Water Quality for Private Wells
If you are concerned about your water, SWPA-EHP recommends you stop drinking and cooking with it. This can be an expensive step to take, but we think it is best to be cautious if you feel unsure about the quality of your water. Pay attention to whether your water tastes, smells, or looks different than it used to or usually does. Foaming, bubbling or spurting faucets or gritty, sandy material in the water are signs that it may be contaminated. Salty tasting water or water that tastes like metal are also of concern.
What Can You Do?
SWPA-EHP has developed New Guidelines for Testing Well Water. This set of recommendations, contained in their report, “Well Water Contamination: SWPA-EHP Ranking System and Monitoring Strategy,” will enable well users to monitor their own water with two simple tests. The protocol was developed after SWPA-EHP scientists analyzed data from over 50 drinking water wells at four different gas extraction locations. It’s not a perfect solution to well water concerns, but the protocol has the capacity to alert residents of the possibility that their wells have been contaminated and then to provide guidance on what steps to take next. An Executive Summary of our Well Water Testing Report is also available.
Keep track of any changes in your water and test results (if you have them), along with any health symptoms in a health journal. Officials and researchers know about many of the chemicals that might contaminate well water in Washington County. Unfortunately, they (and we) don’t know everything that might contaminate water in the area. Based on what we currently know, here are suggestions on how to address your water concerns:
- Follow our well water monitoring guidelines
- Purchase clean water if you can or get water from a source that you trust. It’s most important that you drink and cook with clean water. You may still have to clean, do laundry and bathe with your well water, but even that can pose risks if it’s contaminated. If possible – to reduce these exposures – you can do laundry at a laundromat and bathe at a home that has city water. Some Washington County residents have experienced skin burns and rashes after bathing or showering. If this is happening at your house, make every effort to bathe elsewhere.
- Ventilate rooms where you are using water. If you shower or bathe at home be sure your bathroom is effectively vented to pull steam and air out while you are in there. This means having a good working exhaust fan in your bathroom ceiling or wall. After a shower, keep the fan running for a while. If possible, vent the air in your laundry area as well.
- Filter your water. No filter will remove all possible contaminants. At a minimum, you can filter your tap water for drinking and cooking with a filtered water pitcher, available at many stores or online. Some filter devices attach to faucets. Others fit under the kitchen sink. More complex systems will filter all household water. The EPA provides information on different types of filters at: http://www.epa.gov/ogwdw/faq/pdfs/fs_healthseries_filtration.pdf
- Have your water tested. This is the only way to know for sure that your water is contaminated, at least with the specific chemicals tested for. A water test can also tell you the level of contamination for the chemicals you test for. If you decide to get your water tested, be sure to use a state certified water lab. There is a lot to consider when getting a water test because there are so many possible contaminants. Read the section on Water Testing Tips for further guidance.
Water Testing Tips
The limits of water testing
Water testing can provide valuable information … but keep in mind it is incomplete information. Having your water tested by a trusted, certified lab can provide a “snapshot” of your water quality the day it is tested. But the results can only provide information on the particular substances tested for at that particular moment in time. A test won’t necessarily let you know whether your well water had been contaminated in the past and won’t tell you about its safety in the future.
It’s best to have baseline tests done before local gas activities start. That way, you can compare those results with later test results after gas activities have begun. If it’s too late for a pre-test, a test now can still provide valuable information, especially if it shows unacceptably high levels of a hazardous substance.
If you are considering having your well tested, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Projection provides guidance about what you should test for at:
The PA DEP specifically recommends testing for:
total dissolved solids (TDS)
The Penn State Cooperative Extension also provides a great deal of information on water and drilling at: www.extension.psu.edu/water/marcellus-shale/drinking-water
State certified water testing labs can be found at:
http://extension.psu.edu/water/marcellus-shale/drinking-water/find-a-local-water-testing-lab-1 or at: http://www.depweb.state.pa.us/labs
Keep in mind that testing water can be expensive. Baseline tests recommended by the Pennsylvania Cooperative Extension can cost around $300 but fees can reach over $1,000 for a larger range of tests. We are investigating ways that residents can monitor their own water so they can make a more informed decision about going forward with additional testing.
Unfortunately, judging your water quality is very difficult, whether doing it by taste and smell or by sending a sample to a lab. Some things that might contaminate your water are tasteless, odorless and colorless, so not noticing any changes in your water does not guarantee that your water is clean nor does a one-time test. When more is known about possible contaminants, evaluating your water should become easier.
Please check back with us for updates on water quality testing.
Stay Up to Date
For More Information please contact:
Raina Rippel, Project Director
SWPA Environmental Health Project
4198 Washington Road Suite 5,
McMurray, PA 15317
Open Tuesday — Friday 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.