Private Wells – Test for a silent killer

By Mike Ekberg, MCD manager for water resources monitoring and analysis

There may a silent killer lurking in private wells used for drinking water. Recent groundwater studies in our region show that drinking water in up to 20 percent of private wells contains high levels of arsenic.

Long-term exposure to arsenic through drinking water is associated with multiple serious health problems. Arsenic is a known human carcinogen, linked to cancers of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney, nasal passages, liver, and prostate gland.

Skin lesions caused by arsenic poisoning

In addition, exposure to arsenic interferes with the immune system, impacts cardiovascular, pulmonary, neurological, and hormonal processes, and may be a contributor to the development of type 2 diabetes.

Elevated arsenic not uncommon in regional groundwater

Arsenic is an element and a minor component of the rock and soil present in local aquifers. Under the right conditions groundwater dissolves arsenic in the aquifer and carries it into wells. Public water systems must test for arsenic. If arsenic levels are high, they are required to remove it.

Unlike public water supplies, private wells usually are not routinely tested.

Drinking water comes from a private well? Get your water tested.

How can you tell if your well water has high arsenic levels in it? You can’t, not without a laboratory test. That’s why I urge well owners who use their wells for drinking water to get their water tested. A laboratory test will typically cost anywhere from $20 to $25. If you use a private well for drinking water, it’s important to test your water for arsenic. If you don’t, you run the risk of consuming drinking water with elevated levels of arsenic.

Removing arsenic

Removing arsenic from drinking water can be complex. In general, there are two major categories of removal systems, point of use (POU) and whole-house. POU arsenic removal systems remove arsenic at a single tap where the water is consumed. POU arsenic removal systems do not remove arsenic throughout the entire house. Whole-house arsenic removal systems remove arsenic at the point where water enters the house, distributing treated water throughout the entire house.

Point of use system installed under a kitchen sink. The system is a single tap reverse osmosis unit.

A recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey and MCD found the effectiveness of treatment systems in removing arsenic is largely dependent upon the arsenic level in the untreated water. The higher the arsenic level in the well, the less effective arsenic removal systems tended to be. Fortunately, studies of our regional aquifers show that most water has arsenic levels that can be removed with arsenic removal systems that are available on the market.

Currently, there are two labs in our area that will test your water. Call them for fees and more information:

Montgomery County Environmental Laboratory
4257 Dryden Road, Dayton, OH 45439
(937) 781-3016

Pace Analytical Services, Inc. – Dayton
25 Holiday Drive, Englewood, OH 45322
(800) 723-5227

 Other resources to help you understand how to test your well water

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has a website with contact information about state-certified labs that can help with testing. Heidelberg University also offers testing services.

The Ohio State University (OSU) also offers an on-line tool to help you understand the test results. The OSU site offers a lot of information for well owners.

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Well Owners – Is your drinking water safe?

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. coliE. 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!