Hundreds of private wells to be tested statewide as part of analysis of state’s drinking water

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Monitor staff
Published: 8/2/2019 3:26:00 PM

The state has started sampling 500 private wells throughout New Hampshire to test for around 250 toxins and natural pollutants ranging from bacteria and salt to PFAS and pesticides, creating an unusual, sweeping view of the quality of our drinking water and what affects it.

“It should be pretty instructive. We’ll see things we expect, things we don’t, and see how it all correlations to location, to development, the type of geology. We also have well construction statistics – depth of wells, depth of casing – how that affects water quality,” said Brandon Kernan, of the Drinking Water and Groundwater Bureau with the state’s Department of Environmental Services.

The work, which began recently, will be compared with a separate study by the state Department of Health and Human Services of the blood and urine from about 100 volunteers. This seeks a better understanding of how various aspects of drinking water show up in the body and affect human health.

About one-third of New Hampshire residences get water from private wells, usually drilled down 100 feet or more into aquifers or bedrock, occasionally made of shallower “dug” wells.

The wells to be tested in the Drinking Water and Groundwater Trust Fund Statewide Private Well Sampling Program were chosen randomly and have already been identified; the state is not looking for more test sites.

The issue of drinking water quality has been in the news lately due to concern over chemicals known as PFAS in water supplies in southern New Hampshire, but Kernan said this project wasn’t caused by any particular pollutant.

“New Hampshire has always been very progressive on taking information on emerging contaminants and addressing it,” he said, pointing to the state’s recent decision to lower the acceptable level of PFAS chemicals far below federal levels. “A lot of other states haven’t even begun to test for (PFAS).”

“It might seem that New Hampshire has a water quality problem because you hear so much,” he said. “You can say our water is more protected because we are addressing things more aggressively, more extensively than many other states.”

Kernan checked off some types items that will be tested: “Metals, organics, bacteria, nitrates, salt, radionuclides – not just radon,” as well as subjects of recent concern such as the solvent known as 1-4-dioxane.

Another target area, he said, will be household pesticides.

“People sometimes overlook that. They go to the store and buy these and they spray them, and these products are designed to have adverse biological effect. ... So we’re looking to over 100 pesticides down to parts-per-trillion levels – incluiding breakdown products that may or may not have a human health concern,” Kernan said.

Breakdown products are chemicals that have been altered by being released into the environment, often by exposure to heat or light, and may cause different reactions in people than the parent chemical.

The Department of Environment says it will analyze sampling results and them over the next 12 months.

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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