Well Water Testing
Well water testing kits are available at the Lawrence County Health Department. The homeowner takes a sample from their private well, then brings the sample back to the health department for testing.
We can test for coliform bacteria and E.coli as well as nitrates/nitrogen and pH. The bacteria test take 24 hours for results. The nitrate/nitrogen and pH test can be performed in a matter of minutes.
If you are needing water testing for a Loan Evaluation, it is usually required that one of our Environmental Public Health Specialists take the sample for it to be official.
A more extensive well water test series can be sent to the state for testing. The state requires that our staff draw the sample.
We recommended individuals test their well water annually. If coliform bacteria or E. coli is present in the sample, instructions on how to disinfect your water will be provided. After you have performed the disinfection process it is advised that you test your water again.
What Are Coliform Bacteria?
Coliform bacteria include a large group of many types of bacteria that occur throughout the environment. They are common in soil and surface water and may even occur on your skin. Large numbers of certain kinds of coliform bacteria can also be found in waste from humans and animals. Most types of coliform bacteria are harmless to humans, but some can cause mild illnesses and a few can lead to serious waterborne diseases.
Coliform bacteria are often referred to as “indicator organisms” because they indicate the potential presence of disease-causing bacteria in water. The presence of coliform bacteria in water does not guarantee that drinking the water will cause an illness. Rather, their presence indicates that a contamination pathway exists between a source of bacteria (surface water, septic system, animal waste, etc.) and the water supply. Disease-causing bacteria may use this pathway to enter the water supply.
Specific types of coliform bacteria may be tested for, especially after a total coliform bacteria test is positive. These subgroups of coliform bacteria include fecal coliform and Escherichia coli or E. coli. Fecal coliform bacteria are specific to the intestinal tracts of warm-blooded animals, including humans, and thus require a more specific test for sewage or animal waste contamination.
Escherichia coli (E. coli)
A type of fecal coliform bacteria commonly found in the intestines of animals and humans. A positive E. coli result is much more serious than coliform bacteria alone because it indicates that human or animal waste is entering the water supply. There are hundreds of strains of E. coli. Although most strains are harmless and live in the intestines of healthy humans and animals, a few strains can produce a powerful toxin and can cause severe illness and death.
Nitrates are naturally occurring. All rainfall and groundwater aquifers contain some nitrate-nitrogen. However, contaminated rural water supplies provide a clue for discovering other nitrate sources. Nitrate accumulates in agricultural watersheds where farmers spread inorganic fertilizers and animal manures on cropland. Nitrogen not taken up by crops can leach through the soil to groundwater and then flow to recharge areas or private wells. Residents in rural communities typically use on-lot septic systems and some homeowners rely on lawn fertilizers. These too can be sources of nitrate in drinking water.
Health effects of nitrate in drinking water are most significantly linked to methemoglobinemia, also known as “blue-baby syndrome.” Baby formula mixed with nitrate-contaminated water exposes infants to nitrate.
In infants 0-4 months old, the nitrate is converted to nitrite in the infant’s stomach. Nitrite binds to oxygen molecules in red blood cells depleting oxygen and potentially suffocating the baby. An obvious symptom of nitrate poisoning is bluish skin color, especially around the eyes and mouth. If detected at this early stage, methemoglobinemia is rarely fatal, readily diagnosed, and rapidly reversed with clinical treatment. After the age of six months, methemoglobinemia is not a threat since the nitrate converting bacteria are no longer present in the baby’s stomach.
Nitrates in drinking water can also affect certain adults and small children. Pregnant women can pass methemoglobin on to developing fetuses and low birth weights have been attributed to high nitrates in water. However, nursing mothers do not pass nitrites to infants via their milk. Children between the ages of 12 to 14 have shown delayed reactions to light and sound stimuli from drinking water containing greater than 105 mg/l of nitrate. In general, studies by the World Health Organization and the National Academy of Sciences reveal that consumption of nitrates in drinking water does not represent a significant health risk to the adult population.