Many privately owned wells are micro-biologically and/or chemically contaminated and fail to meet Federal and State drinking water standards for potability.
Unlike public and bottled water suppliers, which in New York are regulated by the Health Department and are required to routinely test for a variety of pollutants, it is up to the individual homeowner to verify the safety of his or her own drinking water. Those of us on wells are often unaware of the contaminants that may be present and how they may affect our long and short-term health. The costs associated with the testing of public water supplies are collectively borne by the taxpayers and customers supporting their individual municipalities. Therefore, the cost to the individual is low. The opposite is true for those wishing to conduct a thorough analysis of their private well. One could easily spend hundreds of dollars duplicating the testing requirements mandated by the State on public waters. Therefore, most people dont test their wells as extensively as they might if cost was not a factor. In fact most people give water testing very little thought and, in some cases, consume water that may adversely affect their health.
What Can the Homeowner Do?
When our lab detects problems with public water supplies, the municipalities are required by the Health Department to make the necessary changes to make the water safe for public consumption. While we do not advocate that Big Brother come into our homes and mandate routine testing for everyone, we do feel common sense can be used to determine an affordable course of action for the individual homeowner. When homeowners come to us for advice, we typically ask them some questions and make specific recommendations for their individual situation. Though we cannot guarantee that your water meets all federal and state standards (unless we test for all of the contaminants regulated in public water supplies), we can use a cost-benefit approach for the typical homeowner.
Health Related Concerns
We always recommend that one perform a “Total Coliform test on your well. This group of bacteria, which includes E. coli, can get into your water supply at any time, colonize the system and grow to high numbers. The Coliforms are associated with water-borne illnesses. You can get sick from the water. Since most homeowners on wells do not chlorinate their water (the way most public water supplies do) these microorganisms can flourish, leading to problems for you and your family.
In 1986 the EPA banned the use of lead solder in the plumbing of new homes. Lead is found in older homes and in newer homes with brass fixtures or brass cased well pumps. Lead is known to cause developmental disabilities in children. High copper levels also have adverse health effects. Lead and copper concentrations vary from home to home. Some waters are more corrosive than others causing these metals to leach into your drinking water. A lead & copper test will allow you to see if your family is at risk.
Other contaminants that we periodically find in private wells include chloride (from road salt), heavy metals (such as arsenic, barium, nickel, and chromium), fluoride and sulfate (both of which can occur naturally).
Lastly, we have found that a small percentage of the deeper drilled wells in this area of New York contain potentially carcinogenic, radioactive components like radon, gross alpha & beta activity and/or radium 226 & 228.
Possible Sources of Contamination
Well water contamination may originate from your septic system. Septic systems are almost always on the same property as your well. Depending on the nature of the contaminants, soil type and your propertys topography (water usually obeys gravity), it is possible for the leachate from your septic system to flow toward and enter your water supply. Human waste contains billions of microorganisms (including E. coli) and a variety of unsavory contaminants that may adversely affect your health.
As a homeowner, you have to ask yourself what other sources of pollution may pose a threat to your well. Do you have a buried gasoline or fuel oil tank on your property? Are you near an active farm or orchard that uses fertilizers and pesticides? Are you near an abandoned gasoline station, landfill or dry cleaning establishment? What type of man-made or applied chemicals may be in the vicinity of your well? Have you spilled any chemicals, gasoline or fuel oil in recent years? This type of information will enable a qualified environmental testing laboratory to tailor an economical testing plan for your home that will cost hundreds of dollars less than testing for all of the contaminants required of public water supplies. Again, nobody can guarantee that your water is free of all health-related contaminants, but performing a few screen tests tailored to your situation will go a long way toward alleviating your concerns.
Some wells contain objectionable characteristics that make the water taste funny, stain your fixtures & clothing, have an abnormal color or a cloudy appearance, an unusual odor or contain dissolved gases. Iron, manganese, sulfur (hydrogen sulfide), suspended clays (particulates), hardness and methane are common secondary contaminants found in wells in our area. The source of these contaminants is typically within the aquifer itself. The water must be treated symptomatically by installing the appropriate water treatment system within your home. Often, several of these contaminants are present at once, requiring multiple treatment systems in order to make the water aesthetically pleasing. A good lab will fingerprint your water and determine exactly what is wrong with it. Then you can visit a reputable water treatment dealer and fix the specific the problem at hand.
Wells and their Susceptibility to Contamination
Based upon our years of experience, it is our opinion that deeper (drilled or pounded) wells are generally less susceptible to man-made pollution. Shallow wells (points, dug wells, screened wells and cisterns) generally take water close to the earths surface and are, therefore, the most susceptible to chemical contamination. Compounds like nitrate, chloride, pesticides and chemicals commonly found in gasoline and fuel oils show up more often in these water supplies. This is probably so because these wells are drilled in coarser, sandy soils where the water table is high. Deep wells, which often have the benefit of many feet of clay, shale and bedrock to filter contaminants before reaching the water table, appear to be more resistant to this type of chemical contamination. These are only generalizations, as we have occasionally found the reverse to be true.
Proper well development and protection is very important. The New York State Department of Health publishes a pamphlet entitled Rural Water Supplies which details proper well construction and how to protect your private water supply. It is available free of charge from the New York State Department of Healths Bureau of Public Water Supply Protection in Troy, NY. Wells need to be properly cased and protected from the environment. The well casing should extend well above ground and the earth should be sloped to shed surface water during rain events. The well must be sealed and grouted properly to prevent infestation by insects and animals. Water entering your well must filter and percolate through the ground before entering the well for best results.
How Frequently Should I Test My Water?
Though no regulations for the homeowner exist on this subject, logic dictates that one should test their well with some degree of regularity. The Coliform Bacteria test, in our opinion, should be performed quarterly and any time that the well is disturbed. If you open the well cap, perform work on the well pump or experience a flood, you can be assured that you have introduced microorganisms into your water supply. Chemical contaminants, depending on the situation, should be tested for semi-annually as these compounds typically move slowly throughout the aquifer. If you suffer a spill on your property (i.e.: gasoline, fuel oil, pesticides, paint, lacquer thinner, etc.), you may wish to analyze for these contaminants quarterly to see if they are migrating towards your water supply. Changes due to developmental pressure, industry, agriculture, etc. may warrant checking your water more frequently to determine the impact of these changes.
My Well Has Changed – Now What?
We have found that wells that have produced good tasting, crystal clear water for many years may change for inexplicable reasons. Overdrawing a well (due to excessive laundry, parties, drought, and increased household members) may explain these changes. Your wells screen may be plugged causing reduced production. Sometimes a well will change because it has been chemically or bacteriologically adulterated with septic waste or as the result of some other man-made activity. If your well changes for no apparent reason, you should have the water tested to determine the cause of the problem. In the mean time, dont drink the water until the problem has been isolated and identified.
The Health Department requires that public and bottled water suppliers routinely test their water for a variety of contaminants (see Attachment 1.). This is done because it is known that the quality of water drawn from a given water supply can change suddenly. The homeowner on a well must make the effort to test his or her water to assure its quality and safety. Testing should be performed on a semi-regular basis by a qualified laboratory.
CNA Environmental Inc. can reliably analyze your water supply for the contaminants discussed within this text. We are a New York State Department of Health certified Environmental Laboratory (ELAP #11534). Please contact us by phone at (518) 884-0800 or click here for sampling information.
Attachment 1-A Summary of the Contaminants Regulated in Public Water Supplies
Source: New York State Department of Health, Subpart 5-1, Rules & Regulations for Public Water Systems
Inorganic Chemicals and Physical Characteristics
Asbestos, Antimony, Arsenic, Barium, Beryllium, Cadmium, Chromium, Copper, Cyanide, Lead, Mercury, Nickel, Selenium, Silver, Thallium, Fluoride, Chloride, Iron, Manganese, Sodium, Sulfate, Zinc, Color, Odor, Nitrate, Nitrite and Turbidity
Principle Organic Contaminants (POC’S)
Benzene, Bromobenzene, Bromochloromethane, Bromomethane, n-Butylbenzene, sec-Butylbenzene, t-Butylbenzene, Carbon Tetrachloride, Chlorobenzene, Chloroethane, Chloromethane, 2-Chlorotoluene, 4-Chlorotoluene, Dibromomethane , 1,2-Dichlorobenzene, 1,3-Dichlorobenzene, 1,4-Dichlorobenzene, Dichlorodifluoromethane, 1,1-Dichloroethane, 1,2-Dichloroethane, 1,1-Dichloroethene, cis-1,2-Dichloroethene, trans-1,2-Dichloroethene, 1,2-Dichloropropane, 1,3-Dichloropropane, 2,2-Dichloropropane, 1,1-Dichloropropene, cis-1,3-Dichloropropene, trans-1,3-Dichloropropene, Ethylbenzene, Hexachlorobutadiene, Isopropyl Benzene, p-Isopropyltoluene, Methylene Chloride, n-Propylbenzene, Styrene, 1,1,1,2-Tetrachloroethane, 1,1,2,2-Tetrachloroethane, Tetrachloroethene, Toluene, 1,2,3-Trichlorobenzene, 1,2,4-Trichlorobenzene, 1,1,1-Trichloroethane, 1,1,2-Trichloroethane, Trichloroethene, Trichlorofluoromethane, 1,2,3-Trichloropropane, 1,2,4-Trimethylbenzene, 1,3,5-Trimethylbenzene, m-Xylene, p-Xylene, o-Xylene and t-Butylmethyl ether (MTBE)
Trihalomethanes(THM’s) and Haloacetic Acids (HAA’s)
Bromoform, Chloroform, Bromodichloromethane, Dibromochloromethane, Monochloroacetic Acid, Dichloroacetic Acid, Trichlororacetic Acid, Monobromoacetic Acid and Dibromoacetic Acid
Synthetic Organic Chemicals (SOC’s)
Aldicarb, Aldicarb Sulfone, Aldicarb Sulfoxide, Carbaryl, Carbofuran, 3-Hydroxycarbofuran, Methomyl, Oxamyl, 2,4-D, Dalapon, Dicamba, Dinoseb, Pentachlorophenol (PCP), Pichloram, 2,4,5-TP (Silvex), Alachlor, Aldrin, Atrazine, Butachlor, Chlordane, Dieldrin, Endrin, Heptachlor, Heptachlor Epoxide, Lindane, Methoxychlor, Metribuzin, Propachlor, Simazine, Toxaphene, exachloropentadiene, Hexachlorobenzene, Benzo(a)pyrene, Metolachlor, Di(2-ethylhexyl)adipate Di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate, 1,2-Dibromoethane, 1,2-Dibromo-3-chloropropane, and PCB’s
Total Coliform Bacteria and Escherichia coli (E. coli)
Gross Alpha and Beta, Radium-226 & Radium-228