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Water Quality Q & A

From time to time, our customers have questions related to their water service. Below are the some of the most frequently asked water quality questions and answers. Please see the corresponding answer below the list of questions.

General Questions

  1. What is pure water?
  2. Is my water safe to drink?
  3. How do I determine the quality of my water?
  4. Where can I get my water tested?
  5. Why must chlorine be added to the water?

Discolored Water

  1. Why is my drinking water discolored? 
  2. My drinking water often looks cloudy when first taken from a faucet and then it clears. Why is that?
  3. What makes ice cubes cloudy?
  4. How do you get rid of the black film around the toilet?
  5. Why do I get blue-green stains on sink and tub fixtures?
  6. What causes a rust stain?
  7. What is the 'pink" stain?

Aesthetics

  1. Why does water sometimes taste/smell funny?
  2. How can I improve the taste of my water?
  3. Why does my water smell like rotten eggs or sewage?
  4. What are those white flaky particles in my water?

Hardness

  1. What is the difference between "hard" and "soft" water?
  2. Why does my dishwasher leave spots on my glasses?
  3. Why are there white deposits found around my showerhead?
  4. Should I get a home water softener?

Lead

  1. Is there lead in my water?

Fluoride in Drinking Water

  1. Do you add fluoride to the water?

Other

  1. Will a home treatment device improve the safety of my water?
  2. Why are their aerators on home water faucets?
  3. Why do ice cubes bulge from the top of the ice-cube trays?
  4. Where can I obtain additional information about my water quality?

Questions and Answers

 

These are the some of the most frequently asked water quality questions and answers that we receive from our customers.

1. What is pure water?

 

Pure water means different things to different people. We know that all life is dependent on water and that water exists in nature in many forms. However, strictly speaking, pure water does not exist for any appreciable time in nature. Even while falling as rain, water picks up small amounts of gases, ions, dust, and particulate matter from the atmosphere. Then, as it flows over or through the surface layers of the earth, it dissolves and carries with it some of almost everything it touches, including that which is dumped into it.

These added substances may be classified as biological, chemical (organic and inorganic), physical and radiological impurities. They may include industrial and commercial solvents, metal and acid salts, sediments, pesticides, herbicides, plant nutrients, radioactive material, road salts, decaying animal and vegetable matter, and living organisms such as algae, bacteria, and viruses. Many of these impurities are removed or rendered harmless during the water treatment process in potable drinking water plants.

One means for establishing and assuring the purity and safety of water is to set a standard for various contaminants. A drinking water standard is a definite rule, principle, or measurement which establishes safety by a governmental authority.

2. Is my water safe to drink?

 

In this context, "safe" is a relative term that must be considered based on each individual's health and overall well being. Drinking water can reasonably be expected to contain at least small amounts of some impurities. As long as those contaminants are at levels no higher than those set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) drinking water standards, the water is considered safe to drink for healthy people. People with severely weakened immune systems or other specific health conditions should consult with their personal physicians to discuss their drinking water needs.

Those who wish to take extra measures to avoid waterborne illnesses due to pathogens can bring their drinking water to a boil for a full minute

3. How do I determine the quality of my water?

 

At New Jersey American Water, we routinely sample and analyze our source water, water quality throughout our treatment process and throughout our distribution system to deliver water service that meets all the drinking water standards established by the state and federal regulations. Summaries of our test results are distributed to our customers annually in a Consumer Confidence Report.

Customers who wish to have further testing may opt to pay to have their water tested by a state-certified laboratory.

4. Where can I get my water tested?

 

If you are concerned about a contaminant, you may choose to have your water tested by a state-certified laboratory. State certified private laboratories will collect and analyze samples for a fee depending on the type of test. Water samples should only be taken under their direction.

A list of certified drinking water labs can be found on the NJ Department of Environmental Protection website or in the yellow pages of your phone directory.

5. Why must chlorine be added to the water?

 

Chlorine is added to the water for the customer's protection. It is a disinfectant that is used to provide continuous protection against microbial contamination. Regulations require minimum chlorine residual to be present in the water at the furthest point of the distribution system. Consequently, customers who live or work closest to the facility may experience higher levels of chlorine. Read more...

6. Why is my drinking water discolored? (See various descriptions listed below)

 
  • White or cloudy water: The cloudiness in your water may be caused by tiny air bubbles. This occurs when air is under pressure in your water pipes, much like carbon dioxide in a bottle of soda. When you turn on your tap, the pressure is released, allowing the bubbles to appear, just as removing the cap from a soda bottle causes the soda to fizz. The rate and degree to which this occurs is directly related to water temperature and more so to temperature changes. This cloudiness occurs more often in winter when the drinking water is cold and the home, along with its plumbing is heated. If you allow a glass of water to stand for a few moments, the air bubbles will rise to the surface. This phenomenon is called entrained air and does not affect the quality of your water.
  • Blue water: If you use a blue disinfectant in your toilet, this may cause discoloration of your tap water. If the water supply to your home was recently turned off, a condition may have been created in which water from the toilet tank was siphoned into the plumbing of your house. Do not drink this water. These disinfectants contain chemicals that may pose health hazards if ingested or touched. Flush your plumbing by opening each tap until the water runs clear. If you have any doubts, contact our Customer Service Center at 1-800-652-6987.
  • Green water: Standing water sometimes has a greenish cast to it. Fluorescent lights will make your water appear green, as will tiny traces of copper leached from the pipes in your home. Greenish water is most commonly associated with seasonal blooms of algae in the water supply, a condition that in most cases poses no health hazard.
  • Brown or yellow water from either tap on the FIRST DRAW: The internal plumbing of your house may be the culprit if discolored water only appears for a minute or two after your tap is turned on. When the zinc coating on the inside of galvanized iron pipe begins to wear thin, water becomes discolored as it comes in contact with bare iron. The longer the water sits in the pipes, the worse the discoloration will be. That's why you are most likely to notice the problem first thing in the morning or when you have just returned from school or work. After running your tap for a few minutes, clean water from your water heater or water main will replace the discolored water. Since iron is an essential nutrient, this condition poses no health hazard. If the discoloration bothers you, however, flush the tap until the water becomes clear, saving the water for iron-loving plants.
  • Brown or yellow water from either tap, CONSTANTLY: Sediments in water mains sometimes get stirred up when fire hydrants are used and when the flow of water in mains is changed. These sediments may cause your water to turn brown or yellow. Wait 30 to 40 minutes after you notice the discolored water, and try turning on the cold water in your bathtub for a minute or two. You'll probably notice that it clears right up, since sediments settle quickly back to the bottom of water mains. Discolored water due to sediments such as these poses no health threat, but for aesthetic reasons you should avoid doing laundry until the water clears up.
  • Brown or yellow water from hot tap only: If the discoloration is detected only in your hot water supply, it is likely an indication of an issue with your hot water heater. It is recommended that you turn off your hot water heater and allow it to cool. Once cool, safely drain and flush your unit. Then fill and turn your unit on to determine if the problem persists. You should consult your owner's manual for instructions and warnings regarding this task or contact a licensed plumber.
  • Crystals: The crystals or sediment left behind after water evaporates may be calcium carbonate. This is a naturally-occurring mineral, identical to the calcium found in your bones and in most calcium supplements. If these deposits appear green, blue or brown, they may have been colored by tiny amounts of the metals found in your water pipes. Carbonate deposits can be dissolved with white vinegar. Dishwasher deposits can be minimized by using a commercial conditioner, by using liquid detergents and by using the "air-dry" instead of the "power-dry" setting on your dishwasher, which bakes the carbonates onto glassware. Calcium carbonate poses no health hazard.
  • Read more...

7. My drinking water often looks cloudy when first taken from a faucet and then it clears. Why is that?

 

The cloudy water is caused by tiny air bubbles in the water similar to the gas bubbles in soda. After a while, the bubbles rise to the top and are gone, this cloudiness occurs more often in winter when the drinking water is cold and the home, along with its plumbing is heated.

8. What makes ice cubes cloudy?

 

Air that is trapped in the ice gives it a cloudy appearance. Commercially made ice is stirred as it is frozen. Household ice is not. Without mixing, many more ice crystals form and air is trapped in the ice. Light rays are distorted by these crystals and air, and this distortion gives home frozen ice a cloudy appearance.

9. How do you get rid of the black film around the toilet?

 

This film can be a result of many factors, some internal to the home, such as a water softener or plumbing. It may also be related to the condition of the water coming in to the premise. Hard water can leave deposits on toilets and dishwashers which are the mineral salts left behind as the water evaporates. Rings on baths, and showers, can also be scum left behind as the water evaporates or from soap or shampoos reacting with hard water. Black slime is usually mold/mildew that thrive in moist areas like bathroom toilets and tiles where it is wet and warm. The film that develops on sink stoppers is again non-harmful bacteria and residue build up. Usually, the customer will need to clean the area with a commercial cleaner that contains a disinfecting agent, such as chlorine bleach.

10. Why do I get blue-green stains on sink and tub fixtures?

 

The blue-green stain that you sometimes find on the surface of sinks and bathtubs is a copper compound. The compounds that usually cause this discoloration are dibasic copper carbonate and dibasic copper sulfate. The stain will form when there is copper content in the water and water is able to stand and evaporate. The most common circumstances that result in a stain are a dripping faucet and the presence of copper plumbing. The stain will form faster when there is a porous surface, such as an older sink or bathtub, for the copper compounds to adhere to. The water supplied to New Jersey American Water customers does not contain any measurable amount of copper. But the water can pick up copper from the copper pipes and fixtures of the household plumbing.

The stain can be removed by treating the stained surface with a rust remover or a mixture of retail toilet cleaning crystals (Saniflush or Vanish) and water. These crystal toilet bowl cleaners contain sodium bisulfite, which will dissolve the stain away in minutes. The trouble with porous surfaces is that the stain will reappear sooner than it will on a smooth surface, and will need to be cleaned more often. An abrasive cleaner won't do a very good job of removing copper or iron stains because these cleansers contain oxidizing agents -- as opposed to the reducing agents found in crystal bowl cleaners. Also, the uses of abrasive cleaners make the fixture surface become more porous, which causes the stain to reappear faster.

11. What is the rust stain?

 

Different factors may be causing the rust stain. There may be a discolored water event in an area due to fire hydrant use. Also, high iron levels in the water will leave rust stains behind as the water evaporates and the iron oxidizes, leaving the red iron tinge. People with galvanized steel service lines and/or internal plumbing may see rust stains and particles periodically in the water in their sinks and toilet bowls or on the aerator screens in faucets. This is the result of corrosion in the plumbing and not the water supplied.

12. What is the 'pink" stain?

 

People sometimes see a pink ring develop on the flat surfaces of their shower, in their pet's water bowls, or toilets that are not used frequently. This is a colored organism that is present in the air that does grow in these areas. It is a harmless bacterium and exists in moist/humid conditions. The customer can remove the pink ring by cleaning the area periodically with a commercial cleaning product that contains bleach.

13. Why does water sometimes taste/smell funny?

 
  • If you recently moved from an area where the water contained very few naturally occurring minerals, or you are accustomed to certain type of source water, such as a well or surface water supply, your new water may taste different due to the minerals it contains. The taste of domestic drinking water varies with its source. It could be that you're simply not used to the new taste yet.
  • It is important to note that the taste of the water from a surface water source may change with the seasons or a change in the treatment process. For example, during the summer months, a change in taste may be caused by what is a called an algae bloom or due to changes in sodium levels in winter months from road salting. This change in taste does not pose a health risk. If you have any questions or concerns, however, please contact our Customer Service Center at 1-800-652-6987.
  • Read more...

14. How can I improve the taste of my water?

 

The taste of water can be improved simply by refrigerating your drinking water in a pitcher or container. To remove any chlorine taste or odors simply shake the covered container and allow it to sit in the refrigerator over night. The chlorine will dissipate. 

15. Why does my water smell like rotten eggs or sewage?

 

Sometimes customers report that their tap water smells septic, swampy moldy or like sewage or sewer gas, or sometimes sulfur or rottem eggs. These odors are often caused by gases forming in the household drain. These gases are formed by bacteria which live on food, soap, hair and other organic matter in the drain. These gases are heavier than air and remain in the drain until the water is turned on. As the water runs down the drain, the gases are expelled into the atmosphere around the sink. It is natural to associate these odors with the water because they are observed only when the water is turned on. In this case, the odor is not in the water, it is simply the water pushing the gas out of the drain. This can be verified by taking a glass of water from the tap and walking away to another area to smell the glass of water. If it still smells, please contact our Customer Service Center at 1-800-652-6987.

If you determine it is the drain, to eliminate this type odor, the bacteria must be killed by disinfecting the drain. Effective disinfection can be achieved by following these six steps.

Caution: do not mix any drain cleaners or detergents with bleach; certain combinations can create toxic fumes.

  1. Run the cold water for about 15 seconds into the drain that is to be disinfected, then turn the water off.
  2. Pour approximately one to two cups of liquid chlorine bleach (laundry bleach) down the drain (or drains) where the odor is present. Pour the bleach slowly around the edges of the drain so that it runs down the sides of the drain. Caution: bleach may cause eye damage, skin irritation, and may damage clothing - BE CAREFUL!
  3. If the odor is coming from a sink with a garbage disposal, turn the disposal on for a few seconds while the bleach is being poured. This will disperse the bleach around the inside of the disposal. Caution: bleach may cause eye damage, skin irritation, and may damage clothing - take care to avoid splashing for the few seconds the disposal is turned on.
  4. Allow the bleach to remain undisturbed in the drain for about 10 minutes. Caution: prolonged contact with metals may cause pitting and/or discoloration.
  5. After 10 minutes, run the hot water into the drain for a minute or two to flush out the bleach. If a garbage disposal was disinfected, thoroughly flush it as well.
  6. This procedure may need to be repeated if the odor returns.

If the odor is detected only in your hot water supply, it may be an indication that there is an issue with your hot water heater. A sulfurous or rotten egg-like odor in the hot water is caused by bacteria growing in the water heater. This usually happens when the water heater is turned off while on vacation, when the hot water has not been used for a long time or when the temperature setting on the heater is set too low. The bacteria in the water heater are not a health threat; however, they must be eliminated to stop the odor problem. You should consult your owner's manual or contact a licensed plumber.

16. What are those white flaky particles in my water?

 

Customers often call to report white particles clogging their shower heads, faucet aerators or floating in the bath tub or water glasses. These particles are often described as resembling eggshell fragments, scale or oatmeal. In many instances our laboratory has determined that these particles are plastic and that the source was limited to the hot water. It was further determined that the source of these particles is the failure of the plastic dip tube located inside the hot water heater in the home.
Most residential water heaters contain a "dip tube" that is commonly made of plastic. The dip tube is basically an extension of the cold water inlet that extends nearly to the bottom of the tank and directs cold water to the bottom to be heated. From August 1993 through October 1996, a series of defective dip tubes was manufactured and sold to major manufacturers of water heaters. The defect causes the dip tubes to degrade and disintegrate within an average time of 3 to 5 years. The result is that particles of this disintegrated plastic are released into the home plumbing to clog fixtures and reduce water pressure. The particles are non toxic and do not make the water toxic. The list of manufacturers includes:

  • Rheem Manufacuring Company
  • A.O. Smith Corporation
  • Bradford White Corporation
  • American Water Heater Company
  • Lochinvar Corporation
  • State Industries, Inc.

Water heaters sold under a number of other brand names may have been manufactured by one of these 6 companies.
What's the solution? First, confirm that the problem is limited to the hot water. In many homes, the hot and cold taps do not have separate faucets, so it may be hard to tell. The washing machine is generally a good place to look. Disconnect the inlet hoses and check to see if the particles are present on the screens of both the hot and cold inlets, or just the hot water.
Once a defective dip tube is confirmed, check the age and warranty period on your water heater. If the unit is less than 5 years old, it's likely still under warranty and the manufacturer should be willing to repair or replace it. Contact your plumber, building contractor, or the manufacturer to report the problem. You will need to have the manufacturer, model number and serial number ready when you call; other useful information might include the date of purchase or installation, and your warranty documents.

17. What is the difference between "hard" and "soft" water?

 

Hardness is a term used to describe the high level of calcium and magnesium in the water. Excessive hardness can cause scale (white spots) to be deposited in boilers, pipelines, faucet aerators and shower heads. Hard water also requires the use of large amounts of laundry soap to achieve the desired results. The use of water softeners adds sodium to the water, which acts as a softening agent. Soft water is either water that is low in calcium or magnesium, or water that has been treated in a softener. Read more...

18. Why does my dishwasher leave spots on my glasses?

 

The spots that might appear on glassware after it is washed and air-dried are caused by harmless minerals (usually calcium) that remain on the glass when the water evaporates. Commercial products are available that allow the water to drain from the glassware more completely. Spots on glass shower doors appear for the same reason.

In July 2010, a new law required manufacturers of dishwasher detergent to lower the phosphate levels being added to dishwasher detergents. Phosphate softens the water, allowing the soap to be more effective in removing food residue. Removing or lowering the phosphate levels may cause white powder residue on dishes and cloudy glassware at the end of the normal wash and dry cycle. For more information, see this article

Customers who experience the white residue on glassware can periodically add a half cup of white vinegar to the beginning of the wash. The vinegar will provide enough acid to prevent hardness residue from remaining on glassware. As an added note, Consumer Reports notes that various products sold by CASCADE have been found to be the best for dishwasher use. Follow all manufacturers recommendations regarding your dishwasher use.

19. Why are there white deposits found around my showerhead?

 

If a particular area has hard water, it is most likely a result of the mineral deposits which form when the water evaporates. There are commercial products available in stores which will remove this build-up. Soaking the shower head in a solution of white vinegar will also dissolve the deposits.

20. Should I get a home water softener?

 

A water softener can improve the aesthetic qualities of your household water. For example, soap products perform better in softer water. But a water softener does not improve the safety or quality of water as it relates to health. Most water softeners exchange sodium for existing calcium and magnesium in the water and therefore, increase the sodium content of the water. The sodium increase in softened water may be a concern to you. If you are on a sodium-restricted diet, you may want to consult your physician prior to purchasing a system.

Also, there is evidence that softened water may be corrosive to certain metallic pipe materials.

The cost of softening water is another factor that must be taken into consideration. According to Consumer Reports, water softeners can consume from 15 to 120 gallons of water for every 1,000 gallons of water processed. The decision to purchase a home water softener is therefore one of personal preference. 

21. Is there lead in my water?

 

Test results of the water quality at our customer taps and ongoing analysis of our sources have shown that the water supplied by New Jersey American Water contains no detectable lead. Our source water contains no lead. If there are lead-soldered copper pipes or brass faucets in your home, these may be acting as a source of lead in your water. The brass in most faucets (even chrome-plated faucets may be brass underneath) contains between 5% and 8% lead. To eliminate the risk of lead exposure from such faucets, take these simple precautions:

  • Flush Your Tap: When water stands in lead soldered pipes or brass fixtures for several hours or more, lead may dissolve into drinking water. Whenever the water in a faucet has gone unused for more than six hours, lead that may be present may be significantly reduced by running the water from the tap, usually for about a minute, before using it for drinking or cooking. Conserve water whenever possible by using the first flush to wash the dishes or water the plants.
  • Use Cold Water for Cooking: Avoid cooking with water from the hot water tap. Hot water can dissolve lead more quickly than cold water. If hot water is needed, water can be drawn from the cold tap and heated on the stove or in the microwave.
  • Check Home Wiring: Have an electrician check the house wiring. If grounding wires from electrical systems are attached to household plumbing, corrosion and lead exposure may be greater.

For more information, read more about lead and drinking water.

22. Do you add fluoride to the water?

 

New Jersey American Water is neutral on the issue of fluoridation of drinking water supplies. We consider the fluoridation of drinking water supplies to be a community-based decision. This means that any system in which we currently fluoridate, the decision to initiate fluoridation was not made by the company. Read more...

23. Will a home treatment device improve the safety of my water?

 

The tap water provided by New Jersey American Water meets or exceeds all federal and state drinking water standards set for public health. While some home treatment devices can remove chlorine and taste/odor constituents, home treatment devices rarely improve the safety of the water to any significant degree. Home treatment devices require regular service. When homeowners do not maintain the home treatment devises as recommended by the manufacturer, it reduces the effectiveness of these devices and possibly results in lower quality water.

Before purchasing a home water treatment unit, consider local water quality, cost and maintenance of the unit, product performance and certifications to make sure the unit will meet your needs

24. Why are their aerators on home water faucets?

 

When mixed with water, tiny air bubbles from the aerator prevent the water from splashing too much. Because the water flow is less, often half the regular flow, aerators also help to conserve water.

25. Why do ice cubes bulge from the top of the ice-cube trays?

 

Water expands when it freezes. Because the ice cube tray has a bottom and four sides that don't move, ice bulges out of the open top as the water expands. Because frozen water is expanded, it is lighter than water. Therefore, in the winter, ice floats on the surface while the water underneath stays liquid.

26. Where can I obtain additional information about my water quality?

 

View the Water Quality Report for your water system or contact New Jersey American Water's Customer Service Center at 1-800-652-1325.

Dated: February 2011