5 Things That Most People Don't Realize About Well Water
Roughly 15 percent of Americans get their tap water from private wells, and this percentage can rise to 40% in rural states like Maine and Vermont. It's no surprise that we receive a lot of questions from people with wells who are are concerned about water quality.
1. Getting A Well “Checked” Is Not The Same As Comprehensive Water Testing
There is a misconception that if someone gets their private well “checked,” it will reveal water quality problems. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works. A basic water screening has a lot of "blind spots" and gives no information about levels of lead, arsenic, chromium 6, mercury, or VOCs unless you test specifically for those chemicals. Some states have certain testing requirements, but the scope of testing varies from state to state, and most states do not require comprehensive testing Many banks require that certain water tests be conducted before they will issue a mortgage, but the goal of this testing is often to ensure that there are no faulty systems in the home, not to protect the health of the residents.
Bottom line: The well's owner is responsible for having tests run. Don't assume that the tests that were done as part of the home buying process were comprehensive.
2. Well Water Contamination Often Comes From Natural Sources, Not Humans
Some private well owners are surprised to learn that they have contaminated water, because there are no obvious contamination sources nearby. This is because some contaminants (like arsenic) can occur naturally groundwater at unsafe levels.
3. Well Water Is Often Corrosive & Can Leach Lead From Plumbing
The lead crisis in Flint put a spotlight on the fact that corrosive water can leach lead from pipes, soldered joints, and plumbing fixtures. Unfortunately, a lot of well owners don't realize that well water can be inherently corrosive, so if a their plumbing predates 2014 (when lead-free standards were fully adopted for home plumbing components), there is potential for lead to leach into the tap water.
4. Contaminant Concentrations (And Recognized Safe Levels) Change With Time
We cannot emphasize enough that people should get their wells tested on a regular basis, because contaminant concentrations and thresholds for “safe” water both change over time.For example, we commonly hear homeowners in the Northeast and Southwest tell us that they tested their water for arsenic "a few years ago" and everything was fine. They are often surprised to learn that EPA recently lowered the concentration of arsenic that is considered to be “safe." The maximum contaminant level (MCL) used to be 50 parts per billion but was changed to 10 parts per billion a few years ago. This means that many wells with arsenic concentrations that were considered “safe” by EPA a few years ago are now considered unsafe.
5. Private Well Owners Are Responsible For Monitoring Their Water Quality, Not EPA
Private wells are not regulated by EPA or State Regulators, so the owners (or prospective owners) are responsible for all well water quality testing. However, figuring out which tests to do and making sense of the results can be confusing. Some states have guidelines and recommendations, but even these can be confusing and contradictory.
Often times, prospective home owners turn to a real estate agent for advice on water quality testing, but we often hear from people who received terrible advice. Most of the time, the mistakes are honest, but there are times when it looks like the agent was trying to facilitate a quick sale.
Ultimately, ensuring water quality of a private well is the individual responsibility of the well’s owner or prospective owner. In support this responsibility, we encourage people to take advantage our Technical Support Team’s “Help At All Costs” policy, and lean on us to provide guidance on which lab to select in your area, which tests to run, and to help interpret the results. This free (no obligation service) can be reached by emailing us (email@example.com) or by using the live chat function on this page.
We do not have financial agreements or arrangements with water quality test labs, and we do not “over-prescribe” testing.
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Tap Water Disinfection: What's The Difference Between Chlorine and Chloramine?
By Brendan Elmore
While most people talk about chlorinated tap water, a growing number of municipalities are implementing an alternative disinfectant - chloramine – in place of chlorine. This article on chloramine vs. chlorine discusses the advantages and disadvantages of both disinfectants, why municipalities are switching to chloramine, and what this means from a water filtration standpoint.
Chlorine: The Original Method For Tap Water Disinfection
Chlorine was the original disinfectant used in US municipalities, with Jersey City being the first city to implement a chlorine-based system in 1908. Still today, chlorine remains the primary disinfectant in the majority of municipalities in the US, because of its effectiveness and low cost. While tap water disinfection using chlorine has a long track record, there are two major downsides to using chlorine as a disinfectant altogether.
- Chlorine is volatile and can escape from tap water as it travels through water mains, which can eliminate the “chlorine residual.” Without residual chlorine, water becomes more susceptible to microbial growth.
- Chlorine can react with naturally-occurring organic compounds, creating what are known as disinfection by-products (DBPs) which are associated with kidney and liver problems.
Chloramine: A 'New' Alternative to Chlorine
Chloramine is an alternative disinfectant that has gained popularity with a growing number of municipalities (including Washington, DC) because it directly addresses the two major problems with chlorine-based disinfection.
- Chloramine is less volatile than chlorine, so it stays in the water longer than chlorine, which ensures that all areas of the distribution network are properly disinfected.
- As the EPA began to learn about the toxicity of DBPs, they began searching for an alternative disinfectant for chlorine. Chloramine is less reactive with naturally-occurring organic matter, so it produces lesser amounts of DBPs.
Despite these advantages, chloramine isn’t without its own shortcomings. For example, when a municipality switches over to a chloramine-based system to comply with DBP regulations, the level of pipe corrosion inhibitor needs to be increased, because chloramine-treated water is more corrosive than chlorine-treated water. Washington, DC did not properly do this when they switched over to a chloramine-based disinfection system in the early 2000s, and the city underwent a 5-year lead contamination crisis where more than 42,000 children under the age of 2 were exposed to high levels of lead, putting them under great health risk.
Even when pipe corrosion is properly accounted for, chloramine must be removed from the water when it is being used for dialysis, aquariums, baking, and even craft brewing (maybe you didn't burn your mash after all!).
What Can I Do to Remove Chlorine & Chloramine From My Tap Water?
Removing chlorine and chloramine from water involve different methods.
Fortunately, chlorine is very easy to remove from tap water to improve the taste. For example, if you fill a water jug and leave it in your fridge uncapped, within a day or two, the chlorine will volatilize and go away. Common filtration pitchers, refrigerator pitchers, and under sink filtration systems are also good for removing chlorine from water and the bad taste associated with it.
Chloramine, on the other hand is much harder to filter, and most “big name” water filters are not designed to remove it. A special type of activated carbon, called catalytic carbon, is the best tool for removing chloramine from water. High-quality custom water filters that use catalytic carbon in their filter formulation also offer broad protection against other contaminants in drinking water.
If you have any questions about chlorine or chloramine, we encourage you to take advantage of Hydroviv’s “Help No Matter What” approach to technical support, even if you have no desire to purchase a Hydroviv system. This free service can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or by using the live chat window.
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How Do I Fix Rotten Egg Smell In Well Water?
Eric Roy, Ph.D. | Scientific Founder
If your home draws water from a well, you may have experienced rotten egg smells coming from your water. While not typically harmful, offensive odors are nuisances, and can usually be fixed. In this article, we talk about common causes of tap water odors, how we troubleshoot odor problems, and talk a bit about how the problem can be fixed with a filter.
Update: August 8, 2017: After over a year of R&D, we are happy to announce that we have launched a whole house water purifier that is purpose-built to eliminate the rotten egg smell from all of the water that enters your home!
The Likely Culprit: Hydrogen Sulfide!
Rotten egg smells in water are usually caused by volatile sulfur-based chemicals (e.g. hydrogen sulfide), which are produced by naturally-occurring bacteria as part of their metabolism. (For those who just Googled “Hydrogen Sulfide” and saw hazard warnings… keep in mind that while hydrogen sulfide is harmful at very high concentrations… it’s highly unlikely that your water could generate high enough levels in your home to cause health problems). With that said, no one wants their home to smell like rotten eggs, so it’s a problem worth fixing!
Hydroviv’s “Toilet Tank Test” For Rotten Egg Smell
The first thing we do when a customer comes to us with a smelly water problem, is have them take the lid off their toilet’s tank and take a few pictures that can be sent to us (I’m not kidding!). The toilet tank is a great observation point for us because it’s typically the most accessible place in the home where water is constantly resupplied from the source and is rarely cleaned out (though many start cleaning the tank after taking the lid off for the first time).
We examine the pictures to look for clues for what’s going on in the water. For example, if the tank has slimy, rusty deposits, there’s a good chance that the smell is being generated by iron bacteria. If there are brownish/black deposits visible, the water probably has high levels or iron and/or manganese. Based on what’s in the pictures, we can usually custom-blend filtration media to fix the problem!
A family came to us last fall because their water “smelled like farts” and they were sick of replacing inexpensive carbon filters ever week or two. While carbon filtration is a great base technology to use in a wide range of applications, inexpensive cartridges use low quality filtration media with very low capacities for hydrogen sulfide. Unfortunately, (or fortunately… depending on how you look at it), it’s obvious when a filter becomes saturated with hydrogen sulfide… because the rotten egg smell comes back…immediately… in full force.
We ended up formulating a custom water filter for this customer with an extra high capacity for hydrogen sulfide, and the difference was dramatic. Instead of switching out cheap carbon filters every 10-14 days, the customer was able to use the same Hydroviv filter for 6 months, which saved them a great deal of money in replacement filter costs, not to mention the added convenience of not having to change out a filter every 10 days! It was great to get the excited monthly email updates from the user, letting us know that the filters were still going strong! Once they were confident that we could solve their problem, the customer also purchased some shower head water filters to fix rotten egg smells in the bathroom!
Update: August 8, 2017: After over a year of R&D, we are thrilled to announce that we have launched a whole house water filter that is purpose-built to eliminate the rotten egg smell from all of the water that enters your home!
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