Exposing Hidden Threats: 5 Health Hazards From Well Water

There may be nothing as refreshing as pure, bubbling spring water making its way up from the depths of the earth. Unfortunately, few of us have direct access to water this pure. Those of us outside the reach of municipal water services must rely on well water which varies in purity due to minerals in the bedrock or nearby contamination sources.

Some of these unwanted additions may be relatively harmless to our health. But other additions are definitely hazardous to humans and any animals that drink the water. When their effects accumulate in the body, these hazards can even be deadly. Therefore it is vital to be aware of the most harmful health hazards that could be found in private well water.

Agricultural Chemicals in Well Water

Sources of agricultural chemicals include man made chemicals like pesticides that contain arsenic or atrazine, fertilizers with nitrates, nitrites or phosphates, and substances such as manure and urine from farm animals.

The effects of these chemicals can be serious:

  • Impairment of the ability of the blood to carry oxygen (nitrates and nitrites)
  • Cancer (nitrates, nitrites)
  • Digestive problems (high levels of phosphates)
  • Diarrhea resulting in dehydration (sulfates)
  • Hormone disruption (atrazine and other pesticides)
  • Adverse effects on pregnancy and increased child mortality (arsenic)

Babies exposed to nitrates and nitrites can suffer from “blue baby syndrome,” evidenced by shortness of breath and bluish skin when their blood cannot transport oxygen efficiently. Adults may suffer increased heart rate, nausea, headaches, and abdominal cramps.


It is not uncommon to find bacteria, parasites and fungi in well water. The presence of low levels of bacteria is normal, but there should not be any parasites or fungi. A well containing these microorganisms should be properly disinfected and the well itself should be inspected or repaired as needed to eliminate the source.

Examples of harm resulting from microorganisms:

  • Oscillatoria (a type of blue-green algae) produces toxins that can cause liver damage, neurotoxicity and even liver cancer
  • Parasites from well water can cause gastrointestinal illness; body aches, fever and fatigue; skin sores; dysentery resulting in stomach pain, fever and diarrhea
  • Fungi may be harmless or cause great harm such as serious infections that spread from one organ to others

Trace Elements and Heavy Metals

Unfortunately, there are trace elements and heavy metals passing from the bedrock into water supplies around the world. What is important is to know which elements or heavy metals are present in your well water. When you install the right kind of filtration for your well water, you can eliminate the harmful ones before they reach the taps of your home.

Typical trace elements and heavy metals found in well water:

  • Lead: Delays in mental and physical development among children; kidney and reproductive harm
  • Arsenic: Skin pigmentation change; risk of skin, bladder or lung cancer; heart disease; harm to pregnancy and children
  • Iron: Not generally harmful to health but high levels can cause abdominal pain and bowel issues
  • Mercury: Kidney or brain damage; harm to unborn babies; damage to vision, hearing and memory
  • Cadmium: Kidney toxicity; cancer; damage to bones; harm to fetuses
  • Selenium: Loss of fingernails or hair; numbness in extremities

Elevated levels of minerals like iron, manganese, calcium or magnesium may not be particularly harmful to health but should be filtered out so they don’t damage fixtures and plumbing equipment.

Radioactive Elements

Yes, some well water contains radioactive elements. These elements include uranium, radon, radium and strontium. Exposure to a radioactive source is well known for causing various kinds of cancers.

Problems caused by these elements:

  • Uranium: Harm to kidneys and cancer
  • Radon: Lung cancer
  • Radium: Bone cancer, cataracts, anemia and fractured teeth
  • Strontium: Cancers of bone, bone marrow or soft tissues around the bone

If any of these radioactive elements are found in drinking water, it is essential to install the right type of filtering system for that particular element. Some of these radioactive elements are difficult to remove from water supplies.

Industrial Chemicals

There are many thousands of industrial chemicals circulating through our air, surface water, groundwater and soil. Many of these are capable of percolating through soil or being carried by groundwater and entering water supplies. Other chemicals may enter water supplies through surface water infiltration of a well.

These chemicals are hard on the organs that eliminate chemicals from the body, such as the liver and kidneys. They can also cause endocrine disruption, reproductive harm and neurological disorders. Many also cause or increase the risk of cancer.

Eliminating Threats from Your Well Water Supply

Fortunately, it is possible to remove these chemicals and elements from your well water. To choose the right filtration or water treatment system, it’s important to know which contaminants are present. Start with the most comprehensive test you can afford and set up your filtration system according to the results.

Then do a more limited test annually or when you notice your water quality changes. We are happy to advise you on the best water test for your situation and then further consult with you on the results at no additional charge. Call us or purchase a test here for fast, accurate tests of your well water.