Drinking a glass of water from an artesian well is one of the fundamental pleasures associated with owning a home on a rural lot. There’s little industrial pollution in the hills of New Hampshire and Vermont, so the water is cool, clear, and uncontaminated.
Or so you might assume. But if your drinking water comes from a private well, it might not only contain a variety of bacteria and heavy metals. It could even be radioactive.
That said, neither the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services nor the Vermont Department of Health requires that private well owners test their water—not at the time a well is dug or at any regular intervals thereafter.
So, if the state is not concerned, why should you be concerned?
Well, neither New Hampshire nor Vermont requires testing. But both recommend it, as does the National Ground Water Association, especially if children live in the home. You might not have any concerns about your water, but being informed is still your best option. Experts recommend testing well water at the time a well is dug, when property with a private well is being purchased, and at least once a year for as long as a well is in service—more frequently if the well has a history of contamination issues.
Another thing to bear in mind is that, where drinking water is involved, an all-natural environment does not guarantee a healthy environment. Virtually anything that might contaminate a well—from bacteria to radioactive gas—occurs naturally and generally poses minimal health risks. It’s only when these “pollutants” reach high levels that there could be a problem.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common things that might be lurking in well water.
- Coliform Bacteria. Coliform is a naturally occurring bacteria that arises from fecal matter (both human and animal), soil, and vegetation. Most bacteria are harmless—with the exception of E. coli. In your water, E. coli can present a serious health hazard.
- Nitrates. These, too, occur naturally during the decomposition of nitrogen compounds in soil and rocks. Problems can occur, however, if high levels of nitrates enter the well water due to malfunctioning septic systems, large amounts of animal manure, or large amounts of fertilizer.
- Heavy Metals. In this category of contaminants, the main culprits are lead, arsenic, copper, iron, and manganese.
- Radon. You may already be aware of radon concerns emanating from your New England basement. But this cancer-causing radioactive gas can also be present in your water.
The best answer is always to get your well tested, and, if you are buying a home, request independent tests on the well. For more tips on what to consider when buying a home, read our blog!