Private well owners urged to test water for arsenic, uranium

High levels of arsenic and uranium found in 7 percent of water samples from private wells around the state have prompted state health officials to urge homeowners with wells to have their water tested for these two naturally occurring minerals.

The state Department of Public Health and the U.S. Geological Survey on Wednesday released a report on results of testing on water samples from 674 wells collected between 2013 and 2015. About 47 of the samples, or 7 percent, had concentrations of arsenic and uranium exceeding the maximum levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency for safe drinking water. For arsenic, the safe level is below 10 micrograms per liter, and for uranium, it is 30 micrograms per liter. High concentrations of these two minerals, which occur in various bedrock formations throughout New England, are associated with increased risk of lung, bladder and skin cancer for arsenic and adverse effects on kidney function for uranium, the USGS said in its report. Arsenic also can affect fetal development and brain function in children, the health department said.

“This was the first time the USGS attempted to look at the occurrence statewide,” said Joe Ayotte, hydrologist with the USGS’ New England Office. “There are pockets of higher concentrations, but they can also be found all over the state.”

Ryan Tetreault, supervising environmental analyst for the state health department, said the agency collaborated with the USGS on the study after receiving several reports from homeowners and the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection about tests showing high levels of arsenic and uranium in their drinking water. The USGS and the health department jointly funded the study.

Routine testing for private wells does not usually include testing for arsenic and uranium, the health department said. A test for arsenic and uranium in a water sample would cost $150 to $200, Tetreault said. Homebuyers are urged to ask for a test for these contaminations before the purchase is completed.

Private wells are typically only sampled when they are newly drilled and at the owner’s discretion.

If high levels of arsenic and uranium are found, Tetreault said, homeowners should use bottled water until a reverse osmosis treatment system is installed. Usually the system is installed on a kitchen faucet. Pitchers equipped with carbon filters to remove contaminants are not effective at removing arsenic or uranium, he added.

“We’re not trying to scare people,” he said. “There are treatment technologies that are effective. We’re very hopeful people will take this information and consider getting their water tested.”

He added that drilling a new well on the property may not solve the problem, because it would likely be located in the same bedrock formation as the existing one.

Statewide, there are 322,600 private wells serving about 823,000 residents, about one in four households.

The water samples used in the USGS study were collected from homeowners contacted by state health department officials at fairs in Bethlehem, Durham, Goshen, Woodstock, East Hampton, Colchester and Hartford. Samples also were collected by local health agencies.

For more information about private well testing, visit http://bit.ly/2qtvDHH.

j.benson@theday.com

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