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Buying Guide: Well Water Testing

Well Water Testing Guide

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Why should I consider well water testing?

There are certain contaminants which may be present in your well which can be harmful to your health, damaging to your home, increase your energy costs, and/or create a nuisance. By knowing what is in your well water you may then address those issues, protecting your health and/or pocketbook. As a private well owner it is your burden to test and treat the water flowing from your well.

How do I determine my well water composition?

Your county water department will often test your water for free but those tests are typically limited to bacteriological contaminants. They will not tell you if you have other potentially life threatening elements or chemicals in your well. The most thorough way to determine your well water's composition is to have a sample analyzed by a certified laboratory for a broad range of contaminants – a full laboratory water test. Do-it-yourself test kits are good non-life threatening applications like swimming pool maintenance, but should be considered with caution when contemplating their use on your drinking water supply.

How frequently should I test the water from my well?

After the initial test is performed on a newly dug well, the EPA recommends you test it annually for microorganisms and once every two to three years for harmful chemicals and elemental contaminants. Also, be sure to test your well water if there has been flooding, earthquakes or other land disturbances in your area, if there are known problems with well water in your area, or if you have replaced or repaired any part of your well water system.

How do microorganisms, chemicals and other contaminants get into my well water?

Germs and chemicals can get into your well water and contaminate it in different ways. Some germs and chemicals occur naturally. For example, heavy metals like arsenic, lead, and selenium are naturally found in rocks and soil and sometimes seep into ground water. Other contaminants come from human and animal waste resulting from polluted storm water runoff, agricultural runoff, flooded sewers, or individual septic systems that are not working properly. Ground water and aquifers can also become polluted from industrial activity.

My well water has a funny smell or taste - should I worry about getting sick?
A change in your water's taste, color, or smell may, or may not, be a sign of serious contamination problems. Any time you notice a change in your water quality, you should have it tested. There is no way to know if the change you have noticed is dangerous without testing it.

What do I do once I have determined what is in my well water?

Email or fax us a copy of your water report so we can prescribe the correct equipment to treat your specific problems. You may also browse our well water filtration products to see what meets your needs.

What are the germs and chemicals I should test for in my well?

Several things you should test for are listed below. These germs and chemicals can be a risk to your health and/or property.

Total Coliform

Coliform bacteria are microbes found in warm-blooded animals' digestive systems, in soil, on plants, and in surface water. These microbes typically do not make you sick, but because microbes that do cause disease are hard to test for in water, "total coliforms" are tested for instead. If the total coliform count is high, then it is much more likely that harmful germs like viruses, bacteria, and parasites might also be found in the water.

Fecal Coliform / Escherichia coli (E. coli)

Fecal coliform bacteria are a kind of total coliform. The feces (or stool) and digestive systems of warm-blooded animals contain millions of fecal coliforms. E. coli is part of the fecal coliform group and may be tested for by itself. Fecal coliforms and E. coli are usually harmless. However, a positive test may mean that feces and harmful germs have found their way into your water system. These harmful germs can cause hepatitis, diarrhea, and dysentery. It is important not to confuse the test for the common and usually harmless E. coli with a test for the more dangerous E. coli O157-H7.

Nitrate 

Nitrate is found naturally in many types of food. However, high levels of nitrate in drinking water can make people ill. Nitrate in your well water can come from animal waste, contaminated storm water runoff, private septic systems, flooded sewers, fertilizers, agricultural runoff, wastewater and decaying plants. The presence of nitrate in well water also depends on the geology of the land around your well. High nitrate levels are a very serious concern.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) 

VOCs are industrial and fuel-related chemicals that may cause serious negative health effects at certain levels. Some VOCs to ask about are toluene, trichloroethelene, benzene, carbon tetrachloride, and methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE).

pH 

Your well water's pH level tells you how acidic or basic it is. The pH level can affect your water's look and taste. If the is too low or too high, it could damage your pipes, cause heavy metals like lead to leach into the water from the pipes, and eventually make you sick. More information on well water pH. 

Possible Well Water Contaminants

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Metals:

Aluminum

Arsenic

Barium

Cadmium

Calcium

Chromium

Copper

Iron

Lead

Magnesium

Manganese

Mercury

Nickel

Selenium

Silver

Sodium

Zinc

Other Inorganic Chemicals:

Alkalinity

Chloride

Fluoride

Hardness

Nitrate

Nitrite

pH

Sulfate

Total Dissolved Solids

Turbidity

Organic Chemicals – pesticides, herbicides and PCB's

Alachlor

Atrazine

Chlordane

Aldrin

Dichloran

Dieldrin

Endrin

Heptachlor

Heptachlor Epoxide

Hexachlorobenzene

Hexachlorocyclopentadiene

Lindane

Methoxychlor

PCB's

Pentachloronitrobenzene

Silvex (2,4,5-TP)

Simazine

Toxaphene

Trifluralin

2,4-D

Organic chemicals – trihalomethanes:

Bromoform

Bromodichloromethane

Chloroform

Dibromochloromethane

Total THM's (sum of four above)

Benzene

Vinyl Chloride

Carbon Tetrachloride

1,2-Dichloroethane

Trichloroethene (TCE)

1,4-Dichlorobenzene

1,1-Dichloroethene

1,1,1-Trichloroethane

Bromobenzene

Bromomethane

Chlorobenzene

Chloroethane

Chloromethane

2-Chlorotoluene

4-Chlorotoluene

Dibromochloropropane (DBCP)

Dibromomethane

1,2-Dichlorobenzene

1,3-Dichlorobenzene

Dichlorodifluoromethane

1,1-Dichloroethane

Trans-1,2-Dichloroethene

Cis-1,2-Dichloroethene

Dichloromethane

1,2-Dichloropropane

Trans-1,3-Dichloropropene

Cis-1,3-Dichloropropene

2,2-Dichloropropane

1,1-Dichloropropene

1,3-Dichloropropane

Ethylbenzene

Ethylenedibromide (EDB)

Styrene

1,1,1,2-Tetrachloroethane

1,1,2,2-Tetrachloroethane

Tetrachloroethene (PCE)

1,2,3-Trichlorobenzene

1,2,4-Trichlorobenzene

1,1,2-Trichloroethane

Trichlorofluoromethane

1,2,3-Trichloropropane

Toluene

Xylene

Methyl-Tert-Butyl-Ether

Bacteria (presence/absence for coliform and E.coli)

COMPLIANCE WATER TESTING vs. INFORMATIONAL WATER TESTING

When choosing a test package for water analysis, consider your needs and how you will use the data. Is the testing strictly for your own information or is a regulatory agency requiring that testing be performed? Compliance testing is required when testing must meet local, state or federal regulations, or when results are to be used in a court of law.

Compliance testing must be performed according to US EPA approved analytical methods. Costly paper trails are necessary to document that analyses were performed following the exact procedures required by the EPA method. These methods are rarely efficient, and highly complex, which can make compliance testing quite expensive. The cost of a compliance test may be two to five times higher than an information test.

An accurate informational test is an excellent economical choice if compliance testing is not needed. Since informational testing is not regulated, a laboratory is free to use any analytical method suitable for the test required. This means a water analysis lab can use new accurate and cost effective analysis methods that have not yet been approved by the EPA for compliance testing. History has shown that getting new methods approved by the EPA can take years.

Informational testing is often acceptable for applications such as: monitoring home water quality, water treatment diagnosis, monitoring drinking or process water quality in businesses, preliminary testing for new water sources, real estate transactions, and new well drilling/development.

A competent laboratory with experienced analysts can provide an informational test with a high level of accuracy and at a much lower cost than a compliance test. National Testing Laboratories is certified by many states and has years of experience performing compliance and informational tests on samples from all over the world. The informational tests are performed by the same analysts, using the same laboratory equipment that is used to meet the standards required for compliance testing. Certain variations in methodology for informational testing can reduce costs without reducing accuracy.

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