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Get Informed | Waterborne Pathogens

What are Waterborne Pathogens?

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.

How Do Waterborne Pathogens Become a problem?

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).

What are the Health Risks for Waterborne Pathogens?

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)

What are the Standards for Waterborne Pathogens?

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.

Get Tested | Waterborne Pathogens

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 | Observational Self-Testing

Notes on Level 1 Testing for Waterborne Pathogens

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.

Observations for Waterborne Pathogens

For waterborne pathogens some possible observations may include:

  • The water may have an off odor or strange taste.
  • There may be a biological film on the surface of the water.
  • The local authority may have recently ordered a boil-water or no-swim advisory.
  • Someone in the household is sick and has symptoms associated with a waterborne pathogen.
Try Our Level 1 Drinking Water Self-Diagnostic Tool
Have water issues? Answer our self-diagnosis questionnaire from your observations to get an initial diagnosis. Then follow our recommended steps to remediate your issue.
Self-Diagnostic Tool

Level 2 | Do-It-Yourself Water Testing

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.

Notes on Level 2 Testing for Waterborne Pathogens

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.

Level 3 | Informational Water Testing

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.

Notes on Level 3 Testing for Waterborne Pathogens

There are informational water testing services that provide a means of screening for waterborne disease pathogens and the overall bacterial quality of drinking water and surface water (lakes, ponds, and streams).  If you are concerned about a waterborne pathogen, we recommend either the National Testing Labs Waterborne Pathogen Screening Test (Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Shigella, E. Coli 0157:H7, Legionella, and Campylobacter) or the Tap Score Giardia and Cryptosporidium Test and the Tap Score Total Microbiological Test.

Testing a Pond - We recommend the Tap Score Pond and Lake Test and the National Testing Labs Waterborne Pathogen Screen or the Tap Score Total Microbiological Test.

Contact a KnowYourH2O Recommended Professional

Request a Quote for a Microscopic Particle Analysis to check source vulnerability to contamination. Contact Us

Level 4 | Certified Water Testing

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.

Notes on Level 4 Testing for Waterborne Pathogens

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.

Get Treatment | Waterborne Pathogens

The best strategy to protect a water supply is to use a multiple-barrier approach. For large water systems, this approach uses a combination of controlling land-use within a watershed to prevent degradation of the source water and is a properly designed and well-operated filtration plant. Physically removing contaminants, maintaining a low finished-water turbidity/ particle count, and effective disinfection is a combination of engineering controls that can be an effective treatment method.

For community water systems, this multiple barrier approach may include: sanitary surveys, risk assessment, water supply vulnerability analysis, land-use management and control, zoning and development regulations, watershed management, wellhead and water supply protection zones, watershed and well-field monitoring, water pretreatment, water filtration, disinfection, water quality monitoring, and water distribution system monitoring.

For individual water supplies, this would include a comprehensive treatment system that may include: evaluating water source, filtration, disinfection, and possibly reverse osmosis or distillation. The National Sanitation Foundation has approved several point-of-use devices. Prior to selecting a treatment option, it is advisable to have your water tested.

Short Term Treatment

In the short term, the only solution would be to consider boiling and then filtering your drinking water through a submicron filter that meets the NSF 53 standard or to use a bottled water source or an alternative source of drinking water. In addition, a well water source may require some form of rehabilitation.

Contact a KnowYourH2O Recommended Professional

Want advice from a local professional? Request a consultation from the KnowYourH20 Team. Contact Us

Long-Term Treatment

Long-term treatment should first attempt to understand the contaminate pathway and source and mitigate any external causes for this contamination. This may mean installing a sanitary well cap, improving the well construction by extending the casing, installing a new water well, and mitigating the source of contamination. After mitigation and a comprehensive water quality assessment, the treatment solution will likely require a multiple-barrier approach that uses a combination of particulate filtration, disinfection, and submicron filtration.

If you are a City Water user, you are not likely looking at a system to provide 99.9% reduction, but want a final barrier to help protect your family if there is a failure at the central water treatment facility. If you are looking for a treatment solution, you are looking for a system that meets the NSF 43, NSF 53, and perhaps NSF 58 standards. In most cases, this will require a certified professional. If you need help finding a certified professional, please contact our team.

If there is no problem and you're looking for a final barrier filter for your drinking water, we recommend the Filter Water: Thunder 4000M Reverse Osmosis System with UV.

Contact a KnowYourH2O Recommended Professional

Want advice from a local professional? Request a consultation from the KnowYourH20 Team. Contact Us

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