I want to be sure my well water is safe. What do I need to test for?
Consider testing your well for pesticides, organic chemicals, and heavy metals before you use it for the first time. Test private water supplies annually for nitrate, coliform bacteria, total dissolved solids, and pH levels to detect contamination problems early. Test them more frequently if you suspect a problem or if there is an outbreak of illness. Be aware of activities in your watershed that may affect the water quality of your well, especially if you live in an area that does not contain sewers.
While Alloway cannot determine if your water is "safe", we can check for some common problems. A key test is for total coliform bacteria, which is the basic test for bacterial contamination. You cannot tell by look, smell, or taste if potentially disease-causing bacteria are present in the water. Most coliform bacteria are harmless, but some rare strains—such as E. coli 0157—can cause illness. Alloway supplies sterile sample bottles and accepts samples at our facilities Monday through Thursday. The sample has a 30-hour holding time.
When is the best time to test my well?
Late spring and early summer are the best times to test your well, since coliform contamination is most likely to show up during wet weather. Whether your test results are positive or negative, understand that the sample you collected is just a "snapshot" of your well water quality. The more samples you have tested, the more confident you can be about the quality of your drinking water.
What do the results of my bacteria tests mean?
If coliform bacteria are present in your drinking water, your risk of contracting a water-borne illness is increased. Although total coliforms can come from sources other than fecal matter, a positive total coliform sample should be considered an indicator of pollution in your well. Positive fecal coliform results, especially positive E. coli results, should be considered an indicator of fecal pollution in your well.
What should be done if coliform bacteria are detected in my well?
When coliforms have been detected, repairs or modifications to the water system may be required. Boiling the water is advised until disinfection and re-testing can confirm that contamination has been eliminated. When coliform bacteria are found in well water a defective well is often to blame.
Why is my water cloudy?
Cloudy water is usually caused by temperature change and the presence of dissolved air in the water. It is very common in the winter and can last for quite a long time. When water appears to have a milky white, gray, or carbonated appearance, a simple test may suffice to determine its origin. Fill a clear glass with tap water and observe it for a minute or so. If the glass clears from bottom to top, then it is dissolved air escaping into the atmosphere. There is no health risk associated with this.
I see white/gray particles in my water. What are they?
White or grayish particles in your water can often be attributed to two different sources, both of which may pertain to the condition of the hot water tank. There is no health risk associated with either situation.
The characteristics of the particles will help determine the source: If you have white, gray, or dark gray particles that give off bubbles when submerged in white vinegar, you most likely have calcium carbonate particles. These particles are often formed from the hardness of the water when it is heated above 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius) in your hot water tank. To help prevent overheating, you should turn the temperature down on the tank. If your hot water tank has calcium carbonate deposited in it, use caution and follow the manufacturer's directions for shutting down, draining, and re-starting your hot water tank.
If you have white particles that reduce water flow by clogging the aerators on your faucets, and that do not give off bubbles when submerged in white vinegar, you most likely have a disintegrating dip-tube. These particles are formed when the plastic dip-tube from the hot water heater degrades and disintegrates in the tank. Please consult with your tank's manufacturer. You will need to have the dip-tube replaced either by the manufacturer or a qualified technician.
Reasons to test your water
This link to Reasons to Test Your Water help you spot problems. The last five problems listed are not an immediate health concern, but they can make your water taste bad, may indicate problems, and could affect your well long term.
Where do I find information about private wells?