Contamination is more common than you think
By Mike Ekberg, MCD manager for water resources monitoring and analysis
Hey well owners, when’s the last time you had your drinking water tested? If you’re like many well owners in the United States, you probably have never tested your water. Why should you bother? You have plenty of water and it tastes good, right?
If you want to be sure your drinking water is safe, you need to get it tested.
Test at least annually
The National Ground Water Association (NGWA) recommends well owners test their water at least annually for bacteria, nitrates, and contaminants specific to your area. Consider more frequent testing if:
- There is a change in taste, odor, or appearance of well water.
- The well has a history of contamination.
- The well is near a failing septic system.
- There have been recurring incidents of gastrointestinal illness.
- An infant is living in the home.
- Home water treatment equipment has been installed.
In our area, I recommend the following tests:
E. coli – E. coli bacteria is a specific indication of fecal contamination in the well. Its presence is a warning that disease-causing bacteria may have entered the well.
Nitrate – Nitrate gets into drinking water from fertilizers, manure, and septic systems. It also occurs naturally. High nitrate levels present a health concern for infants if the water is mixed with formula. High nitrate levels can also suggest other toxins such as bacteria and pesticides.
Arsenic – Arsenic is naturally occurring in groundwater. It’s linked to various cancers and other health issues.
Manganese – Manganese also occurs in nature and can be present in groundwater. At high enough levels, it may cause brain damage.
Lead – Lead typically gets into drinking water from corroded pipes and plumbing fixtures. If your home was built prior to 1986, it’s more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures, and solder.
Get help with testing
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has a website with contact information about state-certified labs that can help with testing. Contact a lab and have the staff help you collect water samples and explain the results.
Ohio State University (OSU) also offers an on-line tool to help you understand the results. The OSU site offers a lot of information for well owners.
Bigger problem than you think
Recent studies show that private well contamination is not rare. A 2009 United States Geological Survey study of more than 2,000 private wells found about 23 percent of the wells had problems. More recently, MCD surveyed 107 private wells. Twenty percent of those wells had unsafe levels of arsenic in the water.
The need for testing is real. Now go out and get your water tested!