Water quality a homeowner issue

Homeowners can find solutions for pollution worries

-by Liam McGurl, originally posted on July 8, 2016


For new homeowners, there’s a lot to think about: Do the kitchen and bathrooms need updating? How high are the taxes? What about the school district? — the list seems never-ending. But there’s one consideration in homeownership that’s easily overlooked but extremely important: safe, drinkable water.

From Hoosick Falls to Flint, Mich., water contamination has become a national headline. Jeff Beyer, a local home inspector, says that publicity has spurred a growing number of people to request analyses of their water sources, private and public.

Most inspections only test for bacteria, according to Beyer, who owns Beyer Protection Professional Home Inspections in Saratoga Springs. Beyer added that when buyers purchase a home they are required to run basic water analyses as part of their home inspections, which cost around $100 along with the home inspection fee.

“The main component of a water test is looking for bacteria,” Beyer said. “Usually the form of bacteria that shows up first is coliform. They refer to that as an indicator bacteria.”

According to the state Health Department‘s website, not all kinds of coliform cause disease. However, if it is present in your water supply, further tests are necessary to determine its source and the proper method to remove it.

Beyer explained that people can adapt to some types of coliform. However, he added that an issue may arise for those purchasing a home with a well, as their bodies may not be able to adapt to the new level of bacteria in the water. According to Beyer, this sort of water contamination is most commonly caused by the lack of a sanitary cap on a homeowner’s well.

Beyer added that homeowners using private wells should first evaluate the security of their well caps if their water tests positive for contaminants.

For both those on private and public water systems, he said that further issues can be resolved through at-home water tests, in-depth laboratory tests or the installation of a filtration system.

Home testing kits are easy to find at hardware stores. One, the H2O OK Plus Complete Water Analysis Kit, available for purchase at a number of home improvement stores, offers 23 drinking water quality tests — examining for common contaminants, such as lead, coliform bacteria and pesticides.

Detailed water analyses can be conducted by an number of labs in the Capital Region. CNA Environmental, a Ballston Spa-based laboratory, offers five basic water-testing packages, ranging from $36 to $167. After the $167-level package, pricing increases depending on the specific contaminants being tested for.

Both Beyer and Damian Constantine, a sales associate for Culligan, a water treatment products company, said that a filtration system is a homeowner’s best option for ensuring water quality. “A detailed test is a snapshot in time,” Constantine said. “If your real worry is protection, then you should have a system regardless.”

Residents relying on municipal water supplies can take some comfort in their municipality’s annual drinking water quality report, said Joe Coffey, the commissioner of the Albany Department of Water and Water Supply. The reports are released to the public each year. Albany’s is available for viewing at albanyny.gov and lists the containments tested for, such as chloride, sulfate, barium and manganese, at the city’s Alcove Reservoir.

“It has a wide array of chemistry, chemical analysis, microbiology that we summarize if there are any exceedances of the maximum contaminant level,” Coffey said. “We have had none in the city of Albany.”

According to Coffey, the city also has a corrosion control program that “significantly limits the potential of lead to leach out.”

The city’s 2015 lead and copper compliance test illuminates the effectiveness of this program.

“We actual sample maybe 70 distribution samples when we do our lead and copper [test],” Coffey said. “We’ve found those to be in compliance with the lead and copper standards.”

Still, he said, he will refer residents who have concerns about water quality to a laboratory certified by the Environmental Laboratory Approval Program (ELAP).

Those with private water wells are advised by the state Health Department and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to have their water tested annually, preferably at an ELAP lab.

However, all tests — whether performed at home or in a lab — have their limits, warns Liz Moran, a water and natural resources associate for Albany-based Environmental Advocates of New York. She said tests fail to check for thousands of other possible contaminants in residents’ water systems.

“There are over 80,000 chemicals that are on the market now that are unregulated,” Moran said. “At-home tests — things that are provided to people that own private wells — only test for certain things. At the end of the day, there are so many chemicals that can be out there.”

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