State urges private well owners to get their water tested

SPRINGFIELD—Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich announced that the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, the Illinois Department of Public Health and local health departments are launching a new campaign to encourage the estimated 400,000 Illinois households served by their own private drinking water wells in both urban and rural areas to get them tested for potential contamination.

Winnebago County is listed as one of the top 10 counties in the state for the most private water wells, according to the Illinois State Geological Survey Database of Wells, 2005 (this database contains records of all types of water wells, including community, noncommunity, and private).

Although public and community water systems are tested regularly by the state for a variety of contaminants, regular testing of private well water is the owner’s responsibility.

“Drinking water in Illinois is much cleaner and safer today than in the past, but private well water can become contaminated by bacteria or man-made chemicals,” said Illinois EPA Director Doug Scott. “The only way to ensure that your well water is safe is to test it. This is especially important for wells located near a current or former commercial or industrial area, gas station, or landfill.”

Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health Dr. Eric Whitaker added: “Clean, healthy drinking water is essential for good health, especially for infants and children whose bodies are growing so quickly. If you drink private well water, make sure it’s safe for you and your family.”

Directors Scott and Whitaker urge private water well owners to consult a new Web site, for information about testing and potential private well contamination sources, or they may call toll-free 888-372-1996.

The Winnebago County Health Department’s Laboratory is certified by the Illinois Department of Public Health for analysis of bacteria. There are nine outreach sites throughout the county to make it convenient for private well owners to test their water supply. The water testing kits are available at the outreach sites during business hours, and on the third Wednesday of each month, residents can drop off their water samples to be analyzed at the outreach site of their choice.

Wells located in communities with commercial or industrial development are more susceptible to chemical contamination. In Winnebago County, the geology in the area combined with past industrial waste disposal practices, resulted in significant groundwater contamination in several areas, including southeast Rockford, Beloit Corporation in Rockton, Evergreen Manor and Hononegah Country Club Estates in Roscoe, Pagel Pit, Acme Solvent and old landfills throughout the county.

The Winnebago County Health Department recommends an annual test for bacteria and nitrate. The presence of bacteria in well water may indicate contamination by human or animal wastes that can cause infectious diseases. Nitrate contamination is usually caused by faulty septic systems or agricultural runoff and is especially dangerous for infants. Bacteria and nitrate testing is offered for $24.

For wells located near a current or former commercial or industrial area, an above- or below-ground fuel tank (including gas stations), or landfills, the agencies recommend testing for Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs. This is especially important if the well is old or shallow. “VOCs” are common components of gasoline and other fuels, as well as solvents, paints, cleaners, and degreasers. Wells in agricultural areas should be tested for pesticides.

Ruth Roth, groundwater coordinator at the Winnebago County Health Department, recommends testing for VOCs and pesticides every five years, and will assist residents in utilizing a non-certified screening analysis of their water for the presence of either contaminant. For a limited time, some certified laboratories are offering discounted rates to coincide with the education campaign.

One contaminant that can affect both private and public water supplies is lead, which can enter drinking water through the decay of plumbing materials. Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures and solder. The agencies recommend running the water until it gets cold before using it for drinking or cooking. Also, never use water from the hot water tap for drinking or cooking. Hot water is more likely to contain higher levels of lead. The only way to be sure of the amount of lead in your household water is to have it tested by a certified laboratory.

In Winnebago County, you may call Ruth Roth, groundwater coordinator, at 815-720-4122 for information regarding testing private water supply.

From the Nov. 23-29, 2005, issue

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