Tips: Is your well water safe?

According to the National Ground Water Association, it has never been easier for water well owners to find out if their drinking water is safe. A simple water test can help owners determine what treatment, if any, is required.

NGWA offers the following overview for well owners on testing options. Community leaders may wish to share this guidance with residents.

There are several options available for independently testing well water:

  • A certified laboratory can provide a detailed analysis of your water. Lab services generally are available by mailing in a sample that you take, or a lab employee may come to your home. Check your local Yellow Pages for drinking water certified labs. Such tests range in price from less than $50 to about $150 for more comprehensive testing.

  • The county health department may be able to test your water supply for a fee. To contact your local health department, check the city/county government section in the white pages of your phone book. Cost: about $30.

  • Several do-it-yourself tests are available. You should make sure the test you buy is simple to use, provides results at home (nothing to mail in) and is laboratory certified for accurate and reliable results. You can get results within 48 hours. You also should make sure the product offers a toll-free number in case you have questions. Cost: from about $10 for individual tests to $30 or more for a comprehensive test kit.

There are several home tests available:

In a bacteria test, you add water to a bottle that is provided in the kit, shake and wait for 48 hours to see what color the water has become, which will indicate if the water is clean or contaminated.

In a nitrate/nitrite test, you dip test strips in the water and compare the color change. This test takes a few seconds.

In a lead test, you boil a sample of water and add in a solution. The resulting color change will provide instant results if lead is in the water supply.

In an iron hardness test, you analyze for eight contaminants and pollutants by using test strips.

A comprehensive test kit includes all the testing products, allowing you to check for bacteria, lead, nitrates, chlorine, iron, copper, pH, total alkalinity, total hardness, iron bacteria and hydrogen sulfide.

If you detect problems in your water supply, contact a water well contractor with the test results so you can make an informed decision together about water treatment options. Most water quality problems can be solved.

To locate a water well contractor in your area -- or for more information on other topics of interest to private well owners -- visit the NGWA-operated Web site www.wellowner.org. Or, you can call the National Ground Water Association at (800) 551-7379.

To get contact information for your state ground water association, go to www.ngwa.org and click on "Affiliate States."

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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