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Glossary of Commonly Encountered Terms

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algae - microscopic plants which contain chlorophyll and live floating or suspended in water. They also may be attached to structures, rocks or other submerged surfaces. They are food for fish and small aquatic animals. Excess algal growths can impart tastes and odors to potable water. Algae produce oxygen during sunlight hours and use oxygen during the night hours. Their biological activities appreciably affect the pH and dissolved oxygen of the water.

algal bloom - sudden, massive growths of microscopic and macroscopic plant life, algae, and cyanobacteria, which develop in lakes, reservoirs, and marine waters

algicide - any substance or chemical specifically formulated to kill or control algae

allergen - something that causes an allergy, allergic response, or hypersensitivity

allergy - an exaggerated or inappropriate immune response initiated by exposures to antigens such as mold spores, pollen, or certain drugs and foods


background level - the average presence of a chemical substance or microorganism in the environment, originally referring to naturally occurring phenomena

bacteria - microorganisms with prokaryotic cell organization (lacking membrane-bounded nucleus and other specialized features); bacteria are also typically much smaller than fungi (molds)


carcinogenic - cancer-producing or cancer-causing

chlorination - The application of chlorine to water, generally for the purpose of disinfection, but frequently for accomplishing other biological or chemical results (aiding coagulation and controlling tastes and odors)

cryptosporidium - A microorganism commonly found in lakes and rivers (especially in those contaminated by sewerage or runoff containing animal waste) which is highly resistant to disinfection. Cryptosporidium has caused several large outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness, with symptoms that include diarrhea, nausea, and/or stomach cramps. People with severely weakened immune systems (that is, severely immuno-compromised) are likely to have more severe and more persistent symptoms than healthy individuals. Although resistant to chlorine and most oxidizing agents, it is effectively removed by filtration to 1 micrometer, and can be destroyed by boiling.


gastroenteritis - an inflammation of the stomach and intestine resulting in diarrhea, with vomiting and cramps when irritation is excessive. When caused by an infectious agent, it is often associated with fever.


host - an individual who is parasitized or infected by a parasite or pathogen


odor threshold - the minimum odor of a water sample that can just be detected after successive dilutions with odorless water. Also called threshold odor.

organic - substances that come from animal or plant sources. Organic substances always contain carbon. (Inorganic materials are chemical substances of mineral origin.)


parasites - plants or animals that live, grow, and feed on or within another living organism


sterilization - the removal or destruction of all microorganisms, including pathogenic and other bacteria, vegetative forms and spores

See the complete glossary here.

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