Monday, October 29, 2018

Testing the Water in a Private Well

When you are considering buying a home with a well, you need to understand the well and the water chemistry. For purchase I would recommend a broad stroke water test that looks at all the primary and secondary contaminants regulated under the safe drinking water act as well as pesticides. No testing is required by the federal, state or local governments in Virginia; however, most lenders require testing for bacteria, and some for nitrate and lead in order to issue a mortgage. Comprehensive broad stroke tests exist and will ensure you are purchasing a house with good water. Buying a package reduces the cost though the drawback is these packages are performed at a lower sensitivity level.

A test like the WaterCheck Deluxe plus pesticides test kitfrom National Testing Laboratories which is an EPA certified laboratory would work. This is the most economical test I could find. It comes with sampling bottles, an ice pack that needs to be frozen and a cooler to use when you FedEx the water samples back. Time is of the essence when dealing with bacteria samples. If the home has any water treatment or filters it is important to test both the raw water coming from the well and the water after treatment. This allows you evaluate the appropriateness and effectiveness of any treatment. You will need two water test packages.

The WaterCheck Deluxe with pesticides is a broad stroke test, testing the water for 103 items including Bacteria (Total Coliform and E-Coli), 19 heavy metals and minerals including lead, iron, arsenic and copper (many which are naturally occurring, but can impact health); 6 other inorganic compounds including nitrates and nitrites (can indicate fertilizer residue or animal waste); 5 physical factors including pH, hardness, alkalinity; 4 Trihalomethanes (THMs) and 47 Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs) including Benzene, Methyl Tert-Butyl Ether (MTBE) and Trichloroethene (TCE). The pesticide option adds 20 pesticides, herbicides and PCBs. The package costs $229.99. You will also have to pay overnight shipping cost ($40-$70) to return the package. You may also have to purchase a local Bacteria test if there was a delay in the shipping.

The WaterCheck package compares their results to the The US EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Act limits for the primary and secondary contaminants are a good standard to compare water to when testing a well. Since there are no regulation for private well water, that is a reasonable standard to compare the water test results to. Be alert to anything that should not be in groundwater. The presence of low levels of man made contaminants may be an indication of a bigger problem. Also, make sure you check for residual levels of chlorine. The presence of residual levels of chlorine could indicate that someone had recently chlorinated the well to try and cheat the bacteria test- not nice. So, be alert when you review your results. Not all of the impurities and contaminants in groundwater are bad, some make water taste good. However, any traces of solvents or hydrocarbons or contaminants that are not naturally occurring would be concerning. Penn State Extension has an online tool to compare testing results to EPA Safe Drinking Water Standards and offers some suggestions.

After the first test getting to know your water chemistry, then you should test your well annually for coliform bacteria and nitrate/nitrite. These are easy to test for and cheap. Coliform bacteria is not naturally found in groundwater, if it is found to be present, typically the lab tests for fecal bacteria. If the well is contaminated with coliform but not fecal coliform or E. coli, then you may have infiltration from the surface from rain or snow melt. Typical causes are improperly sealed well cap, well repairs performed without disinfecting the well, failed grouting or surface drainage to the well. The local department of health should have a list of local labs that are certified to perform the test.

As recently as 10 years ago it was uncommon for health departments to recommend regular annual testing of coliform, now it is almost universal. The U.S. Geological Survey has found increasing levels of contamination in groundwater in unconfined (water-table) aquifers. This is believed to be because they usually are within a few hundred feet of the land surface and lack an overlying confining layer to impede the movement of contaminants. In the United States almost half of all drinking water is supplied by wells only the public supply well are routinely tested. Domestic wells are not subject to the EPA Safe Drinking Water Act regulations.

In Virginia, testing of existing private wells is not required. However, the Virginia Household Water Quality Program has been running water clinics testing private wells at a bargain price in Virginia for over 10 years. Their program analyzes samples for: iron, manganese, nitrate, lead, arsenic, fluoride, sulfate, pH, total dissolved solids, hardness, sodium, copper, total coliform bacteria and E. Coli bacteria. Overall the statewide sampling has found that 41% of the wells have coliform bacteria, and 9% have E. coli bacteria. Though 28% of wells were found to have acidic water (low pH), only 17% of homes have first flush lead levels above the EPA safe drinking water standard maximum contaminant level of 0.015 Mg/L. Lead and copper leach into water primarily as a result of corrosion of plumbing and well components, but can also result from flaking of scale from brass fittings and well components unrelated to corrosion. This type of analysis would be appropriate to perform every few years. Over time a well wears out and deteriorates and this can impact water quality.

Domestic wells draw groundwater primarily from the area surrounding the well. Depending on the depth of the well and the local geology groundwater drawn into a private domestic drinking water well is typically young water-it could be weeks, months or several years old. Even though the ground is an excellent mechanism for filtering out particulate matter, such as leaves, soil, and bugs, dissolved chemicals and gases can still occur in large enough concentrations in groundwater to cause problems. Groundwater can get contaminated from industrial, domestic, and agricultural chemicals from the surface. This includes chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides that many homeowners apply to their lawns, improperly disposed of chemicals; animal wastes; failing septic systems; wastes disposed underground; and naturally-occurring substances can all contaminate drinking water and make it unsuitable for drinking or make the water unpleasant to drink. Groundwater is dynamic and can change over time. Regular monitoring of your water quality is important and entirely up to you.

No comments:

Post a Comment