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Clean Drinking Water? Have Your Well Tested to be Sure

Release Date: 05/05/2008
Contact Information: David Deegan, (617) 918-1017

By Robert W. Varney

Editor's note: a high resolution of Robert Varney is available at: http://www.epa.gov/region1/about/images/bobvarney-hr.jpg

During National Drinking Water Week, EPA reminds private well owners that having safe drinking water means having regular water checkups. More than 20 percent of New England’s population depends on private wells for the drinking water supplies. In Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire, more than 40 percent of residents rely on private wells for their drinking water. If you depend on a well for your water supply, consider having it tested as part of spring cleaning this year.

Since drinking water obtained from private wells is not regulated under federal law, private wells are often not regularly sampled for contaminants, unless individual well owners choose to do so. Even testing conducted during the sale of a home may not include all contaminants of concern for private wells.

Private wells may contain bacteria, nitrates, radon, arsenic or other pollutants. Long-term exposure to high levels of contaminants, like arsenic and radon, may increase cancer and other health risks. High nitrate levels can have serious health impacts on young infants. If tests show that levels of these contaminants exceed guidelines, homeowners should consider treating their well water.

While testing is critical to check for contamination, homeowners, businesses and local governments can prevent well water from becoming contaminated in the first place. Businesses and homeowners should take extra care when they dispose of pesticides, cleaning fluids, fertilizers, paints, motor oils and gasoline. Homeowners using septic systems should also avoid dumping chemicals into toilets or down the drain, and pump out their systems on a regular basis to keep them running properly.

EPA New England, the State University Cooperative Extension Programs and the State Drinking Water Programs are working to educate the public about potential threats to their drinking water and provide them answers on available treatment for their water through the New England Private Well Initiative. The initiative has produced a number of brochures and fact sheets for each New England state on water quality testing and treatment for private wells.

If you need to get better informed, EPA has a lot of good information on the Web:

- EPA New England Private Well Initiative (http://www.epa.gov/region1/eco/drinkwater/private_well_owners.html)
- Safe Drinking Water Hotline 1-800-426-4791 (http://www.epa.gov/safewater/hotline/index.html)