Common Water Quality Problems, Their Causes, Effects, and Solutions
Blue-green stains in tubs and sinks; metallic taste
Blue-green stains are the result of acidic (low pH) water. The acidic water
slowly dissolves your copper plumbing. When your tub dries, the water
evaporates, leaving being the blue-green copper salts. This is a very common
problem on Martha's Vineyard since rainwater is naturally acidic (and
increasingly so because of the rising levels of carbon dioxide in the
atmosphere) and, unlike most of the United States, we have no limestone in
strata underlying the island. In other areas, the acidic water reacts with the
limestone which neutralizes the acidity.
The most noticeable effect is the staining itself which is unsightly and
difficult to clean. The longer-term effect is that the acid water is actually
eating your copper plumbing from the inside out. Eventually pinhole leaks will
start to develop and this will progress to the point where major re-plumbing
will be required. This is an expensive and disruptive process since your
plumbing was installed after your home was framed but before walls and ceilings
were in place. The EPA lists copper as both Primary (health) and Secondary
There are at least a half-dozen ways to neutralize water, but the most
efficient and flexible way is to install a fully automatic, backwashing,
(self-cleaning) Acid Neutralizing System. These systems use calcium carbonate
(the primary component of limestone) to neutralize the acidity in the same way
nature does in areas where there is limestone underground.
Red-brown stains on tubs, sinks, and laundry; metallic taste
Red-brown stains are caused by iron in the water, of which there are many types. Their effects are the same, but the method of treatment varies by type.
The primary effect of iron in your water is the staining, which can vary from
very minor (when there's only a small amount of iron in your water) to extreme.
Certain types of iron will clog piping and fixtures. It can also damage or ruin
hot water heaters and other water-using appliances.
Iron is not difficult to remove, as long as one can correctly identify its type
and quantity. We have the Laboratory, EPA, Field Grade Testing Equipment to
pinpoint the exact cause. From there, we present the most economical and
efficient means of effective treatment.
Brown-to-black stains; metallic taste
Brown-to-black stains are caused by manganese in your water. Manganese is a
metal, chemically similar to iron, and is found in various mineral compounds in
nature. It is rarely found without iron being present as well.
Brown-to-blacks stains on tubs, sinks, laundry, and especially dishwashers, that
are extremely difficult to remove. Manganese may also appear as black sediment
in your water. High levels of manganese can be neurotoxic.
Removal of manganese can be more difficult than removing iron, but thorough
testing will always lead the way to the best treatment method for any given
There are a wide range of sources that can cause unpalatable taste or odor in drinking
water - far too many to list here; but the most common would arise from bacterial
or material contamination, agricultural runoff, pesticides and other organics. In
the case of municipal, or town water, the cause is usually from disinfectants,
such as Chlorine, as well as their byproducts: the EPA refers to the latter as Disinfection
Byproducts, and lists them as Primary Contaminants.
The causes and effects are diverse. They can range from an annoyance to a
serious health risk.
Trust your nose! If you sense that your water tastes or smells like anything
but pure, clean water, it’s time to call Island Water Systems. We have the actual
technical authority and track record, through municipal and Federal contracts, (no
guesswork, please), to identify the root cause and provide effective
Rotten-egg odor in water can be caused by a number of problem specific areas.
It could hydrogen sulfide from the Well, or a myriad of other causes.
The primary effect of hydrogen sulfide is the extremely unpleasant odor. At
high concentrations, it has a decided laxative effect, and its presence in the
house will corrode anything metallic, from tableware to refrigerator motors!
The elimination of hydrogen sulfide depends on its source, as well as the
particular chemistry of the water and its immediate environment. It has an
astounding range of causes. But proper testing, and the experience to ‘know
where to look’, will always provide the simplest, most cost-effective solution.
Disinfection byproducts (Must test to detect)
Disinfection byproducts are the result of the use of chlorine, bromine, or
other reactive chemicals to kill bacteria in municipal water supplies.
The chemicals commonly used to for disinfection (chlorine, bromine) can react with
organic matter in water to produce trihalomethanes (VOC’s) Volatile Organic
Compounds, as well as other halocarbon compounds. These are known carcinogens…
Whole-house, Granular Activated Carbon Filters are generally the solution.
However, great care must be taken to select the specific type of carbon
appropriate to the molecular structure and mass of the contaminant to be
removed. (Whew!) Contaminant level is critical when properly engineering these
systems. Island Water Systems has decades of experience in this field.
Bacterial contamination (Must test to detect)
Bacterial contamination can be the result of barnyard run-off, septic system
failures, and other sources.
E. coli and total coliform tests are indicators of the possible presence of
harmful bacteria (E. coli O157:H7) that can cause a
range of symptoms from moderate gastrointestinal disturbances to severe
Again, there are many solutions to this problem, whether the source is
municipal, or a private Well. They are application specific, and we take care
to provide permanent solutions that target the particular contamination, so
that peace of mind and safety can be restored.
Arsenic (Must test to detect)
Arsenic is a naturally occurring element which can occur in well water in two
ionic forms. It is very toxic and cannot be seen, tasted, or smelled. Testing
There are many short and long-term effects of arsenic from gastrointestinal
problems to neurological effects to cancer. If your water contains more than 10
ppb (parts per billion) you must have an arsenic removal system.
The only good news regarding Arsenic, is that it has become so prevalent. The
result is that profit driven Research and Development has developed innovative Arsenic
Nitrates (Must test to detect)
Small amounts of Nitrates are not uncommon in nature. However, the primary
source of nitrates at the level of contamination come from the use of
fertilizers. Barnyard runoff and failed septic systems can also contribute to
nitrates in ground water.
Nitrates in drinking water are especially dangerous to infants; their presence
can inhibit the blood’s ability to carry oxygen-in other words - it can suffocate
them. It is the cause of a potentially fatal blood disorder known as methemoglobinemia
or "blue-baby" syndrome. This can affect young farm animals as well. Nitrates
are also dangerous to pregnant women and individuals with reduced stomach
acidity. Some health studies have linked nitrates to some forms of cancer but
the results are inconclusive.
Specific technologies are now in place that can effectively treat this problem.
However, without a thorough grounding in Water Chemistry and Analysis, the
application of this technology cannot be applied correctly. Island Water
Systems has always made a specialty in nitrate reduction as new technological
means have become available.
VOCs, and other organic contaminants (Must test to detect)
The sources of toxic organic compounds are widely varied throughout the world,
but commonly occur on Martha’s Vineyard through the use of pesticides,
herbicides, and fungicides. With the water-table in many areas just 20-30 feet
in depth, it takes very little migration through our sandy, permeable soil
structure for these materials to reach the water supply. Scientific study has
long linked the presence of trace organic compounds in our rainwater to the
increased cancer rates on Cape Cod and The Islands..
The effects of toxic organic compounds are extremely varied, ranging from mild,
short-term effects to lethal carcinogenic or toxic effects. They depend on the
specific compound, its concentration, and the duration of exposure. There are
both short-term and long-term health effects.
A whole-house Granular Activated Carbon Filter is the method of choice for the
reduction of these compounds, but only if the appropriate Carbon is chosen, and
its application is specific to the task.
Tea-colored water is caused by tannins. Tannins are naturally occurring organic
compounds produced where shrubs and other vegetation grow directly within a
pool of surface water. The tannic acids are released as vegetation naturally
The primary effect of tannin is the tea-like coloration of your water.
Tannin removal on Martha’s Vineyard is uniquely complicated by its chelation with
other elements in the water. It is those very elements that negate the
effectiveness of what are, in other regions, tried and true methods for tannin removal. There is only one other place
in the U.S. that I am aware of that has this problem, therefore we have, over
the years, developed a singular methodology that works in this most unusual of
Accumulation of scale and tub rings
Scale is caused by the heating of water that contains significant amounts of
calcium and magnesium salts. Above a certain temperature calcium, for example,
will precipitate as “scale” of insoluble calcium carbonate. Even at moderate
levels, it significantly impedes heat transfer. Hard water costs 20-30% more to
heat. It precipitates with soap to form a curd, commonly known as a “bathtub
Along with bathtub rings, scale can accumulate in your appliances and fixtures,
reducing their flow as well as causing them to fail prematurely. With hard
water, you may also notice that soaps and shampoos aren't as effective and
don't "lather up". In fact, that “squeaky clean” feeling you have
after washing your hands in hard water is actually the “bathtub ring” covering
Water Softeners are the most common, domestic solution to this problem.
However, there is a vast range in the quality and
efficiency of both the Softening media itself and the Controls that distribute
and recharge it. Island Water Systems Softeners Have No Equal in quality of
materials and components in their system design, yet, statistically, our Softeners
cost 15% less than the national average.
--------------------------------------------------------------------In addition to the problems mentioned above, there are innumerable other indicators we use to measure, test, and evaluate, so that our analysis of your water produces the most accurate assessment possible. This is the level of expertise we provide, making accurate and efficient Water Treatment Solutions possible.