By Mike Urban, murban@tnonline.com
The Times News, © 2000

May 11, 2000

Is the water in Jim Thorpe’s residential wells contaminated with bacteria?

That is a question that two environmental science classes at Jim Thorpe Area High School are trying to answer by conducting tests this week.

The classes are led by instructor Leroy Skinner, who is the co-founder of the Carbon County Groundwater Guardians.

The Guardian organization is working to monitor and protect the groundwater in the county, and wants to see tests like those being done in Jim Thorpe also conducted in the Lehighton, Palmerton and Weatherly high schools, Skinner said.

In Jim Thorpe 14 students brought in samples from their wells, and that water is being tested for total coliform (or general bacteria) and fecal coliform and E. coli, which comes from human waste.

“Human waste from septic systems is the most common contaminant of well water in Carbon County, especially in Lower Towamensing Township,” Skinner said.

The Jim Thorpe tests should be completed next week. If they reveal evidence of bacteria, the students’ parents will be advised to take samples of their well water to a certified laboratory.

The project, which is being done for the first time, is a good way for the students to learn how to conduct laboratory tests. It is also valuable because it is providing information about local groundwater, Skinner said. He pointed out that homeowners should test their wells once a year.

Skinner and Frank Waksmunski of Lower Towamensing Township founded the Carbon County Groundwater Guardians in July, and there are now about one dozen people involved with the group.

Skinner and the Guardians are trying to get Lehighton, Palmerton and Weatherly high schools to add the well-water testing to the curriculum in their science classes next year. (Panther Valley has few wells, and is therefore not being included).

“If we do testing at all four school districts we will be able to create a database, and see if there is a cluster of water problems that we could then try to address,” Skinner said. “And another goal we have is to educate the public.” The group is applying for a state grant that would allow it to purchase the testing equipment for the schools.

The Guardians are also assisting the United States Geological Survey in locating five domestic wells throughout Carbon County for use in the National Water Quality Assessment Program, and is surveying the Delaware River Basin, which includes most of Carbon County. In addition, the group is working to create a household hazardous waste recycling program that would eliminate the amount of oil and gasoline that is dumped, and which eventually seeps into the groundwater.

The testing in Jim Thorpe is being done this week as part of National Groundwater Awareness Week.