Testing for Treatment

Jan. 16, 2014
Considering customer needs and wants for water quality

About the author: Marianne R. Metzger is GPG business manager for National Testing Laboratories Ltd. Metzger can be reached at [email protected] or 800.458.3330.


Before doing any testing, the best thing you can do is talk with your customer. Find out as much as you can about their water source, usage, aesthetic issues and family concerns. All of these factors will play into what you may test the water for in order to fully treat it. The source of the water will give you clues as to which contaminants may be present. For example, groundwater typically contains more minerals than surface water. 

Depending on how customers are using their water, they may have specific needs. Aesthetic issues are usually the first thing your customer will notice. These include staining, discoloration, odor and taste issues. 

Finally, make sure to inquire about any concerns your customers may have. Health concerns are becoming a big worry when it comes to water. Health issues can include heavy metal toxicity, compromised immune system, or allergies, including skin rashes. Consider whether there are elderly or infant family members in the household, as they can be more susceptible to certain contaminants than healthy adults.

Water Sources

If the water source is a private well, at a minimum you should test for bacteria. Typically, coliform and E. coli are tested as indicator organisms. If they are present, there is a possibility that more dangerous infectious disease-causing organisms also may be present. 

An analysis that covers metals, minerals and other inorganic compounds also is a good idea. It will show your customer exactly what is making up the total dissolved solids (TDS) level you measure during your presentation. A complete inorganic test can help you determine the best method for fully treating the water.  

Other contaminants to consider testing for include volatile organics, pesticides and herbicides. Volatiles are made up of some gasoline components, such as benzene, methyl tertiary-butyl ether, toluene and xylene, as well as other industrial solvents. Volatiles want to change from a liquid into a gas, so sometimes they emit a petroleum-like odor, while others have no odor to indicate their presence. Pesticides and herbicides are not only used in agricultural areas, but also on golf courses and parks to keep the grass green, so consider your customers’ location in relation to these potential sources of contamination. Keep in mind that some homeowners use herbicides on their own lawns.  

Water that comes from a municipal source may be groundwater from a well or surface water from a lake, river or reservoir. Surface water is much more susceptible to contaminants like pesticides, herbicides and gasoline, because any spill or application on the land can run into surface water when it rains. These contaminants do not get filtered through soil and rock like they do in groundwater; they run directly into any nearby surface water. 

Municipal water may contain residual disinfectants, which can mean disinfection byproducts (DBPs) are present in the water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has identified more than 500 DBPs — some of which are considered carcinogenic — but it only regulates a handful.   

Water Usage

There is a big difference between treating water that will only be used to irrigate fields and treating water that will be used in the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals. Obviously, the quality used in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals needs to be much higher than water used for irrigation. Not all of the water that we use every day has to be of drinking quality, so it is important to determine how your customer will be using the water and which, if any, criteria are used to measure the quality. For pharmaceutical manufacturing, for example, water must meet strict standards developed by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration called the U.S. Pharmacopeia.  


Aesthetics are probably the biggest reason many people seek water treatment — they can see, smell and taste something in the water that is making it unpalatable. There are several contaminants that make themselves known in obvious ways, such as iron. High levels of iron can color the water reddish brown, which is not appetizing. Additionally, iron can stain bathtubs, toilets and showers, making them more difficult to clean. Finally, iron can make the water taste “bad.” Other major culprits of aesthetic issues include pH, copper, manganese, hydrogen sulfide, iron-reducing bacteria and sulfate-reducing bacteria.  

Family/Health Concerns

Finally, find out your customers’ concerns about water. People are concerned about their water quality for a variety of reasons, but one of the biggest motivators for water treatment is health. Whether someone is already ill or wants to prevent illness, water quality is an important factor. Individuals who have compromised immune systems are at a higher risk for waterborne diseases, so making sure the water is free of all microbiological contaminants can be a matter of life or death. Whether it is well water that can become contaminated at any point, or a city water supply that may experience a water main break or other failure, additional protection is needed. Knowing what motivates your customers will help you provide the best possible solutions.  

Once you have gathered all the information, you can make an informed recommendation for testing the water to fully understand the quality and possible treatment options. While testing water can add expenses to a project, it is the best way to educate your clients about the water quality problems they may be facing. Some water tests may even alert you to a problem you did not realize was there, like lead, arsenic, radiologicals or volatile organics. Testing the water through an independent certified laboratory adds credibility, especially if the results show a major problem. Third-party laboratories are one way to show your customers that the results are not biased toward selling water treatment equipment. Remember that the most important thing you can do is to listen to your customers and make sure you address their needs. 

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