If you “fail” a well water test, meaning something in the water was about the limit allowed for by your local city, state, or the EPA, it is important to understand how to avoid being “hurt” by the water while you fix the problem. How to respond to a failed water test will depend on what it was you failed for.
The information provided below and that is linked to as resources are not meant to be exhaustive, nor is it a substitute for a professional plumber or medical doctor. It is not medical advice. It is not legal advice. While we do our best to ensure the accuracy of all information provided, do not take any action that could impact your health, house, well, or water supply without speaking to a licensed professional in your area who knows or can see your individual situation. Specialty Testing does not perform any remediation work. We are a state and EPA licensed laboratory, CDC ELITE, and can perform water sample collection and testing, only.
What to do about a Failed Coliform or E. Coli Well Water Test?
Well water contamination sources and coliform bacteria
Coliform bacteria (of which E. Coli is one type) are microorganisms commonly found on plants, soil, and surface water, as well as in the intestines of humans and animals. Typically these bacteria would be filtered out by the dirt as rain takes them into the ground so that they don’t contaminate your well water. Sometimes, however, these bacteria still make their way into your well. Usually this would be as a result of a cracked or improperly sealed well, or from contamination during service on the well, but sometimes the source of contamination remains a mystery.
Coliform bacteria and E. Coli safety in well water tests
Until you have treated the well or disinfected the water, do not drink it or use it for cooking, cleaning, or washing. While the coliform bacteria in your well may not make you sick, its presence is an indication that your well may have other pathogenic organisms that could bring on serious illness.
How to treat well water for coliform and E. coli bacteria
Treating the well itself is the typical starting point for dealing with the contamination. You will likely use a product that utilizes calcium hypochlorite to create a solution that will release chlorine into your well to kill the bacteria. The State of North Carolina offers these instructions (click link) to shock the well yourself, or you could call a plumber or well driller to do it for you. If you do it yourself the cost is usually less than $10 worth of chemicals; a plumber’s price will vary based on your location but typically ranges from $80 to $250. After treating your well and system the EPA and CDC both recommend testing again to confirm that the treatment worked, and then testing quarterly-to-annually to maintain confirmation that the bacterial contamination is gone. If it is only for your own knowledge (and not a regulated test or for a real estate transaction), you can order a bacteria in water testing kit here to return to the lab for analysis. If you need a test for a regulated purpose or real estate transaction, please contact us to get on the schedule.
If it turns out that there is a recurring contamination from some source, one possible solution is to use a whole-house UV filter. There are dozens of options on Amazon, Walmart, Home Depot or Lowes; make sure to look for a “whole house” option that matches the diameter of your water supply line (12gpm for a 4 bedroom house is what this product recommends).
If you have any further questions about a failed well water test, please contact us.
What to do about a Water Test that fails for Nitrate or Nitrite?
Why did my well fail its water test for Nitrate or Nitrite?
Nitrate and Nitrite in well water could come from bacteria that live in your well. They could also be the result of fertilizer run-off or fertilizing near the well itself (try to keep all fertilizer or pesticides/herbicides far away from the well). Nitrate and Nitrite levels can be higher after periods of heavy rain or melting snow as the surface water can take nitrate or nitrite down into the ground.
Do not fertilize grass or plants at or near your well. Keep an area of at least 50′ clear from fertilizer of any kind, pesticides or herbicides in order to make sure that these chemicals do not enter your well’s water.
Removing Nitrate or Nitrite from your water
Do *NOT* drink water that has elevated levels of Nitrate or Nitrite. Do *NOT* treat water that has Nitrate or Nitrite by boiling the water; doing so will concentrate the Nitrate/Nitrite and will make the water even less safe.
Removing Nitrate or Nitrite from your water can be accomplished by removing the source of the Nitrate or Nitrite. Look for evidence of animal activity near your well; keep dogs or other domestic animals away from the well. Do not fertilize the grass or plants near your well. If water runs near or pools around your well, build up the ground to divert surface water away from the area around your well. If you have had your water tested and there was evidence of microbial life (bacteria) in your well, shocking your well can remove the bacteria as well as potentially lowering nitrate and nitrite levels.
How to fix lead in your well water?
How does lead get into my home’s water?
If you have lead in your home’s drinking water, the pipes could be the source of the problem.
Lead can enter drinking water when a chemical reaction occurs in plumbing materials (such as pipes, connections, or fixtures) that contain lead. This dissolving or wearing away of metal from the pipes and fixtures is called corrosion. This reaction is more severe when water has high acidity or low mineral content, which can be somewhat confusing that water that starts “cleaner” is more likely to gain greater levels of lead. How much lead enters the water is related to:
- the ph (acidity or alkalinity) of the water,
- the types and levels of different minerals in the water,
- the amount of lead that water comes into contact with while moving through your home’s plumbing,
- the temperature of the water – water after the hot water heater will allow different levels of lead,
- how old the pipes are and if they have been damaged,
- how long the water stays in pipes – if your home is vacant or a water line is rarely used that can cause lead levels in the water to increase.
It is also possible that if you were treating the well for bacterial contamination by shocking the well with chlorine that the lead (and other metal) levels will increase temporarily. In fact, it can lead to lead levels many times higher than the levels would have been prior to the shocking of the well water. For more information on the possible side effects of metal contamination in water from well shocking, check out the NIH study on Pubmed number 16545430.
In practice, it can be hard to tell the exact source of lead in your water without isolating many variables and testing one possible source of contamination at a time. If you have plumbing from before 1986 the starting point is often the replacement of all possibly leaded pipes and fixtures, but you should test the water at a point before it reaches your house plumbing to confirm that the water and/or well itself is not the problem.
What to do if you have lead in your water?
Don’t drink water that is or that you believe to be contaminated with lead. Do not boil the water in order to purify or remove the lead – doing so will only concentrate the lead into the remaining water. While the EPA’s maximum contaminant level for lead is 15ppb (parts per billion), it does not mean that water that has less than 15ppb of lead is actually safe to drink. Lead is persistent, and it can bioaccumulate in the body over time – your body doesn’t naturally do a good job at removing lead and as it builds up it can cause more and more problems. The EPA has stated that its goal for lead in drinking water is “zero” (not present) because lead is a toxic metal that can be harmful to human health even at low exposure levels.
The CDC agrees, and says that even low levels of lead can lead to many health problems. In children it can cause behavioral problems, lower their IQ, create learning disabilities, impair their physical growth, lead to or exacerbate hearing problems, cause anemia as well as hyperactivity. It can also cause (in everyone) increased blood pressure and hypertension, decreased and impaired kidney function, and reproductive problems; it can also lead to premature birth and impair fetal growth. Do not drink water that has elevated lead levels, and test your water for lead if you think your water might have high levels of lead.
Lowering the lead levels in your water can be accomplished by removing the source of the lead. A licensed plumber should be able to help with this. Consider your home’s plumbing, or any possible contamination points of the well itself. Confirm that you do not have any old gas tanks or sources of previously leaded gas underground nearby. Make sure that you have not stacked metal of any kind around or near your well (keep at least a 50′ area around your well clear of debris).
If you cannot identify the source of the lead and need to filter the water, the NC Department of Public Health says that distillation, reverse osmosis, and activated charcoal may be available options, with the latter two being relatively inexpensive.
As a reminder, all of the information provided above and that is linked to as resources are not meant to be exhaustive, nor is it a substitute for a professional plumber or medical doctor. It is not medical advice. It is not legal advice. While we do our best to ensure the accuracy of all information provided, do not take any action that could impact your health, house, well, or water supply without speaking to a licensed professional in your area who knows or can see your individual situation. Specialty Testing does not perform any remediation work. We are a state and EPA licensed laboratory, CDC ELITE, and can perform water sample collection and testing, only.