What Is Water Quality Testing?
Water quality testing is the process of evaluating a body of water to determine its suitability for a specific purpose, whether it is for drinking, industrial use, or other purposes. It is a scientific process that involves measuring the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of water.
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Water is a vital resource to humans, animals, and plants. Therefore, water must be treated to ensure that it is healthy and safe for consumption. The quality of drinking water depends on the presence or absence of certain bacteria, algae, protozoa, and other microorganisms.
It is also important to measure for a wide range of inorganic contaminants such as nitrates, chromium, arsenic, lead, and cadmium. These pollutants can cause serious health problems and can harm human and animal life.
Various countries develop national water quality standards that are based on international guidelines such as the WHO-FAO Codex Alimentarius for bottled water and the World Health Organization’s Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality (GDWQ). These standards can be used by many industries and plants to determine their own water quality requirements.
Test kits for home water quality monitoring are readily available and can be purchased at most hardware stores. These kits often include testing for the major physical, chemical, and biological parameters of water quality. They also usually include color disk kits or drop tests that can be used to detect the concentration of specific contaminants.
The most common type of testing is laboratory analysis and requires sending samples to a lab for a variety of different types of analysis. This is the most accurate and cost effective of the testing methods, but it can take several days for results to be provided.
Other testing options include handheld digital instruments that can provide a high level of accuracy, but they are more expensive and require calibration. These instruments are not ideal for “citizen science” or crowdsourced water quality testing and they should not be used in areas where contamination is likely to occur.
Water quality is affected by a number of anthropogenic (human-made) and natural factors such as weather, climate, agricultural and industrial activities. Moreover, toxins and contaminants can enter water from the environment, including air pollution with gasses like carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides.
For example, acid rain pollutes water systems. When combined with other elements in the atmosphere, acid rain corrodes and erodes surface water bodies, reducing their capacity to filter pollutants from the air into the groundwater.
In addition, bacterial and other microorganisms are present in all water sources, including aquifers. They can cause severe illness and contribute to global health crises such as cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid, and polio.
Depending on the purpose of the water, water quality may be assessed by the concentration of dissolved oxygen, bacteria, salt, or turbidity. These measures are typically measured for both potable and non-potable water. However, other parameters such as the concentration of microscopic algae and pesticides, herbicides, and heavy metals are also often measured. Some of these parameters are more important than others for determining the water’s suitability for a particular purpose.