WATER QUALITY FAQS

Welcome to the Water Quality Frequently Asked Questions page. Sometimes our customers have questions related to their water service.

Below are the some of the most frequently asked water quality questions we receive from customers with their corresponding answers and associated website links in blue.

Frequently Asked Questions

The tap water provided by Tennessee American Water meets or exceeds all federal and state drinking water standards set for public health. We routinely sample and analyze to make sure we are meeting all the drinking water standards established by the state and federal regulations for the following:

  • our source waters
  • water quality throughout the treatment process
  • water throughout our distribution system which delivers the water service to homes, schools, hospitals, businesses – anywhere there is a faucet where Tennessee American Water is the service provider.

Summaries of our test results are distributed to our customers annually in our Water Quality Reports. We invite you to read it over to learn more about the testing and quality of your water.

In this context, "safe" is a relative term that must be considered based on everyone’s health and overall well-being. Drinking water can be expected to contain tiny amounts of a few impurities. As long as those contaminants are at levels no higher than those set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) 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.

At Tennessee American Water many impurities are removed or rendered harmless during the water treatment process. 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.

One means for establishing and assuring 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, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

For more information, visit the EPA’s or TDEC’s Safe Drinking Water webpages.

The video below gives a high-level overview of the water treatment process.

More detailed information about the water treatment process can be found on our website here.

We also provide tours to students, third grade through college plus adult groups such as civic clubs. To request a tour, email presidentevitts@amwater.com

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.

You can find a list of certified labs through the following resources:

  • The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation maintains the state certification program for laboratories and water suppliers desiring to conduct microbiological, organic, inorganic, and turbidity analysis of drinking water samples. Approved commercial and microbiological laboratories can be found here.
  • Locate and contact a certified lab through the EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline 800-426-4791or online at www.epa.gov/safewater/labs

Chlorine is an important disinfectant that Tennessee American Water has used in its treatment process for over 100 years. It is added to water during the treatment process to kill harmful bacteria, viruses, and diseases. Chlorine is required by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation for all community drinking water systems.

By refrigerating your drinking water in a pitcher or container overnight, the chlorine will dissipate, and the taste of the colder water without the chlorine may suit your personal preference more.

  • White or cloudy water: Cloudy or milky water is typically caused by air bubbles in the water. This condition is not a public health concern. Cloudy water occurs more often in the winter months when drinking water is cold. This is because colder water holds more air. When the water warms within the house, the air escapes. The cloudiness is temporary and clears quickly after water is drawn from the tap. Cloudy water could also be an indication that construction work is being performed on Tennessee American Water’s pipelines within its distribution system. It can also be present at the end of the distribution system, at areas of high elevation, when meters are changed out, or when hydrants are flushed. Air can enter the pipeline in the system, causing bubbles to show in your tap water. Air in water is temporary and should be present for a brief period.
  • Recommendations: Let the water stand until it clears. If the water clears from the bottom of the glass toward the top, the condition is caused by air. Run the cold water from a tap with a lot of force like the bathtub to help the air bubbles escape.
  • 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.
  • Recommendations: 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.
  • Green water: Standing water sometimes has a greenish or bluish cast to it. Fluorescent lights will make your water appear green or blue, which may come from copper that has leached from the pipes in your home.
  • Recommendation: No immediate action. If discoloration persists, please contact us.
  • Brown or yellow water when you first turn on either cold or hot water tap: The internal plumbing of your house may be the culprit if discolored water only appears for a minute or two after you turn on your tap. When the zinc coating on the inside of galvanized iron pipe (usually found in older homes) begins to wear thin, water becomes discolored as it encounters bare iron. The longer the water sits in the pipes, the worse the discoloration will be. That is why you are most likely to notice the problem first thing in the morning or when you have just returned from school or work.
  • Recommendation: After running your tap for a few minutes, the water should run clear. 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: Discolored water can be the result of controlled and uncontrolled events in the distribution system, including main breaks, use of hydrants for firefighting, water main flushing procedures, or contractor work. When these events occur residue from the metal mains may get stirred up due to the changes in the flow of water in the mains. When these events occur, the equilibrium in the water main has been distressed and pressures reduced, therefore stripping the interior of the main loosening iron particles and rust scales which are temporary while the work is being performed causing your water to turn brown, yellow, or red.
  • Recommendation: Run the cold water in your bathtub or at the lowest level of your house for 3 15 to 20 5 minutes or until it becomes clear. Discolored water is due to such instances as these which poses no public health threat, but it is best to avoid doing laundry and do not run the hot water until the water clears up. This will help make sure the discolored water is not pulled into the hot water tank.
  • 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.
  • Recommendation: Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to safely turn off, cool, drain, and flush your hot water heater. If the problem persists after refilling the hot water heater, you should consult your owner's manual again or consider contacting a licensed plumber.

The cloudy water is caused by tiny air bubbles in the water like 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.

Ice cubes that are made with water with tiny air bubbles will also be cloudy in appearance because the air has been trapped. 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.

Residue can build up on sinks, toilets, showers, and floors for varied reasons. The two most common residues are black film or slime around the toilet, faucet, drain or tiles and pink stains that develop on flat, wet surfaces, especially in the shower. This residue is caused by a colored organism in the air that grows in these areas. It is a harmless bacterium that exists in moist/humid conditions.

To remove black or pink residue in your home, consider periodically cleaning the area with a commercial cleaner that contains a disinfecting agent, such as chlorine bleach or try a 50:50 mixture of white vinegar and warm water. Let soak for 10 minutes before scrubbing for the best results.

People sometimes see a pink ring develop on the flat surfaces of their shower, in their pet's water bowls, or toilets that are infrequently used. 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 or try a 50:50 mixture of white vinegar and warm water. Let soak for 10 minutes before scrubbing for the best results.

Changes in your water's taste and smell can result from several causes, including seasonal weather changes, your hot water heater, or faucets. For example, if you detect during the summer months an earthy or musty taste, this may be caused by the buildup of leaves and other organic materials in a surface water source like the Tennessee River. This change in taste does not pose a health risk. Watch this video to learn more.

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.

Sometimes customers report that their tap water smells septic, swampy moldy or like sewage or sewer gas, or sometimes sulfur or rotten 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. 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.

Recommendation: Fill a glass of water from the tap where you smell the odor then walk to another area to smell the glass of water. If the water does not have a small, then you will know it is the drain causing this issue. If the water in the glass still smells after you have walked into a different room, please contact our Customer Service Center at 1-866-736-6420

To eliminate this odor in the drain, the bacteria must be killed by disinfecting the drain. Effective disinfection can be achieved by following these steps.

  • Pour approximately one to two cups of liquid chlorine bleach (laundry bleach) down the drain (or drains) where the odor is present. Caution: bleach may cause eye damage, skin irritation, and may damage clothing - BE CAREFUL! Do NOT mix any drain cleaners or detergents with bleach; certain combinations can create toxic fumes.
  • 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.
  • Allow the bleach to remain undisturbed in the drain for about 10 minutes. Caution: prolonged contact with metals may cause pitting and/or discoloration.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Hardness is a term used to describe elevated levels 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. Hardness is measured in both parts per million (ppm) and grains per gallon. Industry rule of thumb is that hardness should not exceed 120 to 170 ppm which is 7 to 10 grains per gallon. Tennessee American Water’s hardness, which does not exceed the industry’s rule of thumb can be found in our Water Quality Reports.

Test results of the water quality at our customer taps and ongoing analysis of our sources have shown that the water supplied by Tennessee American Water contains no detectable lead. Our source water contains no lead. Homeowners’ service lines may be made of lead, copper, galvanized steel, or plastic. If you live in an older home, consider having a licensed plumber check for lead. Or you can check where your service line enters the home, typically in the basement, craw space or garage, near the inlet valve.

For a list of steps you can take to reduce your potential exposure if lead exists in your home plumbing, see the lead section of your Water Quality Report.

For more information:

PFAS refers to per - and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a class of synthetic chemicals, manufactured for industrial applications and commercial household products such as: non -stick cookware; waterproof and stain resistant fabrics and carpets; firefighting foam and cleaning products. The properties that make these chemicals useful in so many of our everyday products also resist breaking down and therefore persist in the environment.

Tennessee American Water is currently performing voluntary sampling to better understand certain occurrence of PFAS levels in drinking water sources. As part of an Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule, the EPA asked utilities like Tennessee American Water to sample for PFAS to determine whether to establish a drinking water standard. EPA is using the data collected to work towards regulating PFAS.

Watch this short video to learn more about PFAS and more information can be found in our Water Quality Report.

In the communities where Tennessee American Water provides water, local governments have ordinances requiring fluoride be added. Tennessee 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 is a decision made by the community.

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. It is good practice to remove the aerator from time to time to remove any deposits that may come from internal plumbing. If black particles are present, examine the integrity of the gasket. It may be breaking down and will need to be replaced.

The tap water provided by Tennessee American Water meets or exceeds all federal and state drinking water standards set for public health. Home treatment devices can be a choice based on personal needs.

If you choose to use a filtration system, consider local water quality, cost and maintenance of the unit, product performance and certifications. There are many types of filtration systems, ranging from a water pitcher with a filter to a whole home treatment system.

Home treatment devices require regular service like replacing filters as recommended by the manufacturer. When homeowners do not maintain the home treatment devices as recommended by the product provider, it reduces the effectiveness of these devices and results in lower quality water by allowing bacteria or mold to grow. Before purchasing a home water treatment unit, make sure the unit will meet your needs.

We invite you to read your annual Water Quality Report. Search by zip code to find the one in your area. Our report is organized to be user friendly to the customer, contains definitions to help you understand it, provides information about your source water, tables of data demonstrating compliance of drinking water standards, and tips on how you can help protect our water sources.