Testing Drinking Water From Private Wells

by Rachel Laurendeau on July 6, 2012

If you and your family get your drinking water from a private well, rather than a public water system, it is important to note that you are responsible for assuring that it is safe to drink.

How Frequently Should the Well Water Be Tested?

• If you have just drilled a new well or recently moved into a new home, you should have an initial water quality test done before using it for the first time. The initial test would check for pesticides, organic chemicals and heavy metals. This could coincide with your water well inspection, which among other things will check the water pump and water tanks in your system.

• Otherwise, your water supply should be tested annually for nitrate and coliform bacteria, total dissolved solids, pH levels and any other constituents that may be of concern in your area. If you suspect a problem, do not hesitate to test more frequently. By detecting contamination problems early on you should be able to address the issues more easily, before anyone becomes ill. There is a very helpful chart on the USEPA’s website that details when to have your drinking water tested and what to test for.

• If someone in your household has immune system problems, is pregnant or nursing or if there is an infant in the home you should have your drinking water supply tested more frequently, paying particularly close attention to the nitrate levels.

Who Can Test The Water?

• In many cases, county healthy departments can help you test your well water for bacteria or nitrates and may even do so free of charge.

• Private laboratories also offer testing. Make sure that the lab you use is a state certified water testing lab, specifically certified to do drinking water tests.

• Most testing labs will supply their own sample containers. Use these containers and follow the collection, instructions carefully. In some cases, laboratories will send trained technicians to collect the sample for you.

Special Concerns Regarding Floods or Hurricanes

• To avoid electric shock, stay away from the well water pump while it is flooded. Have a well or water pump contractor clean and turn on the pump.
• Do not use the water for drinking or bathing until you are certain that it is not contaminated.
• Once the pump is back on, pump the well until the water runs clear. If it does not run clear, speak to your local health department.

Even if you have no reason to suspect problems with your water supply, regular testing can help identify contaminants before they become a larger issue and you will also be establishing a record of water quality for your well. Testing your private water supply regularly will ensure that it stays pure and safe to drink.

Source: USEPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency)

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