filter should be installed.

High alkaline or base levels entail bitter, slippery, and caustic qualities and are due to the presence of bicarbonate, carbonate, or hydroxide components. Bases have the ability to combine with acids to make salts. Hard water, caused by calcium and magnesium salts, in hibits the cleaning action of soaps and detergents and deposits scale inside hot water pipes and cooking utensils. The simplest way to acquire a supply of soft water for washing clothes is to collect rainwater in a cistern.

Toxic substances, including arsenic, barium, cad- ¿( mium, chromium, cyanides, fluoride, lead, selenium, and silver, sometimes contaminate water. Lead poses the greatest threat to infants and young children with developing nervous systems. It is possible that lead levels in one home may be higher than levels at other homes in the same community as a result of lead solder or pipes used in the plumbing. Infants and children who drink water with high levels of lead may experience delays in their physical or mental development, showing slight deficits in attention span and learning abilities. Adults who drink this water over many years may develop kidney problems or high blood pressure. If you are concerned about a possibility of elevated lead levels in a water supply, you should have the water tested (municipal water utilities will usually do this for you). Flushing the tap for 30 seconds to two minutes before using the water will help the water supply stay fresh, but wastes a lot of water. Don't use hot water from the faucet for drinking or cooking, especially when making baby formula or other food for infants.

Arsenic occurs naturally in some water supplies. Arsenic in water can cause symptoms such as dry, hacking coughs and burning hands and feet, and increases the risk of lung, skin, or bladder cancer. A federal study in 2000 of the water supply in Fallon, Nevada, showed that customers were exposed to 90 parts per billion (ppb) of arsenic, more than any other large system. This is almost twice the standard set in 1975, and nine times the amount currently recommended by scientists and public health doctors. Even if the community supply is cleaned up, residents outside city limits rely on private wells where the arsenic frequently reaches 700 ppb and up to 2000 ppb.

Seepage of drainage from livestock manure can contaminate shallow wells with nitrates, which in high concentrations cause a condition commonly known as "blue baby" disease in infants. Wells near homes treated for termites may contain pesticides.

Chlorides from marine sediments, brine, seawater, or industrial or domestic wastes can affect the taste of groundwater. When copper enters the water supply from natural deposits or from corrosion of copper piping, it gives the water an undesirable taste.

Iron is frequently present in groundwater, or from corroded iron pipes. Changes in water speed or direction in local pipes can carry rust along. This can happen when the valves are being repaired, the system is being flushed or tested, or fire hydrants are in use. Iron produces a red, brown, or yellow color in water, and can cause brownish stains on washed clothes. Iron affects the water's taste, but it is not harmful to health.

Iron manganese is similar in color and taste to iron and acts as a natural laxative. Sulfates from natural deposits of Epsom salts or Glauber's salts are also natural laxatives. Zinc is derived from natural deposits. Zinc does not pose a health threat but leaves an undesirable taste.

Too much sodium in water may be dangerous for people with heart, kidney, or circulatory problems who need to observe low-sodium diets. Sodium can enter water through salts used for ice on roads. Some water softeners also increase sodium levels.

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