Ideally, a laboratory infrastructure should be established which will enable all
samples to be returned to a central or regional laboratory within a few hours of
being taken. However, this depends on the availability of a good road system and
of reliable motorized transport for all sampling officers, and these are not available
in many countries. Thus, although it may be possible to establish well-equipped
central and even regional laboratories for water analysis, at the provincial and
district levels it may be necessary to rely on a relatively small number of simple
tests. As noted in Chapter 1, this approach is sometimes called critical-parameter
The most important factor to take into account is that, in most communities,
the principal risk to human health derives from faecal contamination. In some
countries there may also be hazards associated with specific chemical contaminants
such as fluoride or arsenic, but the levels of these substances are unlikely to
change significantly with time. Thus, if a full range of chemical analyses is
undertaken on new water sources and repeated thereafter at fairly long intervals,
chemical contaminants are unlikely to present an unrecognised hazard. In contrast,
the potential for faecal contamination in untreated or inadequately treated
community supplies is always present. The minimum level of analysis should
therefore include testing for indicators of faecal pollution (thermotolerant (faecal)
coliforms), turbidity, and chlorine residual and pH (if the water is disinfected
Depending on the components, different methods are applied to determine the quantities or ratios of the components. While some methods can be performed with standard laboratory equipment, others require advanced devices, such as Inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS).
- Oxygen and H2S are most commonly measured by titration.
- Ion chromatography is a sensitive and stable technique that can measure Li, NH4, Na, K, Ca and Mg quantities among other components.
- For steam samples, gas chromatography can be used to determine methane, carbon dioxide, oxygen and nitrogen quantities.
- An MBAS assay indicates anionic surfactants in water with a bluing reaction.
- Spectrophotometry is most commonly used to measure iron and Nitrate contents in water samples.
- Saturated calomel electrode and glass electrode are often used in conjunction to determine the pH and EC of water.