5 Most Common Contaminants in Private Wells (and Their Negative Effects)

Every human being alive needs a constant supply of clean, healthy water to sustain life. When we reach for a glass of water, we want to think of that water as pure and harmless. Unfortunately, that’s not always true. That water, whether from a community water supply or a private well, could contain substances that, if we knew about them, we would not want to consume! 

At least community water supplies receive constant monitoring. A private well owner must monitor their own well water quality and the condition of the well itself. 

While there are hundreds of different undesirable substances that could be found in private wells, here are some of the most common harmful contaminants, and the damage they can do when concentrations are too high. 

Common Water Contaminants to Watch For

  • Nitrates: Nitrates are nitrogen compounds that naturally occur in rocks far underground. However, they also result from agricultural operations. Fertilizers often contain nitrates. Animal feedlots produce a large amount of nitrates from fecal waste. These nitrates soak into the ground and can then make their way into private wells, even those at a distance from the agricultural operation.

    Exposure to high levels of nitrates can cause lower blood pressure, headaches, vomiting and stomach cramps. Babies exposed to nitrates can suffer a decreased ability of their blood to carry oxygen. This can turn them bluish and require immediate medical attention.
  • Bacteria: It may seem that, because a well is located underground, it would not be exposed to bacteria. Sadly, that is not the case. Bacteria that enter an aquifer can be carried through cracks in bedrock and travel long distances. Bacteria can also enter a well at ground level if the well cap or casing are damaged. Coliform bacteria in well water are very common and may not be harmful but can indicate contamination from animal or human feces, such as leakage from nearby septic systems.

    The symptoms of harm depend on which bacteria are present, but may include diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea and headaches. Children and the immune-compromised are at greater risk.
  • Salt: In states where salt is applied to snowy or icy roads, this mineral can leak into private wells. While salt is not harmful for everyone, it can be dangerous for a person who needs to control their blood pressure. It also increases the risk for kidney damage. Wells should be located well away from roads to prevent this contamination.
  • Metals such as iron, copper, chromium-6, lead and arsenic: All of these metals are naturally occurring and thus can be carried into private wells as ground water flows through bedrock and into the well. Contamination with metals can also occur because of industrial or manufacturing operations nearby.

    When high levels are found, they must be filtered out to prevent health issues from arising among those using the water. The health problems that can result include cancer, kidney damage, internal bleeding, neurological disorders, liver problems, digestive problems, skin discoloration and anemia.
  • Radon: Radon is an invisible radioactive gas that enters water supplies and homes from bedrock. When in the water supply, it can cause problems when ingested or when released into the atmosphere while showering or doing household tasks. Much of the United States is subject to radon contamination. According to the CDC, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. 

A Note on One More Common Water Problem

The pH of well water, either too high or too low, is not a contaminant, but it can cause problems when it is too far from ideal. Low pH can cause problems with corrosion of plumbing components and appliances such as water heaters or dishwashers, necessitating frequent replacement. High pH, if accompanied by high levels of calcium and magnesium can cause a buildup of minerals in pipes, as well as causing dry, itchy skin. 

If a household served by a private well does not test the water and provide the proper treatment or filtration for the water, it is very possible for any or all of these contaminants to be present. 

The safety and health of all residents served by a well depends on knowing what is in the water. ETR Laboratories can help you with fast, accurate water testing and consulting after the test to help you choose the right filtration or treatment. Contact ETR Laboratories now to get the right water test for your private well: (800) 344-9977