How To Test Your Water For Pollution Agents

When SHTF, you may need to leave quickly. That means that you may need to travel light. You probably won’t be able to carry much more than a couple of days’ worth of water. In that case, you’ll need to find a viable source of drinking water, but you need to know how to test water for pollution agents.

For that matter, it’s a good idea to test your own home drinking water periodically just to be on the safe side. If you have well water, pollutants can creep in due to factors outside of your control such as draught, flooding, earthquakes or deep drilling by oil or gas companies. The Earth shifts beneath us on a regular basis and those shifts can cause changes in your water quality.

In our previous article, Top Killing Agents Hidden in Your Water, we discussed some of the most dangerous contaminants that are often present in water. We also talked about what they can do to you, so if you read that article, you’ll understand why it’s so important to make sure that your water doesn’t contain any of those pollutants.

In this section, we’re going to discuss a few ways that you can find out what’s in your water and even discuss a few signs specific to certain chemicals or minerals. If you have city water, there are many different pollutants in that water.

Chemicals are added to make the water “safe” to drink or to add minerals such as fluoride to your diet because the government thinks that it’s in your best interest. Out-of-date plumbing, leaky sewage systems and antiquated water delivery systems and filtration methods can also be sources of pollution.

Water tests of municipal water supplies have found pesticides, pathogens, carcinogens, arsenic, industrial chemicals and prescription medications in water that has supposedly been purified and deemed safe for drinking. Yuck.

There are standards in place that municipalities have to meet, but those standards are pretty low. Combine that with the fact that most water treatment facilities are poorly equipped to handle industrial spills or the daily pollutants released in industrialized, heavily populated cities and you have a polluted water source that’s been deemed safe to drink even though it isn’t.

Vulnerable people such as pregnant women, people with immune issues, small children and the elderly are most at risk, though the right pathogens will make anybody sick.

Many of the same risks apply to waterways such as the ocean, lakes, ponds, rivers and streams. Sewage leaks, animal feces/carcasses and farm and industrial plant runoff often makes its way into open water.

Water can be polluted with all kinds of toxins, bacteria, protozoa, viruses, parasites and chemicals that can cause immediate illness, death or long-term, chronic illnesses such as cancer, neurological disorders and kidney disease. Ones that you should be particularly worried about include:

  • Cryptosporidium
  • Giardia intestinalis, aka Giardia lamblia
  • Salmonella
  • Shigella
  • E. coli
  • Hepatitis A
  • Staphylococcus

This isn’t an inclusive list but it’s a few of the top bad-asses that you have to worry about.

So how do you know if water is safe? Whether it comes from your faucet or from a pond or creek that you’ve stumbled across, we’re going to tell you how to determine if water is safe to drink.

Trust Nature

Let’s start by testing your water safety knowledge. If you come across two bodies of water, one that is crystal clear and free of plants and algae, and one that is not-so-clear and full of water plants and fish and has a few bugs swarming around, which one would you drink? The logical answer is the clear water, right? Wrong.

Plants, animals and insects in water are a good sign that the water is well-oxygenated, has a healthy pH, is mineral-balanced and is (relatively) free of harmful chemicals. If you have to choose, brush the algae away, filter the water, drop in a purification tab and drink from that pond. Steer clear of the crystal-clear, bug-free pond.

Note too that if algae is the only thing in the water, you should avoid it, too – it could be tainted with phosphorus runoff. There’s no guarantee that the water in the dirty-looking pond is safe, either. It may still have parasites, bacteria or other hazards. It’s just the better choice of the two if they are your only options.

Test your water

Use Your Senses

Some contaminants can be seen or smelled in water. For instance, sulfur smells like rotten eggs and may taste salty. It can be an indicator of certain bacteria in the water. Iron makes the water appear orange. Manganese in higher quantities makes water black or purple. Chlorine smells like bleach. Some parasites are actually visible, though many aren’t. The first thing you should do is look at the water and smell it before you drink it.

Water that smells or tastes like turpentine, gasoline or similar chemicals may be polluted with methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) or xylenes. These are byproducts of oil, gas, paints, detergents and other chemical agents. Don’t drink it, even with purification tabs.

If the water smells or tastes metallic, it’s a pretty good bet that it’s got minerals such as mercury, lead, copper, iron, arsenic, manganese or zinc in it. Some are harmless in small doses, such as iron, but others such as lead, mercury and arsenic aren’t. Better to skip it.

Finally, if the water smells or tastes earthy, musty or like dirt, there is probably decaying organic matter in it. This is probably not a bad thing but it still tastes weird.

Test the Water

Unfortunately, there is no way to test for the stuff that will really make you sick – bacteria, viruses and parasites – other than to use a water test kit. There are several different types of these and you can get them fairly inexpensively – some run only $15 or even less. Some test for minerals and some test for harmful pathogens such as e. coli and salmonella.

There are field tests that you can get to test your water for pollution agents that you can toss in your bug out bag and I’d recommend doing so if you’re prepping for long-term, earth-changing events. After all, you can only store so many water purification tabs or pool shock. Remember though that water quality changes so you need to take other measures or repeat the tests periodically. Even then, the tests don’t cover everything but they’re a good start.

The most effective way to ensure that your water is safe to drink is to filter it, then boil it, distill it, or use water purification tabs or other methods to purify it so that you kill the bacteria and other nasties in it.

If you know of other good methods to test water for polluting agents, please share them with us in the comments section below.


This article has been written by Theresa Crouse for Survivopedia.

Written by

Theresa Crouse is a full-time writer currently living in central Florida. She was born and raised in the hills of West Virginia, where she learned to farm, hunt, fish, and live off the land from an early age. She prefers to live off the grid as much as possible and does her best to follow the “leave nothing behind but footprints” philosophy. For fun, she enjoys shooting, kayaking, tinkering on her car and motorcycle, and just about anything else that involves water, going fast, or the outdoors.

Latest comments
  • One simple, easy to use, small to carry, way of purifying water would be SSKI (saturated solution potassium iodide). There was a gentleman who traveled in Africa for 30 years who used this method and never got sick once. Check it out.

  • A lot of info on what can go wrong and why, but not much info on how to make it right, such as which pool purification chemicals can you use and which not, what kind of filters work best and at what micron filtration levels, how to keep well water safe (number and types of filters and UV treatment, clean out regmens), etc. Maybe in another article?

  • I see so many articles from you, and elsewhere about “bugging” out. Where are we to bug out to? We are older. If the electric grid goes off, the cars won’t run. So, are the elderly and physical handicapped people suppose to wheel themselves or hobble to a place of safety? And where would that be???? We don’t have huge forest, nor mountains where we are from. Would you suggest hiding in a corn or wheat field??? Why don’t you make your time equal for those who can’t bug out as you say. Get real, think about other people who may not have the physical ability, or have the Mountains and forests to bug out to. No matter where you try and bug out to, they can easily find you, with all of their high tech things. Your living a fantasy dream….I do enjoy your site, but get irritated at this concept. Thanks

    • Oh, one more thing. I will put my faith and trust in the one who CAN protect me. The Lord Jesus Christ! He is my Rock and my Fortress, in HIM will I trust to keep us hidden and protected, if he deems it to be so. 🙂

      • Absolutely! Just remember, even King David had to run and hide more than one time! ☺

        • I’m not doubting that, but how do old people and those with health problems run, and where do we run to is my question. Where can we run, where they will not find us? David had wilderness places to go to. We have none of that in corn-land country! That is our problem! Wide open spaces! No one offers any solutions…LOL

      • The out of shape people,handicap,sick,elderly,etc,if not already in the proper location will most likely parish and sadly so will most all the “Believers”,who don’t have a plan for themselves or their families,as God is in all of us,he is giving you the choice to prepare or not prepare,the information is out there,seek and ye shall find.Peace to All the Innocent!God equals Good,The Goodness is letting you know we are living in “Wicked”Times and how to best prepare yourself.Being on this site,confirms it.

        • What a comfort! 🙂 No God isn’t in everyone sir. Sorry to burst your bubble on that one. He is in those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, those who have repented of their sins, and love and trust in him….I’m glad I have him, therefore I am not afraid of what man can do to me, be it Gods will!

          • I whole-heartedly believe as you do, Suez. There is only one Lord and his son, Jesus Christ. I’m always leery of those people who go blithely through life, thinking that God is just going to take care of them. Huh-uh. Only if you have accepted Christ as your personal savior and ask for the forgiveness of your sins.
            I don’t think there’s anything that people our age…60+…will be able to do much. Frankly, I’m ready to go any day. This world grows worse and more evil by the day.

            Were I to be dispatched to eternity now, I would not fear death as I might have 10 years ago. I’m so ready for God’s peace .

          • Amen Fleur. We do what we can to prepare for a national disaster type thing. We have a acreage, water purifier, well, and I have some food on hand. But we are not big preppers, so it won’t last long. But, after going through two tornadoes and a 500 year flood, we know things can get bad quickly. So, we do what we can, for that reason. The trucks may not be able to run sometime to get food to stores. So, everyone should have food and water on hand, in my opinion. That is just good common sense. I just don’t understand all these people saying they are going to bug out. To where? With all the gov.’s high tech, equipment, there is no where one could hide, that they won’t find you if they want to. So, I find that really amusing in some ways. Better to trust in God, than ourselves or anything else! I do feel sad for those who trust in the arm of flesh!!! 🙂

  • you mentioned “field kits to test water” but when clicking on the link thin the article you provided, DOES NOT refer or list where to find or info about these kits

  • I am a little disappointed. Your article is titled
    “How To Test Your Water For Pollution Agents” and you didn’t really get into it that much. I guess it was just my expectations being too high. Lots of good related info however!

  • A good way to understand the state of a surface water supply to to examine the micro-fauna (the bugs). Don’t worry, there is really easy way to do this and understand the state of the water. This method is called miniSASS. It was developed in South Africa as a teaching and monitoring tool for school kids, water scientists. water engineers and environmental managers. It is a simplification of SASS. look up , It’ll tell you all about it. It’s easy, even adults can use it 🙂

    As a rule of thumb, the more fly larvae, the better the water quality. Looking at micro-fauna shows the long term state, but you won’t be able to tell if there have been regular pollution incidents or irregular incidents, but that there have been incidents.

    You need to clarify AND disinfect water. Clarification gets the bits and sludge out. This is necessary so that your disinfectant: steritabs, iodine, chloride etc reacts with the bugs not the bits. It should be pointed out that micro-pore filtration can filter everything (including bacteria and some viruses) out of the water.

    If you need to rehydrate in an emergency (eg due to the runs) putting salt and sugar in water [a pinch of salt and a handful of sugar in a 20 litre bucket (4.5 gallons)] will cause the water to go through the stomach wall, rather than have to wait a couple of hours before it goes through the intestinal wall, EVEN IF THE ONLY AVAILABLE WATER IS THE SAME AS THAT WHICH MADE YOU SICK!

  • If your on the run go with the Sawyer mini water filter. If you are stationary go with the Berkey system.

  • sodium fluoride and calcium fluoride. Calcium fluoride is found in some well water that helps prevent tooth decay in young children. Sodium fluoride is a toxic by product from making aluminum that would legally be dumped in a costly, toxic waste dump. Scientist overlook the fact that the two products are different with the common name fluoride. As we look down the long list we can easily see how Big Business is saving toxic waste fees by putting their toxic waste in the drinking water all over our country.
    On the label of Colgate tooth paste, one ingredient was sodium fluoride. I called the toll free number to state my concern. The receptionist couldn’t believe me; she looked it up in her book. “Sodium fluoride is used for rat poison, herbicide, etc. But, they don’t use that much.”
    Big Business has learned how to disguise the name by adding to the toxin and calling it something different.

  • you need to trust in jesus christ!!!!!!!!!