Well water is your responsibility
"There must be something in the water" is a commonly used phrase, but when you're referring to contaminated well water, it's more than just small talk. Bacterial contaminants and manmade pollutants can cause serious and lasting health problems. Naturally occurring soil compounds such as arsenic and radon can also lurk in well water.
Contaminated well water is particularly dangerous to infants and young children, or adults with weakened immune systems.
Those of us living in rural areas count among the 15 percent of Americans who depend on their own water sources such as wells and springs. We don't have experts regularly checking our water sources to make sure they're safe to drink.
If your water comes from a private well you, as a homeowner, are responsible for your water's safety.
According to Wilson Mize, regional environmental health specialist for the North Carolina Division of Public Health, total coloform bacteria is a battle they fight regularly. Fecal or E.Coli contamination usually occurs in older wells with poor construction that are too close to septic systems or animal feces.
You may suspect your water is contaminated if you are experiencing recurring gastrointestinal illnesses, discolored, cloudy or frothy tap water, or an odd taste or smell. Corroding pipes and rapid wear of water treatment equipment could signal a high pH level.
Get your water tested
Mize recommends testing your well water every year or so to make sure the quality hasn't changed. Water sampling kits and request forms are available through your local public health department for testing at the N.C. State Public Health Laboratory. Contact your local health department for information about water testing services or contact a private water testing lab.
If the lab finds a problem with bacteria, disinfection is a fairly simple process that includes using a chlorination procedure to kill bacteria in the well, pipes and water heater. It's important to remember, however, that the only people allowed to break a well seal are the well owner, licensed plumbers installing or repairing well pumps who have obtained the proper continuing education as required by the Well Contractors Certification Commission, and certified well contractors. Mize recommends always starting with a state-certified well contractor. By N.C. law, all wells must be disinfected upon completion of construction, maintenance, repairs or pump installation and testing.
North Carolina legislation enacted in 2006 requires stringent permits, construction guidelines, and inspections for new wells to prevent problems before they happen. The rules include a site visit by a county inspector before construction begins to determine the proper distances from potential sources of contamination such as septic tanks and drainage fields, livestock yards, manure and fertilizer storage, and petroleum tanks.
"New wells rarely come back with bad tests," said Mize.
Some contaminants make water smell, taste or look bad, but they're not harmful to your health. Home water treatment systems and UV light systems can help. A water analysis and a professional water treatment specialist can help you determine what system will fit your needs.
It's easy to forget the value of our water supply until we don't have it, and many homeowners never suspect a problem until it becomes a crisis. A proactive homeowner who maintains a regular testing schedule and attention to possible contaminants can avoid well water problems before they become dangerous and expensive.