How do you know if your water is safe? What are signs that your well water may be contaminated? How does that contamination affect your own and your family’s health? What if your child is drinking contaminated well water? How would you know about this and what can you do about it?
Contaminated well water is a serious hazard for anyone’s health but it can be especially dangerous for children.
Did you know that private well water quality is not regulated by federal or state governments? And, even if your local authorities have guidelines for drinking water from a municipal source, they may not do anything to check on well water quality. In this case, you are on your own.
You should test your water minimally every two years, using a DIY kit from a reputable lab. If you’ve noticed anything unusual about your water, you should test more often than that.
In Which Locations Is It Most Important to Test Well Water?
There are regions and circumstances where contaminated well water is more prevalent than others. These include:
- Locations close to gas stations, agricultural fields or industrial sites where they may be causing pollutants to enter the aquifer.
- Locations near “brownfields” as identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Brownfields can be identified on the EPA’s site with special attention to programs to address and revitalize brownfields.
- Locations near a known polluted river or stream or other body of water known to have been a release point for contaminants.
Watch for These Signs of Contamination
Whatever your location, you should know these five signs that your child may be drinking contaminated water:
1. Blue baby syndrome: Blue baby syndrome is a condition where the baby’s skin turns blue. This occurs due to a decreased amount of hemoglobin in the baby’s blood. Hemoglobin is a blood protein that is responsible for carrying oxygen around the body and delivering it to the different cells and tissues. When the blood is unable to carry oxygen around the body, the baby turns blue (cyanotic). Babies born in developing countries or in some rural areas with poor water supply continue to be at risk for the condition. This is a very serious condition and can even lead to death.
A primary cause of blue baby syndrome is thought to be nitrates in drinking water. This is particularly relevant if you are living in an area where fertilizers are used and nitrates could enter the well water. There are serious long-term health issues due to prolonged exposure to nitrates and nitrites including liver cancer, kidney problems and other cancers.
2. Lead poisoning: Learning difficulties, irritability, abdominal pain (and other symptoms) can come from lead poisoning. In fact, the EPA has set the maximum contaminant level goal for lead in drinking water at zero because lead is such a toxic metal that it can be harmful to human health even at low exposure levels. Lead is persistent, and it can accumulate in the body over time.
Young children, infants, and fetuses are particularly vulnerable to lead because the physical and behavioral effects of lead occur at lower exposure levels in children than in adults. A dose of lead that would have little effect on an adult can have a significant effect on a child. Even low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in:
- Behavior and learning problems
- Lower IQ and hyperactivity
- Slowed growth
- Hearing problems
In rare cases, ingestion of lead can cause seizures, coma and even death
While there are other ways one can be exposed to lead, the EPA estimates that drinking water can make up 20 percent or more of a person’s total exposure to lead. Infants who consume mostly mixed formula can receive 40 percent to 60 percent of their exposure to lead from drinking water.
How does lead get into well water?
The source of lead in your home’s water is most likely from corrosion, a dissolving or wearing away of metal caused by a chemical reaction between water and your plumbing. Corrosion or leaching of minerals from metals can occur anywhere in your plumbing system, resulting in lead being added to your water supply.
Lead can be found in:
- Fixtures and faucets (brass)
3. Arsenic poisoning: Abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, abnormal heart rhythm and other symptoms could be signs of arsenic poisoning. Long-term exposure includes darkening of skin, chronic sore throat and digestive issues.
How does arsenic enter the water supply?
Arsenic can enter the water supply from natural deposits in the earth or from industrial and agricultural pollution. It is widely believed that naturally occurring arsenic dissolves out of certain rock formations when groundwater levels drop significantly.
4. Illness: Diarrhea, vomiting, cramps, headaches and fatigue can come from harmful bacteria in well water. Long-term health effects of exposure to excess bacteria can include all kinds of diseases from cancer and heart disease to cholera and dysentery.
How does bacteria enter the water supply?
Human and animal wastes are a primary source of bacteria in water. Another way bacteria can enter a water supply is through inundation or infiltration by flood waters or by surface runoff. Flood waters commonly contain high levels of bacteria.
5. Excessive manganese in drinking water: Memory, attention or motor skills problems can come from excessive manganese in drinking water. Many studies suggest that children exposed to particularly high levels of manganese over a long period of time (months or years) will eventually develop one or more symptoms, including: general cognitive impairment, diminished memory, attention deficit, motor impairments, aggressiveness, and/or hyperactivity, and other learning and behavior problems can develop.
How does manganese enter the water supply?
Manganese is a mineral that naturally occurs in rocks and soil and may also occur due to underground pollution sources. Manganese is frequently found in iron-bearing waters but is rarer than iron. When manganese is present in water, even in low concentrations, it produces extremely objectionable stains on everything with which it comes in contact. When fabrics are washed in water which has manganese in it, dark brown or black stains are formed due to the oxidation of the manganese.
If you have any concerns about the quality of your well water, test it as soon as possible. Otherwise, test it at least every two years. If you’ve never tested your well water and you’ve been living in your home for more than a year, test it right away.