• 3. Understanding Your Test Results

Have your well water tested for any possible contaminants in your area. Use a State approved testing lab. Do not be surprised if a lot of substances are found and reported to you.

The amount of risk from a drinking water contaminant depends on the specific substance and the amount in the water. The health of the person also matters. Some contaminant cause immediate and severe effects. It may take only one bacterium or virus to make a weak person sick. Another person may not be affected. For very young children, taking in high levels of nitrate over a relatively short period of time can be very dangerous. Many other contaminants pose a long-term or chronic threat to your health - a little bit consumed regularly over a long time could cause health problems such as trouble having children and other effects.

EPA drinking water rules for public water systems aim to protect people from both short and long term health hazards. The amounts of contaminants allowed are based on protecting people over a lifetime of drinking water. Public water systems are required to test their water regularly before delivery. They also treat it so that it meets drinking water standards, notify customers if water does not meet standards and provide annual water quality reports.

Compare your well's test results to Federal and State drinking water standards. (You can find these standards at www.epa.gov/safewater/mcl.html or call the Safe Drinking Water Hotline 800-426-4791.) In some cases, the laboratory will give a very helpful explanation. But you may have to rely on other experts to aid you in understanding the results.

The following organizations may be able to help:

  • The State agency that licenses water well contractors can help you understand your test results. It will also provide information on well construction and protection of your water supply. The agency is usually located in the State capital or other major city. It is often part of the department of health or environmental protection. Check the blue "government pages" of your local phone book or call the American Ground Water Trust at (614) 7612215 or the EPA Hotline at (800) 426-4791 for your licensing agency's phone number.

  • The local health department and agricultural agents can help you understand the test results. They will have information on any known threats to drinking water in your area. They can also give you suggestions about how to protect your well water.

  • The State drinking water program can also help. You can compare your well's water to the State's standards for public water systems. State programs are usually located in the State capital or another major city. They are often part of the department of health or environmental regulation. Again, consult the blue "government pages" in your local phone book for the address and phone number or call or the EPA Hotline - (800) 426-4791.

  • The Safe Drinking Water Hotline at (800) 426-4791, mentioned above - can help in many ways. The Hotline can provide a listing of contaminants public water systems must test for. EPA also has copies of health advisories prepared for specific drinking water contaminants. The EPA Hotline staff can explain the Federal regulations that apply to public water systems. They compare your lab results to the Federal standards. In addition, they can give you the phone number and address of your State drinking water program, and of your State laboratory certification officer. That officer can send you a list of approved labs in your area.


  • 4. Well Construction and Maintenance

Proper well construction and continued maintenance are keys to the safety of your water supply. Your State water well contractor licensing agency, local health department, or local water system professional can provide information on well construction. See Figure 193.

Water-well drillers and pump-well installers are listed in your local phone directory. The contractor should be bonded and insured. Make certain your ground water contractor is registered or licensed in your State, if required. If your State does not have a licensing/registration program contact the National Ground Water Association. They have a voluntary certification program for contractors. (In fact, some states use the Association's exams as their test for licensing.) For a list of certified contractors in your State contact the Association at (614) 898-7791 or (800) 551-7379. There is no cost for mailing or faxing the list to you.

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Figure 193: The well should be located so rainwater flows away from it. Rainwater can pick up harmful bacteria and chemicals on the land's surface. If this water pools near your well, it can seep into it, causing health problems.

Many homeowners tend to forget the value of good maintenance until problems reach crisis levels. That can be expensive. It's better to maintain your well, find problems early, and correct them to protect your well's performance. Keep up-to-date records of well installation and repairs plus pumping and water tests. Such records can help spot changes and possible problems with your water system. If you have problems, ask a local expert to check your well construction and maintenance records. He or she can see if your system is okay or needs work.

The graphic in Figure 194 on shows a good example of an animal-proof cap or seal and the casing of a well.

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Figure 194: An animal or vermin proof cap prevents rodents from entering your well, being trapped and dying. Paving around your well will prevent polluted runoff from seeping into your water supply.

Protect your own well area. Be careful about storage and disposal of household and lawn care chemicals and wastes. Good farmers and gardeners minimize the use of fertilizers and pesticides. Take steps to reduce erosion and prevent surface water runoff. Regularly check underground storage tanks that hold home heating oil, diesel, or gasoline. Make sure your well is protected from the wastes of livestock, pets, and wildlife.

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