“The water sample from my private well came back free of Total coliform and E. coli bacteria, indicating it is safe to use. Should I be concerned about harmful chemicals?”

Safe drinking water is not only free from disease-causing organisms, but it is also free of harmful chemical substances. Chemical testing of private wells is somewhat more complex than testing for bacteria and should be targeted to the particular characteristics of the property and the well. Because there are many chemical and physical parameters that are available for testing, it makes sense to target those that are likely to be present in the water supply and that are relevant to your health and the aesthetic quality of the water. Keep in mind that many chemicals occur naturally in groundwater and are not of concern at low levels.

There are a number of factors that influence the types of chemicals that may be present and the physical characteristics of drinking water in private wells. These factors include geological characteristics of the area, neighbouring land use and whether the well draws from a shallow or deep aquifer. A property assessment to identify natural and manmade threats provides an excellent guide to determine which chemical and physical parameters should be tested. Generally speaking, chemical testing for most domestic properties should include the following health-related parameters commonly found in private well water supplies.

Nitrate – Nitrates may be present in groundwater as a result of decay of plant or animal material, the use of agricultural fertilizers, domestic sewage or geological formations containing soluble nitrogen compounds. Nitrate is a concern for babies and small children who may suffer from a condition known as “blue baby syndrome” (methaemoglobinaemia) with excess nitrate intake.

Sodium – Softening using a domestic water softener increases the sodium level in drinking water and may contribute a significant percentage to the daily sodium intake for persons on a sodium restricted diet. Where possible, a separate water line should be made available in the kitchen that bypasses the water softener and is used for cooking and drinking purposes. Sodium may also enter shallow wells from road salting practices and may occur naturally in deeper wells.

Fluoride – Fluoride occurs naturally in the environment and groundwater may contain fluoride levels that are above the optimal level to protect against dental decay. Dental fluorosis is a condition that may cause small white spots to appear on adult, permanent teeth. This may occur if young children ingest too much fluoride when permanent teeth were developing under their gums.

Other chemicals that should be considered for testing, based on a property assessment may include arsenic, sulphate and lead for older homes.

Not only should drinking water be safe, it should also be aesthetically pleasing. High quality, safe water should be sparkling clear, odourless and have no taste. In many cases, minor taste and odour problems can be easily remedied by first determining what is causing the issue. Testing for other parameters such as pH, colour, turbidity, iron, sulphate and hardness provide a good profile of the water quality and help to pinpoint the cause of taste and odour problems.

Targeted chemical testing of your private well water is important for maintaining a safe and reliable water source when performed with bacterial testing (Total coliform, E. coli).

Learn more about the Drinking Water Protection Services we offer throughout Ontario at https://advancepublichealthconsulting.ca/ or contact me at tonyamalfa@advancepublichealthconsulting.ca to set up a free, no obligation consultation.

Note: Advance Public Health Consulting is not affiliated with any water treatment companies. We offer Drinking Water Protection Services to serve our clients including detailed property assessments (onsite and remote) and chemical water testing. We adhere to all COVID19 public health precautions including masking, use of hand sanitizer and social distancing.