Northern Virginia is growing in population rapidly and as more people move into the area, a question that is asked more and more frequently is – what is the quality of my drinking water?
Individuals and families are naturally concerned with their health and drinking water is an important element of maintaining good health.
Unfortunately, the quality of the water in Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. is very poor and is getting worse. Contaminants, bacteria, minerals and chemicals in tap water are masked with heavy doses of chlorine and tap water, in addition to being unhealthy, tastes and smells terrible.
Regulation from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not eliminate contamination but merely sets maximum levels of contaminants that can enter the human body. and cause long term damage.
What is the Story With Tap Water?
Tap water is municipal water that is usually pumped from a nearby river and then processed to meet EPA guidelines. The processing is usually done through a waster treatment plant with heavy amounts of chlorine added to kill remaining bacteria that processing does not catch. It is important to note that EPA guidelines are just that – they establish minimum amounts of allowed contamination that may eventually be harmful to both adults and children.
In Northern Virginia and Washington D.C. the drinking water is pumped mainly out of the Potomac River and at least one waste treatment plant.
Contaminants that may be present in this source water include:
Microbial contaminants, such as viruses and bacteria, which may come from sewage treatment plants, septic systems, agricultural livestock operations, and wildlife.
Inorganic contaminants, such as salts and metals, which can be naturally-occurring or result from urban storm water runoff, industrial or domestic waste water discharges, oil and gas production, mining, or farming.
Contaminants also include pesticides and herbicides, which may come from a variety of sources such as agriculture, urban storm water runoff, and residential uses.
In addition contaminants may include organic chemical contaminants, including synthetic and volatile organic chemicals, which are by-products of industrial processes and petroleum production, and can also come from gas stations, urban storm water runoff and septic systems.
Radioactive contaminants, which can be naturally occurring or be the result of oil and gas production and mining activities also affect local tap water.
What is the source of water in Washington D.C.?
The water in the Potomac River, Anacostia River, and Rock Creek flows into the District from outside jurisdictions. For example, the Potomac River begins in West Virginia, while the Anacostia River begins in Maryland. The quality of water in the District is thus affected by activities throughout the watershed.
Storm water runoff from commercial, industrial, residential and agricultural sites, point source pollutants from wastewater treatment plants and industrial discharges, and combined sewer overflows from as far away as West Virginia and Pennsylvania all contribute to the quality of water in the District and Northern Virginia.
What About Combined Sewer Overflows (CSO’s)
CSO’s frequently occur when natural events like flooding overcome the capacity
of waste treatment plants and raw sewage is pumped back into the water source like the Potomac River.
During periods of significant rainfall, the capacity of a combined sewer may be exceeded. When this occurs, regulators are designed to let the excess flow, which is a mixture of storm water and sanitary wastes, to be discharged directly to the Anacostia River, Rock Creek, the Potomac River, or tributary waters.
This excess flow is called Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO). Release of this excess flow is necessary to prevent flooding in homes, basements, businesses, and streets but it adds bacteria and contaminants as potential threats to tap water.
Since a portion of the tap water comes from sewerage treatment plants CSO’s can adversely affect the quality of our receiving waters in a number of ways:
CSO’s contain material which contributes to high bacteria levels in the receiving waters. Organic material in CSO’s can contribute to low dissolved oxygen levels, which can contribute to a potential for fish stress or fish kills, especially in summer months; and, debris in CSO’s such as plastic bottles, Styrofoam cups (otherwise known as “floatables”) contribute to poor aesthetics.
How Safe For Drinking is Well Water?
Well water, a popular alternative to tap water particularly in Northern Virginia is subject to the same ground water contaminants, chemical discharge waste and organic waste as tap water but is not subject to any regulation whatsoever.
In addition to emitting foul sulphur odors and sediment from the water Northern Virginia well water contains significant amounts of iron in the rock in some areas, particularly the Piedmont and Blue Ridge, resulting in iron “staining.” Sulfide in ground water is also found in parts of the Valley and Ridge where coal or natural gas is present produces an obnoxious odor.
Ground water that is a source of well water also can be contaminated by human activities. Bacteria from septic systems, and nitrate from both septic systems and fertilizer applications, are among the most common contaminants. Since well water is not subject to regulation, the potability and suitability for drinking, of a private well is the responsibility of the homeowner and many private wells are contaminated.
Treating Drinking Water From Wells
The Sate of Virginia strongly recommends treatment of well water with chlorine to kill bacteria in well water and, in an effort to overcome the obnoxious smell and taste of chlorine, de chlorination. Again, this process is not controlled by any state or Federal agency.
Two general kinds of water treatment are disinfecting and conditioning. To ensure that the supply is free of harmful bacteria, water is disinfected. Objectionable tastes, odors, and matter are removed by conditioning.
Well Water Disinfection Methods
Drinking water is most commonly tested for coliform bacteria, which live in the intestines of warm-blooded animals. Coliform bacteria in a well are usually the result of a faulty septic system or contaminated surface water entering the well or water delivery system.
Materials and tools used in well construction are frequently contaminated with bacteria that live in the soil and these can be introduced into the water system while constructing the well, installing components of the piping system, or
servicing any part of the water supply system.
The State of Virginia strongly recommends that the water system be disinfected following construction and after all repairs.
Chlorination is used to disinfect private supplies because it destroys bacteria within a reasonable contact time and provides residual protection.
However,ordinary levels of chlorination are not always effective in destroying Giardia cysts,which cause a severe gastrointestinal illness.
Super-high levels of chlorination,boiling and filtering are the only effective methods to destroy or remove these cysts.
High chlorine concentrations can have objectionable tastes and odors, and even low chlorine concentrations react with some organic compounds to produce strong, unpleasant tastes and odors.
To eliminate these offensive tastes and to remove excessive amounts of chlorine, the water is then dechlorinated. Activated carbon filters are the most common devices used to dechlorinate water, remove objectionable chlorine tastes, and reduce corrosion of plumbing systems.
In addition to removing taste and odor problems, reports have shown that granular activated carbon absorption is the best method currently available to remove specific organic chemicals (including some pesticide residues), and as a method for radon removal.
How Safe is Tap and Well Water for Drinking?
Municipalities, well owners and even the EPA claim that tap and well water in Northern Virginia and Washington D.C. is perfectly safe for drinking but one must wonder. Consider the source of tap water in light of sewage treatment, heavy chlorine additive and waste discharge in the Potomac River and one starts to wonder. Also consider that well water is subject to most of the contaminants of tap water but is unregulated as well.
Is Drinking Bottled Water an Alternative to Tap or Well?
The popularity of bottled water has grown tremendously as Americans seek healthy lifestyles and better tasting water. But not all bottled water is healthier than the tap or well alternative.
Up to 25% of all bottled water on the market is tap water repacked in plastic bottles and bottled water that is not purified often contains minerals and other contaminants that may be harmful to your health. These contaminants are not only unhealthy and affect the taste of the water but limit storage life for emergency supplies of drinking water.
Purified water however, using a distillation and oxygenation process, provides the water drinker the safest and best tasting alternative to contaminated tap and well water in Northern Virginia and Washington D.C. Distillation removes the water from the contaminants in a process that insures purity and oxygenation adds a light refreshing taste to the remaining purified water.
Consider the long term health of you and your family and build a healthy lifestyle on pure drinking water.