Solutions To The Most Common and Uncommon Water Quality Problems

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New England has several common water quality issues ranging from inconvenient to health-threatening. Depending on where you live, or whether you’re using well water or city water, you could be looking at a few different issues.

Below we’ll break down the common water problems we face along with descriptions of symptoms and solutions for each issue.
The initial step in determining a course of action is getting a water test. An analysis of this will determine which contaminants are present and at what levels they exist. While there are sometimes more than one approach to solving a water quality issue, a water treatment professional will determine which is best for your specific situation.

Are you experiencing any of these problems below? Click to jump down to that section to read about potential causes and fixes.

Staining your sink, tub, appliances, dishes or laundry

If you’re experiencing staining in sinks, tubs or showers, etc., it’s most likely due to iron or manganese:

Iron

Iron is a naturally occurring mineral that can be present in your water in 2 forms: dissolved (invisible) or suspended as particulates (visible).

sink and faucet with rust stains from iron oxidation

Symptoms

  • Orange/brown staining in sinks, tubs, faucets, appliances or laundry
  • Metallic taste
  • Low water pressure

Water Quality Issues

  • Excessive iron can cause plumbing issues and clogging
  • Not harmful in low quantities, but iron may carry bacteria that can be harmful
  • Shortened lifespan of water appliances

Solutions

  • Water softener
  • Oxidation & filtration

Manganese

Manganese is another naturally occurring mineral that’s harmless at low levels, although potentially toxic at very high levels.

Symptoms

  • Water has brown coloring or unpleasant odor or taste
  • Brownish-black staining on fixtures and laundry or in dishwashers

Water Quality Issues

  • Can be a health risk at high enough levels, particularly for children
  • Can cause scaling and other plumbing issues
  • Will react with chlorine bleach, which intensifies staining

Solutions

  • Water softener
  • Oxidation & filtration

Scaling & corrosion in your pipes, showers & other fixtures

Scaling is a buildup of calcium and magnesium minerals in your pipes. Left untreated, scale buildup can clog your pipes and hurt your water pressure. It can also shorten the lifespan of your hot water heater and other water using appliances.

Hard Water

Effects of hard water on pipes

Symptoms

  • White scale buildup on pipes and fixtures
  • Difficult to make soap suds and clean

Water Quality Issues

  • Clogged pipes or low water pressure
  • Can significantly reduce lifespan of all water appliances like water heaters
  • Rougher on your skin and hair

Solutions

  • Water softener

Low PH

Symptoms

  • Green/blue staining on sinks, tubs and fixtures due to dissolved copper from pipes
  • Pin-hole leaks in piping distribution system
  • Corrosion of water using appliances

Water Quality Issues

  • Low pH means your water is more acidic than it should be
  • Can leach lead and other metals in the plumbing system into your water
  • Shortened life for water appliances

Solutions

  • Acid neutralization
  • Corrosion inhibitor
  • Aeration
Low pH water

Saltwater Intrusion

How salt water intrusion happens

Symptoms

  • Salty tasting water
  • Heavy corrosion and salt buildup

Water Quality Issues

  • Usually occurs in wells dug near marshy or coastal areas
  • Highly corrosive, not drinkable and generally unusable
  • Can be purified into a high-quality water supply

Solutions

  • Whole-home reverse osmosis

Bad Odors & Taste or Color

Whether on a private well or city water supply, there are many potential causes of bad odors, tastes and off color. There are methods for dealing with any type of odor, taste or color issue. The most common of these are identified below.

Rotten Egg Odor (Hydrogen Sulfide)

Symptoms

  • Smells like rotten eggs
  • Silver tarnishes easily

Water Quality Issues

  • Usually caused by dissolved hydrogen sulfide gas or sulfide-reducing bacteria
  • Can be corrosive at high levels
  • If you’ve been in a house with this issue, you likely won’t forget it

Solutions

  • Ozonation (for higher levels)
  • Activated carbon filtration
  • Aeration

Fishy, Musty or Oily Taste or Odor

Symptoms

  • Odd taste or odor
  • Oily emulsions or “film” on water surface

Water Quality Issues

  • Usually caused by volatile organic compounds (think decaying fish or aquatic plant life)
  • Can be harmful in higher concentrations
  • Sometimes caused by algae buildup in the warmer months

Solutions

  • Reverse osmosis
  • Activated carbon
  • Ozonation

Turbid Water

Symptoms

  • Cloudy, discolored water
  • Faucet screens may clog frequently

Water Quality Issues

  • May contain harmful bacteria, viruses and parasites that attach to suspended particles in the water
  • Will also hamper disinfectant solutions mixed with turbid water (e.g., chlorine)

Solutions

  • Sediment filtration
  • Coagulation
  • Reverse osmosis
  • Activated carbon
What is water turbidity

Health threat contaminants

Below are the most common health threat contaminants found in our region. Arsenic and radon are more likely to be found in private well water. Trihalomethanes are found in public, surface water supplies while PFAS chemicals have been found in both private and public supplies.

Arsenic

Arsenic Water Testing

Symptoms

  • Impossible to detect without certified lab test
  • Physical symptoms of exposure to high levels of arsenic include the following:
    • Stomach pain
    • Vomiting
    • Diarrhea
    • Impaired nerve function (pins & needles, numbness or burning)
    • Darkening skin and wart- or corn-like growths

Water Quality Issues

  • Usually originates from deep wells that tap into bedrock or groundwater containing arsenic
  • Can be a serious health threat

Solutions

  • Aeration
  • Activated carbon can be used at low levels

Radon

Symptoms

  • Impossible to detect without certified lab test

Water Quality Issues

  • The greatest concern is radon gas releasing into your indoor air while showering, doing laundry or washing dishes.
  • Prolonged radon gas inhalation carries a very high risk of lung cancer. Radon is the #2 leading cause of lung cancer behind smoking.

Solutions

  • Aeration
  • Activated carbon at low levels
Test for Radon in Water

PFAS (Per and Polyfluoroalkyl substances)

Man-made chemicals now emerging with contaminants being found around the country.

Symptoms

  • Impossible to detect without certified lab test

Water Quality Issues

  • Negative effects on the immune system.
  • Reproductive and developmental disruption
  • Potential carcinogen

Solutions

  • Activated Carbon
  • Reverse Osmosis

Trihalomethanes (THMs) & Haloacetic Acid

By-products of chlorination mixing with organic material (typically surface water supplies)

Symptoms

  • Impossible to detect without certified lab test

Water Quality Issues

  • Negative effects on the liver, kidney and central nervous system
  • Reproductive disruption
  • Potential carcinogen

Solutions

  • Activated Carbon
  • Reverse Osmosis
No haas