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Water Filtration & Purification Glossary

Absolute

100% efficiency at the stated rating of water filtration.

Absorb

To take in. Many things absorb water.

Acid

A chemical compound which dissolves in water. Acids have sour taste and turn a vegetable dye called litmus, red. An acid separates into two or more electrically charged parts when it is dissolved in water.

Acid Rain

The acidic rainfall which results when rain combines with sulfur oxides emissions from combustion of fossil fuels (coal).

Action Level

The level of lead and copper which, if exceeded, triggers treatment or other requirements that a water system must follow.

Activated Carbon

Very porous carbon from wood, coal, or lignite heated to very high temperatures to promote active sites where contaminants can be adsorbed from water.

Activated Carbon Adsorption

The process of pollutants moving out of water and attaching on to activated carbon.

Active Ingredient

The chemical in a pesticide formulation designed to kill a pest.

Adsorption (adsorb)

Adhesion of chemicals out of water on to a surface.

Aeration

The mixing or turbulent exposure of water to air and oxygen to dissipate volatile contaminants and other pollutants into the air.

Aggressive Water

Water which is soft and acidic and can corrode plumbing, piping, and appliances.

Alkalinity

The measurement of constituents in a water supply which determine alkaline (opposite of acidic) conditions.

Aquifer

A natural underground layer of water, often contained in a bed of sand or gravel

Artesian Well

A well drilled into a confined aquifer where enough pressure exists for the water to flow to the surface unaided.



Backsiphonage

Reverse seepage of water in a distribution system.

Backwashing

Reversing the flow of water through a home treatment device filter or membrane to clean and remove deposits.

Bioaccumulation

The process by which certain metals and chemical levels in the tissue of organisms increase with higher standing in the food chain.

Bioavailable

Chemicals or metals that are easily absorbed into the food chain are easily taken up by the intestines in the human body.

Biodegrade

To decompose by natural means.

Biosphere

The earth and all its ecosystems.

Blinds

Water samples containing a chemical of known concentration given a fictitious company name and slipped into the sample flow of the lab to test the impartiality of the lab staff.

Brine

Highly salty and heavily mineralized water containing heavy metal and organic contaminants. Brine usually accompanies oil and gas deposits which exist far below drinkable groundwater supplies.



CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons)

A class of compounds, used as refrigerants and in other chemical processes, which deplete the ozone layer in the stratosphere.

CWSS

The national Community Water Supply Survey.

Calcium Carbonate

A white precipitate that forms in water lines, water heaters, and boilers, etc. in hard water areas; also called scale.

Capillary Zone

Soil area above the water table where water can rise up slightly through the cohesive force of capillary action.

Carbonates

The collective term for the natural inorganic chemical compounds related to carbon dioxide that exist in natural waterways.

Carcinogen

A substance that causes cancer.

Cistern

A tank used to collect rainwater runoff from the roof of a house or building.

Coagulation

In water treatment, the use of chemicals to make suspended solids gather or group together into small flocs.

Cold Vapor

Special method to test water for mercury.

Coliform Bacteria

Non-pathogenic microorganisms (bacteria) which are used in testing water to indicate the presence of pathogenic bacteria.

Community Water System (CWS)

A water system that supplies drinking water to 25 people or more year-round in their residences Contaminant Anything found in water (including microorganisms, radionuclides, chemicals, minerals, etc.) which may be harmful to human health.

Cone of depression

Natural depression in the water table around a well during pumping.

Confined Aquifer

An aquifer that lies between two impermeable rock layers.

Confluent Growth

In coliform testing, abundant or overflowing bacterial growth which makes accurate measurement difficult or impossible.

Cryptosporidium

A protozoan one-half as large as a red blood cell, cryptosporidium is so small that it is very hard to detect, and it is highly resistant to disinfection. It causes acute health problems in healthy individuals and may be fatal to individuals whose immune systems are compromised by illness, old age, or medical treatments. See Protozoan.Commonly found in lakes and rivers.

Daughter

The product formed by the decay of a radionuclide; usually a new element.

Deionized water

Water free of inorganic chemicals.

Dental Fluorosis

Disorder caused by excessive absorption of fluorine and characterized by brown staining of teeth.

Detection limit

The lowest level that can be determined by a specific analytical procedure or test method. The detection limit of a test is determined by the test method itself or the analytical instrument used in the test. The detection limit for TOX, for example, is generally considered to be around 5 ppb. Therefore, if no organics are detected the result will be expressed as < (less than) 5 ppb.

Disinfectant

A chemical (commonly chlorine, chloramines, or ozone) or physical process (e.g., ultraviolet light) that kills microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria, and protozoa.

Distribution System

A network of pipes leading from a treatment plant to customersí plumbing systems.

Dispersion

The movement and spreading of contaminants out and down in an aquifer.

Distillation

Water treatment method where water is boiled to steam and condensed in a separate reservoir. Contaminants with lower boiling points than water do not vaporize and remain in the boiling flask.

Disinfection Byproducts

Halogenated organic chemicals formed when water is disinfected.

Distilled water

Water that has been treated by boiling and condensation to remove solids, inorganics, and some organic chemicals.

DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid)

Basic genetic building block material in chromosomes of a cell nucleus.

Duplicates

Two separate samples with separate containers taken at the same time from the same place. This is a quality control method. The two results should be very close.



Ecosphere

A planet, like the earth, which is capable of supporting life.

Electrons

Negatively charged particles orbiting the nucleus of a molecule.

Enteric Viruses

A category of viruses related to human excreta found in waterways.

Epidemiology

The science which investigates the origin of diseases or abnormalities affecting human populations.p

Fetotoxic

Toxic to the fetus.

Flocculation

Large scale treatment process whereby small particles in flocs are collected into larger particles so their weight causes them to settle to the bottom of the treatment tank. This is accomplished by gentle stirring.

Fungicide

A pesticide specifically designed to kill fungus.



GAC (Granular Activated Carbon)

Pure carbon heated to promote "active" sites which can adsorb pollutants. GAC is used in some home water treatment devices to remove certain organic chemicals and radon.

Gamma Radiation

Electromagnetic ionizing radiation which easily penetrates test biological tissue.

Greenhouse Effect

Natural phenomenon whereby increased C02 and other gases in the atmosphere cause radiation from the sun to be trapped, leading to increases in global temperature and potential large-scale climate changes.

Ground Water

Water from a well or underground aquifer.



Half-life

The time it takes for one-half of a radioactive element or pesticide to decay. Halides or halogens - Chlorine, bromine, or fluorine.

Halogenated Organic Chemical

Organic chemical containing chlorine, bromine, or fluorine.

Hard Water

Water containing a high level of calcium, magnesium, and other minerals. Hard water reduces the cleansing power of soap and produces scale in hot water lines and appliances.

Heat of vaporization

The amount of heat necessary to convert a liquid (water) into vapor.

Herbicide

A pesticide specifically designed to kill unwanted plants.

Hydrologic cycle

Natural pathway water follows as it changes between liquid, solid, and gaseous states.



Impermeable

Not permeable; does not permit fluids to pass through.

Indicator Organisms

Microorganisms \whose presence is indicative of pollution or of more harmful microorganisms. Coliforms are indicator organisms.

Indicato tests

Test for a specific contaminant, group of contaminants, or constituent which signals the presence of something else (i.e., coliforms indicate the presence of pathogenic bacteria, high turbidity indicates the possible presence of organics and microbiological contamination, and a positive TOX result indicates the presence of manmade organic chemicals).

Inert Ingredient

Nonreactive components in a pesticide formulation or product used to "carry" the active ingredient.

Inorganic Contaminants

Chemicals which do not contain carbon. Mineral-based compounds such as metals, nitrates, fluoride and asbestos; naturally occurring in some water, but can also enter water through human activities.

Insecticide

A class of pesticides used to kill undesirable insects.

Isotopes

Atoms of the same element which have the same number of protons but a different number of neutrons in the nuclei.



Leachate

Water containing contaminants which leaks from a disposal site such as a landfill or dump.

Lead

A metal known to be toxic since Roman times, lead is still used in faucets today. As an additive to tin, brass, or antimony, lead makes the metal softer and easier to work with. The EPA has set no maximum contaminant (MCL) for lead. The expense of replacing U.S. plumbing systems that contain lead is so astronomical that it can only be done slowly and gradually.



Maximum Contaminant Level

The highest level of a contaminant that EPA allows in drinking water (legally enforceable standard).

Maximum Contaminant Level Goal

The level of a contaminant at which there would be no risk to human health (not a legally enforceable standard).

Microorganisms

Tiny living organisms that can be seen only under a microscope; some can cause acute health problems when consumed in drinking water.



MCL (Maximum Contaminant Level)

the maximum level of a contaminant to allowed in water by federal law. This level is based on health effects as well as currently available treatment methods.

Mg/L

Milligrams of a contaminant per liter of water; same as parts per million (ppm).

Manifest (hazardous waste manifest)

Written documentation of a hazardous waste shipment that must accompany the waste from generator, to transporter, to in disposal facility, and be signed by representatives of each company.

Method blank

Laboratory grade water taken through the entire analytical procedure to determine if the samples are being accidentally contaminated by chemicals in the lab.

Mutagen

A chemical which causes a change in the genetic makeup of an organism which affects future generations.

Mutagenic activity

The relative potential for a specific substance, material, or water sample to alter genetic structure and influence subsequent generations.



NIPDWR

National Interim Primary Drinking Water Regulations.

NPDES (permits)

Issued under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System for those companies discharging pollutants directly into waterways in the United States.

Neutrons

Uncharged particles found in the nucleus of an atom which contribute to the total weight of the atom.

Nitrate N03

A form of nitrogen most often found in water.

Nonpoint source of pollution

These are wastes that come from so many sources over such a wide area that they are impossible to pinpoint or regulate. In the spring planting season, wastes from agricultural fields and livestock are a significant source of cryptosporidium, triazines, and nitrates. But suburban lawn chemicals also qualify as nonpoint wastes. Well-meaning attempts to control nonpoint pollution have failed, at least so far, because of an independent mindset in farmers and anti-environmental sentiments in Congress.



Non-Transient Non-Community Water System

A non-community water system that serves the same people more than six months of the year, but not year-round.

Organic chemicals

Defined as chemicals containing carbon. These include: 1.) natural - those from animal and plant life, including coal and oil; and 2.) those synthesized by man - industrial solvents, pesticides, etc.

Organic Contaminants

Carbon-based chemicals, such as solvents and pesticides, which enter water through cropland runoff or discharge from factories.

Organic Fanning

Farming technique which utilizes only natural means to fertilize soil and control pests.

Organophosphates

A class of organic pesticides containing phosphorus, which interrupts nerve impulses along the central nervous system leading to convulsions, paralysis, and death.

Ozone

  1. In the lower atmosphere, a colorless toxic gas formed by the reaction of nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons with sunlight, particularly in urban areas. It contributes to chronic human respiratory disease.
  2. In the stratosphere, absorbs ultraviolet radiation and protects life from excessive ultraviolet doses.
  3. Used as an alternate form of water disinfection.


PAHs (Polyaromatic hydrocarbons)

A class of chemical pollutants formed through the breakdown of other chemicals or substances. For example, the combustion of coal, wood, oil, and certain SOCs results in the formation of PAHs.

PH

A measure of the acidity or alkalinity of water; the pH scale is from 0 to 14 - seven is neutral, 0 is very acidic, 14 is very alkaline.

POE (Point of entry)

Water treatment device situated at the point where the water enters the house; treats all water entering the house.

POU (Point of use)

Home water treatment devices located at the point where the water is used, at or near the faucet.

Ppb

Parts per billion.

Ppm

Parts per million.

Parameter

Test or analytical procedure which:

  1. Measures specific chemicals such as pesticides, PCBs or fluoride; or
  2. Measures a group of chemicals or a characteristic such as pH, TOX, or hardness.
  3. Parent

    In the process of radioactive decay of one element, a new one is formed. The original elemental is called the parent.

    Pathogen

    Microorganisms which can cause disease.

    Phenols

    A group of SOCs used in the synthesis of a wide variety of chemicals and a ubiquitous class of pollutants.

    Phthalates

    A group of SOC chemicals used in plastics manufacturing to make them flexible and pliable. One of the most widespread classes of pollutants due to their usage.

    Plug

    Concentrated amount of a contaminant or contaminants existing in soil or groundwater.

    Plume

    The area taken up by contaminant(s) in an aquifer.

    Precipitate

    A solid which has come out of an aqueous solution. For example, iron from groundwater precipitates to a rust colored solid when exposed to air.

    Preservative

    A chemical added to a water sample to keep it stable and prevent compounds in it from changing to other forms or microorganism densities from changing prior to analysis. Protons - Positively charged particles found in the nucleus of an atom.

    Protozoan

    Protozoans are organisms, such as cryptosporidium, that have a life-cycle with several stages, some of which allow them to pass through a chlorine disinfection process unharmed.

    Public Water System (PWS)

    A water system which supplies drinking water to at least 25 people, at least 60 days each year.

    Purge

    To force a gas through the water sample to liberate volatile chemicals or other gases from the water so their level can be measured.

    Purgeable Organics

    Volatile organic chemicals which can be forced out of the water sample with relative ease through purging.



    Quadruplicate Testing

    Testing the same sample four times; this is often done as a quality control measure in screening tests like TOC and TOX.

    Quality Assurance

    Efforts by a laboratory to ensure their test results can be substantiated by other laboratories.

    Quality Control

    Actions taken by a lab to ensure all variables and factors are considered in the measurement of a sample and the interpretation of data to give a result.

    Quantify

    To measure the amount of a chemical or substance in a sample.



    RCRA

    Resource Conservation and Recovery Act - federal legislation requiring that hazardous waste be tracked from "cradle" (generation) to "grave" (disposal).

    RO (Reverse osmosis)

    A water treatment method whereby water is forced through a semipermeable membrane which filters out impurities.

    Radionuclides

    Radioactive elements or atoms.

    Recharge zone

    The area over which an aquifer is replenished; for a confined aquifer the area would be small, but for an unconfined aquifer the recharge zone would likely be the entire length of the aquifer.

    Replicate (sample analysis)

    Analyzing the same sample twice; should yield very similar results.

    Residual chlorine

    The level of chlorine existing in the distribution system after chlorination at the drinking water treatment plant. The residual chlorine level will be a function of the level of microorganisms and the potential for additional THM formation in the distribution system.

    SOCs (Synthetic Organic Chemicals)

    Manmade chemicals containing carbon, many are associated with chronic health effects.

    SPC (Standard Plate Count) or HPC (Heterotrophic Plate Count)

    A test which directly measures the level of certain bacteria in a water sample.

    Screening test

    A test that encompasses a wide range of possible contaminants. Examples are: TOX, TOC, and VOA. See also indicator tests.

    Sedimentation

    A large scale water treatment process where heavy solids settle out to the bottom of the treatment tank after flocculation.

    Sensitive Subpopulation

    People who may be more vulnerable to drinking water contamination, such as infants, children, some elderly, and people with severely compromised immune systems.

    Septic System

    Used to treat sanitary waste; can be a significant threat to water quality due to leaks or runoff.

    Skeletal fluorosis

    A health effect of excess fluoride leading to rheumatic effects, pain, and stiffness.

    Source Water

    Water in its natural state, prior to any treatment for drinking (i.e., lakes, streams, ground water).

    Spikes

    A quality control measure where a known amount of chemical is added to the sample to determine how well the chemical is recovered from the sample when analyzed.

    Spring Water

    According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, spring water is water that comes out of the ground on its own or is bottled near water that comes out of the ground on its own.

    Surface Impoundment

    An indented area in the land's surface - pit, pond, US (lagoon - usually unlined and confined by natural means and holds liquid waste.

    Surface Water

    Water that is obtained from sources open to the atmosphere, such as rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. Roughly half of all Americans get drinking water from surface water sources.

    Teratogen

    A chemical or substance which causes abnormal formation of a fetus.



    TDS (Total dissolved solids)

    The sum of all inorganic and organic particulate; TDS is an indicator test usually reserved for wastewater analysis, but is also a measure of the mineral content of bottled water and groundwater.

    THMs (Trihalomethanes)

    A class of volatile organic chemicals created as a result of water chlorination.

    TIC (Tentatively Identified Compounds)

    In GC/MS analysis, chemicals identified by computer match that are not covered in the specific test method. The accuracy of TIC levels is questionable.

    TNTC (Too numerous to count)

    A total coliform test result; too many coliforms to count indicates heavy contamination.

    TOC (Total Organic Carbon)

    Screening test which measures the amount of organic carbon in the water sample.

    TOX (Total Organic Halide)

    Screening test which measures the level of level organic chemicals containing chlorine and bromine.

    Transient Non-Community Water System

    A non-community water system that serves the public but not the same individuals for more than six months.

    Turbidity (Turbid)

    The interference of light passage by insoluble particulates in water. To water engineers, turbidity means cloudiness. Turbidity in water can be harmless, or it may indicate to water that extra filtration, flocculation, and sedimentation is needed.



    UV (Ultraviolet)

    Water disinfection treatment method using ultraviolet light.

    Unconfined aquifer

    An aquifer that is not confined by impermeable rock above it so water recharge occurs across its entire length.

    Violation

    Failure to meet any state or federal drinking water regulation.



    VOA (Volatile Organic Analysis)

    Testing procedure for volatile organic chemicals; also called volatiles scan, volatiles screen, or referred to by specific EPA method number, EPA 601 or EPA 602.

    VOC (Volatile organic chemical)

    An organic chemical which can easily dissipate or evaporate into the air.

    Vulnerability Assessment

    An evaluation of drinking water source quality and its vulnerability to contamination by pathogens and toxic chemicals.



    Water filter

    Broad term used to describe different types of water filters.

    Watershed

    The land area from which water drains into a stream, river, or reservoir.

    Water table

    The surface of an unconfined aquifer which fluctuates due to seasonal precipitation.

    Well

    A bored, drilled or driven shaft whose depth is greater than the largest surface dimension, a dug hole whose depth is greater than the largest surface dimension, an improved sinkhole, or a subsurface fluid distribution system.

    Wet Methods

    A group of water tests usually for determining the presence of inorganic chemicals, like nitrates, fluoride, and dissolved solids. They are called wet methods presumably due to the fact that they generally do not require the use of solvent extraction methods that SOC testing does.