Problems with Drinking Water

Drinking water treatment plant operators work around the clock to provide you with safe drinking water. Even with the best efforts, problems can sometimes occur for several reasons.

Contaminants

These reasons include:

  • Contaminants getting into the source of your drinking water
  • Improperly maintained distribution system (pipes, fixtures, etc.)
  • Drinking water that is not properly treated or disinfected

If you're concerned about your drinking water, you may want to have it tested.  Below is more information to help you decide.

Signs & Effects of Common Drinking Water Problems

If you notice a change in your drinking water, you may want to have it tested. Below is information to help you decide what contaminant may be the problem.

Contaminant Signs & Symptoms Effects
Bacteria No signs or symptoms Gastrointestinal illness, which may include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, & diarrhea
Chlorides Salty Taste Not generally considered harmful to humans or animals.
May contribute to the corrosion of household appliances and plumbing.
Copper Blue-green stain on plumbing fixtures
Very bitter, medicinal taste found when above 1.3 mg/l
Short term exposure can cause stomach cramps and intestinal discomfort
Long term exposure may cause liver and kidney damage
Fluoride Children exposed to excessive amounts may develop white or brown spots on their teeth. Excessive fluoride is a concern only when water is used for cooking and drinking.
Hardness Soaps won't lather.
Excessively hard water will cause a hard, chalky scale to form when the water is heated.
Not considered a health hazard.
Excessive hard water may cause reduced water heater capacity leading to a burn-out.
Hydrogen Sulfide Rotten egg odor
Sulfur taste.
Speeds up the corrosion of metal plumbing materials.
Iron & Manganese Bitter, metallic taste
Stains on plumbing fixtures, appliances, and laundry
No evidence to indicate the amount normally found in a well is harmful.
Lead
See information on high risk groups
Corrosion of home plumbing materials containing lead Damage to brain, nervous system, kidney, and red blood cells.
Pregnant women, fetuses, infants and young children are at a greater risk.
Permanently stunt growth if children are overexposed during growing stage.
Nitrate
See information on high risk groups
In babies: shortness of breath, blueness of skin.
In healthy adults: relatively little affect, even when consumed at large quantities.
Infants, pregnant women, individuals with reduced gastric acidity, and individuals with a hereditary lack of methemoglobin reductase.
Causes severe oxygen deficiency and can lead to death for those at high risk.
Radium No signs or symptoms A lifetime of drinking water with high levels of radium may increase the risk of certain cancers.
Sodium Salty taste, if sodium & chlorides are present
Bitter taste, if sodium & sulfates are present
Increases blood pressure that can eventually lead to hypertension.
Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) Salty taste when chlorides are present.
Bitter taste when sulfates are present.
Medicinal taste when bicarbonates are present
Temporary laxative affect may occur after drinking water when sulfates make up most of the TDS.
Household plumbing and appliances will deteriorate faster.
Zinc Bitter, medicinal taste
May make water appear milky at concentrations of 30 mg/l
When water is heated, elevated levels may produce a greasy film on the top of the water.
At normal levels, zinc is not a health hazard.
In high concentrations (675 mg/l and above), zinc can act as an intestinal irritant, causing nausea and vomiting.

(Source: DHEC's Common Water Quality Problems and their Treatment and EPA )

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Information for High Risk Groups

Some populations are at a greater risk of experiencing health effects when exposed to certain contaminants. These sensitive populations include:

  • Pregnant women
  • Fetuses
  • Infants
  • Young children
  • Individuals with reduced gastric acidity
  • Individuals with a hereditary lack of methemoglobin reductase

These groups (listed above) should be particularly careful about exposure to the following contaminants:

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Additional Information & Links

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Drinking Water General Public