There is Something in the Water
“Studies have shown that 16.5 million Americans have one of six types of PFSAs in their drinking water levels at or above the maximum EPA limit.” – Susan Scutti, CNN
Contaminants in our water sources not only cause mild physical ailments like an upset stomach or other gastrointestinal issues, but they can also cause cancer, high cholesterol, and obesity. Cancer-causing contaminants like PFSAs, or polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances, are organic compounds used in products that we use everyday, like packaging materials, fabrics, and nonstick cooking pans. They deftly migrate into the air we breathe, household dust, food, soil, and ground and surface water sources at staggering rates.
In the lab environment, causes of unexpected contamination, like inadvertent contact from skin to a working surface, organic solvents, cleaning supplies, gloves, and new furniture are often and easily overlooked. These contaminants can include released volatile organic compounds, coliform and airborne bacteria, and other recurrent contaminants into lab samples used for groundbreaking research purposes.
Scientists and lab professionals utilize water on a daily basis (it’s the most common reagent used in laboratories) for any number of research tasks, so when the pure water supply is compromised—typically because of contamination—all work stops in its tracks. Quality, purity, and reliability of the water supply are critical parts of running any laboratory. To guarantee maximum water quality, lab managers typically focus on obtaining the right equipment and stressing the most rigorous working standards and processes.
Many contaminants in water, like dissolved ionic and organic compounds, microorganisms, and their by-products, can create interferences on poor baselines, rendering inaccurate results. Ensuring correct water quality for lab applications, as well as having the equipment and processes to allow you to detect various contaminants when present, is essential to conducting beneficial and relevant scientific research.
Contaminants: Knowing is half the battle
Many usual contaminants that make their way into our various water sources simply occur or are created naturally in our environment from the water source. Other contaminants can be introduced from manufacturing processes, sewer overflows, or by-products from piping that the water is transported through.
Arsenic, a standard water contaminant, is an ingredient in the Earth’s crust and leeches into groundwater through the earth, especially near fracking sites or landfills. Detection of radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas, can be difficult because you can’t smell it, see it, or taste it. Usually airborne, but also found in soil and water supplies, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, secondly only to smoking.
Chlorine, termed chlorate or chlorate ion when referring to chlorine in the +5 oxidation state, is a known and prevalent consequence of the disinfection process of drinking water. Some compounds, like those found in herbicides, react to release chlorine into the water. The amount of chlorine in water depends on the chemical reactions in the formation of disinfectants, as well as how they are used. Concentrations of the contaminant often vary at different points in the water system and different timeframes within the year. Using chlorine electrodes to assess the total residual chlorine of water can help ascertain the chlorate quantity of drinking. Activated carbon is often used to remove chlorine from the water as a purification step in a point of use water system.
Process analyzers, turbidity sensors, and other water analysis products help you accurately identify dangerous levels of various contaminants, preparing your samples. It is important to know the quality of the feed water for your water purification systems to remove contaminants such as bacteria, organic and inorganic chemicals, and other unwanted contaminants to be used with CO2 incubators and water baths, analytical analysis, and culturing cells and tissues.
Inorganic Compound Contaminants
Colorless, odorless, and tasteless compounds, nitrate and its chemical counterpart nitrite, form as part of an integral phase of the nitrogen cycle in soil, often accumulated from fertilizers, manure, municipal waste water treatment, and septic tanks. Nitrates and nitrites are dissolved inorganic compounds, which make up the bulk of water impurities, and are most efficiently combated with prevention rather than treatment. The use of nitrate electrodes, which measures nitrate in aqueous solutions, are vital in the detection of dangerous or undesirable levels of nitrates and nitrites in a lab water sample.
Referred to as “indicator organisms”, a coliform bacterium indicates the possible presence of other disease-causing bacteria and persists longer in water than most other disease-causing organisms. They appear in soil and surface water, and can even exist on human skin, with large quantities frequently found in the waste from humans and animals. Extremely widespread, coliform bacteria, including E. coli, are removed from water using continuous disinfection methods, using chlorine or ultraviolet light, or via shock chlorination. Water purification systems such as distillation, UV oxidation, and filtration are effective ways to remove all coliform bacteria in water.
Match Your Method to the Source
The source of the water influences the methods you can potentially use to prevent contaminants from hindering research and experimentation. In some water sources, like in the case of nitrates in drinking water supplies, preventing them at the source can control contaminants. Coliform bacteria, however, is best treated with chemical purification and by performing regular system maintenance of the water supply to alleviate clogging and excessive unsafe matter and organisms.
Protect Your Lab from Killer Contaminants
Water analysis is crucial for measuring contaminants found in water, from our groundwater and drinking water sources to the water applied for research and experimental purposes in a laboratory, treatment plant, or biopharmaceutical research facility. Water purification is necessary to prevent inaccurate results.
With Thermo Fisher Scientific’s wide range of all-encompassing solutions, you can spend your valuable time making important discoveries and developing positive water quality outcomes, not maintaining sub-standard equipment and cobbling together inefficient tools.