Perchlorate and Water Well Contamination
Perchlorate has been in the news lately. While it's not a problem for the majority of well owners, it's story is a good reminder of the importance of understanding the flow pathways of well water. A private water well is a great asset to have when you're a homeowner. It can provide you with plenty of free, safe clean water. However, both environmental and man-made water contamination is a real issue for every well owner. To ensure the safety of your water well and drinking water, conduct a water test annually. Come by our office in Amherst, NH to receive your free water testing kit.
Understanding environmental water contamination is an issue that is becoming more and more prominent as we all strive to live a more environmentally aware lifestyle. If we all knew back in the 1940's or 50's what we know now about how contamination happens and the health risks involved we may have better monitored and regulated our manufacturing industries.
Perchlorate is one water contaminant that was not on the radar back in the 50's, but today it's been prominent in the news and is one more contaminant that homeowners should be made aware of. Let's look at what it is, how it makes its way into the water supply, the risks it poses, and how to deal with it if your well tests positive.
What is Perchlorate?
Perchlorate is a manmade chemical that is used in the manufacturing process as the main ingredient in safety flares, matches, fireworks and rocket fuel. It is also used in some batteries and in the manufacturing process of vehicle airbags.
Percolate is an anion that is created by the dissolution of ammonium, potassium, sodium salts or magnesium. It moves in both ground and surface water and can persist in this state for decades. Perchlorate travels with water and does not stick to surfaces in aquifers or in the soil. This contaminant only became widely detected in the late 1990's when new detection techniques lowered the detection limit to 4 micrograms per liter from 400 Mgl.
It can be widespread not only in groundwater but in soils and plants and makes its way up the food chain, even in organically grown foods. Today, trace amounts are found in the blood of virtually every human on the planet.
The Health Effects of Water Contamination from Perchlorate
The principal health concern is that once perchlorate enters the water supply it may damage the thyroid gland and can disrupt thyroid function. Impairment of a pregnant woman's thyroid may impact the growth of the fetus and impact development and learning capabilities. Changes in hormone levels as a result of perchlorate may result in thyroid gland tumors.
The EPA is currently working on setting national standards for levels of water contamination by perchlorate in drinking water and is conducting studies to determine the maximum allowable levels in drinking water. They estimate that some 11 million Americans live in areas where concentrations are significantly higher than what is considered safe.
Treatment Options if Your Well Tests Positive For Perchlorate
There are several treatment options for homeowners whose wells test positive for perchlorate. There are both point-of-use and point-of-entry systems available including exchange resins, reverse osmosis, and distillation systems. Some ion exchange resins remove all other anions before binding perchlorate. This can result in corrosive water that may require additional treatment to have some hardness restored. Because it binds tightly to resins, a higher than normal salt concentration may be needed for resin regeneration. Saltwater disposal can then become a problem because perchlorate is concentrated and not destroyed.
Treatment options for contamination sites are currently under development including biological treatment and large-scale ion exchange systems. Bioremediation may be the most cost-effective method and research is ongoing.
Perchlorate is known to have contaminated drinking water in twenty-two states, including Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Forty-two states have known manufacturers or users of perchlorate. States where military bases, former bases or where rocket fuel was used or stored are impacted. High levels were detected in some winter lettuce crops irrigated by the Colorado River and the source was found to be Lake Mead, which was polluted by flows from an industrial complex new Las Vegas that manufactured rocket fuel.
If you are concerned about potential perchlorate contamination, speak with your well water professional. They can assist you with testing and if perchlorate is detected, can also help you with treatment options. This is a growing problem that is still under study. The best current option is testing and water treatment if well water contamination is detected. The professionals at Skillings & Sons can provide the services you need to ensure your drinking water is safe.