Testing well waterOne of the most important advancements in both health and convenience is access to a clean water supply. With the average household in the U.S. using approximately 300 gallons of water per day, a clean water supply is critical. While most homes in the U.S. are connected to a public water system, an estimated 13 million households use water from a private well. While public water supplies are regularly tested and treated as necessary to ensure safe potable water, private wells are the responsibility of the homeowner to test and maintain.

Private wells can come in many different forms, however the most common types of wells in the U.S. are dug/bored wells, driven wells, and drilled wells. Dug/bored wells are typically dug by a hand or with construction equipment, lined with stones, brick, or other material to prevent collapse, and are typically shallow (10 to 30 feet deep). Driven wells are constructed by driving a pipe into the ground and are typically 30 to 50 feet deep. Lastly, drilled wells are constructed with rotary-drilling machines or percussion. These wells penetrate farther down to help prevent contamination and can be over a thousand feet deep.

While the likelihood of significant contamination of a well depends on its construction, location, and maintenance, all wells should be tested regularly. The CDC recommends testing your well water a minimum of once per year for total coliform bacteria, nitrates, total dissolved solids, and pH levels. You should also test your well water if you notice a change in water color or taste, new odors, if you’ve experience issues near the well (flooding, land disturbances, nearby disposal sites), if you’ve done any repairs or work on the well, or if there have been any well water problems in your area.

If there is an infant in the home, testing more frequently for elevated nitrate content is recommended as elevated nitrate levels can cause serious health conditions such as methemoglobinemia (Blue Baby Syndrome). Nitrate can come from many sources, however animal waste, septic systems, polluted storm water runoff, flooded sewers, waste water, and fertilizers are common culprits.

Coliform bacteria are present in the digestive systems of warm-blooded animals, soil, plants, and surface water. While not all types of coliform bacteria can cause people to be sick, testing for total coliform can help determine if there is a problem. If there are elevated total coliform levels, this can indicate that harmful bacteria, parasites, or viruses may be present. Testing for fecal coliforms and Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a more specific test as fecal bacteria are more likely to cause serious illness.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can depend on your region and contacting your local health or environmental department to determine if VOCs are an issue in your area and if testing is necessary is recommended. Common VOCs include toluene, carbon tetrachloride, benzene, trichloroethelene, and methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE).