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Laurie Rardin and Paul Susca: Make one New Year’s resolution stick – test your private well water

Published: 1/12/2019 12:10:02 AM

‘Water, water, every where, / Nor any drop to drink” are lines from the poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. They are spoken by a sailor on a ship surrounded by salty ocean water with no fresh drinking water in sight. As we navigate the contamination of water supplies with familiar chemicals as well as new “emerging” contaminants, access to clean drinking water is now at the forefront of our minds. Yet, water was not so long ago a resource that we all took for granted. Increasingly, we are aware of health risks from both naturally occurring and man-made contaminants.

How do we ensure that we and future generations have safe, clean drinking water?

In New Hampshire, we are lucky to have plentiful and safe water for the majority of our residents. Our public water supplies, which serve a little over 50 percent of our population, are carefully regulated following standards set by the federal and state Clean Water Acts, to help ensure that the water provided is safe. Standards for public water supplies are designed for health and safety but always consider cost and feasibility as well. But let’s be sure we also consider private well users.

About 46 percent of New Hampshire residents get their drinking water from private wells, for which water safety is not regulated under state or federal law. Each individual well owner is responsible for maintaining the safety of their drinking water for their families. For most people, this means testing their water at the time of a home sale and never again. Based on surveys of private well owners conducted by Dartmouth College and other states and universities, well users’ common perception regarding water that looks, smells and tastes clean, is that it must be safe to drink.

In reality, the only way to know if your water is safe if you use a private well is to test it on a regular basis.

Despite the fact that we have good water in our state, we are not without water contamination issues. PFAS (a human-made chemical found in non-stick products) contamination is a significant issue in New Hampshire. The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services has been at the forefront of identifying and addressing this national water contamination issue. The agency is also addressing MtBE, a now-discontinued gasoline additive that has been found in many wells around our state that is being remediated and removed from groundwater and water supplies where it is found. Arsenic, a toxic metal that occurs naturally in our bedrock and is a known human carcinogen, is reported by the U.S. Geological Survey to be present at concentrations greater than 1 part per billion in two-thirds of New Hampshire private wells used in their study.

Additionally, the USGS study showed that arsenic is widespread in private wells across the state.

There is no doubt that navigating the potential hazards in our water and food is overwhelming. Which takes priority? How can we address them all? We don’t have complete answers to those questions, but if you are a private well user, it is simple and straightforward: Test your well water, and then make an informed decision as to whether you need to take steps to make your water safer.

So for the New Year, as you make your resolution list, please put testing your well water at the top. You owe it to your children and your family to be sure your water is safe to drink. If you find you have arsenic or other contaminants that could affect your health, including bacteria, lead or manganese, there are helpful tools and helpful people – which weren’t available to Coleridge’s ancient mariner – to take the next steps with you to review your test results and figure out the best course of action (check out NHDES’ Be Well Informed ( tool on the web).

Making sure New Hampshire residents have access to clean, safe water takes an extra step for the homeowner with a private well. Don’t wait. Test your well water today. It is one decision that is easy to make and one that you know will make a difference. We should all have safe, clean drinking water.

(Laurie Rardin is the research translation coordinator for the Dartmouth Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program. Paul Susca supervises the planning unit in the drinking water program at the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.)

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