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Green Talk: Only Testing Will Tell
By Wendy G. Batteau
What goes down comes up in the water cycle. For the thousand residences in Westport getting their water from private wells, this principle has important consequences.
Anything discharged on or into the ground may show up in what comes out of the faucet.
The cumulative impact that contaminated well water can have on human health is of real concern, but homeowners can protect their families through periodic well testing.
Testing well water is the way to know what is in it. If problems are found, the solution may be as simple as using an appropriate filter.
A well is basically a hole drilled into the aquifer, which can be thought of as a river flowing through permeable rock deep underground. A pipe extends from above ground into the aquifer, and a pump pulls water out of it.
Inside the well, a screen filters out large particles. Outside the well, sealant and gravel prevent substances like sand from entry.
The drinking water that we obtain from wells originates as rain or melted snow and filters into the ground. It generally runs downstream from where it falls and enters the aquifer far away from the well that pumps it.
As the water soaks through soil and rock, it often dissolves materials present on and under the ground. Some of these are minerals such as radon, arsenic, uranium, iron and manganese that naturally occur in the rocks and soils of Connecticut.
Other contaminants originate in human activities.
Industrial and commercial activities, fuel spills, and road salting can release hazardous substances into the water supply.
Residential activities may be more dangerous: using pesticides and herbicides, discarding household cleaners and other chemicals down drains or onto the ground, and fueling yard equipment can all contaminate the aquifer.
Improperly maintained septic systems can also leach bacteria into the water supply.
A survey of private drinking-water wells in Woodbridge, Conn. – a town similar to Westport though with less historical agricultural activity – was conducted in 1996 by a group of Yale University scientists and former public officials from the group Environment and Human Health, Inc.
Of the 53 Woodbridge homeowners who volunteered to have their wells tested, 72 percentg used pesticides on their own lawns and/or trees. Trace levels of pesticides were found in 11 percent of the wells, which were 300-400 feet deep. All but one contained multiple substances.
The well of one homeowner who used no pesticides at all was found to contain five different pesticides.
This test and others showed that pesticides used in one part of a community may show up in wells of another part of that community.
Some pesticides can have long-term effects on human health, such as cancer and organ damage. While some are toxic only at high levels, others cause problems at medium and low levels. Children and fetuses are particularly vulnerable.
You can protect yourself and your family from possible contaminants. This includes becoming aware of what you and your neighbors are putting on your lawn and what you put down the drain.
Water-quality testing required by Connecticut law applies to new well construction and upon the sale of a home. But because pathogens and other contaminants can enter the well at any time, homeowners should have their wells tested annually for both biological and chemical substances.
For more information, contact the Westport Weston Health District at www.wwhd.org or the Connecticut Department of Public Health at www.dph.state.ct.us.
Editor’s note: Westport’s Green Village Initiative (GVI) is a grassroots group working to make Westport a model green community. Visit the GVI Web page here.
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