The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) and the Dartmouth Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program are urging homeowners in New Hampshire to test their well water to ensure their drinking water is clean and safe for consumption. Nearly 40 percent of New Hampshire residents get their drinking water from domestic/private wells, which are not subject to the same water quality testing regulations as public water systems.
Safe drinking water is important to health, and testing well water at a certified lab is the only way to know whether water from a private well is safe. Both human-caused and naturally occurring contaminants are often found in private wells. Nitrates and bacteria, which can lead to immediate and serious health conditions, may be found in well water as a result of a poorly performing septic system or a nearby agricultural source. Across the northeastern United States, two naturally occurring elements, arsenic and radon, are also commonly found in well water. Scientific studies associate their long-term exposure with cancer and other health effects.
In New Hampshire, one in five private wells exceeds the federal health-based drinking water standard for arsenic, 10 parts per billion. This is alarming because research conducted by the Dartmouth Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program and other institutions over the past two decades reveals that arsenic is highly toxic in some of its chemical forms. Research shows that arsenic causes cancers of the bladder, skin, kidney, liver, and lung. Developing fetuses, infants and children are particularly vulnerable. Studies also link arsenic to infant mortality and low birth weight. Other findings suggest that exposure to arsenic in early life, including pregnancy and early childhood, may increase susceptibility to cancer in adulthood.
According to Dr. Bruce Stanton, Director of the Dartmouth Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program, “Our research shows that long-term health effects will occur from prolonged exposure to arsenic, even at low doses. NHDES has worked hard to inform homeowners about the importance of well testing and we join with them to urge all well owners to test their wells and learn about the options available to remove arsenic from their drinking water. The number of untested wells in New Hampshire remains high so we must continue to be vigilant in order to safeguard public health.”
NHDES and the research teams at Dartmouth are working together to raise awareness among health care providers, town officials and private well owners in New Hampshire about the importance of testing private wells to reduce exposure to harmful contaminants.
Testing the quality of well water is simple and relatively inexpensive. NHDES recommends testing private well water annually for nitrates and bacteria, while other contaminants should be tested for every three to five years. Testing when moving or buying property is also a good idea.
NH DES offers a private well testing brochure that includes a list of recommended water quality tests and a testing schedule. The brochure is online here. Water testing containers are also available from DES, as is a search tool to find a state-accredited lab.
Be sure to watch this ten minute movie about the risks associated with exposure to potentially harmful amounts of arsenic in private well water.
For additional information about wells, read DES fact sheets found here.