State urges private well users to test water
In light of a study released by the U.S. Geological Survey earlier today, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services urges everyone with a private well to test their water. The USGS study found that 80,000 residents in Hillsborough, Rockingham and Strafford counties alone may have unhealthy levels of one or more toxic metals in their drinking water. Many contaminants cannot be detected by taste or smell, so testing is the only way to detect them. NHDES recommends that well owners have their water tested every three to five years through an accredited laboratory.
Drinking untreated water with unhealthy levels of contaminants — most of them naturally occurring — puts people at increased risk of disease and other problems. Arsenic, for example, even at levels that are common in New Hampshire well water, can cause cancer of the skin, lung, bladder, liver and kidneys, as well as diseases of the nerves, lungs, heart and endocrine (hormonal) system, and may be associated with lower IQ scores. Infants and young children are more vulnerable, and the chances of disease increase the longer someone drinks the water. New research has shown that children exposed to high levels of manganese, another contaminant common in New Hampshire well water, may be at risk of cognitive problems.
The good news is that there are affordable ways to treat private well water to make it safe, but in order to select the right type of treatment system, well owners first have to test their water. Water softeners, for example, can be effective at removing iron and manganese if properly designed and maintained, but are not effective at removing some toxic metals such as arsenic, which occurs at unhealthy levels in about one in five private wells in New Hampshire.
Revising earlier numbers, NHDES now estimates that 46 percent of New Hampshire residents get their drinking water from private wells; the rest get their water from public water systems.
While private well owners are not required to test water quality, public water systems are required to sample water to ensure its safety. New Hampshire residents supplied by community systems can learn more about where their water comes from and what’s in the water by checking the annual Consumer Confidence Report or Water Quality Report provided by their water supplier.
For more information on NHDES’s testing recommendations and a list of accredited laboratories, visit www.des.nh.gov and select private well testing from the A to Z list, or call the NHDES Drinking Water and Groundwater Bureau at 271-2513.