As the great Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu intimated in his widely-regarded book, “The Art of War,” “If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; … if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.”
And so, here on Water Filter Planet, we would like to apply that mentality when it comes to the safety of the water that makes its way to your households. Simply put, we would like you to be armed with comprehensive information when it comes to the perils that might be in your water so that you can make informed decisions on which water filters would be best for your homes.
Today, we’re starting off with two of the most common water pollutants, both in the United States and all across the world, E. Coli and chlorine.
What is E. coli and where does it come from?
E. coli is a kind of fecal coliform bacteria that is often found in the intestines of animals and humans. E. coli is basically the abbreviated form of its actual name which is, Escherichia coli. The existence of E. coli in water is a solid sign of most recent sewage or animal waste contamination. Sewage may hold a lot of disease-causing bacteria and viruses.
What are fecal coliforms?
Fecal coliforms are bacteria that are linked to wastes that come from humans or animals. They commonly live in human or animal intestinal tracts, and their existence in drinking water strongly suggests that sewage or animal waste contamination had just happened fairly recently.
How does E. coli O157:H7 impact health?
E. coli O157:H7 is just one of many strains of the bacterium, E. coli. Though many of these strains are considered harmless and lie dormant in the intestines of healthy humans and animals, this strain is capable of generating a powerful toxin that can lead to severe and dire illness. Infection commonly causes serious bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps; and at times, the infection can lead to non-bloody diarrhea. More often than not, the infected person does not experience fever. It should be stressed that these symptoms are common to a number of different diseases and illnesses, and may actually be caused by factors other than polluted drinking water.
In some, especially children under five years of age and senior adults, the infection can lead to a serious complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome, wherein the red blood cells are ruined leading to kidney failure. About 2% to 7% of infections lead to this problem. In the United States, hemolytic uremic syndrome is the primary cause of acute kidney failure in children, and most cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome can be attributed to E. coli O157:H7. Hemolytic uremic syndrome is a life-threatening illness that is often treated in an intensive care unit. Blood transfusions and kidney dialysis are usually required to save the infected person’s life. With intensive care, the death rate for hemolytic uremic syndrome is 3% to 5%.
How does E. coli or other fecal coliforms manage to get in the water?
E. coli is derived from human and animal wastes. When rainfall, snow melts, or other types of precipitation occurs, E. coli may find itself washed straight into creeks, rivers, streams, lakes, or ground water. When these bodies of water are utilized as sources of drinking water and the water is inadequately treated or in some cases, not treated at all, the possibility of E. coli ending up in water may occur.
How long does it take for symptoms of E. coli O157:H7 infection to arise?
As is often the case, symptoms appear within two to four days, but can also take up to eight days. Most people can make a full recovery without antibiotics or other specific treatment when done within five to 10 days. There is no evidence that antibiotics boost the course of disease, and it is thought that treatment with some antibiotics may cause complications in the kidney. You should also steer clear of antidiarrheal agents, such as loperamide (Imodium).
What should I do if I have any of the said symptoms?
You should go straight to your physician for an immediate consultation. Infection with E. coli O157:H7 is identified by looking at the bacterium in the stool. Most laboratories that culture stool do not test for E. coli O157:H7, so it is crucial to make a request that the stool specimen be tested on sorbitol-MacConkey (SMAC) agar for this organism. All persons who suddenly experience diarrhea with blood should get their stool tested for E. coli O157:H7.
Are there groups of people who are at greater risk of getting any of the symptoms?
Children under the age of five, the elderly, and those whose health is immunocompromised, such as people who have long-term illnesses such as cancer or AIDS, hold greater risk of incurring severe illness.
How will I know if my water is safe?
If you get your water from a public water system, then your water system is mandated by law to inform you if your water is not safe. If you are interested in acquiring information about your drinking water, check the water quality report that you should receive each year from your local water system, or give your local water system a visit or a call.
How is water treated to guard me from E. coli?
The water can be treated with the use of chlorine, ultra-violet light, or ozone, all of which can kill or inactivate E. coli. Systems that make use of surface water sources are mandated to disinfect to make sure that all bacterial contamination is inactivated, such as E. coli.
How does the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulate E. coli?
EPA regulations stipulate that a system that operates at least 60 days per year, and serves 25 people or more or has 15 or more service connections, is regulated as a public water system under the Safe Drinking Water Act. If a system is not a public water system as defined by EPA’s regulations, it is not regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, although it may be regulated by state or local authorities.
By virtue of the Safe Drinking Water Act, EPA mandates public water systems to check for coliform bacteria. Systems examine first for total coliform, because this test is faster to generate results. Any time that a sample is positive for total coliform, the same sample must be scrutinized for either fecal coliform or E. coli. Both are gauges of contamination with animal waste or human sewage.
The largest public water systems – those that serve millions of people – must take at least 480 samples per month. Smaller systems must take at least five samples a month unless the state has done a sanitary survey – a survey wherein a state inspector assesses system elements and makes sure they will safeguard public health – at the system within the last five years.
Systems serving 25 to 1,000 people usually take a sample each month. Some states shrink this frequency to quarterly for ground water systems if a recent sanitary survey indicates that the system is free of sanitary defects. Some types of systems can qualify for yearly monitoring.
Systems that utilize surface water, rather than ground water, are mandated to take extra measures to protect against bacterial contamination because surface water sources are more prone to contamination of that kind. At a minimum, all systems using surface waters must sterilize.
In 2006, EPA handed down a new rule to make sure that systems using ground water sources take steps to treat their drinking water to tackle microbial contamination if it is in fact determined as a problem. Disinfection will eradicate E. coli O157:H7.
What can I do to safeguard myself and others from E. coli O157:H7 in drinking water?
Roughly 89 percent of Americans are getting water from community water systems that fulfill all health-based standards. Your public water system is mandated to let you know if, for any reason, your drinking water is not actually safe. If you wish to take extra measures to ensure the cleanliness of your drinking water, you can boil your water for a minute at a rolling boil, longer at higher altitudes. To learn more information about your water, you should check the Consumer Confidence Report from your local water supplier or get in touch with your local water supplier directly.
You can also obtain information about your local water system on EPA’s website.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also has other actions that you may do to keep E. coli infection from happening. These include:
- Avoid ingesting lake or pool water while taking a dip.
- Methodically cook ground beef and stay away from unpasteurized milk.
- Make sure that those infected with diarrhea, especially children, thoroughly wash their hands with soap after bowel movements to minimize the risk of increasing infection, and that persons wash hands after changing soiled diapers. Anyone with diarrhea should steer clear from swimming in public pools or lakes, sharing baths with others, and making food for others.
- Carefully cook all ground beef and hamburger. Because ground beef can turn brown before disease-causing bacteria are eliminated, use a digital instant-read meat thermometer to make sure cooking is thorough. Ground beef should be cooked until a thermometer is inserted into several parts of the patty, including the thickest part, reads at least 160º F. Persons who cook ground beef without using a thermometer can lessen their risk of illness by not eating ground beef patties that are still quite pink in the middle.
- If you are served a hamburger or a ground beef product that is undercooked in a restaurant, refuse or send it back for more cooking. You may want to ask for a new bun and a clean plate, as well.
- Keep raw meat away from ready-to-eat foods. Clean your hands, counters, and utensils with hot soapy water after they get in contact with raw meat. Never place cooked hamburgers or ground beef on the unwashed plate that had raw patties. Wash meat thermometers in between tests of patties that need further cooking.
- Drink only pasteurized milk, juice, or cider. Commercial juice with a prolonged shelf-life that is sold at room temperature has been pasteurized, although this is usually not specified on the label. Juice concentrates are also heated well to get rid of pathogens.
- Make sure to thoroughly clean fruits and vegetables, especially those that will not be cooked. Children under 5 years of age, immunocompromised persons, and the elderly should stay away from eating alfalfa sprouts until their safety can be guaranteed. Methods to decontaminate alfalfa seeds and sprouts are being investigated.
If I have a private well, how can I have it checked for E. coli?
If you own a private well, you should have your water tested regularly. Get in touch with your State laboratory certification officer to check which laboratories have been sanctioned to do total coliform analyses. You may contact the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791 for the address and phone number of this individual.
Then contact a certified lab in your area and get directions on how to send them a water sample. Oftentimes, the lab will initially test for total coliforms, which is a group of related organisms that is commonly found in both the environment and in the gut of animals. If the sample tests positive for total coliforms, the lab will identify whether E. coli is also existent in the sample. E. coli is a type of total coliform that is closely associated with recent fecal contamination. Few E. coli strains cause disease. However, the presence of any E. coli in a water sample proposes that disease-causing organisms are most likely to be present as well.
One of the strains of E. coli that can lead to disease is E. coli O157:H7. EPA does not consider it necessary for an owner of a private well to test particularly for this organism under usual situations. If E. coli O157:H7 is in your well, it is highly likely that other strains of E. coli are also there. If a well is E. coli-positive, no matter what the strain, you should not drink the water unless it is disinfected. A number of tests are available for finding out whether E. coli O157:H7 is present, but they are somewhat more costly than the standard E. coli tests and many labs may not have the knowhow or supplies to conduct these tests. Your state’s laboratory certification officer should be able to tell you which laboratories can do these said tests.
If my well is contaminated with E. coli, what can I do?
If your well tests positive for E. coli, do not, under any circumstances, drink the water unless you boil it for at least a minute at a rolling boil, longer if you live at high altitudes. You may also disinfect the well according to procedures suggested by your local health department. Evaluate your water periodically after disinfection to make sure that the problem does not happen again. If the contamination is a cyclical problem, you should check the feasibility of drilling a new well or putting in a point-of-entry disinfection unit, which can use chlorine, ultraviolet light, or ozone.
What are disinfectants like chlorine, how are they utilized, and what are their health effects in ingesting water at levels that are above the maximum residual disinfectant level?
Disinfectant (Chemical Abstract Service Registry Number)
Definition and uses
|Chloramine (as Cl2) (10599-90-3)||Chloramine (as CI2) is a water additive used to control microbes, particularly as a residual disinfectant in distribution system pipes. It is formed when ammonia is added to water containing free chlorine. Monochloramine is one form of chloramines commonly used for disinfection by municipal water systems. Other chloramines (di- and tri-) are not intentionally used to disinfect drinking water and are generally not formed during the drinking water disinfection process.||Some people who use water containing chloramine in excess of the maximum residual disinfectant level could experience irritating effects to their eyes and nose, stomach discomfort or anemia.|
|Chlorine (as Cl2)(10049-04-4)||The gaseous or liquid form of chlorine (CL2) is a water additive used by municipal water systems to control microbes. It is relatively inexpensive and has the lowest production and operating costs and longest history for large continuous disinfection operations. Chlorine is a powerful oxidant.||Some people who use water containing chlorine well in excess of the maximum residual disinfectant level could experience irritating effects to their eyes and nose. Some people who drink water containing chlorine well in excess of the maximum residual disinfectant level could experience stomach discomfort.|
|Chlorine dioxide (as ClO2)(10049-04-4)||Chlorine dioxide is a water additive used to control microbes and can be used to control tastes and odors. It rapidly disappears from stored water.||Some infants, young children, and fetuses of pregnant women who drink water containing chlorine dioxide in excess of the maximum residual disinfectant level could experience nervous system effects. Some people who drink water containingchlorine dioxide well in excess of the MRDL for many years may experience anemia.|
This health effects language is not made to catalog all potential health effects for disinfectants. Rather, it is made to educate consumers of some of the potential health effects linked with disinfectants in drinking water when the rule was finalized.
What are EPA’s drinking water regulations for disinfectants like chlorine?
In 1974, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act. This law compels EPA to find out what the level of residual disinfectants in drinking water is at which no adverse 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 termed maximum residual disinfectant level goals (MRDLG). Contaminants are any physical, chemical, biological or radiological substances or matter in water. EPA sets MRDLGs based on the best available science to prevent potential health problems.
MRDLs are set as close to the health goals as possible, taking into account the cost, benefits and the capability of public water systems to identify and eliminate contaminants with the use of ideal treatment technologies. In this case, the MRDL equals the MRDLG, because analytical methods or treatment technology do not pose any limitation. States may set more stringent drinking water MRDLGs and MRDLs for disinfectants than EPA.
The following drinking water regulations apply to disinfectants and disinfection byproducts:
• Stage 1 Disinfectants and Disinfection Byproducts Rule (Stage 1 DBP) (December 16, 1998)
The Stage 1 Disinfectants and Disinfection Byproducts Rule reduces exposure to disinfection byproducts for customers of community water systems and non-transient non-community systems, including those serving fewer than 10,000 people, that add a disinfectant to the drinking water during any part of the treatment process.
• Stage 2 Disinfectants and Disinfection Byproducts Rule (Stage 2 DBP) (December 15, 2005)
Stage 2 DBP rule builds upon earlier rules that addressed disinfection byproducts to improve your drinking water quality and provide additional public health protection from disinfection byproducts.
The Safe Drinking Water Act compels the EPA to periodically assess the national primary drinking water regulation for each contaminant and alter the regulation, if needed, based on new scientific information. EPA will include the Disinfectants and Disinfection Byproducts rules in future review cycles.
How will I know if disinfectants, like chlorine, are in my drinking water?
Public water systems that use surface water or ground water under the direct influence of surface water are obligated to keep a detectible disinfectant residual in the distribution system. When routine monitoring determines that disinfectant levels are above the MRDL, your water supplier must take measures to lessen the amount of disinfectant so that it is below that level. For chlorine dioxide, water suppliers must inform their customers as soon as possible, but no later than 24 hours after the system learns of the violation. For chloramine and chlorine, water suppliers must notify their customers as soon as practical, but no later than 30 days after the system learns of the violation. More measures, such as delivering different drinking water supplies, may be needed to prevent dire risks to public health.
How do I learn more about chlorine and my drinking water?
EPA strongly encourages people to learn more information about their drinking water, and to back local efforts to safeguard the supply of safe drinking water and augment the community water system. Your water bill or telephone book’s government listings are an ideal starting point for local information.
Get in touch with your water utility. EPA mandates all community water systems to prepare and offer a yearly consumer confidence report (CCR) (sometimes called a water quality report) for their clients by July 1 of each year. If your water provider is not a community water system, or if you have a private water supply, ask for a copy from a nearby community water system.