This expert water safety guide looks at common problems associated with private water supplies and what to do about them. The guide focuses on the need for regular water testing, common types of contamination and what measures can be taken to prevent these problems occuring.
Can private water supplies make you ill?
If your property or business is connected to a private water supply, then managing and treating it effectively is of critical importance. Fail to do this and you could be running the risk of causing serious health problems for those drinking the water, including debilitating gastrointestinal illnesses.
You might have been drinking from your private supply for years but testing the water you take from it is still essential. It’s important to remember that water which tastes, smells and looks clean might still contain high levels of microorganisms and these can be particularly dangerous for children, older people or those with conditions which affect the immune system.
Testing your water supply
Private water supplies should be tested regularly to ensure they are safe to use. The local council’s Environmental Health team are usually responsible for ensuring these checks are carried out regularly and that the test results confirm the water is safe to use. Large private supplies are generally subject to annual testing. If however you have a small supply, or the private supply feeds your property only, you might have to contact them to arrange for an inspection and testing.
What to do if your water changes colour?
One of the most common issues with a private supply is a change in colour of the water, especially after heavy rain. This could indicate that your supply has been contaminated by soil or microorganisms.
Have your supply tested if your water develops an unusual taste or smell. If the water test indicates contamination, take prompt action to address it. Use bottled water until your water supply has been treated and declared clear or contamination, and safe to use.
What illnesses are associated with private water supplies?
There are a number of illnesses that are associated with contaminated private water supplies, here we review the most common ones.
E. coli in water
E. coli is a bacterium, it lives in the intestines of animals, including humans. If E. coli are found in a water sample, this usually means that human or animal sewage has contaminated the supply making it unsafe to use or drink.
Many people infected with E. coli might not show symptoms, but in some cases it can cause kidney failure or even death. Older people and very young children are most at risk.
It only takes a small number of E. coli bacteria to cause an infection, and your immune system will struggle to deal with this type of infection.
Never drink water from rivers, streams or lakes as this could lead to an E. coli infection.
Make sure your private water source from a well, borehole or other supply is properly sealed to lessen the risk of unwanted contamination.
What other gastrointestinal illnesses can you get from private water sources?
There are many other bacteria that come from animal or human sewage which can make their way into your water source and make you ill. These include:
There is a potential range of effects from drinking contaminated water, from no effect through to serious illness. It can take days or even weeks for symptoms to develop, and these often include nausea, vomiting, cramps or diarrhoea.
Cryptosporidium in water
Cryptosporidium is a parasite found in animal and human faeces. For most healthy people, a cryptosporidium infection will make them ill for a few weeks. If however you have a weak immune system, the consequences can be much more serious and could even be fatal.
Never drink water from a stream or lake without boiling it first as this will help to kill off any cryptosporidium which are present in the water source.
Water contaminated with pesticides and chemical poisoning
Nitrates and other chemicals used in farming can often seep into private water supplies from the surrounding soil. Nitrate levels should be kept within an approved maximum of 10 milligrams per litre of water.
Lead is another metal which can have serious negative health effects, particularly for babies and children.
What can rain water be used for?
It’s environmentally responsible to collect rainwater for watering gardens or flushing toilets, but not for drinking. Rain water varies in quality and might be contaminated, and is difficult to treat to ensure consistent quality.
How to reduce private water supply problems?
As a property owner or occupier that uses a private water supply it is your responsibility to make sure that the water source is properly treated, and to have the supply regularly tested by experts.
There are lots of other steps you can also take to reduce the risk of contamination and these include:
- Develop a water treatment programme that includes regular testing so you can ensure your drinking water is of a consistently safe quality.
- Disinfect your water before use.
- Store and distribute water to prevent contamination after treatment but before consumption.
- Cover pipe ends with mesh to prevent debris entering your water system.
- If your water source adjoins agricultural land speak to farmer about plans to prevent contamination from agricultural chemicals.
- Protect pipes and tanks from chemical spillage and contamination, especially when using plastic pipes.
Microbiological testing and drinking water analysis
Water Treatment Services offer a comprehensive range of microbiological testing and solutions for the analysis of drinking water.
Our experts can provide advice and support to help you identify the most appropriate strategies for the safe management of your private water supplies.
With offices in London serving the South and South East England, Manchester (North West), Birmingham (Midlands), Bristol (South East England and Wales), Leeds (North and North East) and Glasgow (Scotland), supported by regional teams of specially trained technicians, in-field specialists and consultants we can offer professional, cost effective water testing and laboratory analysis solutions across the whole of the UK and internationally.
Contact us today to learn how our water quality analysis solutions can help keep your water supplies safe.
More information about water testing for private water supplies.