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What You Should Know About Well Water Testing

There are several reasons you should perform water testing for well water. In addition to certain conditions that you may encounter which may require well water analysis, the National Ground Water Association (NGWA) suggests that you test well water once a year to detect any contaminants that you may not otherwise be aware of through appearance or taste. 

While you should test well water for bacteria, nitrates, and other pollutants per NGWA recommendations, you will also want to perform testing if you note any of the following:

  • Septic tank malfunctions that may have affected well water
  • History of bacterial contamination in your well
  • Changes in taste, odor, or appearance of well water
  • Broken well caps
  • Flood overflows
  • Detected sources of contamination
  • Recurrent gastrointestinal distress in members of the household
  • A new infant who may be more susceptible to contaminants
  • As part of home water treatment efficiency monitoring
  • Brownish-red water coming out from your taps as a result of rust in your well.

What Contaminants Are Usually Found in Well Water?

Nitrates are a common contaminant found in well water and are usually one of the first indications of a problem. These can leach into your well water from fertilizers, leaking septic tanks or sewer lines, or animal feces. They can also be formed from the natural decay of soils and rocks where nitrogen compounds are broken down. High levels of nitrates are of particular concern to infants who may ingest them in the water used to make their formula.

Basic well water testing evaluates the pH levels, hardness, manganese, sulfides, and iron. Contaminants that may cause damage to plumbing systems, cause staining, give the appearance of cloudiness or discoloration, or cause odors.

In some cases, local municipalities may recommend that you test for specific pollutants that they have found present in other local water sources. These may include contaminants like arsenic or radon. While it may be surprising for some to learn that arsenic can build up within water sources, it’s a fact that arsenic can be created from a reaction between water and certain kinds of rocks or soil. 

The natural process of uranium breaking down in the ground results in an odorless, tasteless, and colorless gas that can be deadly. Radon can not only leech into your well water, but it can also seep up through the pores in your home’s foundation. 

These are some examples of what you could find. There is no indication that you will find any of these in your well water, but they are a good reason to do routine well water testing.

How to Test Well Water at Home

If you aren’t sure how to test well water, the EPA provides a list of certified water testing laboratories on their website. The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) provides a list as well.

Once you’ve selected a lab to use for testing, you can request testing bottles for your samples and ask for instructions for collecting your water sample. You will want to follow their instructions closely for the most accurate test results. While collecting a water sample seems like a simple procedure, some testing requires very technical collection procedures.

You will also want to ask the lab how quickly you must get the samples to them. Certain substances will need to be stored properly or delivered to the lab for testing within a specific timeframe or results may be affected.

If you are uncomfortable with collecting samples or feel you cannot collect them properly, select a laboratory that can provide a technician to collect your samples for you. Once you have seen the correct procedures for collecting samples, you may then be able to do future sampling to test well water on your own.

How Do I Read the Results?

The main thing you will want to understand from your water test results is whether there are any contaminants in your water that may be a health risk. You should get an explanation from your testing lab that tells you how to interpret the results. If this isn’t provided or you still have questions, you can seek help from one of the sources below.

  • Contact the lab with your questions
  • Consult with the local health department or state regulatory body
  • Consult with an agricultural expert
  • Use an online source to interpret the data provided

What Constitutes a Health Risk?

Health risks are primarily based on how much of a potentially harmful contaminant is found in your water. This varies according to what the substance is and how much of it is in your well water. Some substances can cause long-term damage or adversely affect your health even in small amounts, especially if consumed over an extended period of time.

The ages of people in your household and their current health should also be considered. Younger children are more susceptible to high levels of nitrates. Exposure to heavy nitrates even over a short period can result in dangerous reactions that might not affect an adult.

Your laboratory should flag any contaminants that are considered above acceptable levels set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but if they haven’t, you can compare your results to federal standards for potable water posted online. The levels set by the EPA are designed to protect the health of individuals who drink or otherwise come into contact with the water for years to come. 

My Well is Contaminated. Now What?

Don’t panic; some substances can be removed with simple water treatments. Others may require more serious measures to correct the problem. Either way, a professional can address the problem with the best course of action. If the problem persists, your well may require cleaning. 

A professional experienced in well water systems can remove any debris from the bottom of the well and clean the mechanisms that operate within the well, including the water intakes. A proper cleaning may also involve brushing and scrubbing the well walls to remove anything stuck on them, flushing the gravel pack and aquifer that surrounds the well’s casing. 

If you have any water treatment systems installed to purify well water, those would also be serviced to ensure no bacteria has built up in them. If you are continually experiencing issues with your water quality, you might consider having a water purifier such as a reverse osmosis system installed.

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