Uncovering the Health Risks Lurking in Rural Water Wells

It might be easy to consider that because a household’s private well is located far out of town, there would be no problem with purity of the water. After all, there are few vehicles around and industrial sites are all located far away.

Unfortunately, that would be a dangerous assumption. There are many well water contaminants that are more common far from town that they are in town. Understanding why this is can help a rural well owner keep their water supply safe.

  • Traveling Groundwater: Once groundwater picks up a contaminant, it can travel for several miles. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) documented a situation in California where a perchlorate contamination from a safety flare manufacturer traveled ten miles underground. Perchlorate is a dangerous industrial chemical that causes endocrine disruption, weight gain and depression and can impair fetal or child development.
  • Contaminants Specific to Rural Areas: There are many contaminants that are found in the country and not in the city. Fertilizer and animal waste are common on farms and in agricultural areas and can introduce nitrates and nitrites into the water supply. Nitrates and nitrites travel easily through soils to reach groundwater. If a well is shallow, poorly constructed or in need of repair, it is easy for these or other agriculture-related chemicals to enter well water. Nitrates and nitrites affect the ability of the blood to carry oxygen.
  • Septic Systems: A current or out-of-use septic system can begin leaking. Once it leaks, the contaminants can travel to the drinking water well. Wells should always be kept at least 50 feet from old or current septic systems and from their leach fields. If a rural house is close to another residence, the location of that home’s septic system should also be checked.
  • Farm and Agricultural Product Storage and Use: On properties used for agricultural purposes, many toxic substances that should not be allowed in drinking water may be stored. For example, fertilizer, pesticides, petroleum products and manure may be stored in tanks, drums, bottles or open stacks (in the case of manure). The EPA sets standards for the safe storage of many of these substances but these standards may not always be met.
  • Naturally-occurring minerals: When water comes directly from groundwater into a household, it can contain many naturally-occurring minerals. Some of these minerals are harmless or even healthful, but others can be dangerous. For example, barium, cadmium, beryllium, arsenic, asbestos, cyanide, fluoride, lead and even mercury can enter well water from bedrock. The right water treatment system can remove these minerals before they can harm the health of the family.
  • Microorganisms: In the city, the municipal water system must treat water to keep microorganisms like bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses out of the water supply. In the country, this job is up to the homeowner. Rainfall or snowmelt can introduce contaminated water into a well, and a well cap in need of repair can admit insects or small animals that bring microorganisms with them.

Caring For Your Own Well Water Supply

In the city or suburbs, water quality is tested by municipal agencies. If there are contaminants in the water source, they must be removed before the water is distributed to the community. The EPA maintains standards for community drinking water that must be met to protect the health of Americans. When it comes to private drinking water wells in the country, it’s all up to the homeowner.

For this reason, for households that get their water from their own wells, it’s important to test the water regularly and inspect the well cap often. It’s smart to have your well professionally inspected and your water tested by a professional lab once a year.

When customers come to ETR Laboratories for their water testing, we go the extra mile and help them interpret their results. We’ll help them get the right water treatment system for the exact contaminants they have, which can save them money. There may not be a need for an expensive system that does more than they need to have done.

We’ll also guide them as they track down the source of contaminants. Sometimes that turns into a real detective job! Call us at (800) 344-9977 when you need accurate and fast testing for your private drinking water well.