“Unlike public water systems, there are no water quality monitoring requirements for private wells, and many never get tested,” said Scott Kendzierski, Director of Environmental Health Services for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan. “It is up to well owners to make sure their drinking water is safe for consumption. Fortunately, it's easy, quick, and inexpensive to test drinking water.”
Sometimes, more frequent water testing is recommended. For example, it is important to test for nitrate in the early months of a pregnancy, before bringing an infant home from the hospital, and again during the first six months of his/her life. Other reasons for more frequent testing are water taste, odor and staining issues. And if you have had a chemical or fuel spill or leak near your water supply, get your water tested right away.
Well water originates as rain and snow that then filters into the ground. As it soaks through the soil and rock, the water can dissolve materials that are present on or in the ground, becoming contaminated. Some contaminants are naturally occurring from rocks and soils and commonly occur in well water at unsafe levels.
Surface water and groundwater can change over time, sometimes rapidly, which can affect the quality of the drinking water supplied by an on-site well. Even if you find your water is safe, testing on a regular basis is a good way to establish a water quality record and maintain your well system.
If after testing you find that there are issues that need to be corrected, you can use this data to make an informed decision about any remedial action is needed, such as inspecting the well to find the cause of the contamination, having the well chlorinated, affecting well construction improvements or modifying a water filtration/purification system.
“Making sure your water is safe by testing it regularly is one of the simplest things you can do to take care of the health and well being of yourself and those you care about,” said Kendzierski.
Two types of well water testing kits are available for a nominal fee at Health Department offices in Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego counties. The fee for the Bacteriological (Coliform) Sampling Kit, which tests for the presence of E coli and other bacteria, is $16. The Partial Chemistry Sampling Kit tests fluoride, chloride, hardness, iron, sodium, sulfates, nitrites and nitrates, is $18.
Tests are analyzed at the Health Department's Northern Michigan Regional Laboratory in Gaylord, so results are generally available within two to three days.
Analysis reveals the level at which any of the tested substances were found in your water sample. The mere presence of these contaminants in well water does not necessarily imply that there is a problem. However, when levels exceed state or federal health standards or recommended action levels, you should take steps to correct the situation. If needed, Health Department Environmental Health staff can provide free consultation to help you develop a plan to resolve the problem.
The Health Department of Northwest Michigan is mandated by the Michigan Public Health Code to promote wellness, prevent disease, provide quality healthcare, address health problems of vulnerable populations, and protect the environment for the residents and visitors of Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego counties.
For additional information about well water testing, visit www.nwhealth.org or call your local Health Department office.