Private well owners urged to have water tested

More than 1 million people residing in more than 400,000 households in Minnesota rely on private wells as their drinking water source. Although wells can provide high quality drinking water, state health officials said most wells are rarely tested on a regular basis for things such as bacteria, arsenic, or nitrate that can make consumers of the well water sick.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) estimates that at any given time, as many as 25 percent of private wells in Minnesota have detectable levels of total coliform bacteria, an indication that surface contamination has entered the well or water system.

National Groundwater Awareness Week was established more than two decades ago to bring attention to the important role that groundwater plays in the health and well being of people. Properly maintaining wells tapping into groundwater is critical for protecting personal health and the health of the resource.

MDH recommends that private wells be tested once a year for total coliform bacteria, an indicator of bacterial contamination. Testing for nitrate is recommended every two to three years – more often if nitrate has been detected previously in the well or if an infant under the age of six months will be consuming the water. In addition, MDH recommends that every well be tested for arsenic at least once.

Getting your well tested is a simple process. Your local county health department can provide or arrange for testing services. Commercial (or private) laboratories providing water-testing services are usually listed in the Yellow Pages under "Laboratories – Testing." You should check to make sure the laboratory is certified to perform tests that you want. The laboratory will provide directions for collecting and submitting water samples for testing. The costs for analysis are usually in the range of $20 to $40 per test, depending on what is tested. More information on well testing can be found at: http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/wells/waterquality/test.html.

People with questions about well water contaminants – or other well related issues – can get advice from MDH, their local health department, or local MDH-licensed well contractors. Well specialists are available to answer questions at MDH Twin Cities district offices by calling 651-201-4600.

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