There are a number of organisms that can be a waterborne pathogen in drinking water. This can include a small sub-group of E. coli. and other bacteria, viruses, and protozoans. We are using the term waterborne pathogens which are organisms that can cause disease by way of a drinking water route.
Waterborne pathogens become a problem because someone or a pet becomes sick or a person becomes an asymptomatic carrier for the disease that then impacts others. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) indicates there may be 4 to 32 million cases of acute gastrointestinal illness associated with "regulated" public water supply systems. Our work in Pennsylvania suggests that 40 to 50 % of private wells may have a water quality problem with their water that could make them sick. The current estimate is there are 3 million Pennsylvanians using well water; this means that up to 1.5 million may be exposed to a disease-causing situation because of their water source. The first line of defense is to "Get Your Drinking Water Tested and to Know Your H20".
The most common waterborne diseases in the United States (2017 Data) were:
"Acute otitis externa (swimmers ear), campylobacteriosis, cryptosporidiosis, Escherichia coli (E. coli) infection, free-living ameba infection, giardiasis, hepatitis A virus (HAV) infection, Legionnaires’ disease, nontuberculous mycobacterial (NTM) infection, Pseudomonas-related pneumonia or septicemia, salmonellosis, shigellosis, and vibriosis (cholera)".
These 13 diseases caused 6,939 deaths in the U.S. in 2017:
"Of the 6,939 deaths, 91% were associated with three environmental pathogens that can grow in water-system biofilms: Legionella (Legionnaires' disease) (250 deaths), NTM (Mycobacteria) (1,216 deaths), and Pseudomonas-related pneumonia (1,618 deaths) or septicemia (3,217 deaths).
Of the 6,939 deaths, 7% were associated with seven pathogens transmitted by the fecal–oral route: Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, E. coli, Giardia, Hepatitis A, Salmonella non-typhoidal, and Shigella."(Source).
In 2017, 6900 + died. The health risks are clear. In addition to death, 477,000 annual ER visits in 2017 were related to these 13 diseases caused by pathogens that can be transmitted by water. (Source)
The EPA does not regulate all specific waterborne pathogens. The EPA drinking water standards attempt to minimize waterborne disease by providing specific standards for some bacteria, viruses, and protozoans and then technical standards or treatment technique standards to address them: (Source).
Total Coliform - Absent or < 1 colony per 100 ml - but for regulated community water supplies no more than 5.0% samples total coliform positive in a month and must be negative for E. coli and fecal coliform.
Cryptosporidium - treatment standard that must demonstrate 99% reduction.
Giardia - treatment standard that must demonstrate 99.9 % inactivation/killed.
Legionella - No limit; EPA believes that if Giardia and viruses are inactivated, Legionella will also be controlled.
Viruses - 99.99% killed/inactivated. Waterborne pathogens like Legionella and mycobacteria are associated with biofilms.
We can not see or detect waterborne disease when it is first present with our eyes, ears, nose, or taste. We can notice that the water or food may have a bad smell or taste, we can see and feel slimy coatings and growths or a metallic sheen on the water, but this is not when the pathogens are first present and even through we may notice a problem it does not mean a waterborne pathogen is actually present.
Level 1 Testing is done with simple observations that an individual can make with their own senses such as sight, smell, and taste. These observations can be readily apparent or can be observed as they change over time. In addition, accessible related information about the home can also be used to narrow down the cause of your water issues.
The potential warning signs of a waterborne disease pathogen can include a change in the taste, appearance, or other nuisance issues with your water, but this does not mean they are present or are the first sign of a problem. For well water uses, the screening process includes initial water testing, but be vigilant of coatings, films, and changes in your water quality with time. For regulated water users, the system authority does conduct performance monitoring as required by state and federal organizations, but the primary concern would be associated with a system operational failure, system repair, flushing operation, or pipeline break that may or may not be associated with a dirty or discolored water event or a boil water advisory. If your water has a high level of hydrogen sulfide, it may be advisable to check for a waterborne pathogen, because some waterborne pathogens like Pseudomonas, Citrobacter, Aeromonas, Salmonella, and Escherichia coli produce hydrogen sulfide gas.
For waterborne pathogens some possible observations may include:
Level 2 Testing is Do-It-Yourself testing that can be done in your own home using a Testing Kit. After you’ve done Level 1 Testing, Level 2 Testing can confirm if your observations are correct. If your test results reveal the presence of a contaminant that is cause for concern, you can either proceed to determine the best treatment (see below) or continue to Level 3 Testing.
There are really low cost tests for waterborne pathogens, but there are also screening tests for the presence or absence of total coliform bacteria and E. coli. and you may want to conduct an in-home water screening test. There are some surface-testing devices and swabs that are used to evaluate the presence of biofilms (ATP Testing) and there is a PathoScreen test available from Amazon, but these are not low cost and they require some technical expertise. If you have a private water source, you may want to consider a shock disinfection of the source. We recommend using the Well-Safe Products.
<div class="product-note in-L6-bromate">Note: If the concentration is < 0.01 mg/L (POU Device System Component)</div>
Level 3 Testing is done through an accredited Water Testing Laboratory. With Level 3 Testing, you can order a testing kit that is used to prepare your sample and submit it to the lab. By utilizing a lab, you have the assurance that a certified water expert had analyzed your water sample. If your test results reveal the presence of a contaminant that is cause for concern, you can either proceed to determine the best treatment options (see below) or continue to Level 4 Testing - Certified Testing.
Request a Quote for a Microscopic Particle Analysis to check source vulnerability to contamination. Contact Us
A Level 4 Certified Test Test uses chain-of-custody with a water professional coming to your home to prepare the water sample and then works with an accredited laboratory in order to certify your test results. This type of testing not only gives you the highest level of assurance in the accuracy of your test results, but can also be used as a document in legal cases. For Baseline Testing, we recommend that you use Certified Testing.
If you are looking for certified water testing for waterborne pathogens, we strongly suggest that you first confirm or document the level of total coliform, E. coli., fecal coliform, and standard plate count in your water. If you need assistance finding a source of certified testing, please contact our team.