Is my water safe to drink?
Most likely, yes. However, the only way to know is to have it tested.
Below is a list of area labs that test household water for potential contaminants. To test your well, contact the lab and arrange to obtain containers. Usually, a lab will mail you free of charge specific containers for the types of tests you are requesting. Typically they have a suite of tests geared for the individual homeowner. For Mont Vernon wells, I recommend at least the following tests:
Bacteria. Tests for bacteria are usually either for coliform or E. coli bacteria or both. The presence of bacteria in your well could be as a result of a malfunctioning septic tank in the area or animal waste. The federal drinking water standard for bacteria is zero, meaning if there are any of these bacteria in your well water, you have a problem that needs to be addressed immediately.
Arsenic. About one in five wells in New Hampshire has unhealthy levels of arsenic. Long-term exposure to arsenic can lead to a wide range of diseases including cancer.
Lead. Lead (and copper) can enter your drinking water through plumbing materials, particularly in homes built before 1988. High levels of lead in drinking water are not good, particularly if there are children in your home.
Fluoride. Fluoride is naturally occurring and common in New Hampshire groundwater and is beneficial to your health in low concentrations. Too much fluoride can be harmful, and if you have high levels of fluoride in your drinking water PLUS your dentist is applying fluoride treatments to your teeth, that is not good.
Iron, Manganese, Hardness. These criteria are commonly high in Mont Vernon wells, but are not generally harmful. In fact, you need healthy quantities of iron and manganese for your metabolism. Too high of levels, however, can cause undesirable odor and discoloration of the water, leading to unsightly staining of laundry and fixtures and clogged pipes. Overly high hardness can cause soap and detergents to be less effective. There are treatment systems available to remove excess levels of metals and to reduce hardness.
Radon (waterborne). Radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer, second only to tobacco. Radon can enter your home in a gaseous state through cracks in your foundation as well as from your well water. Our granitic bedrock and soils in New Hampshire produce radon, so it is not uncommon to detect it in drinking water. If present over a certain level, it is a health hazard and should be addressed through a treatment system. Tests for radon are commonly required when selling your house and if you have high levels and don’t have a treatment system, you may need to install one when you leave. So don’t wait; if there is a problem now, have it addressed and protect your family. This also underscores the need to have the air in your home periodically tested for radon gas (see separate sheet).
A lab will typically combine bacteria and various metals in a standard test package. Radon testing is typically an extra service, but highly recommended for Mont Vernon homes. NHDES recommends testing every 3-5 years for any contaminants of concern and annually for bacteria.
If there are any particular known water quality issues at your location, it may be worth additional testing. For example, I live near the Kaminski property on Beech Hill Road, which was used as an illegal dump site for hazardous and non-hazardous materials. The waste oil and solvents were removed by the State over a decade ago, but I still have my well tested for toxic metals and volatile organic compounds. If you live near the old leaking underground gasoline storage tank (removed in 2010) at the General Store, the State has been testing some area wells for gasoline products (typically MtBE). If you live nearby and the state does not test your well, it may be advisable to include volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and/or MtBE in your well test.
All of the drinking water in Mont Vernon is provided by wells. There are three types of wells in town: individual deep (or “drilled”) wells, individual shallow (sometimes called “dug”) wells, and community wells. Each have particular issues of potential concern and maintenance needs. It is important for all wells to have a watertight seal to prevent inflow of surface water to the well. Rainfall runoff may contain bacteria, fertilizers, and other contaminants. If you have a dug well, you should be especially mindful of potential contamination from activities in the immediate vicinity of the well, and you should avoid applying fertilizers and pesticides in the area, divert drainage away from the well, and segregate your well area from animals. The cap of the well should be at least 1-foot above the ground surface.
Water Treatment Systems
If your well has levels of contaminants that exceed drinking water standards, or if you simply do not like the taste, odor, or color of your water, there are many treatment systems available to the individual homeowner – some are simple and easy, others are more complex and expensive. Even though the water in my well is perfectly healthy, I have installed a whole house water filter in my basement to filter out particles; this protects our washing machine and other appliances from clogging and damage. Additionally, since some in my family do not care for the taste of the water, I’ve installed a Reverse Osmosis system under the kitchen sink with a dispenser. All treatment systems require periodic maintenance to replace filters and such. A treatment system with old filters can easily do more harm than good. If you are interested in a treatment system, I’m happy to lend advice.
When selecting a lab, it is advisable to make sure they are accredited by the state. Some companies that sell water treatment devices will offer to test your water for free; I do not recommend that you rely on these services. The labs below are accredited:
- Chemserve, Milford (www.chemservelab.com)
- Nelson Analytical Lab, Manchester (www.nelsonanalytical.com)
- New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services Laboratory, Concord (NHDES drinking water lab)
For more information, have a look at the following publications:
Richard Masters, P.E.
Mont Vernon Health Officer