What's In Our Water? The presence and effect of pollutants in our water supply within our community.

Table: 119
Experimentation location: School, Home, Field
Regulated Research (Form 1c): No
Project continuation (Form 7): No

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Total hardness in water is not necessarily a health concern. It causes a soapy film and may cause a mineral buildup, such as calcium and magnesium,in plumbing fixtures such as water heaters and pipes. This can eventually cause clogs. It also can lead to poor performance for soaps and detergents. Hard water can lead to skin dryness and possibly eczema. Washing clothes or other items with hard water can leave a buildup of soap (United States Geological Society, n.d.). The samples from Colonial Lake and the FDC 1st Floor Water Fountain show a moderately hard concentration of dissolved minerals (between 120 and 180 mg/l) and had the highest concentrations of all the samples. The other samples all show relatively low concentrations of minerals (less than 60mg/l).

The Centers for Disease Control states that the presence of free chlorine typically shows that chlorine was added to reduce the levels of bacteria and viruses in the water supply. The absence of free chlorine means that the water supply may be clean already and may not need to have additional chlorine. Natural waters may show chlorine due to the presence of inorganic compounds (Centers for Disease Control, 2014). Colonial Lake, Drexel Woods Stream, and Mercer Lake all showed the presence of free chlorine at the same concentration levels.

The school water fountain, the janitor sink, and the girls’ bathroom sink in the school show 0.5mg/l of free chlorine - highest of all the samples. The CDC says that a level of 0.5 mg/l indicates there is a level of chlorine that can maintain the quality of water through the water supply system but not enough to store the water for a longer time frame. Total Chlorine is the measure of free and combined chlorine (residual chlorine) (Hydro Instruments, n.d.). The CDC (2014) says that if nitrates are present, the total chlorine amount will be greater than the free chlorine. This is usually the case in natural waters. My analysis showed that total chlorine was present in all samples at the same concentration of 50mg/l.

According to the Illinois Department of Health, iron found in water is not necessarily a health hazard. Iron helps the body transport oxygen to the cells. The presence of 0.3mg/l of iron may change the color, taste, and smell of the water, stain items in contact with the water, and may indicate pipes that are rusting. Iron that combined with bacteria can lead to a slime that can clog plumbing (Illinois Department of Health, 2010). Samples taken from the Art Room and FDC 1st Floor Bathroom Sinks show iron levels of 5mg/l. All other samples did not show any iron presence.

Copper in the water supply can be harmful if present in higher quantities. Pipes that may be eroding can lead to increasing levels of copper. Eating or drinking too much copper can cause gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea, liver damage, and kidney disease. People with Wilson’s disease need to test their water for copper to prevent large amounts of copper intake as they can be put in jeopardy. The Environmental Protection Agency says that the action level for copper (where you need to take action if in water supply) is over 1,300 micrograms/liter (Minnesota Department of Health, 2018). This is the same as 1.3 mg/l. The Art Room and FDC Girls Bathroom Sink (1st floor) samples showed the highest copper level at 20 mg/l.

Lead in the water supply can be dangerous to your health, especially for children. Lead in the water supply is usually due to older pipes and is usually found in buildings over 50 years old. New Jersey outlawed the use of lead for water pipes in 1987. Lead can lead to damage to the nervous system, brain and kidneys. Low levels of lead in the blood can affect a child’s attention, academic achievement and behavior. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection states the action level for lead at 15 micrograms/liter = 0.015 milligrams/liter, although there is no safe level of lead (New Jersey Department of Health, n.d). In 2017, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) found lead in 14 of the 119 samples from Trenton Water Works above the 15 micrograms/liter. Samples that had lead were from Trenton, Hamilton, Lawrence and Ewing (Anthes, 2017). In the first six months of 2018, 12 out of 100 samples showed high levels of lead. Because Trenton Water Works is owned by the city of Trenton, the city had to pay a $13,000 fine to the DEP when they did not submit the documents about lead service line replacements and missed deadlines to replace service lines (Rizzo, 2018). In November, 2019, Trenton Water Works announced that they will be starting 2 large projects to help remove lead from the water. In December, 2019, they began to add orthophosphate to the water. Orthophosphates mix with the lead to form a kind of coating that prevents lead from getting into the water from corroded pipes. Trenton Water Works has started replacing pipes in December, 2019 under a $200 million, five year plan (Anthes, 2019).

In the school, the boys bathroom sink, girls bathroom sink, janitor sink, and water fountain all contained levels above the action level stated. Also, the girls’ bathroom sink in the Mercer Lake Boathouse contained lead above the action level. Lead can show in natural water by local contamination. In my sample, D&R Canal and Drexel Woods Stream showed evidence of lead. Each of these samples measured 20mg/l of lead.

Nitrates and nitrites in large quantities in the water supply can be dangerous, especially to infants and older people with health issues. It can cause “blue baby syndrome” which is where the blood cannot carry enough oxygen to the cells. Nitrates and nitrites in the water supply are mostly from farming chemical runoff, polluting the surrounding water (Oram, 2014). No sample contained Nitrates or nitrites.

MPS, or microplastics in water, are plastic particles under 5mm in size. They can be present in the water supply due to pollution from items such as makeup or beauty supplies, plastic bags, synthetic clothing and polystyrene foam. MPS has been found to be harmful to marine animals, fish, reptiles and fish-eating birds. Although determined to be toxic, there is currently not enough information on the impact of MPS to humans (The Water Research Foundation, n.d.). In my samples, a low concentration of MPS was found in the Drexel Woods Stream, Mercer Lake and in the Girls Bathroom Toilet at the Boathouse in Mercer Lake. Each of these samples measured 1mg/l of MPS.

According to the American Cancer Society, fluoride is created by mixing the element fluorine with another substance, usually a metal. Fluoride can be found naturally in water, soil, and air. In some parts of the United States,fluoride was added to drinking water in 1945, to reduce the number of cavities in the teeth. In 1962, the United States Public Health Service (USPHS), recommended that fluoride be added to all public water. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), set the maximum fluoride level in drinking water to be 4.0mg/l because people get fluoride in other ways, especially toothpaste. Too much fluoride can lead to a condition called skeletal fluorosis which is a buildup of fluoride in the bones. This can lead to stiffness and pain but also weak bones and fractures for older adults. The EPA also set a standard saying there should not be more than 2.0mg/l to help protect children under 9 from getting dental fluorosis. Dental fluorosis is where fluoride collects in teeth that are developing and prevent tooth enamel from forming correctly. There is concern that fluoride can lead to cancer, which has not been proven due to lack of research or too small sample size (American Cancer Society, n.d.). My analysis showed significant fluoride concentrations insamples taken from Colonial Lake, house tap water and filtered water, and the girls’ bathroom sink in my school. The greatest concentrations were in the house tap water and Colonial Lake at 50mg/l.

Cyanuric Acid is used along with free chlorine to help disinfect the water supply. Cyanuric acid is also added to pools to help the chlorine reduce bacteria. Too much cyanuric acid can reduce the effectiveness of the chlorine which can then result in growth of bacteria. The World Health Organization specifies the maximum amount of cyanuric acid to be 50mg/l (Wahman, 2019). My analysis found there was cyanuric acid in acceptable amounts in Colonial Lake, Drexel Woods Stream, D&R Canal, house tap water and filtered water, FDC girls’ bathroom sink on the first floor and FDC water fountain on second floor. Each had a cyanuric acid concentration of 50mg/l. No health issues have been proven by current research (Wahman, 2019).

Ammonia Chloride can be used as a disinfectant for water. Ammonia chloride, combined with chlorine may decrease the ammonia’s use as a disinfectant. Cement coating inside of water pipes may cause increased ammonia levels in the water. In higher amounts, ammonia chloride can show that the water was contaminated with human waste. Too much ammonia chloride can result in a “mouldy, earthy-tasting water”. (World Health Organization, 2003) My analysis showed higher levels of ammonia chloride in Colonial Lake and the house tap water at 500mg/l. It was also present in Drexel Woods Stream, Mercer Lake, house filtered water, and the girls bathroom sink in school.

Bromine is used as a disinfectant for swimming pools, spas and cooling towers. It is not used for municipal water supplies due to cost and potential for health issues. Bromine can cause respiratory issues if inhaled and can be toxic if swallowed. Contamination of the water supply with bromine can be caused by mills, oil and gas extraction, power plants, and fracturing (World Health Organization, 2018). My analysis showed that bromine was present in Colonial Lake, D&R Canal, house tap water, school water fountain, school janitor and boys’ bathroom sinks. The highest concentration of bromine was found in Colonial Lake at 10mg/l.

Total Alkalinity measures how well the water neutralizes acids. The higher the alkalinity, the more likely there may be build up in water pipes. The lower the alkalinity, the more corrosive (may have chloride, nitrates and sulfates). Total alkalinity can be compared to total hardness and is expected to have similar results. My analysis showed that total alkalinity was lower than hardness in all samples. This will make the pH lower and show more corrosive water, and the possible presence of lead, copper, and zinc (Mechenich and Andrews, 2004). The highest total alkalinity was found in Colonial Lake at 80mg/l.

Carbonate contributes to hard water and its presence, in large quantities, can increase the effects of hard water (Mechenich and Andrews, 2004).Carbonate was found in all samples, except for D&R Canal, house filtered water, and school water fountain. The amount of carbonate found in Colonial Lake, Drexel Woods Stream, Mercer Lake, girls’ bathroom sink and toilet at Mercer Lake Boathouse, house tap water, school janitor sink, boys’ and girls’ bathroom sink at school, and FDC areas each registered at 40mg/l.

pH is the measure of how alkaline or acidic a sample is. A pH below 7 would be acidic and above 7 would be alkaline. All of my samples had a pH below 7, which indicates the water would be more corrosive to lead and copper pipes and may lead to a bad taste (Mechenich and Andrews, 2004)

Although I have tried to be thorough in my analysis, there are limitations in the test itself. The samples were collected in test tubes that were sanitized when we received them but they were all in the same plastic container. The pipettes used were plastic and also were received in a plastic bag all together. Cross-contamination may have occurred because of how some of the samples were taken. As an example, I took a sample of the D&R Canal water by laying on my stomach on the ground and scooping up some water in the test tube. The sample could have been contaminated by ground surrounding the canal. At times, the samples were tested up to an hour after being collected because of having to transport them to my house for analysis. This may affect the test results and lead to results that may be different if they were tested immediately.


My hypothesis was only half correct. There were pollutants in the lakes and other natural waters but pollutants, such as lead, were also present in some forms of drinking water, including the school water fountain. I was especially surprised what besides lead was present, including microplastics and copper. These pollutants are caused by people hurting the environment or not making necessary repairs. Taking steps to dispose of items (like plastics)properly, fixing or replacing old pipes and using a good water filter can help prevent exposure and possible health issues. Making small changes now can prevent contamination and lead to safe drinking water and preservation of our natural waters for years to come.

As for next steps, repeat testing using a different kit can be used to verify results. To further analyze and confirmresults for pollutants such as lead, a company certified in water testing should be hired. The company can then send an official report to the necessary agencies (like the Department of Environmental Protection and Trenton Water Works) and/or personal contractors to correct the issues.


Ammonia in Drinking-water Background document for development of WHO Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality (2003). World Health Organization. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/dwq/ammonia.pdf

Anthes, R. (2017, August 28) Trenton Water Works found lead in drinking water, here’s what you need to know. Retrieved from https://communitynews.org/2017/08/28/trenton-water-works-found-lead-in-drinking-water-heres-what-you-need-to-know/

Anthes, R. (2019, November 21) Trenton Water Works announces start of 2 programs to rid lead from water. Retrieved from https://communitynews.org/2019/11/21/trenton-water-works-announces-start-of-2-programs/

Bromine as a drinking-water disinfectant (2018). World Health Organization. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/publications/bromine-02032018.pdf?ua=1

Copper in Drinking Water (2018, August 21). Minnesota Department of Health. Retrieved from https://www.health.state.mn.us/communities/environment/water/docs/contaminants/copperfactsht.pdf

Drinking Water Facts: Lead (n.d.). New Jersey Department of Health. Retrieved from https://www.nj.gov/health/ceohs/documents/dw_lead_factsheet.pdf

Environmental Health Fact Sheet: Iron in Drinking Water (2010, December). Illinois Department of Health. Retrieved from http://www.idph.state.il.us/envhealth/factsheets/ironFS.htm

Forms of Chlorine in Water (n.d.). Hydro Instruments. Retrieved from http://www.hydroinstruments.com/page.aspx?page_id=104

Mechenich, C. & Andrews, A. (2004) Home Water Safety: Interpreting Drinking Water Test Results. Retrieved from https://www.aquaticanalytics.com/pdfs/Interpreting%20Drinking%20Water%20Test%20Results.pdf

Microplastics in Water (n.d.) The Water Research Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.waterrf.org/sites/default/files/file/2019-12/Microplastics_Factsheet.pdf

Oram, B. (2014). Nitrates and Nitrites in Drinking Water, Groundwater, and Surface Waters. Retrieved from https://water-research.net/index.php/nitrate

Rizzo, O. (2018, August 14) N.J. capital city's water has lead in it, and the utility ignored an order to fix it. Retrieved from https://www.nj.com/mercer/2018/08/gusciora_agrees_to_dep_water_quality_standards_and.html

Safe Water System: Free Chlorine Testing (2014, July 17). Centers for Disease Control. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/safewater/chlorine-residual-testing.html

Wahman, D.G. (2019, January 1) First Acid Ionization Constant of the Drinking Water Relevant Chemical Cyanuric Acid from 5 to 35 °C. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6223631/

Water Fluoridation and Cancer Risk (n.d.) American Cancer Society. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/water-fluoridation-and-cancer-risk.html

Water Science School: Hardness of Water (n.d.) United States Geological Survey. Retrieved from https://www.usgs.gov/special-topic/water-science-school/science/hardness-water?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects


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Research Plan:


A. TITLE:   The presence and effect of pollutants in our water supply within our community

 B. BACKGROUND RESEARCH/PURPOSE: Pollutants, if present, in the water supply can lead to a variety of negative consequences. This can range from just forming a soapy residue to serious health concerns  - depending on the pollutant present and the amount of pollutant. This experiment tested 16 different types of area water for 16 different pollutants. This experiment included testing of the St. Ann School. 

C. TESTABLE QUESTION: Are there pollutants in the water in our community (including drinking water, lakes, canals, etc.)?  If so, what are the types of pollutants? 

D. HYPOTHESIS: My hypothesis is that the lakes will have pollutants, such as lead, but not the drinking water. The lakes are not as clean because people leave garbage around that can get into the water. Drinking water should not contain pollutants because it is cleaned and is regulated by the government. 


  • Sterile 13ml plastic test tubes
  • 3ml plastic pipettes
  • Gloves and goggles
  • Notebook
  • 6 oz. cups
  • 16-in-1 water test kit
  • Sharpie marker and pen
  • Resealable plastic bag to hold test tubes for transport
  • Paper towel for testing surface
  • iPhone timer
  • Test tube holder display


  • Samples were taken from each water source using pipettes or cups (wearing gloves) 
  • Samples were immediately transferred to test tubes. 
  • Test tubes were sealed and marked for identification. 
  • Samples were then put in a resealable plastic bag and transported to my house for testing to avoid contamination. 
  • One sterile testing strip was removed from the sealed packet.
  • Packet was sealed for next use immediately per test kit instructions.
  • Test strip was completely submerged into a test tube containing the water sample for 3 seconds and then removed.
  • iPhone timer set to required 60 seconds for testing.
  • Test strip was held horizontally for 60 seconds until the timer alarm went off.
  • Color of test strip was compared to test chart provided in test kit
  • Results were recorded in a notebook.
  • The above steps were repeated 15 additional times. 


  • Plastic test tubes and pipettes 
  • Gloves 
  • Safety goggles 
  • Apron 
  • Do not drink the water or touch your skin, face, eyes without thoroughly washing your hands
  • Soap for washing hands and clothes


Samples were saved for display purposes. Used pipettes, cups, test strips and used paper towels were placed in a resealable plastic bag for disposal in trash. 




Questions and Answers