Understanding the Health Risks of Private Well Ownership

Understanding the Health Risks of Private Well Ownership
Guest blogger / writer – Julie Bowen <julie@palatino.org>

As a country, we are proud of our reputation for having the safest and cleanest drinking water in the world. However drinking water that is procured from privately owned wells is not regulated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency or many state agencies, meaning that the owners of those wells are responsible for ensuring that their water is safe and drinkable. Water from private wells tastes crisp and refreshing, and it can be a wonderful gift to own your own water source. It is also important to acknowledge that many residents living in rural areas have no choice but to procure their water from private wells or cisterns.  However, regardless of the reasons that their water is sourced from private wells, it is essential that private well owners are aware of the health risks involved in private well ownership as well as the myriad of benefits that they can obtain.  

The Risks of Water Contamination

Drinking water from wells can be contaminated in a variety of different ways:  either due to naturally occurring chemicals and minerals, the land use and farming practices in the area surrounding the well, and a malfunction of the wastewater treatment systems operating on the well itself. As a result of this, there are a wide range of illnesses that can be contracted via drinking contaminated well water. These can range from short-term gastrointestinal and stomach illnesses that includes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea to more severe long term illnesses such as reproductive problems, neurological disorders, and other chronic illnesses.  Death by drinking water is not common, but it has happened.  Individuals with compromised immune systems, as well as children, pregnant women, and elderly people, are more vulnerable to the effects of certain contaminates and should be especially vigilant about the quality of their privately owned drinking water.

Two of the parasitic illnesses private well owners should be most aware of are Hepatitis A and Giardia (which is the parasite that causes the illness giardiasis, a common cause of diarrhea). Giardiasis is a relatively short lived condition, that is caused by water becoming contaminated by either mammalian or human feces. The parasite itself is resistant to basic chlorination, meaning that it tends to be particularly resistant to water treatment methods, however once infected most individuals have overcome the illness in approximately 7 days. More deadly are the risks posed by the liver condition hepatitis A, which is a highly contagious illness that is also contracted via the fecal oral route, due to water contaminated by infected feces.  Hepatitis A is a self-limited disease that does not result in chronic infection, but the symptoms can be severe and pose a particular risk to vulnerable individuals.

Taking the Appropriate Precautions                      

Because of the risks of being exposed to contaminated drinking water, it is recommended that in addition to regularly checking the quality of your drinking water, and taking the necessary precautions to ensure it avoids contamination, private home owners also secure comprehensive health insurance.  This will help them to ensure that they are fully protected in the unlikely instance that something should go wrong with their water supply, and they should contract one of the myriad of illnesses listed above.                          

The Keystone Clean Water Team (KCWT) is committed to ensuring that home owners with responsibility for private wells are given the support, the information, and the technology that they need to ensure that their well based drinking water is as clean and as safe as possible. The quality of well water should be tested at least three times a year, and the well itself should be regularly repaired and maintained to protect the water that is inside. When it comes to modern well technology, knowledge is power, so it is important to be as informed as possible about what is happening inside your well, and well as any possible risks that you face. The process involved in maintaining healthy well water can seem complicated, and the language involved in the process unnecessarily convoluted, which is why The Keystone Clean Water Team can help homeowners interpret their test results and ensure their water is as safe as it can be.

A few thoughts from the KCWT:

  1. When people say may water taste great and looks great – I have no problem – 50% of the time they have a problem that can make them sick.
  2. Of these individuals, 50% of the time the problem can be eliminated for a few hundred dollars.
  3. Some recent work on lead in drinking water found that 2 out of 3 private well samples had elevated lead; whereas only 1 out of 10 city water samples had a lead issue.  Testing your well water quality is important, but you must understand our risks.
  4. Blood lead testing is important for kids – get it done if you are living an older community that has or had historic industrialization.

A few suggestions:

  1. Download our free phone App.
  2. Get Your Water Tested (Portion of the Proceeds Help the KCWT)
  3. Get a Custom Neighborhood Hazard Report
  4. Order the Private Well Owner Educational Guide