Pure Water Occasional, July 13, 2018
In this mid-July Occasional, you'll hear about PFAS, romaine lettuce, Permit Patty, oil spills, cave rescue, water main breaks, Anne Gorsuch, Scott Pruitt, ChemSorb (a.k.a. Zeolite), dams, step wells, iron bacteria,well testing, plastics in mineral tanks, the taste of water, the famous Cuyahoga River fires, the Trump Tower fish kill and, as always, there is much, much more.
Top water story of the past weeks was definitely of the soccer team trapped in a water-logged cave in Thailand. The trapped escaped, but one rescuer died.
The Trump Hotel and Tower building located along the Chicago River pulls 20 million gallons a day from the river for its cooling systems. It then releases this water back into the river at a higher temperature, thus affecting the fish habitat. Managers of the building have refused to complete an environmental impact study on fish kill with the state EPA. Friends of the Chicago River and the Illinois branch of the Sierra Club have filed a lawsuit against the managers of Trump Hotel & Tower because state officials failed to enforce the regulatory compliance.
An estimated 230,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into floodwaters in the northwestern corner of Iowa following a train derailment. The train was carrying tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to Stroud, Oklahoma. Each tanker can hold more than 25,000 gallons of oil.
A woman called "Permit Patty" got lots of negative attention when she called police on an 8-year-old girl selling water.
Dayton, OH water testing has found presisting levels of PFAS in its drinking water supply for the third month in a row.
According to a University of Iowa study,"Despite hundreds of millions of dollars that Iowa has poured into water-quality initiatives over the past two decades, the amount of nitrates our state contributes to the Gulf dead zone has increased by nearly 50 percent....It’s embarrassing. Worse, it’s shameful. Iowa now contributes about 40 percent of the excess nutrients that feed the dead zone, an oxygen-starved area in the Gulf where no marine life can survive. The barren area is forecast to exceed the size of Connecticut this year. We’ve long known that Iowa was a major part of the problem; now we are the problem."
The nation's largest E. coli food poisoning outbreak in more than a decade was blamed on tainted irrigation water in Yuma, AZ that contaminated romaine lettuce. Most of the victims got sick in March and April, but new illnesses were reported as recently as early June. Some of those who got sick didn't eat romaine lettuce but had been in close contact with someone who did. Five died and over 200 were made ill.
A small technology startup company in Singapore has produced the first 3-D printing device for the production of water treatment membranes. Details.
The Environment Working Group (EWG) recently released a report claiming up to 110 million Americans could have their drinking water contaminated by PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) — much higher than the previous estimate of 16 million affected Americans.
A water main break that spewed fifteen million gallons of water onto a downtown street in Philadelphia is expected to take several months to repair.
A much praised show of the works of 14 featured Japanese artists is on display in Las Vegas at the Bellagio. The show, entilted "Primal Water," spans over four generations of artists who address the theme of water in different ways: "from documenting its absence, capturing its abundance, decontextualizing its existence and exploring its relationship with humanity."
President Trump accepted the resignation of embattled EPA director Scott Pruitt. It would be easy to say that Pruitt was the worst EPA chief in history were it not for Anne Gorsuch, who is hard to dislodge from the bottom of the barrel. On a hopeful note, after Gorsuch got the boot, the EPA quickly got back on track under William Ruckelshaus. Though Pruitt apparently spent most of his hours on the job feathering his own nest, he found time to wreak some havoc. His legacy will rest mainly on the dismantling of the Waters of the U.S policy, an update to the Clean Water Act that attempted to bring a greater number of water bodies under federal regulation. This alone will win Pruitt a place in the hearts of all who have longed to make America great again by dumping motor oil and unused agricultural chemicals in the dry creek on the back forty.
The Pure Water Gazette’s Famous Water Pictures Series
The Cuyahoga River Fire Pictures
Cuyahoga River on fire in 1952. This fire was the worst of the Cuyahoga fires. This picture and others created a demand for action.
Cuyahoga River Fire
by Michael Rotman
Pure Water Gazette Introductory Note
When water catches fire it gets people’s attention. We’ve all seen pictures recently of burning well water, laced with methane from hydraulic fracturing operations. So far, these spectacular displays have provoked only a timid “more studies are needed” response from environmental regulators. We may need a Cuyahoga River event to get the country’s attention.
The Cuyahoga River at Cleveland caught fire at least 13 times in the past two centuries. The first recorded fire was in 1868. The “most fatal” was in 1912, when five people were killed. The final fire, in 1969, though not the biggest or the worst of the Cuyahoga fires, played a big part in the advancement of the environmental reforms of the 1970s and was even instrumental in the creation of the Clean Water Act. The 1969 fire came at a time when the country was ready to listen.
All the Cuyahoga fires (the 1952 fire was the worst) were the result of numerous petroleum spills, the dumping of fats and greases by slaugherhouses, acids from steel plants, and dyes from paint plants. There were also a lot of picnic benches, screen doors, automobile tires, boxes, and other combustible debris washed into the river by rains. Add to that much untreated human sewage from the Cleveland-Akron area, which may not have burned but certainly contributed to the stench.
Here is an account of the fires from a Cleveland historian. We’ve added the pictures and captions.–Hardly Waite.
The story of the Cuyahoga River fire of 1969 – the event that sparked pop songs, lit the imagination of an entire nation, and badly tarnished a city’s reputation – is built more on myths than reality. Yes, an oil slick on the Cuyahoga River – polluted from decades of industrial waste – caught fire on a Sunday morning in June 1969 near the Republic Steel mill, causing about $100,000 worth of damage to two railroad bridges. Initially the fire drew little attention, either locally or nationally. The ’69 fire was not even the first time that the river burned. Dating back to the beginning of the twentieth century, the river had caught fire on several other occasions.
Photo of the 1948 Cuyahoga Fire.
The picture of the Cuyahoga River on fire that ended up in Time Magazine a month later – a truly arresting image showing flames leaping up from the water, completely engulfing a ship – was actually from a much more serious fire in November 1952. No picture of the ’69 river fire is known to exist.
Throughout much of Cleveland’s history, water pollution did not trouble the city’s residents too much. Instead, water pollution was viewed as a necessary consequence of the industry that had brought the city prosperity. This attitude began to change in the 1960s as ideas associated with what would become known as environmentalism took shape. In 1968, Cleveland residents overwhelmingly passed a $100 million bond initiative to fund the Cuyahoga’s clean up. Also, by this time deindustrialization was somewhat alleviating the pollution problem, as factories closed or cut back operations. Ironically, the city and its residents were beginning to take responsibility for the cleanliness of the river in the years before the infamous fire of 1969.
U.S. Steel plant belching untreated chemical discharge into the Cuyahoga in 1965.
The ’69 fire, then, was not really the terrifying climax of decades of pollution, but rather the last gasp of an industrial river whose role was beginning to change. Nevertheless, Cleveland became a symbol of environmental degradation. The Time article contributed to this, as did the notoriety of Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes. Stokes, who was the first black mayor of a major city when elected in 1968, became deeply involved with the issue, holding a press conference at the site of the fire the following day and testifying before Congress – including his brother US Representative Louis Stokes – to urge greater federal involvement in pollution control. The Stokes brothers’ advocacy played a part in the passage of the federal Clean Water Act of 1972. In Cleveland, a number Cleveland State University students celebrated the inaugural Earth Day in 1970 by marching from campus to the river to protest pollution.
Even though it has been misunderstood, the 1969 Cuyahoga River fire did help bring about positive change. The river’s water quality improved during the following decades, and business investors capitalized on this by converting parts of the Flats’ abandoned industrial landscape into an entertainment district featuring restaurants, nightclubs, and music venues.
Much of the industry that both made Cleveland rich and caused its river to burn may never be coming back, but Clevelanders are meeting this challenge by reshaping their city to reflect its current realities.
What Are Water Treatment Mineral Tanks Made Of?
by Pure Water Annie
Good , sincere, heartfelt information from the Occasional’s Technical Department.
The water filter pictured below is built with a conventional fiberglass mineral tank. In water treatment, these tanks are used to build virtually all filters and water softeners. They’re called “mineral tanks” because the stuff you put in them, whether it’s carbon, Birm, water softener resin, or calcite, or any other granular water treatment medium, is collectively referred to as “mineral.” In the vernacular, the tanks are made of a substance called “fiberglass.”
When someone asks what a filter or softener tank is made of, the short answer is simply to say “fiberglass” and be done with it, although this really isn’t true. According to a leading manufacturer, Structural, what we often refer to as “fiberglass” tanks do in fact have a band of fiberglass reinforcement on the outside. The inner shell of the tank, however, is made of Polyethylene, Polypropylene, PVDF. ECTFE (aka HALAR), FFT.and “around 50 other custom materials.”
The tanks have certification from the following agencies: NSF, WQA, and Druckbehalterverordung (German).
So, should you worry about drinking or bathing in water that has been exposed to fifty to sixty plastics? Should the fact that it has certification by such prestigious approving agencies as NSF and WQA ease your concerns?
I can’t answer that one for you. Pure Water Annie can’t solve all your problems. The alternative to the sixty plastics is a stainless steel tank that costs ten times as much, doesn’t work as well, and probably has its own set of health issues that haven’t been discovered yet. Our experience has been that in spite of popular mythology, stainless tanks aren’t as “leak-proof” as fiberglass. “Fiberglass” mineral tanks have been around a long time and no one has yet shown that they do any harm. Myself, I’m at home with them. But Pure Water Annie doesn’t know everything.
Chemsorb, the Name, Bites the Dust
One of our favorite products, ChemSorb, a natural zeolite filtration medium capable of filtering out particulate down to about five microns, is undergoing a name change. Due to a trademark conflict, the popular sediment filter medium is changing its brand name. The new brand name is not yet available.
The product is still for sale, but it will no longer be called ChemSorb.
Since at present it is a product without a name, we’ve changed our main website so that it is now sold simply by the generic name Zeolite. Until a new name appears, if you want what used to be called ChemSorb, please order Zeolite. It’s the same product (and the bag may even say ChemSorb), but our website now calls it Zeolite.
Lifespan of Water Filters
Probably you have seen an ad for a small, one-cartridge “ten stage” water filter that promises to remove chlorine, lead, pesticides, herbicides, VOCs, fluoride, and “pharmaceuticals,” and to “last for 10,000 gallons.” This advertising claim is actually true. But at the same time, it is a big lie. A really big lie.
The intent is to imply that the filter will remove fluoride, VOCs, and all the other heavy contaminants listed “for 10,000 gallons.” But what “lasts for 10,000 gallons” really means is that it won’t fall apart and that it may even be removing some chlorine after 10,000 gallons. While it may “remove fluoride” for the first few gallons, it really doesn’t contain enough fluoride media to last past the original cartridge rinse. The trick is in the words. It’s true that it “removes fluoride” and that it “lasts for 10,000 gallons,” but it certainly doesn’t remove fluoride for 10,000 gallons.
Even single media filters, like carbon blocks, have greatly different capacities for various contaminants that they treat. Filter carbon is a very effective treatment–the best, in most cases–for a large majority of water contaminants, but in almost every case carbon filters treat chlorine much longer than they effectively treat more difficult contaminants.
For example, the manufacturer of one superb carbon block filter states the capacity of its 2.5″ X 10″ cartridge for removing chlorine as 20,000 gallons @ 1 gallon per minute. For removal of VOCs, however, the claim is for only 500 gallons at the reduced flow rate of 0.5 gallons per minute.
It is a mistake to assume, in other words, that the filter will remove VOCs as long as it will treat chlorine. If chlorine removal and taste/odor improvement are the only goals, then the filter can be used to its full chlorine capacity; but if you really need serious removal of specific contaminants, you should find out the cartridge’s capacity for the specific item you’re targeting and change the cartridge accordingly.
You should also notice that flow rate matters–a lot–and that if you want a faster flow rate, you need a larger filter.
Dams - the Benefits and the Risks
New York State has at least 5,352 functioning dams, 861 of which are owned or co-owned by local governments. Dams, which are barriers that hold back flowing water, serve many purposes. Some exist primarily for flood control. Many create ponds or lakes used for recreation, or reservoirs used to manage water supplies. Some generate hydroelectric power. Management of the large number of dams in the state of New York is no small matter, since a dam not only can be a valuable asset but it also represents a considerable public risk.
New York currently considers 19% of its 5,352 dams represent a high or intermediate hazard to public safety. That is, failure of such dams could cost many lives and much property damage.
The deadliest dam failure in U.S. history occurred in 1889 in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, when a breach led to flooding that killed more than 2,200 people. Just last year, in Northern California, authorities issued a mandatory evacuation order for approximately 188,000 residents living downstream from the Oroville Dam after heavy rains increased water levels, and concerns about its spillways led to fears of uncontrolled releases of water. A breach in a large dam in New York could cause severe downstream flooding spanning multiple counties.
For example, a complete failure of the Gilboa Dam, which can store up to 19.6 billion gallons of water, could devastate downstream communities in Schoharie, Montgomery and Schenectady counties, including the villages of Middleburgh, Schoharie and Esperance. A breach could also cause flooding along the Mohawk River and into the Hudson River.
Dam safety requires regular attention. Floods can cause serious damage very quickly. More generally, risks can increase over time, not only because structural concerns such as cracking, settling, or “piping” (internal erosion caused by water infiltration through an earthen dam) can develop and worsen, but also because any increase in development downstream means that more people and businesses may be in harm’s way should something go wrong.
A dam that once posed little risk to human life, because its failure would result only in flooding of farm fields or vacant land, becomes a greater threat once the land has been developed and people live and/or work there. New York’s high-hazard dams have an average age of 89 years; those classified as intermediate hazard are 83 years old on average.
Climate change is also likely to increase the risks dams pose. Global warming increases the frequency and severity of storms and accelerates the melting of the winter snow pack in the mountains, potentially subjecting dams to conditions that exceed their design specifications.
A relatively new – and growing – threat is sabotage carried out through cyber attacks. Dams operated by online controls have proven vulnerable to hackers. In 2013, a cyber attacker infiltrated the control systems of a dam in Westchester County. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) helps water utilities improve their cyber security and manage risks associated with other types of terrorist threats.
The famous step well called Chand Baori.
Built in Rajasthan (India) around 850 AD, it was dedicated to Hashat Mata, Goddess of Joy and Happiness. Chand Baori, built in an arid region, was designed to conserve as much water as possible. Temperature at the bottom of the well is five or six degrees cooler than at the surface, so the well was used as a community gathering place during times of extreme heat.
This recently built “step well” responds to the need to access water regardless of the water level. Step wells have been used in India since as early as 200 AD. The well in the picture is in the village of Modi. Such wells serve not only as a very practical source of water. They often demonstrate artistic and architectural innovation, have religious, cultural and social significance, serve as village meeting places, have significant artistic value and promote local business by attracting tourists.
The Taste of Water: You Like What You're Used To
One of the headaches of water treatment is that whenever there is change, there is complaint. When cities switch from chlorine to chloramine disinfection, taste complaints are usually numerous and loud. The irony is that when there is a temporary switch back to chlorine, which regulatory agencies recommend periodically, there are equally strong complaints about the taste of chlorine in the water.
When chloramine is used as the primary disinfectant, the ammonia and nitrogen in chloramine can cause a biofilm buildup in pipes. A periodic, short-term change back to free chlorine, a much stronger disinfectant than chloramine, clears out some of the build-up. Cities often refer to the temporary change back to chlorine as “chlorine burns.”
Another item affecting taste is TDS, or Total Dissolved Solids; the mineral makeup of the water. That’s why when people become used to high TDS water (as in some bottled spring waters or some well water), they describe low TDS water, like reverse osmosis water or distilled water, as “tasteless.” Reverse osmosis water drinkers, by contrast, are often shocked by the heavy mineral taste of tap water when they get a drink from a water fountain or restaurant.
With water, as with many things, people tend to like what they’re used to. They may complain about the way things are, but when there’s a change,they complain twice as loudly.
Iron Bacteria: A Common Well Water Dilemma
Editor’s Note: This excellent description of the common well water problem known as iron bacteria is reprinted here from the website of the Minnesota Department of Health. I’ve added a couple of pictures. –Hardly Waite.
Does this describe your water……red stains in the sinks?….swampy, oily, or other unpleasant tastes or smells?….red, slimy growths in the toilet tank? If so, your well or water system may have iron bacteria. Iron bacteria are small living organisms which naturally occur in soil, shallow groundwater, and surface waters. These nuisance bacteria combine iron (or manganese) and oxygen to form deposits of “rust,” bacterial cells, and a slimy material that sticks the bacteria to well pipes, pumps, and plumbing fixtures. The bacteria are not known to cause disease, but can cause undesirable stains, tastes and odors; affect the amount of water the well will produce; and create conditions where other undesirable organisms may grow.
Detecting Iron Bacteria
Clues which indicate the presence of iron bacteria in well water are:
TASTES AND ODORS – Iron bacteria often produce unpleasant tastes and odors commonly reported as: “swampy,” “oily or petroleum,” “cucumber,” “sewage,” “rotten vegetation,” or “musty.” The taste or odor may be more noticeable after the water has not been used for some time. Iron bacteria do not produce hydrogen sulfide, the “rotten egg” smell, but do create an environment where sulfur bacteria can grow and produce hydrogen sulfide.
COLOR – Iron bacteria will usually cause yellow, orange, red, or brown stains and colored water. It is also sometimes possible to see a rainbow colored, oil-like sheen on the water.
RED SLIMY DEPOSITS – Iron bacteria produce a sticky slime which is typically rusty in color, but may be yellow, brown, or grey. A “feathery,” or filamentous growth may also be seen, particularly in standing water such as a toilet tank.
The characteristics listed above are typical of iron bacteria. However, objectionable stains, tastes, or odors may be due to other causes including iron, sulfate, hydrogen sulfide, manganese, or other nuisance organisms such as sulfur bacteria. Identification of substances in water is best done by having a laboratory test a water sample. Many laboratories provide iron bacteria tests for costs under $35. It is also a good idea to evaluate the sanitary quality of the well by doing two things: (1) testing the water for nitrate-nitrogen and coliform bacteria; and (2) assuring that the well is properly constructed, located, and maintained.
Prevention of Iron Bacteria
Iron bacteria are present in most soils in Minnesota. Iron bacteria can be introduced into a well or water system during drilling, repair, or service. Elimination of iron bacteria once a well is heavily infested can be extremely difficult. Normal treatment techniques may be only partly effective.
Good housekeeping practices can prevent iron bacteria from entering a well:
- Water placed in a well for drilling, repair, or priming of pumps should be disinfected, and should never be taken from a lake or pond.
- The well casing should be watertight, properly capped, and extend a foot or more above ground.
- When pumps, well pipes, and well equipment are repaired, they should not be placed on the ground where they could pick up iron bacteria.
- The well, pump, and plumbing should be disinfected when repaired.
Control of Iron Bacteria
Treatment techniques which may be successful in removing or reducing iron bacteria include physical removal, pasteurization, and chemical treatment. Treatment of heavily infected wells may be difficult, expensive, and only partially successful.
Physical removal is typically done as a first step in heavily infected wells. The pumping equipment in the well must be removed and cleaned, which is usually a job for a well contractor or pump installer. The well casing is then scrubbed by use of brushes or other tools. Physical removal is usually followed by chemical treatment.
Pasteurization has been successfully used to control iron bacteria. Pasteurization involves a process of injecting steam or hot water into the well and maintaining a water temperature in the well of 60°C (140 degrees Fahrenheit) for 30 minutes. Pasteurization can be effective, however, the process may be expensive.Chemical treatment is the most commonly used iron bacteria treatment technique. The three groups of chemicals typically used include: surfactants; acids (and bases); and disinfectants, biocides, and oxidizing agents.
Surfactants are detergent-like chemicals such as phosphates. Surfactants are generally used in conjunction with other chemical treatment. It is important to use chlorine or another disinfectant if phosphates are used, since bacteria may use phosphates as a food source.
Acids have been used to treat iron bacteria because of their ability to dissolve iron deposits, destroy bacteria, and loosen bacterial slime. Acids are typically part of a series of treatments involving chlorine, and at times, bases. Extreme caution is required to use and properly dispose of these chemicals. Acid and chlorine should never be mixed together. Acid treatment should only be done by trained professionals.
Disinfectants are the most commonly used chemicals for treatment of iron bacteria, and the most common disinfectant is household laundry bleach, which contains chlorine.
Chlorine is relatively inexpensive and easy to use, but may have limited effectiveness and may require repeated treatments. Effective treatment requires sufficient chlorine strength and time in contact with the bacteria, and is often improved with agitation. Continuous chlorine injection into the well has been used, but is not normally recommended because of concerns that the chlorine will conceal other bacterial contamination and cause corrosion and maintenance problems.
“Shock” chlorination is the process of introducing a strong chlorine solution into the well, usually at a concentration of 1000 parts per million or more. Ideally, the well should be pumped until clear, or physically cleaned before introducing chlorine. A brochure is available which explains how to add chlorine and determine the amount of chlorine to use. Otherwise, approximately 2 gallons of chlorine bleach can be mixed with at least 10 gallons of water, and poured into the well. If possible, the chlorinated water should be circulated through the well and household plumbing by running the water back into the well through a clean hose, washing down the sides of the well casing. The chlorinated water should be drawn into the household plumbing and remain overnight, and if possible for 24 hours. Heavy infestations of iron bacteria may require repeated disinfections.
Shock chlorination may only control, not eliminate, iron bacteria.
Before attempting to chlorinate, or doing any maintenance on a well, it is important to disconnect the electricity and understand how the well and water system works. It is usually advisable to hire a licensed pump installer or well contractor.
High concentrations of chlorine may affect water conditioning equipment, appliances such as dishwashers, and septic systems. You may want to check with the manufacturer of the appliances before chlorinating. The equipment can be bypassed, however, iron bacteria or other organisms may remain in the units and spread through the water system. It may be possible to disinfect the well with higher chlorine concentrations; and if the water storage and treatment units are not heavily infected, disinfect the treatment unit and piping with lower concentrations circulated through the water system.
After the chlorine has been in the well and plumbing overnight or for 24 hours, the water should be pumped out. If possible, water with high chlorine concentrations should not be disposed of in the septic system. It may be possible to discharge the water to a gravel area, run the water into a tank or barrel until the chlorine dissipates, or contract with a hauler to properly dispose of the water. Water from the well should not be consumed until the chlorine has been removed.
Editor’s Note: The article below is adapted from a 2013 Water Technology article by Jake Mastroianni. — Hardly Waite.
There are many things in life that are taken for granted, the quality of one’s drinking water should not be on that list. Well water testing, is a great way to get that sense of clarity about one’s water.
There are several different suggestions for when you should test, who should do the testing, why you should test, where you should test and what type of treatment to use if the testing comes back with negative results.
When you should test
The correct time sequence for testing varies based on different testing equipment, the type of well, and location. The Environmental Protection Agency says private well owners should have their water tested at least once a year.
Mike McBride, marketing manager for Industrial Test Systems Inc., agrees with that concept. “Customers should have well water tested once a year,” he notes. “Immediately test if there is a noticeable change in the water’s taste, smell, or appearance.”
Obviously, if there is a noticeable difference in a customer’s water supply, it would be a good time to have a water test performed. There are also precautions when installing new wells.
“We recommend having a complete series of tests run on a new well,” says Charlie Gloyd, market manager for water conditioning at LaMotte Company. “Depending on the results, we recommend that a new well be monitored quarterly for the first two years of operation. If the well is in good shape, continue to monitor every six months to a year.”
Marianne Metzger, business manager for National Testing Laboratories Ltd., also offers some advice on new and inactive wells. “For new wells, or wells that have sat inactive for many years, a comprehensive test should be considered to document the water quality. In addition to the typical analysis of bacteria and nitrate, new wells should be tested for volatile organic chemicals, pesticides and herbicides, heavy metals and radiological levels. Having a comprehensive test done can alert you to problems as well as provide a baseline of water quality for that well in which to compare future results,” she says.
Who should perform the test
While many tests can be performed by the well water owner, tests should be performed by a competent professional when looking for contaminants that could cause health issues.
“Testing for health based contaminants like bacteria, nitrates and arsenic should be done by a certified laboratory,” adds Metzger. “Simple aesthetic contaminants like hardness and iron can be tested on-site by a water treatment professional or with a do-it-yourself home kit.” Metzger emphasizes the fact that having a professional, or even laboratory, perform a complete analysis is the best way to get the most accurate results.
“Some local health departments do testing or can recommend either certified local or regional companies to perform the testing,” says Gloyd. After testing is complete, Gloyd adds that the homeowner or local water treatment company should be able to monitor the water quality.
Why you should test
There are several contaminants that can unknowingly enter the water supply and cause health issues.
“Parameters that should be tested every year include bacteria (total coliforms), nitrates, total dissolved solids and pH levels,” says McBride. “The nitrates test is extremely important before giving well water to a newborn baby. High levels cause a potentially fatal disease called ‘blue baby syndrome.’ Homeowners should also test for arsenic, chloride, hardness, pesticides and metals.”
Bacteria is one of the most common problems found in wells, coming up in 40 percent of private wells tested, according to Metzger.
Here is a list of reasons provided by our experts for why wells should be tested:
- If you have replaced any part of the well.
- At a minimum check pH, iron and total Coliform bacteria.
- If the well is in a rural or agricultural area it is a good idea to check for nitrate, nitrite, arsenic and perhaps pesticides.
- If you notice a significant change in water quality like color, taste or odor.
- Flooding, earthquakes and fuel spills in your area could disrupt well water.
Probably we should add nearby oilfield activity, either drilling or fracking, to the list.
Where you should test for certain contaminants
The location of a well can play a huge factor in determining the type of testing that should be conducted. In different parts of the country some contaminants may be more prevalent than others.
“Your local health department will be able to suggest other potential contaminants based on the locale, such as cadmium, manganese, radon, chlorides, etc.,” says Gloyd. “Secondary factors that are not typically a health risk are copper, hardness, sulfide, total dissolved solids (TDS ) and others, as they can affect palatability.”
What are common problems and treatment options
“The most common problems in wells that require treatment include bacteria, pH, manganese, iron and nitrates,” says Gloyd.
As Metzger mentions, bacteria is one of the most common contaminants found in wells. “The most cost effective way to deal with bacteria is to shock disinfect the well using a chlorine solution,” she notes. “Most health departments will recommend using household bleach, due to its availability and cost, but it would be better to use something that has been NSF approved for use in drinking water.”
Gloyd adds that testing can vary and he recommends asking a local water treatment professional for the best treatment solutions.
More permanent forms of disinfection for water wells include ultraviolet light or a continuous chlorine feed.
Places to visit on our websites
Thanks for reading and be sure to check out the next Occasional!