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Guide to Private Well Water Testing and Filtration | Drinking Water | Water Purification

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Are you among the 15 percent of Americans who get their drinking water from a private well, cistern or spring? If you are, it is up to you to ensure that your water is safe. Unlike public drinking water systems, wells are not tested regularly by water utilities to ensure that the water is safe.
  Take Back the Tap Guide to PrivateWell Water Testing and Filtration WATER   We have prepared this guide to teach you how to keep your well safe. We will guide you through safety issues,the testing process and filtration and treatment options. With this information, you can take charge of yourdrinking water, so that you can continue to enjoy safe,affordable water right from the tap. Know Your Well  Your well log, or installation report, is an extremely helpful document. You can get a copy of this documentfrom the local health department, or directly from the well driller. A well log tells you information such as when your well was made, where it is located on the property, what typeof well it is, its dimensions and what type of pump it has.There are three different types of wells: Hand dug ã or cistern well : A shallow well made by digging a pit in the ground and lining it with tile,stone or metal. This pit may hit groundwater, or justfill up with rainwater and runoff. According to theEnvironmental Protection Agency (EPA), dug wellshave the highest risk of becoming contaminated. Drive point well ã : This well is fairly shallow, butdeeper than a dug well. It is made by driving a pointedmetal pipe into the ground, which has a screenedsection open to water, and a solid section that continuesup to the surface. Driven wells have a moderate risk of  becoming contaminated. Drilled well ã : This is the modern method of wellconstruction and makes the deepest well. Drilled wellshave a sanitary seal to protect against contamination.  A  re you among the 15 percent of Americans who get their drinking water froma private well, cistern or spring?   If you are, it is up to you to ensure that your water is safe. Unlike public drinking water systems, wells are not tested regularly by  water utilities to ensure that the water is safe. Well Water Action Checklist o   For maximum safety, environmental ofcialsrecommend that you have your well tested:ã Once a year for bacteria, microbes and parasites. ã Once every three years for all othercontaminants.ã Once every ve years for VOCs (volatile organiccompounds, such as gasoline compounds andindustrial solvents.)   o   Keep records on your well, including the wellinstallation report, sampling and testing results,and records on any treatment steps taken. o   Check your well regularly for damage, such ascracking or corrosion of seals or a broken ormissing well cap. Test your water immediately aftermaking repairs or replacing parts.  Well Water Health and SafetyIssues Residential wells tap into an aquifer, which is a layerof groundwater contained in soil or porous rock.Groundwater is surface water from rain or snowfall thathas entered the earth. Surface water may enter creeks,streams and rivers before seeping into the ground. Asgroundwater travels, it may encounter natural substanceslike salt brine, dissolved metals and microbes, or man-made substances like sewage and auto oil. Accordingto the EPA, these can affect the quality of groundwater,depending on the amount of the substance present.The quality of the water in a well is fairly stable, butheavy rains, construction and development, mining andproximity to possible contamination sites may cause it tochange quickly.The following are possible sources of groundwatercontamination. If you know or suspect that your well isclose to any of these potential problems, have your watertested for contaminants more often. Septic systems and septic leach fields ã : The EPA recommends that you locate your well at least 50 feetfrom your septic system, as well as uphill from it, sothat water cannot easily flow from the septic systeminto your well. Unused or improperly constructed wells: ã Theseare holes through which runoff water can flow fromthe surface into the aquifer. Make sure that your wellhas a solid seal around the casing and make sure thereare no unused wells on your property that have not been properly sealed off. Contact your local healthdepartment for old well records. Lead pipes: ã Older homes may have lead pipes orlead solder on copper pipes. Lead can definitely causehealth problems if it leaches into your drinking water. An older model water well pump may also be a sourceof contamination. Pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides, degreasers ã and fuels: Do not mix or use these or other pollutantsnear your well. Dispose of all chemicals properly —do not pour them down the drain or outside. Thesechemicals can easily make their way into your watersupply. Soaps and detergents ã : These can get into your well water. Try to wash your hands, laundry and car withearth-friendly soaps. Wash your car as far as possiblefrom your well. Your well should also be at least 50 feetfrom the nearest road. Contamination sites: ã Waste-treatment facilities,landfills, mining operations, paper mills, power plants,large automobile parking and maintenance areas,underground fuel and chemical storage tanks, and therunoff from agricultural areas or livestock yards can allharm your well water. Chemical spills: ã The EPA’s Web site can help youfind out if a spill or other disaster likely to affect your water has happened near you.To find out about water quality issues in your local area, you can contact your local health department. You canalso go to the EPA’s Web site and view the Surf Your Watershed database. Signs of Trouble Indications of well water problems are often quiteobvious. Have your water tested right away if any of thefollowing situations occur. Test again after you haveacted to correct the problem to make sure the water issafe. Frequent illnesses in the household: ã Test rightaway if a person or persons become ill repeatedly withsymptoms similar to the stomach flu. This is a sign thatthere may be harmful parasites, microbes or bacteria in your water. Odor: ã  Water that has an odor similar to rotteneggs may contain hydrogen sulfide from bacteria ordecaying organic material. Water that smells likesewage indicates a problem with a nearby septic systemor animal feed lot, which can result in harmful coliform bacteria getting into your water. If it smells likepetroleum or solvent, you may have a problem with aleaking underground fuel storage tank or a chemicalspill, which can cause a serious health risk.  Colored water: ã  Water that is yellow, orange, red or brown, or leaves stains on your plumbing fixtures orlaundry may contain dissolved iron from rusty pipes.This can cause a metallic taste and may be a sign that your plumbing needs to be repaired, but is not a healththreat. Water that is brown or black may containmanganese, which can be confirmed though testing.  White residue: ã  Water that leaves white residue ondishes or plumbing may contain large amounts of calcium and magnesium, and is known as hard water.   Hard water has no ill effects on health, but can preventsoap from lathering, cause deposits on plumbing andincrease the amount of time it takes water to heat up. Taste: ã  Water that tastes salty may contain chloridefrom ocean water intrusion, natural salt deposits orroad salt, and should be tested. If your water tastesmetallic, it may contain iron or copper, or more rarely zinc or manganese.   If you have cloudy water, there is usually no needto worry. Water that is cloudy may contain a lot of suspended air particles and should clear up within aminute or two. These air particles have no ill effectson health. If your water does not clear up within fiveminutes, environmental officials recommend that youcontact your local health department.  According to the EPA, you cannot always tell by sight,odor or taste if your water is contaminated, so it isimportant to test your water even if some of the most common indicators are not present  . Having Your Well Tested  Know What to Test For  The first step to testing your water is deciding whatcontaminants you believe may be present. The cost of  your analysis will go up with the number of compoundstested for, so first take these steps to narrowing yoursearch down.The EPA contends that groundwater contamination isusually due to local activities. Consider whether yourproperty is near one of the contamination sites listedabove. For example, if you are near a farm or othersource of agricultural chemicals, you may wish to test fornitrates or pesticides. Be alert to what types of hobbies your neighbors have that might affect your water supply,such as fixing up cars or boats. These activities mightnecessitate more frequent water testing.Check with your local health department, environmentaldepartment or a local geologist. They can tell you aboutlocal water quality and what contaminants may be in yourarea.Check to see what your closest municipal drinking waterfacility tests for. Public water suppliers currently test foraround 90 chemical and microbial contaminants underthe federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The EPA’s Web siteand the Safe Drinking Water Hotline can both tell you what public water systems test for. If you wish to be asthorough in your private well testing as the municipalsystems, you can contact the lab nearest you and requestthe same analysis.  Test Your Water   You will need to send a sample of your water to anaccredited laboratory. The EPA’s website has a state-by-state listing of labs certified to perform drinking wateranalysis. The lab you test at, your local health departmentor your state’s drinking water program can help youunderstand your test results.Once you know what is in your water, you can takeappropriate steps to deal with it. If your water is fine, youcan be confident that you and your family are drinkingsafe water. Treating Your Well Water If your test results show that your water containsimpurities, the next step is choosing the best methodto get rid of them. Contaminant removal can involvefiltration, treatment and chemical disinfection.There are two main approaches to contaminant removal: Point-of-use systems ã can be attached to a faucet,usually in the kitchen. These are used when only  water for drinking or cooking needs to be treated andare effective on contaminants such as lead, arsenic,fluoride, uranium or nitrate.   Whole-house systems ã treat all water used in thehousehold and are effective in getting rid of odor, hard water, manganese, iron or radon gas. Water filtration physically removes contaminants andimproves the taste of your water. According to the EPA,there is not one type of filter that is effective for allcontaminants, so choosing the right one is easiest when you have tested the water and know what you wish tohave removed. Water filtration usually involves point-of-use systems, but whole-house filters can be installed for major problems.These can be expensive, but if you have a major waterquality problem and can’t afford continual testing, a filter will pay for itself both in test and health savings.For extensive information on finding the right filter for your needs, visit Food and Water Watch’s Web site and view the Take Back The Tap Guide To Home Tap Water Filtration .If you have hard water, water treatment systems suchas reverse osmosis or water softeners can take care of the problem. These are typically whole-house systems.However, water softeners add sodium to water, andreverse osmosis devices can waste up to two thirds of the water they take in, increasing household water use.Drinking water disinfection is another whole-housesystem. Disinfection is used to kill bacteria or othermicrobes (it will not remove other contaminants) andinvolves treating your drinking water supply directly  with chemicals, gas or radiation. Typically, disinfectiononly needs to be done once. If problems with bacteria arerecurring, a disinfection system may need to be installedand maintained professionally. Recurring problems with bacteria are usually indications that your well isdamaged or not properly sealed. Have your well checkedand repaired before installing a disinfection system. Conclusion: Take Care of Your Well Understanding the story of your well water is part of ruralliving. When you live in close relationship to your landand the surrounding ecosystems, you have the pleasure of fresh, delicious water direct from the source. Take care of  your well, test it regularly and you will reap the benefitsof safe water each time you turn on the tap.  Additional Resources The following resources were essential for this guide andcontain even more information for safe and healthy well water testing and maintenance.“Drinking Water from Household Wells,” U.S. ã Environmental Protection Agency, January 2002.“Drinking Water Contaminants,” U.S. Environmental ã Protection Agency, 2003.“Suggested Water Quality Testing for Private Wells,” ã New Hampshire Department of EnvironmentalServices.“Color, Taste, and Odor: What you should know,” ã Massachusetts Department of EnvironmentalProtection. For more information:  web: www.foodandwaterwatch.orgemail: info@fwwatch.org phone: (202) 683-2500 (DC) ã (415) 293-9900 (CA) Copyright © April 2009 Food & Water Watch  A common point-of-use ltration device.
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