Recently officials in West Baltimore, Maryland, issued an advisory after E. coli bacteria was detected in public water systems after routine water testing.
While officials perform routine tests on public water systems, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns well water homeowners that it is their individual responsibility to have their well water tested annually for contaminants such as bacteria and chemicals.
Certain bacteria and chemicals may collect and grow in private wells. That could leave homeowners at risk of disease, according to the CDC.
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“We get calls from homeowners. They are sick or their animals are sick — and they cannot figure out what it is,” Eva DiGiovine-Stoops, owner and vice president of Chesapeake Environmental Lab Inc., a water-quality laboratory in Stevensville, Maryland, told Fox News Digital.
The company specializes in water analysis and well and septic testing.
“And they always go back to drinking water,” she said.
She added as an advisory to homeowners, “Get your drinking water tested.”
If your water starts to taste or smell differently — or if you begin to experience health issues such as those related to the stomach, or you notice changes with your hair — these may be signs that you need your well water tested for harmful bacteria or elements, said Stoops.
Certain germs in water could cause illness when the water is inhaled as a mist, said the CDC on its website.
This could also happen when the water enters the nose (as when using a neti pot); makes contact with an open wound; is used to rinse or store contact lenses; or splashes in a person’s eyes while he or she is wearing contacts.
Unlike public drinking water supplies, private wells are not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Federal Health Agency said. Owners of private wells are responsible for getting their water tested to make sure it is safe to drink, the CDC said.
The COVID pandemic caused an influx of people from urban areas — where their communities or neighborhoods used public water systems — to more rural areas, where many people are using private well water, real estate advisers and home inspectors pointed out.
So homeowners need to be educated about the difference between the two water systems — and need to be more aware of the responsibilities and potential risks involved when they don’t test and maintain the quality of the well water in their home, said these same experts.
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Jennifer McCormick, a real estate adviser for Engel & Völkers in Annapolis, Maryland, told Fox News Digital it is important for real estate professionals to let clients know the utilities and systems that exist in their potential home purchase.
“For example,” said McCormick, “buyers who move from public water to well water may not understand how well water works and why it is so important to get the water tested by licensed professionals.”
Realtors and home inspectors said some buyers have been waiving these inspections in order to beat out other buyers to purchase their dream home.
McCormick told Fox News Digital, “These buyers need to understand that the well is their responsibility and that they are not being serviced by a public utility.”
She also said realtors could help provide buyers with the names and numbers of local resources for well testing and education.
The waiving of well and septic inspections has created some problems for new buyers, said Stoops.
“We’re testing the water and we’re finding issues — and now they’re getting intimidated because they’re coming straight off public water and they didn’t understand the makeup” of the new well water system, she said.
More homeowners are now becoming educated about well water testing, she said.
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“In the last, I would say, two years, it’s been a lot of educating — educating these new homeowners [who are] coming from the city,” Stoops said.
Maintaining good well water should be looked at by homeowners as a task comparable to the servicing of a car, she also said.
The EPA suggests people get their well water tested every year to year-and-a-half, especially after a rainy season. The tests should look for bacteria and nitrates as well as elements that are commonly found in one’s local area, Stoops advised.
Well water homeowners, Stoops also explained, should understand that there are specific water treatments geared for treating specific contaminants. Homeowners should be diligent about installing the correct water conditioning units, she said.
“If you do have elements that are elevated such as nitrates, you would look into getting a reverse osmosis water conditioning unit. It would literally reverse the nitrates — it would take the nitrates out,” she told Fox News Digital.
“It also works great for arsenic, fluoride, cadmium and other metals.”
If a type of bacteria is detected, UV light is usually the treatment choice, she said.
“Our UV light is strictly for bacteria,” she said. “UV light will take care of that. A reverse osmosis takes care of a lot of metals — some volatiles and other inorganics.”
A water softener treatment that uses an ion exchange involving salt pellets addresses aesthetics, she said.
“That takes care of iron, hardness and manganese. It makes your water softer and more pleasing — and eliminates a lot of staining on your bathroom fixtures and showers. And your clothes don’t get as dingy.”
Specific germs and chemicals can get into water and cause disease, the CDC noted. Germs that can contaminate tap water include legionella, norovirus, rotavirus and salmonella.
Some chemicals that can contaminate water include arsenic, radon, lead, nitrate and copper.
Testing needs to take into account the area of the home.
“So, for instance, in mid-Maryland to the shore, there’s arsenic,” she said. “In Northern Arundel County into Baltimore, there’s short-term gross Alpha radium. In Southern Arundel County, there’s cadmium. And every other state has issues.”
Her lab tested one well water homeowner’s home in Michigan — and found arsenic, she said.
She suggested people reach out to their public health department to see what elements are commonly found in local areas — and then test for them.
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment on Long Island, New York — an advocacy group that deals with environmental policy — told Fox News Digital that testing a private well is essential to protect one’s family and investment.
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“Private wells are vulnerable to a long list of toxic chemicals that have serious health consequences, including volatile organic chemicals, pesticides, nitrates, bacteria, heavy metals and more.”
Even if people cannot detect a chemical odor or taste, that does not mean the well water is safe, said Esposito.
“These chemicals are harmful in small quantities, especially when consumed for many years. If your home has a private well, it needs to be tested once a year to ensure protection,” she added.
“When it comes to water quality, ignorance isn’t bliss — ignorance is dangerous.”
Yes, there is a bright side to owning a well water home, Stoops told Fox News Digital.
Clients are lucky in a sense to have full control over whatever conditioning treatments are used for their well water, she said she tells clients.
They have to stay diligent with testing the water, she said, and use the proper treatment indicated for the conditions identified.
She offered the following three pieces of advice to well water homeowners.
1. Follow the EPA guidelines, which are to have well water tested for bacteria and nitrates every year and any other local contaminants that are in your area.
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2. Call your local health department or environmental health department and see if they will test the water for you.
3. If they don’t, then reach out to a certified water quality laboratory.
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