Facts on Bacteria Contamination and Viruses in Well Water

If you receive your water from a private well, you’re ultimately responsible for your family’s water quality. While there are many organic and inorganic contaminants that are both naturally occurring and manmade, most can be easily detected through water analysis, some do not impact water quality, and almost all can be dealt with through some form of water treatment.

Bacteria contamination and viruses are naturally occurring and cannot always be detected by sight, smell or taste in well water. In fact, you can go years without knowing that they are present! Low levels of microbes are naturally present in most well water. Most are harmless, and some are even beneficial. There are a few however that can cause illness, and some are more dangerous than others. Some serious microbial contaminants include E Coli, giardella, and cryptosporidium.  They can cause gastrointestinal problems and flu-like symptoms. There are three types of microbial contaminants you should be aware of that can affect your water quality. They are:

Bacteria – Single–celled organisms, which reproduce by cell division or through spores, bacteria may be free-living organisms or parasites. Decomposers, bacteria break down waste and bodies of dead organisms for reuse. Bacterial cells range from 1 to 10 microns in size and exist almost everywhere. Some are helpful to us, but others may be dangerous.

Viruses – Infectious microbes composed almost entirely of protein and nucleic acids, viruses can cause disease in humans. Parasitic, they can only reproduce within living cells and are tiny, ranging from .004 to .1 microns in size, about 100x smaller than bacteria.

Cysts – Cysts are protein sacs produced by many protozoans and some bacteria as preparation for entering the reproductive stage. Similar to spores, cysts are more resistant to disinfection and destruction. Fortunately, their large size (from 2 to 50 microns) allows them to be easily removed from water by fine filtration.

Water Bourne Bacteria Treatment Options

Fortunately, there are affordable treatments for dealing with microbes. Chemical treatment uses halogens such as chlorine, bromine or ozone while physical choices include UV light, ultra-filtration, and distillation. These methods are effective in removing 99.99% of harmful microorganisms.

Chlorination – Chlorine gas or a chlorine solution is added to water to disinfect and control microorganisms. It is cost effective, quick and makes water safe to drink, resulting in water that is clearer and tastes better. Some people feel that it adds an objectionable taste, but byproducts of chlorination can be easily removed through filtration.

UV Light – Does not involve chemicals and consists of exposing water to UV light at the proper frequency to kill microorganisms. The effectiveness of this method depends on the strength and intensity of the light and the duration of exposure. UV treatment does not remove gasses, heavy metals, or particulates. UV is often combined with some form of filtration such as activated carbon.

Ozone – Produced by exposing oxygen to high-voltage current, ozone destroys bacteria and viruses and also eliminates other organic compounds like iron, sulfur and manganese. Because ozone treatment is costly, it is often used commercially or by municipalities.

To learn more about improving water quality and the treatment options available, contact a qualified well water contractor. They will explain options and costs, and can help you determine which method is right for you!