As a homeowner with a private well, it's important that you maintain the quality your well for the health and safety of you and your family. Annual testing is necessary and the best way to ensure a clean water supply. There are many different types of chemicals and organisms that can affect your well. One man-made contaminant that may show up during testing is pesticides. Today, many of us use pesticides to maintain our lawns and these substances can, over time, leach into groundwater.
Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about pesticides and how you can protect yourself if elevated levels appear during your annual well water testing.
What are pesticides?
Pesticides cover a broad range of chemicals that are used in agricultural, commercial and residential applications to control both weed and animal infestations. There are several different classes of pesticides currently in use they include:
- Herbicides – used to control weeds in residential, commercial and agricultural areas
- Insecticides – used to control grubs, termites, ant and beetle infestations
- Neomoticides – for control of worms
- Fungicides – to control mold, mildew, and rusts
Pesticides are not only used in residential areas. Commercial applications include fruit orchards, farms and golf courses as well as larger residential areas like apartments and condominium communities. Some of insecticides and fungicides can also be used in the home and commercial buildings.
How do pesticides get into my water supply?
Pesticides can get into your water supply several different ways. Surface water runoff after a heavy rain can deposit pesticides into lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. Rain and snowmelt can carry them into the soil where they percolate into groundwater supplies. Improperly stored or improperly applied pesticides like those used in termite control can also seep into groundwater. Some do not break down easily and can remain in trace amounts for years or decades.
What are the health effects of pesticide in my drinking water?
The health risks of pesticides in water can vary. Depending upon factors like the type and amount of chemicals present, how long they have been consumed and the person's overall health. Acute pesticide poisoning symptoms include headaches, dizziness, and stomach and intestinal disorders. In extreme cases or instances of high levels of ingestion, symptoms can be severe and include numbness in the extremities, spasms, convulsions or heart attack.
At the low levels typically found in residential wells, pesticides pose little health risk. However, effects may be cumulative, and the chemicals may stay in the body. Little is known about the long-term effects of low exposure levels. Further study is needed.
Currently, there are over 50,000 products containing over 600 different chemicals on the market. The EPA is currently re-evaluating all pesticides registered before 1972 to bring them up to today's standards.
Should I test my well for pesticides?
You should test your well annually as a general precaution. Including a test for nitrite levels which can indicate if you need further testing. While there are specific tests available for detecting chemicals in well water, they can be expensive so it's best to test for specific chemicals only if you have a reason to believe your well may be affected. If you live in an agricultural area, on a golf course, or have neighbors who have had issues with pesticide contamination, additional testing may be advised. The best course of action is to contact your local water or health department to obtain a list of state-certified labs and well water contractors. They can help you to determine the source, type of contamination and treatment options available to you.
What can I do if my well tests positive for pesticide contamination?
If you test positive, you should immediately switch to bottled water for consumption until the source of the problem is determine and the problem is resolved. Contact your certified well water professional to arrange further testing. They can also outline the various treatment options available to you along with the costs of remediation.
There are several treatment options available including drilling a deeper well or relocating your well, treatment with granular activated carbon, or installing a treatment system such as a reverse osmosis system in your home. The best treatment is prevention. Make sure chemicals are stored safely and used correctly, including the application and disposal of all dangerous chemicals.
If your well becomes contaminated, or your annual test reveals high levels of nitrites, contact Skillings & Sons. We are state certified well water professionals and we can discuss your treatment options. Your well's health is your responsibility. Make sure to test annually and store dangerous chemicals safely to keep your water supply safe and clean!