Health Hazards of Contaminated Well Water and What You Can Do About It

Even though some 43 million Americans get their drinking water from private wells; unlike municipal water systems, there is actually no regulatory oversight for well water and there are no guidelines or standards such as for municipal water systems. It turns out, if you buy a home with a well for water, the well water quality is the homeowner’s responsibility. How do you know if your well is healthy or not? And what if it is contaminated? What can you do about it?

Common Contaminants of Well Water

Many common contaminants found in well water include bacteria, fungi, arsenic, lead, iron and excessive salt. Some of these are naturally-occurring minerals that are found in soils, and some, such as salt, come from treating roads with it during the winter. Lead is found in many wells and there is no safe level for lead in drinking water. 

1. Arsenic is a chemical element that naturally occurs in the earth’s mineral deposits and dissolves in groundwater. Michigan, as an example, has naturally higher arsenic levels in groundwater. Arsenic in drinking water may have harmful health effects depending on how much you consume and how sensitive you are to it. Since arsenic cannot be seen or tasted in water, a laboratory analysis specifically designed for detecting arsenic is the only way to determine the arsenic level in drinking water wells. Long-term exposure to low levels of inorganic arsenic in drinking water is known to cause human health problems including cancer, thickening and discoloration of the skin, problems with blood vessels, high blood pressure, heart disease, nerve effects including numbness and/or pain, and interference with some important cell functions.

2. Lead is found in older pipes and in many water systems and other places such as: 

  • Paint (older homes, old toys, furniture, crafts)
  • Dust
  • Soil
  • Drinking water
  • Air
  • Folk medicines, Ayurvedic medicine and cosmetics
  • Children’s jewelry and toys
  • Workplace and hobbies

Young children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead and can suffer profound and permanent adverse health effects, especially in the development of the brain and nervous system. According to the World Health Organization, there is no known “safe” blood lead level; even low blood lead concentrations can be associated with decreased intelligence in children, behavioral difficulties and learning problems. As lead exposure increases, the range and severity of symptoms and effects also increases.

Adults exposed to lead can suffer from: 

  • Cardiovascular effects
  • Increased blood pressure and incidence of hypertension
  • Decreased kidney function

Reproductive problems in both men and women

3. Bacteria The top causes of disease outbreaks from well water include two categories of coliform bacteria that are found in well water: total coliform, and fecal coliform or E. coli. However, there are thousands of other bacteria that can occur and they should be tested for in a comprehensive water test of your well water.

Other common forms of bacteria include: hepatitis A, giardia, campylobacter, shigella, cryptosporidium, and salmonella.  

Contaminated water and poor sanitation are linked to transmission of serious diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid fever and polio, among others. 

What Is the Correct Solution for Contaminated Well Water? 

Well water testing should be conducted if you suspect your water is contaminated at all, and at least every two years, if not annually. If you have a private well and a home older than two years and have never tested the water, you should do so as soon as possible using a kit from a reputable lab. Then, you should address the issues uncovered by the water test, disinfecting the well as recommended and retest the water to make sure all the issues are fully handled. 

To find out more about well water testing to ensure your water is safe and healthy, contact ETR Labs at (800) 344-9977 or order a water test online