The Importance of Well Water Testing in Indiana
Because we live in Indiana, we are fortunate to have a plentiful groundwater source. Groundwater fills the cracks and pores in sand, soil, and rocks beneath the earth’s surface, like water saturates a sponge. These saturated layers of earth are called aquifers, and they are the primary source of drinking water in Central Indiana.
Due to its protected location underground, most groundwater is naturally clean and free of contaminants. Unfortunately, Indiana’s aquifers can become contaminated by chemicals and microbes that can cause illness. Bacteria and nitrate can reach the groundwater and wells through poorly maintained septic systems, livestock areas, and fertilizer applications or from poorly constructed wells. Chemicals can enter the groundwater from leaking gasoline storage tanks, pesticide applications, landfills, and improper disposal of toxic and hazardous wastes. As a private well owner, you should be aware of these potential risks to the groundwater and your household water supply. To ensure that your private water supply is safe and healthy, you should understand the importance of maintaining your well and water system and performing routine water quality tests.
Why is Well Water Testing Needed?
The Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reported that consumption of contaminated drinking water in the United States has resulted in thousands of cases of illness each year. Dirty drinking water can cause several diseases and is sometimes fatal. The most common contaminants are microbes and nitrate.
Microbes—Many types of bacteria themselves are generally not harmful, but their presence is an indication that other harmful bacteria, viruses, or parasites may also be present. Diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting are the most common symptoms resulting from drinking water contaminated with harmful bacteria.
Nitrate—High nitrate levels in drinking water can immediately threaten infant children. When consumed, nitrate reacts with hemoglobin in the blood, causing an anemic condition known as the “blue baby syndrome.”
How Often is Well Water Testing Needed?
If you have a private well, the Indiana Department of Health strongly recommends testing your well water for bacteria and nitrate at least once per year. Routine water testing is a simple and inexpensive measure you can take to ensure that your water supply is safe and protect your family’s health. Your local county health department can provide you with instructions on collecting the water samples yourself and having them tested. In some cases, local health department staff can come to your home and collect the samples for you, if you wish, for an additional fee. Private state-certified laboratories are also available to perform water testing.
While bacteria and nitrate are the most common threats to your drinking water, your water well may also be susceptible to other contaminants. Depending on past and present land-use activities or other sources of contamination in your neighborhood, your local health department may recommend additional water tests. In some cases, the health department may be able to test certain toxic substances free of charge. Testing for naturally occurring radiological contaminants may also be recommended in some counties. Be sure to ask your local health department if they recommend that you have your water tested for any other pollutants besides bacteria and nitrate.
Use a state-certified laboratory to ensure that the results are valid. Your local county health department can help you understand your test results and advise you on measures you should take should the results show that your well water is contaminated. You may need to disinfect your well, repair your water system, or install treatment equipment.
What is Included in Well Water Testing?
Bacteria are a life form we can only see with a microscope. Also known as microbes, they occur throughout the environment. Coliform bacteria are a large group of related types of them. Most are harmless to humans, but some, such as E. coli, relate to the gut tracts of warm-blooded animals. They can cause disease with symptoms like severe diarrhea. If most coliform bacteria are harmless, why do we test for them? Just because a test finds coliform bacteria in your well water, it does not mean that drinking it will make you sick. It does show that there is a way for bacteria to get into your well water. When found, it shows that the types of bacteria that cause disease (or pathogens) can also get into your well. Coliform bacteria serve as stand-ins (or indicator organisms) to see if pathogens may also exist in sampled water. It is not practical to test for all possible bacteria that might cause disease. Coliforms are easy to grow, and it does not cost a lot of money to test for them. The reason to test for them is that if no coliforms show up in the water, the chances of pathogens being there are very low.
PFOA, PFAS, & PFOS
If you are in an area—like Central Indiana—where these “forever chemicals” have been found, you might want to consider more stringent testing.
Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (together known as PFAS) are a class of man-made chemicals not found naturally in the environment. PFOA (sometimes known as “C8”) and PFOS are the two PFAS that have been the most extensively produced and therefore are the most studied of these chemicals. These chemicals are very persistent in the environment and the human body. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a division of the World Health Organization, has classified PFOA as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” (Group 2B), based on limited evidence in humans that it can cause testicular and kidney cancer, and limited evidence in lab animals. Furthermore, the EPA has concluded that PFOA and PFOS are possibly carcinogenic to humans.
PFOS and PFOA accumulate in the human body and are eliminated slowly. This propensity to be stored in the body increases concerns about the possible effects of these compounds on human health.
Studies indicate that PFOA and PFOS can cause reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects in laboratory animals. According to studies, both chemicals have caused tumors in animals, and human epidemiology studies of exposure to PFOA and PFOS show increased kidney, testicular, pancreatic, and liver cancers.
Water Hardness, Total Dissolved Solids, & pH Levels
Municipal water sources treat their water with chlorine and chloramines to mitigate bacteria but don’t usually do anything about hardness minerals, tannins, iron, or other secondary contaminants. EPA believes that if these contaminants are present in your water at levels above these standards, the impurities may cause the water to appear cloudy or colored or to taste or smell bad. These contaminants may cause many people to stop using water from their public water system even though it is safe to drink. Secondary standards are set to give public water systems some guidance on removing these chemicals to levels below what most people will find noticeable. One of the more common secondary contaminants in Central Indiana is hard water. Water hardness can vary throughout Central Indiana, so an analysis based on your location is essential. We test for water hardness, TDS, and pH during our Free Water Analysis. Your visit will take 30-45 minutes and be scheduled at the right time. This is free—no sales pitch or pressure tactics. Our water professionals can explain the test results, show how water systems work, and advise you on selecting the best water filtration system for your needs.