How much do you know about the water you drink? In Canada, our drinking water is pretty good. We live in a place where water is plentiful and well taken care of, but learning about what is in our water (and what are acceptable standards) is an interesting experiment.
I was asked by WaterTestingKits.com if I could try out their science fair water testing kits. I looked around to see if I could find a Canadian company that could offer a similar kit but couldn’t find anything comparable or as cost-effective. So, I told them to send me a kit.
The first step is to find 4 sources of water. We talked a bit about what sources we wanted to test, then we went out collecting.
- Well Water from their grandparents’ house
- Rain Water from the backyard
- Tap Water from our kitchen
- Pond Water from a local nature protection pond area
Now it’s testing time.
The kit includes 4 vials with testing tools for each. Each little bag comes with tests for Chlorine, Nitrate Nitrogen, Nitrite Nitrogen, Copper, pH levels, Iron, Alkalinity, and Harness.
Basically, each test has a dip stick with little pads on them to test different things. You dip the test into the water briefly, and then compare the colours those pads turn to the options on the information card provided. Sometimes, the colours can be hard to match exactly, so making the best guess is totally ok. Once you pick the best match, you mark it into the little results notebook.
I love that inside the notebook are little short paragraphs for each thing you are testing for, explaining more about why and how that element gets into water. That makes it helpful for kids to understand what they are testing for.
We weren’t sure what to expect with our results. One thing we were curious about is that the well water at my in-laws’ house isn’t recommended to drink. We wondered if this test would show why.
Before we began, we talked about what we thought might happen with our results. We hypothesised that the rain water that we scooped from our backyard kiddie pool when it rained after the wind knocked it down might be the “cleanest” and that the pond water would be the worst. We thought that the tap water would meet all the standards and expectations. We didn’t really know if each of the water vials would be similar or completely different.
So, we started the test. Here are the results we got:
EPA stands for Environmental Protection Agency. This is the US based organization that sets standards for acceptable and recommended levels of various contaminants in ground and drinking water. The record notebook has the levels they recommend for each of the tests listed in the back (and I’ve put it on the chart). I thought I would look for a Canadian list of acceptable levels. You can see a list here: Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water. I found it a little more complicated to pull information out of, but, in general, the levels are basically the same as the US list.
Let’s take a closer look at the results we received.
Alkalinity is the ability for water to neutralize acids. Although technically there aren’t any official numbers in regards to what is ok for these levels, what I did read was that water with a high alkaline level tends to taste more like baking soda than the lower level water. Plus, drinking it can affect your body’s personal pH level too. Here is an interesting website with lots of water education information: Alkalinity of Drinking Water Explained. Looking at our results, it was a little shocking to see how high the amount was for the well water.
Hardness is the amount of calcium and magnesium is in the water. If your water is hard, it has much higher levels. In Canada, we don’t have an official value for what’s ok in terms of hardness for drinking water, because it’s mostly personal preference. The report I was reading said that usually between 80-100mg/L (or ppm) is typical, but under 200ppm is tolerated. However, if it’s over 500 it usually isn’t good enough for house drinking water. Our results were interesting. Our house tap water was 100 ppm, but the well water was 0. I talked to my husband about why that would be such a huge difference and he had a good thought. The well water has to go through a softener before it comes to the tap. So, the water we were testing was actually filtered! I guess it’s doing a good job!
This test kind of works together with the alkalinity test. Recommended levels in the kit are between 6.5-8.5, whereas Canada’s levels seem to be between 7-10.5. (Here is a very complex, scientific document about pH levels.) I thought it was interesting that the rain water had the lowest pH value.
Our iron, copper, nitrite nitrogen, nitrate nitrogen, and chlorine tests all were basically fine – nothing amazing stood out with them. Some of these tests (like the nitrite and nitrate) can show leaching of pesticides into the water. Since Ontario has added something called Integrated Pest Management system and put bans and regulations on the use of chemicals in landscape maintenance, I wasn’t really surprised.
Inside the kit is also a TDS tester. TDS stands for Total Dissolved Solids – or the amount of materials inside the water.
Total dissolved solids (TDS) comprise inorganic salts and small amounts of organic matter that are dissolved in water. The principal constituents are usually the cations calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium and the anions carbonate, bicarbonate, chloride, sulphate and, particularly in groundwater, nitrate (from agricultural use). (Total Dissolved Solids)
A level of 500mg/L has been set for Canada. Lower levels make water taste better.
The results we got:
- Well Water: 213 ppm
- Rain Water: 046 ppm
- Tap Water: 152 ppm
- Pond Water: 402 ppm
We all agreed that after this testing, none of us would drink the pond water (not that we were tempted anyway… seeing as it was filled with frogs and some kind of shell creatures). We realized that we were pretty right about our hypothesis in terms of rain water being the best.
We found that although this experiment was fairly easy to do, it was pretty interesting to learn more about water and why certain things have specifically acceptable levels. It got us really thinking about the water we drink.
Getting a science fair water testing kit from watertestingkits.com would be a great way to learn about water, whether you are doing a science fair or just a test at home. It’s a pretty cost effective way to get all the tools you need to do the tests. A fun extra could be to send a sample away to be tested in a lab and compare the official results you get with your own results.