Bacterial contamination in private water wells send thousands of people hurling to the ER

“It may not have been bad shrimp or dirty lettuce that kept you up all night. A recent study shows that in North Carolina, microbes in drinking water from private wells are responsible for estimated 29,200 emergency room visits for acute GI illnesses each year. That number accounts for nearly all visits of that type and cause.

This is a particularly serious problem in North Carolina, where more than a third of all residents — 3.3 million — rely on private wells for their drinking water. These wells, which can source their water from beneath the ground, a spring or a river, are largely unregulated.

(This is why contaminants from coal ash, such as arsenic, lead and chromium 6, which have even more harmful long-term health effects, are of such concern — and why widespread testing is necessary.)

An article in this month’s Environmental Health Perspectives — among its co-authors is Jacqueline MacDonald Gibson of UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health — concludes that people on private wells are more likely to get sick from their water than those on community systems, such as municipal utilities.


From the Study

The presence of total coliforms in groundwater indicates that microorganisms from surface water have been able to reach the aquifer and a more rigorous monitoring should begin for other microorganisms (pathogenic) which might also reach the aquifer. When fecal indicators are detected, anything can happen, and will happen, with potential serious public health implications.”


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More importantly to Act Now and Get Your Water Tested.

Monitoring your homes health and the hazards in your community.


Swimmers in state parks beware of E. coli

E.coli, found in the gastrointestinal tract, can come from sewage, animal waste, water run-off after rainfall, and swimmers, said Dan Miller II, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Parks test three samples from their lakes twice a week and recreational areas will close swimming areas when 235 colonies or higher are found per 1,000 milliliters of water. At that level, swimmers have an increased risk of getting sick, said Miller.

“By the time you get the results, the damage is already done. People have been swimming in the water for awhile,” said Jeffrey Butia, chief of the public drinking water and waste management program of the Allegheny County Health Department.

A person can catch a recreational water illness from swallowing the water, breathing it in, or having contact with contaminated water. Problems can include gastrointestinal, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurological and wound infections. The most commonly reported sickness is diarrhea.

More than swimmers are affected by contaminated water. Fishermen should practice good personal hygiene and wash their hands before handling or preparing food or after handling fish to prevent illness.

Due to the multiple causes of gastrointestinal illness, many cases of E. coli contamination go undetected, Miller said. Young children are highly sensitive, as well as people who have open cuts, weakened immune systems, the elderly, and people with HIV and organ transplants, said Carl Batt, a professor of food science at Cornell University.

Unlike other states, Pennsylvania only tests for fecal coliform and not for other potentially toxic bacteria.