If you own a home with a private water well, it is your responsibility to ensure the water supplying your home is clean and safe to drink. Many homeowners assume that because the water was fine for the previous homeowners or was tested when the home was built, that the water quality is still just fine. However, water quality can change over time, and some kinds of contamination can go undetected. The only way to be absolutely certain your well water is not contaminated is with an annual water test.
There is no law regulating well water quality in New Hampshire. In Massachusetts, well water quality may be governed by the local Board of Health, but that does not mean regular testing for water quality is required everywhere in the state.
Skillings & Sons recommends testing private water wells every 3 to 5 years for general contaminants and every year for bacteria and nitrate. These recommendations are in line with New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services testing guidelines.
What water tests are available?
The first step in water testing is determining what contaminants to test for. If you’ve never had your water tested before, start with the Standard Analysis. This identifies the presence of the most common water contaminants, including arsenic, lead, bacteria, manganese, chloride, nitrate and nitrite, copper, fluoride, sodium, iron and uranium. It also tests for hardness and acidity. Some of these issues can cause health problems while others only affect the taste or have aesthetically adverse effects.
You may also want to do a Radiological Analysis, which tests for radon and other radioactive contaminants. These elements occur naturally in the soil and dissolve easily in water. Radon is a common contaminant, found in 55% of wells in New Hampshire. Your home may have been tested for radon as part of the sale, but if not, a test should be done.
Volatile Organic Compounds can make their way into the water system from gas stations, industrial sites and other areas where chemicals are often used. These include industrial solvents and MtBE, which was once an additive in gasoline. These compounds are very soluble and travel quickly through waterways and ground water. Even if you live in a remote area, consider testing for VOCs.
Additional testing may be warranted in exceptional circumstances, especially if your home is in an area where pesticides, herbicides or other synthetic organic compounds have regularly been applied. These tests are costly, but should be considered if your water has an elevated level or nitrite or nitrate.
When to test drinking water?
Both Massachusetts and New Hampshire state environmental agencies recommend that homebuyers test the water of their potential home before buying. After that, regular testing can be done every few years, based on your home’s risk of contamination.
Testing should always be done if you’ve noticed a change in your home’s previously problem-free water. If there is a change in color, smell, taste or appearance, contact a state-licensed lab for testing immediately. You should also get testing if there were recent construction or repairs to your well, if there was a nearby development that included the use of hazardous materials or if a previous water test showed elevated levels of contaminants.
Skillings & Sons can provide assistance and advice on home water testing, including where to find the nearest licensed lab and tips for collecting a clean water sample. If you have questions about testing your home’s well water, contact Skillings & Sons today.