Vinyl chloride in water has no taste, smell, or appearance, so testing is the only way to know if your water is safe. Do not guess! The good news is that tests for vinyl chloride are reasonably priced these days. But how to test for vinyl chloride in water at home?
I’ll walk through the risks associated with vinyl chloride, how it’s regulated, and the best way to test for vinyl chloride so you can have peace of mind.
What Exactly Is Vinyl Chloride
Vinyl chloride is a volatile organic compound (VOC) that is not naturally occurring. It is a colorless, highly flammable gas, that is produced for industrial purposes. The most common use for vinyl chloride is in PVC pipes for plumbing or packaging materials.
Vinyl chloride can also be found in tobacco smoke as a combustion byproduct or as a binding agent in adhesives and paint.
The main pathway for vinyl chloride to spread is via air, but it can also be passed through water. Once soil and water are contaminated by the substance, it can become pervasive within the groundwater supply.
|Chemical Formula In Water||C2H3Cl|
|Maximum Contaminant Level||EPA MCL: .002 mg/L|
EPA MCLG: 0 mg/L
|Health Effects||Increased Risk Of Cancer|
|Best Treatment||Reverse Osmosis|
How Can You Be Exposed To Vinyl Chloride
Vinyl chloride is most commonly transmitted as a colorless gas through the air, but it is also highly mobile when in water. Here are the primary ways you can be exposed to vinyl chloride:
- Inhaling the gas in or around a manufacturing facility
- Drinking or cooking with a contaminated water supply
- Breathing contaminated air through tobacco smoke
- Drinking water that flows through PVC plumbing
- Inhaling it and absorbing it in your skin when showering with contaminated water
What Are The Health Effects Of Vinyl Chloride
Vinyl chloride is classified as a known human carcinogen. Human and animal studies have demonstrated that increased exposure to vinyl chloride can increase a person’s risk of developing cancer. Specifically, the substance can lead to a number of negative health effects, including:
- Liver cancer
- Lung cancer
- Brain cancer
The health impacts can differ depending on the type of exposure, the duration, and the dose. The less obvious symptoms include irritation of eyes, throat, and lung tissue. Pregnant women have elevated risks of miscarriage and birth defects. Longer-term exposures may cause brain symptoms ranging from dizziness to disorientation.
Do Exposure Standards Exist For Vinyl Chloride In Water
Vinyl chloride is a regulated substance in drinking water. The EPA has a maximum contaminant level (MCL) that requires the concentration of vinyl chloride in drinking water not to exceed 0.002 milligrams per liter or 0.002 ppm. This is the level that is enforceable for water treatment facilities to abide by.
However, the maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG) for vinyl chloride is zero ppm because even small amounts of exposure can lead to adverse health effects.
Additionally, the EPA established the Ambient Water Quality Criteria for vinyl chloride concentration of 0.025 micrograms per liter or 0.025 ppb in drinking water. The purpose of this is to provide technical data for states to establish water quality criteria pursuant to the Clean Water Act. Note, this is not enforceable like the EPA’s maximum contaminant level.
Long story short, we should strive to not ingest any amount of the harmful substance. A water treatment facility must monitor the presence of a higher concentration of vinyl chloride within the EPA’s framework. That said, testing your home’s water is the only way to know for sure.
Should I get my water tested for vinyl chloride?
If you believe you have been exposed to vinyl chloride or live in an area where the substance is prevalent, you should test your water. Note that even if your home is not in close proximity to a factory or a contaminated area, your water supplier could be.
You can review the Environmental Protection Agency database for Annual Water Quality Reports. If you have a municipal water supply, the provider is required to test and report the water quality every year. Simply go to the database map and search for your zip code.
You can also search the EPA’s National Priorities List (NPL) which identifies the most serious hazardous waste sites in the nation. A staggering 616 out of the 1,662 (or 37%) existing or former NPL sites contain vinyl chloride. If you live in one of these zones, it is likely your water contains high levels of vinyl chloride.
If you get your water supplies from private drinking water sources, you should be testing your well annually regardless. Because well water is not regulated like public drinking water supplies, the importance of getting it regularly tested is underscored.
Water tests for vinyl chloride are crucial since toxic substances are not obvious to anyone from looking at or smelling it. The taste may occasionally taste sweet but only with incredibly intense concentration.
How Do You Test For Vinyl Chloride
The only way to test if you are drinking contaminated water is to use a laboratory test. Detecting the substance on your own is nearly possible. You cannot see or smell vinyl chloride, but it may have a sweet taste at very high concentrations.
Get A Certified Laboratory Test
The most accurate way to test for vinyl chloride in drinking water is to use a certified laboratory test. There are a variety of lab tests available, so make sure that the test specifically includes analysis for VOCs and vinyl chloride.
Not all lab tests are created equal. Using a quality lab test will show all the contaminants detected in your water, but importantly, it will show you the precise levels of vinyl chloride content of polyvinyl chloride.
Our Freshnss Labs ultimate water test kit will analyze 109 different substances, including vinyl chloride and dozens of other VOCs. All water samples are analyzed in an independent certified lab.
To perform a lab test, simply fill the provided collection bottles with a sample from your home’s water supply. Then send the test kit back to the lab and receive your results in less than 3 business days.
The test results include a detailed report showing all detected contaminant levels, any health alerts relative to EPA benchmarking levels, and the best treatment solutions for your specific issues.
Analyzed in a certified laboratory
Includes detailed report for all detected contaminants
Tips For Collecting Your Tap Water Sample
After you receive your water test kit, it is important to follow water collection best practices. Since the laboratory test analyzes dozens of contaminants, it is possible for you to contaminate the sample. Any contamination of your water sample can lead to false positives.
To ensure an accurate test result, here are some tips to follow:
- Disinfect your faucet surface area with diluted bleach or rubbing alcohol
- Wait at least 5 minutes to let the disinfectant dissipate
- Turn on your tap and let it run for 30 before collecting your sample
- Wear clean rubber gloves if you have them available to avoid cross-contamination
- Turn on the cold water supply and slowly collect your sample so it does not overflow
- Fill the test collection bottle up to the shoulder of the bottle. Fill the small collection vials up to the rim making sure there are no air bubbles.
How To Reduce Exposure To Vinyl Chloride In Drinking Water
If your water test results show vinyl chloride exposure was detected, there are effective water treatment options to reduce your exposure. Carbon filters are an effective method to remove VOCs from drinking water. VOCs themselves are carbon-based because they are organic compounds.
Water Filter Pitcher
Certain water filter pitchers are capable of effectively removing vinyl chloride and polyvinyl chloride. A word of caution is that not all water pitcher filters will effectively remove VOCs. This is because the filters are relatively small and constructed with basic filtration media, so the water has a short contact time with the filter.
One example of a pitcher that will treat VOCs is the Clearly Filtered pitcher which has been tested and proven to remove up to 99.8% of vinyl chloride from tap water. You can learn more about our independent testing on the Clearly Filtered and other top water filter pitchers here.
Reverse osmosis systems have been shown to reduce VOCs in drinking water by up to 100% according to a recent study in the Journal Of Water Process Engineering. RO systems are more effective at reducing vinyl chloride if the system also contains a carbon pre and post-filter. This is because the VOCs may pass through the semipermeable RO membrane, but will be captured by the carbon post filter before making it into your drinking water.
To learn more about the most effective reverse osmosis system for vinyl chloride removal, check out our comprehensive RO guide.
Whole House Water Filtration System
If you want to protect every drop of water entering your home, a whole-house water filter system is the best option. Installing a point-of-entry system will protect your washing machines, showers, and drinking water.
A whole-house carbon media filtration system can effectively remove up to 99.6% of vinyl chloride from your water supply. When looking at different systems, ensure it has either activated carbon or catalytic carbon media. Check out our review of top whole-house filter systems to see which ones are best suited for VOCs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is there a medical test to determine if I have been exposed to vinyl chloride?
It is possible to detect vinyl chloride in urine and blood after recent exposures. These tests are not widely available and their results do not reflect the duration or the concentration of the exposure. The problem is that a positive test for vinyl chloride does not accurately predict future health effects.
Does boiling water remove vinyl chloride from water?
Boiling water can reduce the concentration of vinyl chloride in water, but cannot be counted on to completely remove it. It is generally not recommended to boil water that contains VOCs as the contaminants may condense back into the water, or they may escape into the air and get inhaled.