A Guide to Testing Your
Water and Becoming
a Citizen Scientist
This information aims to allow people to learn what's in their water, tell them what steps they can take to protect themselves, and push for stricter federal limits on harmful chemicals in the water. One definite way to tell if your water is contaminated is by testing it. Even if you cannot see, taste, or smell the contaminants, there are resources available to help you detect them.
6 Things to Ask Yourself Before You Test
What water source am I planning to test? Identifying which water source you want to test will help determine what testing kit to purchase. Are you testing your tap water, well water, or surface water (lake, river, pond)?
Do I have a deep or shallow well? You will need to know the depth of your well. Shallow wells can be contaminated more easily than deep wells because they are closer to the surface. The soil filters out some things, but may not be able to remove all contamination.
Which contaminants am I going to test for? Knowing what you want to test for will make the results more useful to you. Different water sources are more likely to have certain contaminants. You may want to start off with a basic assessment of issues like water hardness and chlorine levels, or if you live near a military base, you may want to test for PFAS.
Do I live near a polluter? Do you live near an airport, mining industry, golf course, military base, dry cleaner, or superfund site? These are all things you should consider when making the investment to test and filter your water. You may want to test for pesticides if, near a golf course, PFAS if near an airport, and strontium if you live near phosphate mining. Take a look at Fight For Zero's Pollution Map of Florida.
Did I look at the Tap Water Database for my City? The Environmental Working Group's Tap Water Database may give you a better idea of contaminants to be concerned about. Type in your zip code and get the completed results of water testing in your area.
How can contaminants enter my water? Harmful chemicals can be lurking in your tap water by entering pipe bursts when existing mains are repaired or replaced, potentially leading to the introduction of contaminated soil or debris into the water system. Additionally, when pipes corrode, they can release toxic lead into the local drinking water.
Do It Yourself Testing Versus Comprehensive Testing
Do It Yourself: Many kits are available for do-it-yourself testing, but it's unclear how accurate they are. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) doesn't endorse home water testing kits. Fight For Zero recommends using testing strips as a basic assessment of issues like water hardness and chlorine levels.
Comprehensive Testing: If you want a more comprehensive screening with added contaminants of concern, there are independent water testing labs like Tap Score that send you a kit with directions on how to collect your sample and a return label to send back.
Certified Commerical Testing: This is your most expensive option and requires you to create an account with a certified water testing facility listed with the EPA, such as Eurofins. If you plan to use your testing results for legal compliance, a court case, as a part of a presentation to state or federal leaders, or as a part of a professional project, this is the type of testing you will want to use. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection lists certified laboratories. If you want a trained technician to come to your home and perform the sampling, that will be an additional cost.
Testing Kits and Resources
Tap Score is an independent lab that Executive Director, Stel Bailey, has teamed up with to help Fight For Zero's mission. Tap Score offers city water tests, well water tests, specialized tests, and add ons. Purchasing a kit with Tap Score in return supports Fight For Zero.
Drinking-Water Test Strips:
Visit the Fight For Zero Amazon List to see do it yourself kits
Testing strips change color to indicate the presence of various contaminants in your water. These tests can be ordered online or bought at your local hardware store. These tests will give a basic assessment but will not test for harmful contaminants like PFAS.
Testing Labs and Kits:
Essential City Water $139 Test (City Water)
Essential Well Water $165 Test (Groundwater)
Fluoride $59 Test (Specialized Test)
Full Radiation $149 Test (Specialized Test)
Glyphosate $134 Test (Specialized Test)
PFAS Test $80 Cyclopure Test
Certified Environmental Testing:
Certified Lab Info (search for a certified lab in Florida)
Surface Water Test Kits:
Frequently Asked Questions
Is my drinking water safe? The only way to know if your drinking water is safe from contaminants is by testing it. There is an annual drinking water report for your city water, but this report does not consider unregulated contaminants like PFAS and perchlorate. The water is tested coming out of the water treatment facility, but this doesn't show what the water may be picking up on its way to your faucet. If your city is dealing with poor infrastructure, constant main breaks, and continuous flooding, there is a chance of contaminants getting into the water.
Is my well water safe? If you are on well water, you won't get a water quality report. The Federal Safe Drinking Water Act does not regulate the safety of water from private wells. More than one in five wells tested from 1991-2004 contained one or more contaminants at concentrations more significant than a human-health benchmark: Pubs.usgs.gov
Can my water have lead? If your home was built before lead-free pipes were mandated in 1986, it could leach into your water from the pipes leading to your house.
What is the fluoride that my city is adding to my drinking water? Is your city putting medical-grade fluoride or Hydrofluorosilicic Acid (HFSA) into your drinking water? Hydrofluorosilicic Acid comes from the phosphate fertilizer industry and is contaminated with other toxins like aluminum. Read more: https://www.f4zero.org/2021/06/fluoride.html
Can Fight For Zero test my water? Fight For Zero is a nonprofit organization that relies on donors to help fund our research, outreach, and projects. Our hope is to find lab partners like Tap Score to provide communities the resources they need to take on these challenges. We work on empowering communities by teaching science and providing them with the resources they need to succeed in their quest to find answers and safeguard their families. If you need collaboration on your project, please feel free to reach out to us.
Once You Know What is in Your Water
Choose a filter that suits your needs. Our most recommended systems are Reverse Osmosis (RO) and Granular Activated Carbon (GAC).
NSF Certified: Ensure the filter you choose meets NSF standards for removing contaminants you're concerned about. You can see if a product is verified or has lab testing with an accredited NSF lab testing facility here: http://info.nsf.org/certified/dwtu/
On the Counter Water Filter System: This filter system sits on the counter, and you fill the top portion with your tap water, then the water goes through the filters to the bottom, and you're ready to fill your cup with clean water. This option is usually good for those on a low budget, renting, or military servicemembers who move a lot and cannot put in a permanent solution. This is the cheapest option that costs about $300 for the system and when you purchase a new filter each year. Some known counter filters are Berkey and AquaTru.
Under the Sink Water Filter System: This is a filter installed under the kitchen sink and filters the water before it comes through the faucet. This is a good choice for bigger families, cooking, and washing dishes. You can find an under-the-sink filter at your local hardware store like Home Depot or online with companies like Multipure Drinking Water Systems.
Whole-Home Water Filter System: This is the most expensive option and filters your entire house, including your showers. You usually need to find a company like Culligan to install this system.
Shower Water Filters: It's not just the water you drink or cook with that could be a concern. When there is too much chlorine, hard water, or synthetic chemicals it can be harsh on your skin and hair, causing hair loss and other issues. You can find shower filters just about anywhere from online to your local hardware store.
Bath Filters: If you have little ones in your home, there are chlorine bath balls that can help reduce the high levels of chlorine that Florida typically has in their water that irritates skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
Other Filters: Pitcher and refrigerator filters help with smell and removing chlorine taste but do not filter out harmful contaminants like PFAS.
If you find harmful contaminants in your water, write your state representative, county commissioner, and city council member to share your results and concerns. Keep in mind that your leaders will refer you to the annual drinking water report, which may not be required to test for unregulated contaminants.
Impact of the Phosphate Mining Industry
Several studies have discussed the impact of phosphate mining on water quality. Most of the concerns are associated with acidic process water, radionuclides, phosphate runoff, and toxic fluoride and heavy metals in the runoff. Arsenic, chromium, lead, mercury, nickel, vanadium, and cadmium are frequently associated with phosphate rock. The dominant radioactivity detected in phosphate rocks is uranium and thorium.
Watch the documentary Phosfate to learn more about the environmental effects the phosphate mining industry has on Florida's environment and human health: www.phosfatemovie.com
Hydrofluorsilisc Acid is put into driving water across America and is called "fluoride."
Department of Defense Pollution
Check if your community is impacted by PFOA and PFOS: https://www.ewg.org/interactive-maps/2017_pfa/
Boil Water Notices Concentrate Certain Chemicals
Did you know that boiling kills most types of parasites, bacteria, and viruses, but it increases concentrations of other contaminants due to water evaporation?
Boiling water can concentrate chemicals like PFAS. Chemicals like PFAS in water cannot be broken down, and you can't "kill" chemicals like this. Rhode Island Department of Health says not to boil water for this reason. You can read more by visiting: https://health.ri.gov/water/about/pfas/
Did you know that there has not been a single new standard set in 24 years for the Safe Drinking Water Act? There are regulatory problems, even knowing the health dangers of certain chemicals for decades. https://www.f4zero.org/2020/07/hearing-reforming-our-nations-drinking.html
Environmental Working Groups Tap Water Database: https://www.ewg.org/tapwater/
Certified Labs: https://qlik.dep.state.fl.us/anon/sense/app/17c7c199-2c02-4f1e-9288-ad20a293694a/sheet/7bab101d-b28e-4607-b81f-6b82b0883957/state/analysis
To find more data and water quality reports from your local water treatment plant, go to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Documents Management System (Click public OCULUS login to access): https://depedms.dep.state.fl.us/Oculus/
EPA's 1991 Lead and Copper Rule requires systems to monitor drinking water at customer taps. Suppose lead concentrations exceed an action level of 15 ppb or copper concentrations exceed an action level of 1.3 ppm in more than 10 percent of customer taps sampled. In that case, the system must undertake several additional actions to control corrosion and safeguard health.
The most prevalent water quality problem is an excess of nutrients (mainly phosphorus and nitrogen) in a body of water.
A 2016 study found that levels of polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)—a widely used class of industrial chemicals linked with cancer and other health problems—exceed federally recommended safety levels in public drinking-water supplies for 6 million people in the United States. Pubs.acs.org
Coal-burning plants, in particular, discharge some of the most dangerous heavy metals on earth, including arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, and selenium. PSR.org/sellingourhealth
Waste can introduce pathogens such as Shigella, Salmonella, Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Legionella, and coliform into drinking water, leading to diarrhea and gastrointestinal illness. www.ncbi.gov/articles
View real-time water data from USGS, containing information about streamflow, groundwater, water quality, and tide telemetry. http://epa.gove/myenv/mywater
National Secondary Drinking Water Regulation (NSDWRs) is a non-enforceable guideline regulating contaminants that may cause cosmetic effects or aesthetic effects in drinking water. https://water-research.net/index.php/standards/secondary-standards
Table of Regulated Drinking Water Contaminants
Donate to Fight For Zero
Check Fight For Zero's Pollution Map of Florida: https://www.fight4zero.org/toxicmap
Consider donating to Fight For Zero to help raise public awareness
Fight For Zero is a nonprofit organization that works on environmental health projects. We are not a testing lab or service. We use certified labs for the analysis of the samples taken for our projects. Our goal is to empower advocates and communities to take on water quality challenges through resources and education. Since we have limited funding, if you are interested in collaborating on a testing project with Fight For Zero, we can discuss ways to raise money. This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a donation toward testing projects for purchases made through these links.