URI researcher: Storms, floods mean homeowners should test well water for contaminants

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Workshops on drinking water protection offered

KINGSTON, R.I. – October 3, 2013 – Increasingly stormy weather and periodic flooding have University of Rhode Island drinking water experts warning homeowners with private wells about the importance of regularly testing their wells to ensure their water isn’t contaminated.

Alyson McCann, who directs the URI Home-A-Syst program, said that standing water near wellheads could lead to bacteria entering the well, and road run-off can add road salt, automotive oils and fertilizers to the mix. Any one of these can lead to unhealthy drinking water.

“Many substances can find their way into your well, and most are odorless, colorless and tasteless,” she said. “The only way to know they’re there is to have your well tested.”

McCann and colleagues from the Rhode Island Department of Health offer several workshops around the state each year to explain how to get a well test and offer tips for protecting one’s well. The next workshops are Oct. 8 at Western Coventry Elementary School, Oct. 22 at the Scituate Community House, and Nov. 4 at the Cumberland Public Library. For more information, call 401-874-4918.

“Many people don’t know what to test for, where to test, when to test, and what the test results mean,” McCann said. “And to make matters worse, there are commercial enterprises that sometimes offer free water tests as a means of selling consumers a water treatment system that is not necessary.”

McCann and the Department of Health recommend an annual well water test for coliform bacteria, nitrate, nitrite, chloride, color and turbidity, and every 3 to 5 years a test should be conducted for fluoride, iron, lead, manganese, sulfate and pH. Every 5 to 10 years, homeowners should test for volatile organic compounds and the gasoline additive MtBE. If a test has not been conducted in more than a decade, they recommend a complete test.

Well water should be tested by a state certified laboratory, which will provide a kit and instructions for collecting the sample and bringing it to the lab. The Home-A-Syst program offers a coupon for 15 percent off the cost of the test.

In addition to regular testing, McCann encourages private well owners to visually inspect the area around their wellhead to ensure that the cap is on tight, the cap isn’t cracked, and the wellhead is a foot above the ground.

“Look around the well, too, and see what’s happening there,” she said. “Does storm water run toward the wellhead and pool there? Where do you park the car? Where does the dog defecate? How do you apply fertilizers and pesticides? All of these can affect your drinking water.”

For more information about protecting private wells, visit www.riwelltesting.org. McCann is happy to answer questions from well owners about testing and help interpret the test results. She can be reached at 401-874-5398 or alyson@uri.edu.