While many Americans get their drinking water from public water systems that pipe treated water to homes, 15 million rural residents rely on private wells that are not monitored by government for contamination.
Especially after flooding, it's important to test or treat your water, according to the New York State Department of Health, which warned private well owners to disinfect private wells if flood waters from Hurricane Irene may have infiltrated.
New homeowners should not assume that the test results they received ensure the water is safe to drink. Banks typically require only tests for bacteria, not chemical contaminants. Experts recommend asking water testing services for tests that include the full range of industrial chemicals, including the gasoline additive MTBE. Such tests can cost upwards of $500.
When New Jersey instituted mandatory private well testing several years ago, it found a rate of contamination that surprised many residents. Some counties in New York have, or are considering, similar requirements, after having watched neighborhoods show unhealthy levels of toxic contamination even though the tainted water had no color or odor.
A new study by the U.S. Geological Survey found that 20% of well water was contaminated with at least one potentially harmful substance.
Those near potential sources of contamination, like gasoline stations, manufacturing facilities, landfills, highways and farms, should be especially concerned. But contamination can result from a homeowner or neighbor dumping even small quantities of toxic chemicals, from leaking septic systems, old underground heating oil storage tanks or other sources that are easy to overlook.
For more information, visit this Centers for Disease Control and Prevention resource for private well owners.
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