There are a large number of well water test kits and water testing labs available for the home water-well owner including some tests you can do yourself, quickly and accurately in the privacy of your own home.
If you already understand your water is safe but are attempting to solve a specific well water problem such as staining, odors or corrosion a home test kit can provide fast results at a fraction of taking the sample in to a water testing lab.
For serious contamination issues or complex problems such as toxic chemicals or metals, your local county health department can recommend some local labs to do the testing for you, or you can send in your sample to a certified water testing lab such National Testing Labs.
Why Should I Test My Well Water?
Municipal city water systems are required to test their water supplies regularly to ensure the water is safe to drink. However here is no requirement to test a private well except for bacteria when it is first drilled or the pump is changed. The fact is, you are responsible for making sure your water is safe.
Most private wells provide a clean, safe supply of water; however, contaminants can pollute private wells, and unfortunately you cannot see, smell or taste most of them.
Consequently, you should test your well water on a regular basis. The decision on what to test your water for should be based on the types of land uses near your well.
What Tests Should Be Done?
A general mineral analysis which includes nitrate plus coliform bacteria is a good place to start. These may include:
A general mineral test will include calcium, magnesium, chloride, nitrate, potassium and sodium along with metals such as iron and manganese.
If you are experiencing stains or sediment, a general mineral analysis will tell you what is causing the problem. If the water has a funny taste or odor a general mineral analysis with bacteria will usually tell you what is causing the problem.
These tests show if the water will be corrosive to pipes, or form mineral scale in your pipes, and the levels of minerals and salts. If you are having problems with color in the water or brown staining additional tests for tannin is recommended.
Coliform bacteria live in soil, on vegetation and in surface water. Coliform bacteria found in the intestines of warm-blooded animals and their feces are called E.coli. Some strains of coliform bacteria can survive for long periods in soil and water and can be carried into well casings by insects.
Coliform bacteria are the most common contaminants found in private water systems. Private wells should be tested at least once a year for bacteria. However, bacteria are only one of many possible contaminants.
Lead and Copper
Testing for lead and copper should be done on “first draw” water that has been stagnant in the distribution pipes for at least six hours. If lead and copper levels are high due to plumbing, they can usually be reduced to acceptable levels by flushing the faucet for a minute or two before collecting water for drinking.
Nitrate forms when nitrogen from fertilizers, animal wastes, septic systems, municipal sewage sludge, decaying plants and other sources combines with oxygenated water. In infants under six months of age, nitrate exposure can cause a serious condition called methemoglobinemia or “blue-baby syndrome.”
Infants with this condition need immediate medical care because it can lead to coma and death. Test for nitrate if a pregnant woman or infant will be drinking the water.
If you live in an area within ¼ mile of a corn, soybean or vegetable field, you should test your water for nitrate regularly. Well owners should test for nitrate regularly if their well is located near an area where fertilizers are manufactured or handled; or an animal feed lot or manure-storage area.
Solvents, Gas and Oil
Household and industrial solvents, gasoline and fuel oil are examples of volatile organic chemicals or VOCs. Some VOCs are relatively non-toxic, while others can cause cancer, birth defects and reproductive problems. Fuel oil and gasoline can enter groundwater as a result of a leaking storage tank or spill.
Wells that are located within ¼ mile of an active or abandoned gasoline station, home or farm fuel tank or bulk storage tank have about a 25% chance of being contaminated and should be tested at least once for pVOCs (VOCs from petroleum products).
Paint thinners, dry cleaning chemicals and industrial solvents can enter groundwater from spills, improper disposal, leaking storage tanks and landfills. Wells that are located within ¼ mile of a landfill, dry cleaner, auto repair shop or industrial site where solvents have been used should be tested for VOCs.
Because solvents, gasoline and fuel oil are common in our environment, all owners of private wells should consider having their water tested for VOCs at least once.
Pesticides and Herbicides
Pesticides are chemicals used to control weeds and insects. Some of these have entered groundwater as a result of their use on farm fields. Others have been found in groundwater following spills and improper disposal.
Long-term use of drinking water that contains pesticide residues may increase your risk of developing cancer or other serious health problems.
If your well is located within a short proximity to a corn, soybean or vegetable field, you should test your well water for pesticides.
You should also consider a pesticide test if your well is within less than a mile where pesticides are manufactured or used. Well owners who are uncertain about the use of pesticides in their area may also want to consider having their water tested at least once.