Published on 06/22/10

Test well water to ensure it's safe to drink, use

By Paul Pugliese

Clean drinking water is a top priority for families. But homeowners who rely solely on well water can be open to certain risks.

If your water is provided by a city or county source, it isn’t necessary to have it tested unless an in-house contamination is suspected. Public and municipal water supplies are routinely tested and must meet Environmental Protection Agency standards.

Homeowner's responsibility

Well water can become contaminated from various sources and can make homeowners sick. Since there are no federal or state monitoring regulations for private wells, it is the homeowner’s responsibility to make sure their well water is safe to drink.

Well water may not be safe to drink if:

  • You have frequent and unexplained illnesses in your household.
  • Your neighbors find toxic chemicals in their well water.
  • You are concerned about the lead pipes or soldering in your home.
  • You detect a difference in the taste, smell or color of the water.
  • You are buying a new home with a well that has been out of use.
  • It comes from an improperly sealed or unprotected well, spring or cistern.
  • You spill fertilizers, pesticides, oil, gasoline or other toxic substances on the ground in or near the well.
  • Water isn't just for drinking

    Poor water quality not only affects drinking water. It can also affect a variety of household functions. Contaminated water used for cooking may affect your health, while an excess of certain minerals can hamper cleaning tasks in the laundry or bathroom.

    Unfortunately, no single test can provide information on all possible contaminants.

    Bacteriological tests determine if water is free of disease-causing bacteria. But there are many types of tests that cover a variety of bacteria. The most common bacteriological test checks for E. coli and total coliform bacteria, which can come from fecal contamination.

    Mineral tests can determine if the mineral content is high enough to affect either health or the water’s aesthetic or cleaning capacities. This test often pinpoints calcium, magnesium, manganese, iron, copper and zinc. An abundance of these minerals can cause hard water, plumbing and laundry stains or bad odors.

    Pesticide and chemical tests are generally performed only if there is reason to believe a specific contaminant has entered the water system, such as pesticides.

    Inspect regularly

    It is important to regularly inspect your well for sources of contamination.

    Other potential problems can exist with the slab, the well screen, the building covering the well or landscaping. University of Georgia Cooperative Extension offers well assessment through the HOME*A*SYST program. These self-assessments determine the risks associated with your well.

    If you suspect a problem with your well water, contact a licensed well driller to inspect the well and have it tested for bacteria. This test should be done at least once a year, especially after well water disinfections.

    Have water tested

    Well testing can be done through local UGA Extension offices. Water samples are tested through the UGA Agricultural and Environmental Services Laboratory in Athens.

    A basic test, which tests for pH, hardness and more than 15 minerals, is $15. An expanded water test, which tests for minerals, soluble salts and alkalinity, is $50.

    Contact your UGA Extension office at 1-800-ASK-UGA1 for information on troubleshooting water quality issues or testing your well water for bacteria.

    Contact your county health department for information on how to take proper care of your septic system. Septic system problems can affect well water quality.

Paul Pugliese is the Agriculture and Natural Resources agent for the University of Georgia Extension office in Bartow County.

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