Evaluation of household water quality in Essex, King and Queen, King William, and Middlesex Counties, Virginia

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Virginia Cooperative Extension

During Spring 1999 in Essex, King and Queen, King William, and Middlesex Counties, Virginia, programs of household water quality education, which included water sampling, testing, and diagnosis, were conducted. Participation in the water quality programs was made available to any resident of these four counties who utilized a private, individual water supply. During the course of the projects, 342 households submitted water samples which were analyzed for iron, manganese, hardness, sulfate, chloride, fluoride, total dissolved solids, pH, saturation index, copper, sodium, nitrate, and total coliform and E. coli bacteria. These analyses identified the major household water quality problems in these four counties as iron/manganese, corrosivity, and bacteria, although the occurrence and extent of these problems varied across the four counties. Chloride and total dissolved solids were particular problems only in Middlesex County. Additionally, a number of samples in all four counties were determined to have concentrations of sodium and nitrate high enough to possibly lead to health complications for at-risk segments of the population.

After the completion of the general water testing program, water supplies from 15 households were resampled for the testing of 29 pesticides and other chemical compounds. None of the samples had a concentration of any of these contaminants exceeding EPA Health Advisory or Maximum Contaminant Levels. Furthermore, a total of only five detections were observed in five separate samples.

Following completion of the programs, a survey was mailed to the 342 participants. One hundred and seven participants returned survey forms on which they identified their reason(s) for participating in such a program; the primary reason was concern about safety of their water supply. Returned survey forms also provided insight into measures participants had already taken, or planned to take, to improve the quality of their water supply. Nearly three-fourths of the households who reported having at least one water quality problem had taken, or planned to take, at least one measure to improve the quality of their water supply. Thirteen percent or more of all participants had taken, or planned to take, one or both of the following actions: shock chlorinate the water system and use bottled water for drinking/cooking.