Two Potential Toxins That May Be Hiding In Your Well Water

For many people, having a well means having access to fresh, crystal-clear water that's both suitable for drinking and suitable for washing. Whether you live in a remote area or just in the suburbs, proper installation and maintenance of your system can help to ensure that you have reliable water delivery at all times. Without both of these tasks, you open yourself up to the potential for some pretty scary toxins and chemicals. In this article, you'll learn about two potential substances that could be lurking in your well water, making you sick.

E. coli O157:H7

Most people have at least heard of E. coli as a bacteria. This durable little pathogen attacks the lining of the small and large intestine, causing bloody diarrhea and a host of other dangerous symptoms. Even in extremely small amounts, this bacteria is a serious danger to human life.

While the most common source for E. coli O157:H7 is under-cooked food, it's not unheard of for E. coli to be found in well water, too. Most often, it occurs due to runoff from wild or livestock animals, making it far more common on farms. Because most well water systems aren't disinfected, it's up to you to test for E. coli at regular intervals using a water testing kit.

If testing detects E. Coli, it is vital that you do not drink the water until you resolve the issue through water treatment. The first step to recover is to test ground water sources for contamination--if the source of the E. coli is coming from livestock or human fecal runoff, disinfecting will only act as a temporary measure.

The most common treatment protocol uses shock chlorination--this means adding bleach to your well. Use the following formula to determine how much bleach you need:

((Well depth - water level) ÷ 100) X 1.5

Round your results up to the nearest pint, and dilute the bleach until you have a 5 gallon solution.

Then, unfasten your well cap and add the solution to the well carefully. After one hour, turn on all taps and fixtures within your home--allow these to run until you can detect the smell of bleach. Once you smell the bleach, turn the taps off and allow them to sit for at least 24 hours.

Next, you'll drain the bleach through an outdoor fixture. Attach a garden hose to your exterior spigot and turn the tap on. Try to drain this water in a location that's at least 30' away from your well to prevent further groundwater contamination.

When you stop smelling bleach at the hose, turn it off. Head back inside and turn all of the taps on again. Allow each to drain until you no longer smell bleach. Then, allow for 10 additional minutes of draining and turn the taps off.

For safety reasons, it's best to re-test for the presence of both bleach and E. coli after this process completes.


Although less common to find in wells than E. coli, arsenic is still enough of a concern that well owners should be aware of it. The most common source of arsenic is runoff from large-scale farms or industrial installations. Found in both fertilizer and some chemical applications, it can cause a host of symptoms if hiding in your water. Intense stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea and even death can occur if levels are high or ingestion is chronic.

Because the chemical has no odor or flavor, you should never assume your water is clean based on aesthetics alone. You can test for the presence of this substance using a specialized testing kit. Most hardware stores or plumbing supply shops will carry several easy-to-use options.

Test for arsenic every six months to a year as a part of a safe maintenance plan.

Should you detect arsenic in your water, stop drinking from or using the well immediately. It is imperative that you contact your physician at this point--he or she can give all members of your family a simple urine test to ensure that the levels of arsenic within your body are within safe levels. 

To treat water that tests positive for arsenic, install either an ion exchange softener or a reverse osmosis system. The first works by oxidizing and breaking down the arsenic molecule; the second works by stripping the molecules out of the water by forcing them through an extremely fine membrane.

Once you have installed your filtration device, it is important to run at least two to three more tests to verify that arsenic levels are within EPA standards of .010 parts per million (10 parts per billion).

Both arsenic and E. coli pose a substantial risk to your well, but you can manage and/or treat them with the right maintenance and care. Remember: your safety and the safety of your loved ones should come before anything else. If you detect unwanted toxins or chemicals in your well at any point, or if you aren't confident in your ability to treat and resolve the issue on your own, don't be afraid to contact a professional for guidance. He or she can give you the peace of mind you need to drink and use your water well into the future.

For more information, contact a company like Valley Pump Inc.