Growing Concern: How Water Quality Impacts Your Fruits and Vegetables

A Guide to Choosing the Right Water for Your Vegetable Garden

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Whether it’s talking to your plants or adding nutrient-rich fertilizer, there are a multitude of ways people help their plants grow. A great way to ensure healthy plants is to use the right water to nourish them. Water quality can impact your plants in a variety of ways, and this is even more important when it comes to growing fruits and vegetables. The things you grow in your vegetable garden presumably make it into your body. This not only means that clean water impacts your plants’ health, but it can have an effect on your health, as well.

We’re here to explain:

  1. How water quality impacts your vegetable garden
  2. What type of water you should you use to water your produce
  3. Other factors influence the quality of your fruits and vegetables

How Water Quality Impacts Your Vegetable Garden

Just as food nourishes our bodies, water serves as the lifeblood for plants. Plants absorb water through their roots that subsequently moves through their vascular system. As water disperses across a plant’s leaves, stems, buds, flowers, and fruit, it carries with it a variety of crucial nutrients–functioning similarly to the human circulatory system. However, just like water carries the vital elements throughout a plant, it also may carry contaminants. These contaminants range from biological (microbes) to chemical (heavy metals). While contamination is less of a concern for ornamental plants, fruits and vegetables given poor quality water can directly impact your health. Increasing evidence not only suggests that contaminated water causes nutritional imbalance within the plant, it also indicates a link to increased foodborne illnesses from microbes, parasites, and viruses, in humans. The concern is greatest in leafy vegetables that tend to be eaten without cooking.

This begs the question: What’s the best type of water to use when watering your plants?

What Type of Water Should You Use to Water Your Plants

From tap water to bottled water, there can be a lot of confusion surrounding the best water for growing fruits and vegetables. We’re here to here to clarify what water leads to the healthiest plants–and in turn, the healthiest you.

The first thing we want to note, however, is that the parameters of what is ‘safe’ for plants are different than what is ‘safe’ for  human consumption. The next thing to remember is that, no matter what source you use to supply your garden with water–temperature matters. Our tip: avoid extremes. Exceedingly cold water can lead to root shock, while excessively hot temperatures can burn the plant.

Watering Plants with Municipal Water:

The most common concern people often have about using city water when irrigating their vegetable gardens is the added chlorine. If you receive your water from a public water supplier, it is highly likely–98% likely, to be specific–that your tap water contains some amount of the disinfectant (up to 4 parts per million). Chlorine serves as an effective means of removing pathogens from drinking water, but many gardeners fear that it will also eliminate many of the beneficial microbes in the soil. However, there are two key factors that do not make chlorine a major threat to microorganism populations:

  1. Microorganism reproduce at such a rapid rate that–even if chlorine kills some of the microbes–their populations can easily rebound in a short amount of time if you have healthy soil quality.
  2. When chlorine enters the ground, it binds to the surface soil particles and does not travel to the beneficial microorganism colonies that live in the lower soil layers.

While the average chlorine concentration in tap water (up to 4 parts per million) has not been shown do lasting damage to plants, chlorine toxicity is still possible. A tell-tale sign that your fruits and veggies may be suffering too much chlorine is if their leaves appear burnt.

How can you remove chlorine from your tap water? An easy (and inexpensive fix) is to let the water sit for a day or two in an open container. This allows the chlorine to vent in gas form. Note: if your water contains chloramines, this method will not work. In order to eliminate these chlorine/ammonia compounds is to use an active removal system (such as a catalytic carbon filter).  

If you are concerned about other contaminants in your water–like heavy metals–, we recommend investing in a water filter–especially if you use your tap water for drinking! Check out our guide to water filters to help you make the right choice–we know it’s confusing! One rule to follow: water that has passed through a water softener should not be used for horticulture. it is likely to be high in potassium or sodium. Elevated levels in either can buildup up in soil over time and high salt levels can cause your plant to die of thirst.

Watering Plants with Well Water:

Although ground water (i.e. your well source) is less likely to contain microbial contaminants than surface water, your well water may still wind up with a host of different contaminants. Well water begins as rain and snowmelt. It makes its way into your well by filtering through the ground. As it soaks through the soil, it can pick up a variety of contaminants depending on what chemicals or pathogens are present.

Evidence on how heavy metals impact vegetables suggest that some plants take up metals more readily than others, but scientists have found elevated of arsenic in California wines due to grape vines taking-up naturally occurring arsenic from soil and groundwater.

Our suggestion: if you have a well you should test it and consider testing your soil quality, too. Whether or not you are growing zucchinis, it’s always best to know what you are putting in your food (and body.)

Watering Plants with Bottled Water:

There are  a lot of myths surrounding the health benefits of bottled water. Despite what you may think, bottled water is not always cleaner or safer than tap water. Shockingly, about ~25% of bottled water appears to come just from tap water with or without added treatment. Additionally, bottled water is tested less frequently than tap water.

Our suggestion: considering both the financial and environmental costs of bottled water–tap water tends to be a better choice for your plants.

Other Factors Impacting Your Fruits and Veggies

Prior to selecting a certain type of water to irrigate your fruits or vegetables, it is best to gather as much information as possible. That means testing your water (whether it is city or well).

While water quality can have impacts on the overall plant health, an even more important factor is soil composition and quality. The balance of pH, nitrogen, phosphorus, carbon, and oxygen can significantly dictate the health of your plants. For more information regarding soil quality and ways to test it, you can reach us at hello@simplewater.us

Sources: 

http://lawr.ucdavis.edu/cooperative-extension/irrigation/drought-tips/water-quality-guidelines-vegetable-and-row-crops

https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/vegetable/guides/organic-vegetable-production-guide/key-factors-in-vegetable-production/

https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/garden-how-to/watering/testing-water-for-plants.htm

https://www.newstimes.com/news/article/Keep-food-safety-in-mind-when-planning-vegetable-52093.php

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4515668/

https://extension.tennessee.edu/publications/Documents/SP740-B.pdf

https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/foodborne-germs.html

https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/chlorine-toxicity-trees-and-shrubs

http://www.ncagr.gov/CYBER/kidswrld/plant/nutrient.htm

https://waterandhealth.org/safe-drinking-water/drinking-water/chlorine-in-tap-water-is-safe-to-drink/

http://albopepper.com/watering-with-tap-water.php

https://chlorine.americanchemistry.com/Chlorine/DrinkingWaterFAQ/

http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.495.8268&rep=rep1&type=pdf

http://www.onlineeducation.net/bottled_water

https://www.nrdc.org/stories/truth-about-tap

https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/extension-gardener-handbook/1-soils-and-plant-nutrients

Swimming Pool Water Safety

Must-Know Myths (and Truths) About Maintaining A Healthy Pool

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Ready for a quiz? Let’s see how much you know about swimming pool health and safety:

  1. True or False?: Chlorinated pool water is safer/cleaner than untreated recreational water (i.e. lakes and oceans)
  2. True or False?: Chlorine kills germs instantly.
  3. True or False?: A strong chlorine smell indicates a clean pool.

Unfortunately, all of three of these notion are false! Each of these are common myths that can lead to very serious health consequences. We’re here to debunk these rumors and help you pool your resources (if you will…) so you can make the most of the summer this year.

Common Causes of Swimming Pool-Related Illnesses:

We’ve previously addressed that there are a variety of possible waterborne pathogens that could be lurking in your drinking water–but, did you know that the same might be true in you pool? Despite popular belief, even chlorinated pools can harbor a multitude of dangerous bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. The most common causes of recreational water illnesses include:

The saliva, blood, mucus, or skin of infected swimmers can directly contaminate pool water with enough pathogens to infect other swimmers. The largest concern however, is fecal contamination, due to the high concentration of pathogens in feces (which can be as high as one million per gram).

Swallowing even a single mouthful of water contaminated with these germs can make you (very) sick. If infected with contaminated pool water, each of these pathogens carry with them a unique set of symptoms–ranging from skin, eye, ear, neurologic, or wound infections. However, one of the most common results is diarrheal illness.  

While you may think that chlorine in your pool would kill these germs, it's really good pool health that keeps pathogens away. A recent study found that pool-related outbreaks largely outnumber outbreaks associated with untreated drinking water.

What’s worse is that pool-related illnesses are on the rise. Outbreaks of Cryptosporidium infections linked to swimming pools have more than doubled from 2014 to 2016.

Top 3 Myths About Chlorine in Pools:

Let’s start by debunking an all-too-popular myth: Sufficient chlorine eliminates all germs instantly. There are two issues with this statement:

  1. There are many pathogens known to cause disease that are tolerant to chlorine (to varying degrees). For example, giardia–which is moderately resistant to chlorine–may survive for up to 45 minutes. Cryptosporidium, on the other hand, is extremely tolerant to chlorination and may survive up to 10 days in properly treated water!
  2. Chlorine disinfection does not occur immediately. It can take anywhere from minutes to even days in order for chlorine to effectively eliminate pathogens.

Another lesser known issue surrounding chlorine is the issue of chlorine poisoning. Determining the proper amount of chlorine in a pool is delicate balancing act. Too little, and the chlorine won’t effectively disinfect the pool water. Too much, and you may beat risk of toxic exposure. Symptoms depend on which form of chlorine you came into contact with (liquid or gas), along with time of exposure. Typical symptoms of chlorine poisoning include:

  • Burning pain
  • Skin redness
  • Blisters

So, if too little chlorine is ineffective at removing germs and too much chlorine can be toxic….what’s the amount?

The CDC recommends pool chlorine levels of at least 1 part per million (ppm), and 3 ppm for hot tubs. At this level, chlorine will eliminate most germs in less than an hour (assuming other factors, like pH and temperature, are in the recommended range).

Another myth about chlorine–that a strong chlorine smell indicates clean water–is one of the largest pool-related misconceptions. We hate to be the bearers of bad news, but not only is this notion not true, it is very much the opposite. A healthy, clean pool should not smell.  A chlorine smell means you need to ADD chlorine.

How is this possible? Well, that quintessential “pool smell” is due to chloramines–not chlorine. Chloramines can form when free chlorine gets into contact with ammonia and nitrogen mixes with chlorine. These compounds are found in natural body oils, sweat, personal care products, urine, fecal matter, and of course, the atmosphere–meaning that rain, especially in smog-prone areas, can increase chloramines in your pool.

When chloramines are formed, this indicates that chlorine is “tied up” in the chloramines, rather than existing as free chlorine. Free chlorine is the form of chlorine that is able to protect against germs (for you chemistry interested folks, this is the sum of hypochlorous acid and hypochlorite that forms when you add chlorine to water). Chloramine can also kill germs, but it is way less effective compared to free chlorine.

The best way to limit the formation of chloramines (and therefore reduce that “pool smell”) is to keep your pool covered when you’re not using it and shower before you dive in. We’ve all heard this before. It’s not just a mere suggestion–it’s a crucial step we can all take in order to protect our friends, family, and ourselves.

With these debunked myths in mind, it is crucial to routinely monitor the chlorine concentrations in your pool and adjust the levels accordingly. You should test your pool at least once per week, and more frequently during heavy use months The CDC recommends  public pools be tested twice per day, but this may be unrealistic for you and your pool at home, especially if you take good care of it.

Changes in factors such as water temperature and pH directly impact both the concentration and effectiveness of chlorine disinfection. In fact, chlorine can dissipate in just a matter of hours after addition on particularly hot days.

The Importance of pH:

Chlorine is not the only player in the world of pool-disinfection. Keeping pH levels in check are also vital to ensure a healthy pool environment. The CDC swimming pool pH between 7.2-7.8 (when chlorine is at least 1 ppm). Maintaining the pH level is important for several reasons. In addition to being the optimal range for disinfection, pH levels outside of 7.2 to 7.8 can cause eye and skin irritation.

Ways to Stay Safe This Summer:

Hopefully with our myth debunking you can make informed choices before you dive in head first. A few good practices to follow when it comes to pool safety include:

  • Not swimming when sick with diarrhea
  • Not swallowing pool water
  • Shower before and after swimming

Unfortunately, a survey by the Water Quality and Health Council uncovered that one in four adults said they would swim within an hour of having diarrheas. Don’t be that person, please.

If a pool is contaminated, the CDC recommends closing it immediately and treating it for multiple hours of “hyperchlorination”–a water treatment process that involves adding a high dose of chlorine in order to disinfect the water.

How Tap Score Can Help:

A recent CDC report uncovered some unsettling statistics about pool safety––in one study,78.9% of routine public pool inspections identified at least one violation. Additionally, one in eight of those inspections revealed a violation severe enough to require that the pool close immediately. Could this be my pool, you ask?

There is good news! Our Complete Pool Testing Package can provide the answers that you are looking for. Whether you are concerned about pool-related bacteria, pH, chlorine, Total Alkalinity, or water hardness–Tap Score has you covered. With the kit you’ll receive:

  • 50 at-home testing strips (testing free chlorine, total chlorine, total hardness, total alkalinity, and pH)
  • 1 annual laboratory test analysis
  • 2 pool-related bacteria tests
  • 1 uv light (for bacterial analysis)
  • 1 Healthy Pool Log

We encourage you to learn about your own pool’s heath–so much so, that we’re offering a 10% discount here. Check it out and you, too, can have a happy and healthy summer of swimming!

Sources:

https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/swimmers/rwi.html

https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2017/p0518-cryptosporidium-outbreaks.html

https://www.nachi.org/pool-water-pathogens.htm

http://www.ehagroup.com/resources/swimming-bathing-diseases/

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/crypto-outbreaks-swimming-pools-cryptosporidium-parasite/

http://www.health.com/family/recreational-water-illness

https://www.cdc.gov/features/healthyswimming/index.html

https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/residential/disinfection-testing.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6789045

https://www.cnn.com/2017/05/19/health/cryptosporidium-chlorine-gas-pool-cdc/index.html

https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/66/wr/mm6619a2.htm?s_cid=mm6619a2_w

http://www.businessinsider.com/cryptosporidium-parasite-swimming-pools-2017-5

http://www.businessinsider.com/terrifying-facts-about-public-swimming-pools-2015-7

https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/giardia/index.html

https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/crypto/index.html

https://www.cdc.gov/shigella/index.html

https://www.cdc.gov/norovirus/index.html

https://www.hunker.com/13416008/what-is-the-difference-in-chlorine-free-chlorine

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/12/shower-before-swimming_n_5658846.html

https://chlorine.americanchemistry.com/Science-Center/Chlorine-Compound-of-the-Month-Library/Chloramines-Understanding-Pool-Smell/

Bacteria in Drinking Water: Tap Score's Tests

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 Tap Score offers you an easy way to test your water in a professional laboratory. Our water quality testing packages focus on lab testing chemical, physical and radiological contaminants because lab testing is the most accurate analysis. However, for many types of bacteria and other biological contaminants in drinking water, it is prohibitively expensive to ship the necessary volumes of water overnight in the mail and at the right temperature. To make bacterial testing more affordable and still accurate, SimpleWater Tap Score offers customers professional grade self-testing kits for biological contamination.

Many customers choose to add certain self testing kits for analyzing their water quality for bacteria and other biological parameters at home.

What are Tap Score's Bacterial Tests and Which Should You Add to Your Water Test?

Iron Related Bacteria Test

Do you have reddish stains on clothing and/or reddish brown/yellowish slime on fixtures? The cause might be iron related bacteria.

Hydrogen Sulfide Bacteria Test

Does your tap water have a rotten egg smell or taste? Sulfate bacteria give off a stink! 

Slime Forming Bacteria Test

If you have that rotten egg smell and notice a darkening of water and/or corroded pipes or fixtures, your drinking water may suffer from slime forming bacteria.

Nitrate Related Bacteria Test

Nitrates are tasteless, odorless, colorless, so it won’t be easy to know if you’re facing nitrate problems unless you test. If you’re on well water near a farm, you may want to test to make sure nitrate-fertilizers aren’t leaching into your water supply.

Pool Related Bacteria Test

While cryptosporidium is a top culprit affecting pools, lots of bacteria can live in your pool. With summer coming up, you may want to have a plan to tackle bacteria that can cause upset stomachs or diarrhea. Get your pool test kit and make sure the coast is clear to jump in with a year’s worth of tests.

Coliform Bacteria Test

Coliform bacteria might not give you an upset stomach, but it is a key indicator to indicate that pathogens might be in your water. Coliform can get into your water from leaky septic systems or improperly treated utility water (rare, but this can happen).

Algae Test

Algal blooms in your area are one indication that algae could be in your water supply if you’re on a shallower well. Otherwise, algae at the water source for your water provider can lead to algae at the tap. Some types of algae are toxic, but often algae just causes a moldy taste and smell and is harmless. Our algae tests are coming soon.

How To Add A Bacterial Self Test Kit To Your Tap Score Water Test

Once you’ve chosen a water test that is best for your tap water, you can either add a specialized order for a variety of tests here or choose an “add-on” option.

Specialized Orders

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Get your customized Coliform, E. Coli & Heterotrophic bacteria test here: Pro Bacteria Test I

 

 

 

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Get your customized pathogen test of Salmonella and some species, Citrobacter, Proteus, Edwardsiella, and Klebsiella here: Pro Bacteria Test II.   

 

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Jump into summer with our Complete Pool Testing Package, which includes 1 year of weekly home test strips, 1 annual lab test analysis, 2 pool-related bacteria tests, 1 UV light to analyze bacteria, and 1 Healthy Pool Log. 

 

“Add-On” Orders to a Water Test

Once you’ve chosen the water test that is best for your tap water, you’ll see a big orange button saying “Add to Cart”. Scroll down and you’ll see “Bacteria Testing Add Ons”. Click “get” for as many tests as you would like to add to your water test!

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If you have any questions, or suspect a bacteria that you don't see on this list, feel free to contact us at hello@simplewater.us and we’d be happy to help! 

Reading a Consumer Confidence Report with Confidence

How to Make Sense of Water Quality Reports from your Local Water Utility

It’s undeniable that knowing what’s in your water is, at the very least, prudent. At SimpleWater, we think it’s crucial. What you put in your body impacts both your short-term and long-term health. Our goal is to enable people to both discover and understand what is in their drinking water. Our Tap Score home water testing kits are one means of spreading that goal, but there are lot of other resources out there that that can shed some light about what flows from your tap. If you are wondering why your tap water, smellslooks, or even tastes funny–a Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) is one way to start finding answers.

What is a Consumer Confidence Report?

Simply put, a CCR is a water quality report. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) the purpose of these reports are to improve public health protection and provide information to enable water consumers to make educated decisions regarding potential health risk pertaining to the following:

  • Drinking water quality
  • Drinking water treatment
  • Drinking water supply management
     

You will only receive a CCR if you are on a community water system. People who receive their water from a private well do not receive CCRs, as private wells are not regulated by the EPA. However, if you are on a private groundwater well and would like more information–we recommend taking a look at the Center For Disease Control’s Private Ground Water Wells page.  

How Can I Receive My Consumer Confidence Report?

The way you are able to access your CCR depends on your living situation.

  • If you live in a home: You will most likely automatically receive a copy of your CCR from your local water utility via mail each year.
  • If you live in a condominium or apartment: You may not receive a direct copy of their CCR. However, you can still access your water quality reports by calling your local water provider or looking up  your community water system’s website. If your community water system does not have a website, search your area on the Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS) and try calling them or your local water district

What Does a Consumer Confidence Report Tell You?

At first glance, CCRs can appear quite technical. However, once you know what to look for,  you will find a wealth of valuable information. All Consumer Confidence Reports are required to contain certain elements, such as information regarding:

All data on your CCR will be tailored to your local water utility.

Here’s a great sample CCR report (courtesy of the National Science Foundation):

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What Does All of This Mean?!

To read the CCR above, you can interpret each column as telling you:

Column 1:  What contaminant they evaluated (e.g. Barium)

Column 2: The contaminant Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) and Maximum Contaminant Level Goals

Column 3: The average concentration of that contaminant that was detected in your water in the water test

Column 4: The range of concentrations of the contaminant that was detected in your water (they take multiple samples)

Column 5: Whether or not the concentration in your water violates the MCL

Column 6: Explanation of where the contaminant comes from naturally

Column 7: A short overview of health effects related to the contaminant.

What To Do If You Are Concerned About Your Consumer Confidence Report?

Unfortunately, Consumer Confidence Reports do not always report 100% clean water results.. Frequently, chemicals and contaminants may be present in your water, and it might have you feeling confused or concerned. Rightfully so!

If you are concerned about the content of your CCR, the good news is there are things you can do. Along with calling your local water utility directly, some resources include:

Our Tap Score home-testing kit is another great resource if your questions were not addressed on your CCR. We test for over 400 contaminants, will provide you with cutting edge water health analysis, unbiased treatment recommendations. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us at hello@simplewater.us and we’d be happy to help!

Sources: 

https://www.epa.gov/ccr

https://www.epa.gov/ccr/how-water-systems-comply-ccr-requirements

https://www.epa.gov/ccr/consumer-confidence-report-rule-quick-reference-guide

https://www.epa.gov/ccr/consumer-confidence-report-rule-and-rule-history-water-systems

http://www.nsf.org/consumer-resources/water-quality/water-filters-testing-treatment/consumer-confidence-reports

https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/private/wells/index.html

https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/public/understanding_ccr.html

http://www.nsf.org/consumer-resources/water-quality/water-filters-testing-treatment/consumer-confidence-reports

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1310926/

Buying A Water Test Online?

Read this before you buy!

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It is important to periodically check the health of your drinking water. Nobody disputes that.

Whether you are served by a private well or a local water utility, buying a laboratory-based water test online is one of the easiest ways to get a clear picture of your water quality. There are different types of online water tests and different types of water quality reports. These are some of the most important things to look for when choosing one to avoid misleading products and shady business practices.

5 Rules You Need-To-Know:

1. Don’t Be Scammed, No Online Sampling Method Will Be Fully Certified.

If they say otherwise they’re probably lying. The only way to obtain a fully Certified Sample is if a trained technician, authorized by your State comes to your home and performs the sampling. Most situations do not require this arduous certification sampling process, and any online test that describes itself as “certified” may be selling you snake oil.

2. Do-It-Yourself Home Test Kits Are Neither Accurate Nor Comprehensive. 

 For chemical water testing, products like this are not worth the time, mess or your money. They are your worst-case scenario testing option. Laboratory professionals should perform chemical analysis, the testing equipment costs millions of dollars for a reason. Biological testing for bacteria and other pathogens is an exception to this rule. Self Testing kits for coliform and other bacteria are much more accurate and can save you hundreds of dollars on testing and overnight shipping fees.

3. Find The Test That Fits Your Needs. 

If you have a private well, buy a well water test (here's ours). If you are the customer of local water utility the look for a test that specializes in treated drinking water (e.g. city water test).

4. Return Shipping Costs Can Be Expensive–Check for Hidden Costs. 

Many labs exclude the expensive cost of return shipping when they sell a testing service. Sending a heavy, water-filled package quickly to the lab (especially for testing bacteria) can cost you as much as $40. Look for testing services that include all hidden costs. 

5. More Contaminants Does Not Mean Better Testing. 

Many companies will try to sell you on their kits by listing a huge number of contaminants. This is nothing more than marketing spin. Any lab can readily perform certain testing methods that will concurrently analyze water for hundreds of superfluous chemicals. However, most of these chemicals have no realistic chance of appearing in your drinking water, (nor indeed appearing on planet earth!). 



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