Washington Department of Health Q&A Over Ground Water ConcernsPosted: Updated:
Washington Department of Health Public Meeting
Drinking Water and Groundwater Concerns
February 19, 2009
Question: I live in the lower Yakima Valley, and I get my drinking water from a private well. Should I worry?
Answer: Because you cannot see, smell or taste most contaminants, you should test your water regularly to be sure it's safe to drink. Higher nitrate levels have been detected in agricultural areas, including here in the Yakima Valley. If you have a private well, you are responsible for testing your own water.
Question: Is my well water safe?
Answer: It's important to regularly monitor the quality of your drinking water quality. If you are unsure of your water quality, you should test for coliform bacteria and nitrate. At a minimum, the state Department of Health recommends private wells be tested yearly for coliform bacteria, and every three years for nitrates.
Question: Why should I test for nitrate and coliform bacteria?
Answer: These are the most common pollutants found in water systems, and both can be harmful to you and your family. Nitrate and coliform bacteria tests are relatively easy to do.
Question: Why should I be worried about nitrate and coliform bacteria?
Answer: Too much nitrate in your body makes it harder for red blood cells to carry oxygen. While most people recover quickly, this can be very dangerous for infants and pregnant women. Infants exposed to an extreme amount of nitrate may develop "blue baby syndrome." Their skin turns blue because their body tissues are starved for oxygen. This illness is rare, but it can be fatal. If your infant's skin turns blue or bluish-brown, seek medical help immediately!
If water is polluted with both coliform bacteria and nitrates, that can make things worse. Bugs like E. coli cause diarrhea and other digestive system distress. Because of some chemistry in the stomach, infants who already have diarrhea can be more at risk from nitrate. If your family has frequent diarrhea illness, your doctor may want to do tests to find out what's making you sick.
Question: Who should get their well water tested?
Answer: You should consider the age and condition of the well, what sort of activity is happening near the well, and the health of your family. Everyone who gets their drinking water from a well should have the water tested regularly. Because of the way water moves in the ground, well water that's safe today may not be safe next year.
Question: How do I get my water tested for coliform and nitrate?
Answer: You can get both tests done through a certified lab. Labs charge between $20 and $40 for each test.
Question: I got my well tested for coliform bacteria and nitrate, but I don't understand the results. What should I be looking for?
Answer: If your bacterial test comes back as "satisfactory," the water did not have coliform bacteria in it. If the results say the sample "does not meet bacteriological standards," it means the water contains total coliform bacteria. These bacteria are generally not harmful, but they are a sign that other potentially harmful bacteria may be in the water. If a coliform test result shows fecal coliform or E. coli bacteria present, you must disinfect the water before using it to drink, brush teeth, cook, wash dishes or make ice. You can kill most bacteria by boiling water for one minute.
If a nitrate test detects levels higher than 10 milligrams per liter, you should find a safe alternative supply, such as purchased bottled water, for infants, young children, pregnant or nursing women, and anyone with a weak immune system.
If you've got both E. coli and high nitrate , use an alternative bottled water source. Boiling water will NOT reduce nitrate levels; in fact, it will make the level of nitrate worse.
For questions about drinking water and health, contact: Washington State Department of Health Office of Environmental Health Assessments Call toll-free 1-877-485-7316. Ask for Rob Banes or Jan Naragon.