This project evaluated tools for citizen science by assessing the potential to monitor drinking water quality at home with commercially sold, or off the shelf, test kits. The first objective was to compare the results of off the shelf test kits with laboratory-obtained values as performed in a controlled environment by trained laboratory personnel. The second objective was to provide potential citizen scientists with a selection of test kits to determine if they could successfully use the kits. These two objectives contributed to the end goal of understanding whether test kits on the market existed that could be used by citizen scientists to monitor drinking water quality and identify gaps and challenges in existing testing methods available to the public.
The drinking water parameters considered were iron, copper, manganese, and fluoride using combination test kits, which could measure multiple drinking water parameters in a single test, and single parameter test kits. These kits were evaluated for their ability to measure known concentrations of these four parameters in three water sources: DI water to represent water of high purity, Amherst tap water to represent a local water source, and water from the Mill River to represent a local surface water source. Typically, the kits measuring iron and copper performed best in the DI water matrix where there was nothing to interfere with the added constituent, and often performed poorly in Amherst tap water and Mill River water. The combination kits usually performed worse than the single parameter test kits. The evaluated kits measuring fluoride were unable to accurately measure fluoride concentrations in any water matrix, while the kit measuring manganese was able to reasonably approximate manganese concentrations in Amherst tap water and Mill River water. Overall, for most parameters, some kits worked acceptably well, and others did not at all, allowing guidance on selection of methods depending on the goal of a citizen science program. Overall, the test kits could benefit from more precise instructions to users and a method to consistently read the test kits’ results between users.