Scott J. Bradley has a B.A. in combined science (biology and chemistry) from Castleton College in Vermont and has received training from Hach Technical Training in Loveland, Colorado. He is currently the owner, laboratory director and Q.A. officer of Aquacheck Laboratory Inc., a state- and nationally-accredited environmental laboratory.
Scott has over 14 years of experience as president of Aquacheck and his certification includes Grade II Laboratory Technician (NEWEA) as well as National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (NELAP) accreditation for microbiology, inorganic chemistry and metals. Scott was also the recipient of the GMWEA Laboratory Excellence Award in 2001.
How did you initially get into water testing?
I was interested in using my background in biology and chemistry to see about monitoring surface waters for fish habitat. As the testing got more sophisticated, it only seemed like a natural progression to become certified and start an actual laboratory - which is exactly what I did!
Why is it important for consumers to have their water tested?
Everyone on a private water supply should get at least a basic water test to make sure their source water is generally potable, or safe to drink.
What are some common signs that consumers should be wary of in regards to their drinking water? For instance, any smells or slight tastes that may indicate their water is not safe to drink?
A septic smell in the water may indicate a failed leach field and can be a serious health hazard. Hydrogen sulfide (rotten egg smell) may be confused with septic odors - a Total Coliform test can determine the difference.
Blue-green or turquoise color staining may be an indication of copper leaching from the copper distribution lines in the home, which is an indication of corrosive water. This can be a major health hazard for children if there is lead present in the pipes or brass fixtures in the home, as the corrosive water will also dissolve any lead, if present, as well.
Brown to brownish-black staining is usually iron and there may also be manganese present if black staining is noticed. Iron and manganese are considered secondary contaminants by the USEPA, and therefore are not considered health hazards, but merely affect the aesthetic quality of our drinking water.
Water testing can be done professionally or by homeowners themselves with test kits. What are the benefits/drawbacks to each method?
Some tests for physical characteristics like hardness, alkalinity, and pH can be performed reasonably well with good quality home test kits. Also, there are no major ramifications if you get your hardness or alkalinity readings a bit high or low from your analysis. Home test kits can be quite inexpensive and do not require sample transport to the laboratory.
However, when testing major contaminants like bacteria, lead, arsenic, chromium, nitrates and nitrites, it's best left to a certified laboratory. Instruments like the atomic absorption spectrometer (AAS) and inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometer (ICP-MS) are necessary when analyzing metals to account for interferences and to get low enough detection levels.
How often do you recommend that homeowners have their water tested?
The American Water Works Association (AWWA) recommends bacteria testing (Total Coliform) for private well owners on an annual basis (about 15 month intervals). That way, you are testing your system and source at different seasons of the year on a rotating basis.
Minerals and metals only once unless you notice a change in your water or there are changes to the watershed, such as new industry. In both cases above, increase your testing frequency if on a dug well, spring or other source directly under the influence of surface water.
What are the most important pieces of equipment and supplies that water testing companies must have?
That depends on what type of testing they are doing. Microbiology needs good quality incubators for growth of microbes, microscopes, stains for ID and autoclaves for sterilization. For metals testing, the ICP-MS and atomic absorption spectrometers mentioned above are the instruments of choice and the only ones approved by the EPA and in Standard Methods for the Examination of Water and Wastewater - the industry standard. Such instruments cost tens of thousands, and even hundreds of thousands of dollars, and require a trained analyst to operate them.
Water purification systems are also needed for a constant supply of high grade type I and type II reagent water. This, as you can imagine, is only a very partial list of supplies one might have in a certified environmental laboratory.
What education and training is necessary to do water testing and who provides it?
The level of education you need depends at what level you are testing. For example, an employee in a municipal lab working under others might only need a high school education. Once you start working in labs certified for drinking water analysis, then you generally need bachelor’s level education or higher along with related experience.
Biology and chemistry are at the heart of running an environmental laboratory, so any good quality college or university that provides those classes is a good start.
Volunteering or doing related work during studies is a great way to get on the job experience and network while still learning.
Specific companies like Hach in Loveland, Colorado, also put on very good quality classes at their facilities.
Do you have any advice or suggestions for people who wish to get their water tested?
Start with Coliform bacteria - ask for the Total Coliform Test. If you want to know more about your water, then ask for physical characteristics and metals as well. Mention any treatment you may already have on your water system or any problems you are having such as odors, staining or silt.
Go to your state listings and get the list of labs certified for drinking water testing for your state. They should have the NELAC symbol for accreditation.
Call the lab after you get your results with any questions you may have - they are usually very helpful. Be careful of a lab that also sells water treatment equipment - they are (and should be to remove conflict of interest) two separate industries.
Do you have any advice or suggestions for people who want to get a job in water testing?
Talk to some folks who are already working for labs. They can easily tell you what it's like, what it takes to get in and what will generally be expected of you.
Remember, you can start by volunteering for local lake associations and river clean-up groups. There's municipal lab work which has a lower entry barrier and can be a great place to start while getting ongoing education paid for by the town or city
For more information on water testing, please read our Water Test Guide, or visit our Water Test Directory.