Want to learn more about the quality of your public water supply, but are not sure where to turn?
Get a copy of your community's Consumer Confidence Report (CCR). This annual report, which is issued around July 1 each year, provides detailed information about the source, the treatment methods used, and the quality of your community's water supply over the past year.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began requiring that most community water systems provide customers with an annual water quality report in 1998. Also known as Consumer Confidence Reports or CCRs, these reports provide residents with detailed information about the quality of their drinking water supply during the past year.
Most homeowners will automatically receive a copy of the report each year. People living in apartments or condominiums may not receive a copy directly, but can still access this information on their community's website or by calling the local water department.
The EPA requires that each report contain the following information about the community's drinking water supply:
Not all items in these reports refer to harmful contaminants. Some issues do not pose a health risk, but can affect the appearance or taste of the water. These would include iron, chlorine and sediment, as well as the amount of hardness, sodium or sulfates present.
Reading a CCR can seem a little hard, but they are actually fairly easy to read once you know what to look for. Here are some terms you should know when reviewing your CCR:
Units of Measurement
There are several ways to measure the concentration, or amount, of a contaminant that is present in water. Common units of measurement that you are likely to see on your CCR include:
Milligrams per Liter is one of the most common units of measurement used to report contaminants. One mg/L would be equal to 4.5 drops in a 55 gallon barrel of water.
For smaller amounts, micrograms per liter is frequently used. One milligram per liter divided by 1,000 is equal to one microgram per liter. One ug/L equals about 4.5 drops in a 60,000 gallon swimming pool.
Parts per million is equivalent to saying milligrams per liter.
Parts per billion would be the same as ug/L. 1 ppb = 1 ug/L. One part per million divided by 1,000 is equal to one part per billion.
Pico Curies per Liter is used to measure contaminants such as radium, uranium, and radon. These contaminants emit radioactive waves that may be absorbed by the body.
Grains per gallon refers to the hardness concentration of water. Very hard water has more than ten grains per gallon, and very soft water has less than one grain per gallon. Hardness can also be reported in mg/L.
Action Level refers to the concentration of lead and/or copper in tap water that may affect local water treatment decisions. Unlike MCLs, AL violations do not require public notifications. Most high levels of lead and copper are due to household pipes and faucets.
Maximum Contaminant Level is the maximum level of a contaminant that is allowable in public drinking water supplies. Water suppliers are required to notify residents when an MCL is exceeded.
Maximum Contaminant Level Goal is the level of a contaminant in drinking water at which there is no known or anticipated health threat to a person who consumes the water.
Not Analyzed means that the source water has been deemed non-vulnerable to a specific contaminant or that testing was not required.
Not Detected means that none of the contaminant was found in the water sample. Water analysis equipment has detection limits, which refer to the smallest amount of a contaminant that the equipment is capable of detecting.
Treatment Technique refers to the set of procedures that public water suppliers must follow to ensure that a contaminant is controlled in their drinking water supplies.
Interpreting the Results on Your Report
Water quality reports will contain several columns of information. The key columns to review include:
For each contaminant, compare the level shown in the "amount detected" column to the level shown in the "MCL" column. This will help you determine if a particular contaminant is present in your drinking water at a level that is near or exceeds federal or state guidelines.
You can also compare the "amount detected" in your water supply to the level shown in the "MCLG" column. Keep in mind that the MCLG level is simply a target goal, not a requirement. Water utilities are currently required to keep contaminant levels below the MCL level, but not the MCLG level.
What to do if you have contaminants or taste/odor/color issues that concern you.
Ultimately, CCRs help residents identify what contaminants, if any, are present in their tap water supply and how these contaminants may affect their health. If a contaminant is present at a level that is of concern or if your water has an undesirable taste, odor or color, there are a number of options you can take. For many people, the first step might be to go out and purchase a water filter or water treatment system. However, no single system can protect against all impurities, so it's important to do your homework before selecting a water treatment system
Who can I contact if I have questions about the test results in my CCR?
The best source of information would be your local water supplier. They will be able to answer questions and provide you with information on local water quality conditions, the type of treatment processes used, as well as how often the water supply is analyzed for specific contaminants.
Who can I contact if I have questions about government regulations of drinking water supplies or water quality in general?
Questions regarding the development of the MCL and MCLG levels shown on your report can be directed to the EPA's safe drinking water hotline at 1-800-426-4791. The staff at this hotline number can answer questions about federal drinking water standards and provide general information on water quality in the United States.
The NSF Consumer Affairs Office can also address questions on many water quality topics. You can contact our Consumer Affairs Office via our toll-free consumer hotline at 1-800-673-8010 or send an email at email@example.com.
I have a home water treatment system (or am interested in purchasing one). Where can I go for independent information on these products?
If your water has a taste, odor or color issue, or you are concerned about the presence of a particular contaminant and are considering the use of a water filter or home water treatment device, visit the Home Water Treatment section of the NSF website.
NSF evaluates hundreds of brands of water treatment devices each year to ensure they meet standards for design and performance. Consumers can be confident that home water treatment devices that carry NSF certification will actually reduce the contaminants as claimed by the manufacturer. And that the product will do so without adding harmful levels of impurities into to the water being treated.
Unlike many product testing programs, NSF-certified products are re-certified each year, which allows us to assure consumers that the products they are using continue to meet strict national standards for public health and safety.
Although we do not make product recommendations, the NSF Consumer Affairs Office is available to answer general questions regarding home water treatment products. You can contact our Consumer Affairs Office via our toll-free consumer hotline at 1-800-673-8010 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To view a list of common contaminants that can be found in public and private drinking water supplies and options for treatment, please visit our contaminant guide.