If you’re in one of the 15 million American households getting your water from a private well, the water your family uses for drinking, cooking, cleaning and bathing is your responsibility.
Without EPA oversight and regulations like public water supplies have, and with your well water quality dependent on the groundwater around you, it can be challenging to ensure a clean water supply. Especially when you consider:
- 23% of private wells tested had at least one contaminant, according to recent U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) data.
- Over 7 million Americans get sick from water-borne illnesses every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
- Many of the contaminants in water supplies are tasteless and odorless.
So, why do we test water quality? In the case of well water quality, there could be many things that you can’t see, smell, or taste affecting your home and family. Your water will be affected by its environment which is constantly changing, so even if your water did not have a certain contaminant last year, it might have been introduced at any time.
11 Contaminants You May Not Know About (But Need To)
There are many things you need to know about owning a well, including ways to improve the quality of your water supply. Here are the most common contaminants you need to know about.
1. Iron and Manganese
Most groundwater will have trace amounts of these naturally occurring contaminants, but if there are large amounts of limestone, shale and coal nearby, you may have elevated levels impacting the groundwater feeding your well. If your water has a metallic taste and/or reddish/brown discoloration — which can also stain pipes and clothing — iron or manganese may be the culprit.
2. Hydrogen Sulfide
Does your water smell like rotten eggs? It could be hydrogen sulfide gas trapped inside your water coming from high sulfur content in the ground. If you live in a marshy area or on a farm near a manure pit, sulfides could be your issue. In addition to the bad odor, sulfides can corrode your plumbing and leave black stains anywhere you use a lot of water.
Copper, like iron, occurs naturally, but if your water has a blue/green discoloration, you may have corroding copper pipes, which might mean a bigger issue in your plumbing infrastructure or unusually acidic water flowing through those pipes. If your water has a significantly lower pH than 7, its acidic properties will strip the metal from your plumbing and faucets. Other sources of copper contamination in your groundwater could be mining or manufacturing activities close to you.
Having problems with hard water? High mineral counts from your bedrock are the likely cause, with calcium being the most common. Magnesium is another. As water passes through the ground, it dissolves any limestone or other rocks it comes in contact with carries these minerals with it into your home. While these contaminants rarely impact health, they can still cause a strange taste in the water, soap scum buildup, minor skin irritation and extra wear and tear on your water using appliances.
5. Sodium Chloride
Better known as salt, extra sodium chloride can easily infiltrate your groundwater if you live along a highway or near a parking lot treated with road salt during winter months in colder areas of the country. The runoff could lead to a white residue in your water, alter the taste a bit and of course negatively impact you if you’re on a sodium-restricted diet. You also may see salt water intrusion if you own a home off the coast. Shifts in the weather can see the water from the ocean mix with groundwater more or less than usual.
6. Other Chemicals & Minerals
The above items really only scratch the surface of chemicals and minerals that could invade your water supply. PFOS chemicals, arsenic and silica are other possible water contaminants to watch out for depending on your geographic area. Radon gas is another, which, for example, is colorless, tasteless, odorless and radioactive, which amplifies the need for testing.
Problems might not always be at the microscopic level. If dirt and sediment gets into your well pump, large particles and murky water could make it into your tap (along with any number of the above chemicals too). This could mean larger structural integrity concerns with your well, pump, tank or pipes.
If your faucets are sputtering before water flows normally, you have excess air in your system. While this won’t negatively impact your health, it’s still a contaminant in the sense that it’s something coming through that you don’t want to be there. More importantly, it could indicate a change in the water table, damage to your drop pipe or an issue with your well pump, so it’s an issue you should pay attention to.
9. Suspended Organic & Inorganic Particles
Plant matter, leaf litter, insects getting inside your well cap and other environmental factors like erosion, flooding and fires can contribute to organic or inorganic particulate matter entering your water supply. Yellow or white/cloudy discoloration could be an indicator of such contamination, though it may not be quite so obvious.
In addition to organic and inorganic particles, there are chemical units that can combine with those compounds — like nitrates, or nitrogen-oxygen compounds. While they’re nutrients for plants, excess nitrates can leach into groundwater, especially following heavy rain or flooding. Fertilizers can also contain nitrates that could make it into your well water, especially considering they don’t bind well to soil. A variety of health issues are possible, especially for babies under 6 months old, but since nitrates are microscopic, it’s hard to tell they’re there without testing.
11. Coliform Bacteria
Bacteria like Giardia, or E. coli — can enter your water supply through animal waste like from a manure pit or sewage from a septic tank. Bacteria can also come from the bodies of decomposing animals that may have found a way into your well cap but were unable to find their way out. You can’t see or smell these bacteria, which makes testing that much more important, especially if you’ve had a sewage overflow or flooding recently. Storm or agricultural runoff could be all it takes for bacteria to make their way into your well water. While consuming water with bacteria in it isn’t harmful to your health, you might notice it giving you an upset stomach or diarrhea.
How to Test Water Quality & Choosing Between DIY or Pro
The National Groundwater Association (NGWA) provides online resources for homeowners with private wells at WellOwner.org. There you can learn more about well maintenance, water quality, and water treatment options.
While it’s important to know how a well works and keep up on basic maintenance yourself, the most important way to ensure safe water in the face of tasteless, odorless and colorless contaminants is through annual testing by a licensed professional. Samples of your water should be sent to a certified laboratory, which can give you detailed results about your water.
Ultimately, well water will never be perfect (neither will city water for that matter, so testing is wise for anyone), but you can take steps to improve the water quality in your home. Water-Right® and our family of brands can help. Whether you want to disinfect your water with UV light, get better drinking water through reverse osmosis, reduce levels of iron with a filtration system, or eliminate the problems hard water can cause using a water softener, our family of professionals will find a solution.
Our conditioner models that utilized our unique Crystal-Right media are a good choice for homes with well water because it can address hardness, iron and manganese, and correct low pH levels commonly found with groundwater issues.
Schedule a Water Test?
Your health and the health of your family are too important to let preventable water contamination get in the way. Please complete the form below to be paired with one of the local partners we have in your order to schedule a well water test today and find what contaminants may be in your well water.