"Water quality" is a technical term that is based upon the characteristics of water in relation to guideline values of what is suitable for human consumption and for all usual domestic purposes, including personal hygiene. Components of water quality include microbial, biological, chemical, and physical aspects.
Microbial Aspects. Drinking water should not include microorganisms that are known to be pathogenic. It should also not contain bacteria that would indicate excremental pollution, the primary indicator of which are coliform bacteria that are present in the feces of warm-blooded organisms. Chlorine is the usual disinfectant, as it is readily available and inexpensive. Unfortunately, it is not fully effective, as currently used, against all organisms.
Biological Aspects. Parasitic protozoa and helminths are also indicators of water quality. Species of protozoa can be introduced into water supply through human or animal fecal contamination. Most common among the pathogenic protozoans are Entamoeba and Giardia. Coliforms are not appropriate direct indicators because of the greater resistance of these protozoans to inactivation by disinfection. Drinking water sources that are not likely to be contaminated by fecal matter should be used where possible due to the lack of good indicators for the presence or absence of pathogenic protozoa. A single mature larva or fertilized egg of parasitic roundworms and flatworms can cause infection when transmitted to humans through drinking water. The measures currently available for the detection of helminths in drinking water are not suitable for routine use.
Chemical Aspects. Chemical contamination of water sources may be due to certain industries and agricultural practices, or from natural sources. When toxic chemicals are present in drinking water, there is the potential that they may cause either acute or chronic health effects. Chronic health effects are more common than acute effects because the levels of chemicals in drinking water are seldom high enough to cause acute health effects. Since there is limited evidence relating chronic human health conditions to specific drinking-water contaminants, laboratory animal studies and human data from clinical reports are used to predict adverse effects.
Physical Aspects. The turbidity, color, taste, and odor of water can be monitored. Turbidity should always be low, especially where disinfection is practiced. High turbidity can inhibit the effects of disinfection against microorganisms and enable bacterial growth. Drinking water should be colorless, since drinking-water coloration may be due to the presence of colored organic matter. Organic substances also cause water odor, though odors may result from many factors, including biological activity and industrial pollution. Taste problems relating to water could be indicators of changes in water sources or treatment process. Inorganic compounds such as magnesium, calcium, sodium, copper, iron, and zinc are generally detected by the taste of water, and contamination with the oxygenated fuel additive MTBE has affected the taste of some water.
MARK G. ROBSON
Shelton, T. (1991). Interpreting Drinking Water Quality Analysis—What Do the Numbers Mean? New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Cooperative Extension.
World Health Organization (1985). Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality, Vol. 3: Drinking Water Quality Control in Small Community Supplies. Geneva: Author.