Single family home water treatment systems were historically intended to treat aesthetic water quality problems. The biggest sellers had historically been water softeners that were universally marketed to all private well owners. Lately the industry has expanded to treatment of contaminants that may pose a health hazard. Unfortunately, the industry is inconsistent in the skill and knowledge of the companies and their employees. Many water treatment companies provide free in-home water testing. This testing is very limited in scope. The only things that they can test for in the in-home tests are hardness, pH, iron and sulfur. In addition, the sensitivity of the tests can be limited. Analysis for organics and bacterial contaminants must be performed in a certified laboratory. The in-home tests are crude tests performed by people without certification and with limited training, the usefulness of the results obtained in this way are limited by the skill and honesty of the tester. Be extremely wary of in-home testing. Sloppy sampling procedures, reusing sample tubes can render the results worthless or misleading.
Before attempting to resolve a perceived water problem, have your water analyzed. Contamination from human and animal waste and chemicals can be a very real health hazard and should be addressed immediately. However, most of the water quality issues with private wells are from naturally occurring contamination. These are often nuisance contaminants that are produced from the underlying soil and rock geology and wildlife. From the underlying rocks radionuclides and heavy metals can enter the groundwater. There are areas with natural occurring arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, selenium and fluoride. While some of the symptoms of mineral contamination are obvious, never buy a treatment system until you have tested your water completely at a certified laboratory and identified the correct solution. Other contaminants may be present that need to be addressed or the “condition” may be marginal and can be addressed without installing a treatment system. There are limitations and side effects from all treatment systems. Know what they are. While many natural contaminants such as iron, sulfate, and manganese are not considered serious health hazards, they can give drinking water an unpleasant taste, odor, or color.
The WaterCheck with Pesticides is an informational test packages targeted to be an affordable option for consumers. The WaterCheck with Pesticide covers 15 heavy metals, 5 inorganic chemicals, 5 physical factors, 4 trihalo methanes, 43 volatile organic chemicals (solvents), and 20 pesticides, herbicides and PCB’s. The Minimum Detection Levels, which are the lowest levels at which the laboratory detects that contaminant are below the levels established by the Safe Drinking Water Act so this affordable ($217 including shipping and handling) test will serve as a broad screen of drinking water. Though I know it is tempting to skip the analysis, don’t. Analysis is the only way to make sure you select an effective remedy. Once you know the characteristic of your water you can choose the proper treatment system or plan of treatment. Do not assume that installing a water treatment system similar to a neighbor's will be the best answer to solving your water quality issues. There can be tremendous differences in natural water quality in extremely short horizontal distances.
Though nothing should replace testing your water supply regularly the attached publication from the Virginia Cooperative extension “Home Water Quality Problems-Causes and Treatments” is a quick read and offers suggestions for common problems. Do not treat aesthetic problems that are not a nuisance and test your water completely before you buy any treatment system.