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Water Quality Q and 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?

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. Should fluoride be added to water?
  2. In which systems does Pennsylvania American Water add fluoride to the water?
  3. Why is fluoride added to the drinking water?
  4. What is the maximum level allowed in drinking water?
  5. What are the normal fluoride levels maintained in the Pennsylvania American Water systems?
  6. Can fluoride occur naturally in the water supplies?
  7. Will I lose the benefits of fluoride in my drinking water if I install a home treatment device?
  8. Will Pennsylvania American Water add fluoride to my drinking water?
  9. Will Pennsylvania American Water remove fluoride addition to my drinking water?
  10. Where can I find additional information about fluoride?

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

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 might be classified as biological, chemical (organic and inorganic), physical and radiological impurities. They might 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 impurities. 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 impurities are at levels no higher than those set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or PA 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 Pennsylvania American Water, we routinely sample and analyze our source water, water quality throughout our treatment process and throughout our distribution (pipeline) 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 Water Quality Report. Customers who wish to have further testing might opt to pay to have their water tested by a state accredited laboratory.

4. Where can I get my water tested?

 

Customers can choose to have your water tested at their cost by a DEP-accredited laboratory. These 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 accredited drinking water labs can be found on the PA 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 might experience higher levels of chlorine. For more information about chlorine in drinking water, view our Chlorine Fact Sheet - Surface Water or our Chlorine Fact Sheeet - Groundwater.

6. Why is my drinking water discolored? 

 
  • White or cloudy water: The cloudiness in your water is typically caused by tiny air bubbles in the water. This occurs when air is entrapped in the water, similar to 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 and will usually clear from the bottom of the container up to the top. This phenomenon is called entrained air and does not affect the quality of your water.
  • Blue water: The use of blue disinfectant in your toilet might cause discoloration of your tap water, particularly if the water supply to your home was recently turned off. This might create conditions 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 might pose health hazards if ingested or touched. Flush your plumbing by opening each tap until the water runs clear. If you have any doubts concerning the quality of your water, contact our Customer Service Center at 1-800-565-7292.
  • 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 surface water supply. Algal blooms occur naturally under warm, dry conditions. Pennsylvania American Water adjusts it treatment process when algae is detected in our raw water source of supply to remove it during the normal water treatment process.
  • Brown or yellow water from either tap on the FIRST DRAW:
    Discolored water can be the result of controlled and uncontrolled events in the distribution system. Causes include main breaks, use of hydrants for fire-fighting activity and water main flushing procedures. Though these events are temporary and in most cases harmless, it can stain your laundry. Pennsylvania American Water publishes its flushing schedule on its Web site. Under the Customer Service menu, select Customer Water Alerts. Please avoid using your washing machine or automatic icemaker during this time. You can be assured the Pennsylvania American Water crews work to restore service as quickly as possible in any event.

    The internal plumbing of your house might be the culprit if discolored water appears for only 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 increased. These sediments might 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 might 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 might 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.

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. Read more on Aesthetics: Discolored Water.

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. 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 non-harmful bacteria and residue buildup. Usually, the customer can remove the black film by cleaning the area with a commercial cleaner that contains a disinfecting agent, such as chlorine bleach. The film might also be related to the condition of the water coming in to the house. Hard water can leave deposits on toilets and dishwashers which are the mineral salts left behind as the water evaporates.

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

 

The blue-green stain is sometimes found 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 Pennsylvania 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. Keep in mind: the stain will reappear sooner on porous surfaces than it will on a smooth surface, and will need to be cleaned more often. Abrasive cleaners are not as effective at removing copper or iron stains as crystal bowl cleaners. Also, the use of abrasive cleaners can make the fixture surface become more porous, which causes the stain to reappear faster.

11. What causes a rust stain?

 

Different factors might be causing the rust stain. There might be a discolored water 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 might 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 and grows 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 might 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 might change with the seasons or a change in the treatment process. For example, during the summer months, a change in taste might 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 1-800-565-7292.
  • Read more on Aesthetics:Causes of Unusual Tastes and Odors in Drinking Water

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. For more information about chlorine in drinking water, view our chlorine fact sheet.

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

 

If you smell rotten eggs or sewage in the water, it might be 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 1-800-565-7292.

If the drain is found to be the source of odors, you can disinfect the drain 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 might cause eye damage, skin irritation, and might 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 might cause eye damage, skin irritation, and might 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 might 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 might need to be repeated if the odor returns.

If the odor is detected only in your hot water supply, it might 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 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. For more information, view our Hardness Fact Sheet.

17. 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 harmlessminerals (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.

18. 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.

19. 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 might be a concern to you. If you are on a sodium-restricted diet, you might want to consult your physician prior to purchasing a system. Also, there is evidence that softened water might be corrosive to certain metallic pipe materials. The decision to purchase a home water softener is therefore one of personal preference. For more information, view our Hardness Fact Sheet.

20. Is there lead in my water?

 

  1. Test results show that lead is not normally present in the water exiting any of our water treatment facilities. If there are lead-soldered copper pipes or brass faucets in your home, these might be acting as a source of lead in your water. The brass in most faucets (even chrome-plated faucets might be brass underneath) contains between 5% and 8% lead. To eliminate the risk of lead exposure from such faucets, take these simple precautions:
    1. Flush your tap before drinking or cooking with water, if the water in the faucet has gone unused for more than six hours. When water stands in lead soldered pipes or brass fixtures for several hours or more, lead might dissolve into drinking water. Whenever the water in a faucet has gone unused for more than six hours, lead that might be present can be significantly reduced by running the water from the tap, usually for 30 seconds to two minutes, before using. To conserve water, catch the running water and use it to water your plants.
    2. 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.
    3. 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 might be greater.

    For more information, view our Lead Fact Sheet.

    21. Should fluoride be added to water?

     

    Pennsylvania 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, Pennsylvania American Water is abiding by the wishes of all the local municipalities served by the water system. In the systems where Pennsylvania American Water adds fluoride, we follow U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) standards. EPA is responsible for setting national limits for contaminants in drinking water. These standards established by EPA are based on the best data available. EPA evaluates new data as it is available on existing and new contaminants, and it sets requirements for allowable limits in the water being delivered to our customers from our treatment facilities. The agency's standards are referred to as maximum contaminant levels (MCLs). For fluoride, EPA set an MCL of 4 milligrams per liter (mg/l) or parts per million (ppm). For the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, DEP has set the MCL at 2 milligrams per liter. Where Pennsylvania American Water fluoridates, the process is carefully controlled to achieve a targeted concentration level of 0.7 ppm in the finished water.  

    22. In which systems does Pennsylvania American Water add fluoride to the water?

     

    Pennsylvania American Water adds fluoride in the following drinking water systems:

      • Clarion
      • Coatesville
      • Indiana
      • Kane
      • Kittanning
      • Mechanicsburg
      • Montrose
      • New Castle
      • Philipsburg
      • Pittsburgh/McMurray/Washington/Mon Valley
      • Uniontown

    23. Why is fluoride added to the drinking water?

     

    Fluoride in drinking water has been reported to decrease the incidence of tooth decay when water is consumed during the period of active tooth growth. Excessive quantities of fluoride in drinking water consumed by children may cause a discoloration of the teeth also known as mottling. EPA has established an upper allowable limit for fluoride in drinking water so that teeth mottling does not occur.

    24. What is the maximum level allowed in drinking water?

     

    The PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has set a maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 2 mg/l for fluoride in finished drinking water. This is the highest level of fluoride that the DEP will allow water suppliers to distribute to their customers.

    25. What are the normal fluoride levels maintained in the Pennsylvania American Water systems?

     

    Pennsylvania American Water adds fluoride at some of its water treatment facilities to achieve a 0.7 mg/l concentration in the finished water.Many systems within Pennsylvania American Water do not fluoridate. In those systems, fluoride levels in the customer's water is normally very low, in the range of non-detectable to 0.2 mg/l.

    26. Can fluoride occur naturally in the water supplies?

     

    Yes. Fluoride is a minor constituent of the earth's crust. Generally speaking, the naturally occurring fluoride levels in the groundwater supplies in Pennsylvania range from non-detectable to approximately 0.2 mg/l. The occurrence of fluoride in surface water supplies is likely non-detect, but trace levels can exist.

    27. Will I lose the benefits of fluoride in my drinking water if I install a home treatment device?

     

    Certain types of home treatment devices will remove 85 percent to more than 95 percent of all the minerals in water, including fluoride. These devices are reverse osmosis, distillation units and de-ionizations units. A typical ion exchange water softener, which removes calcium and magnesium, will not remove fluoride.

    28.Will Pennsylvania American Water add fluoride to my drinking water?

     

    Pennsylvania American Water remains neutral on the issue of whether fluoride should be added to drinking water. We will only add fluoride at our treatment facilities if all municipalities within the service area agree that fluoride should be added to their drinking water. To ensure 100-percent acceptance, we require a written statement from the highest elected official in each municipality served by our water system. If 100-percent agreement is reached, we will obtain the necessary permits from DEP needed to begin the feed of the new chemical. Once DEP conducts their final inspection of the feed and storage facilities and the agency issues a final permit, we can then begin fluoridation.

    29. Will Pennsylvania American Water remove fluoride addition to my drinking water?

     

    Pennsylvania American Water will discontinue fluoridation of the water if a 100-percent agreement is received by all municipalities being served. If all communities agree and the highest elected official in each municipality confirms in writing to Pennsylvania American Water that fluoridation is no longer wanted, we will stop the addition of fluoride and we will cancel all of our applicable permits with DEP.

    30. Where can I find additional information about fluoride?

     

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

     

    The tap water provided by Pennsylvania American Water meets or surpasses 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

    32. 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.

    33. 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.

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

     

    View the Water Quality Report for your water system or contact Pennsylvania American Water's Customer Service Center at 1-800-565-7292.

    Dated: February 5, 2010