Photograph of  a loose, unsanitary well plumbing system exposed to surface water runoffr  © DJ Friedman How to Understand Water Test Results for Household Wells

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Well water test results: how to read & understand you well water test report.

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A Quick EPA Guide to Understanding Your Water Test Results

Have your well water tested for any possible contaminants in your area. Use a state-approved testing lab. (See below for sources of approved laboratories.) Do not be surprised if a lot of substances are found and reported to you.

The amount of risk from a drinking water contaminant depends on the specific substance and the amount in the water. The health of the person also matters.

Some contaminant cause immediate and severe effects. It may take only one bacterium or virus to make a weak person sick.

Another person may not be affected. For very young children, taking in high levels of nitrate over a relatively short period of time can be very dangerous.

Many other contaminants pose a long-term or chronic threat to your health - a little bit consumed regularly over a long time could cause health problems such as trouble having children and other effects.

EPA drinking water rules for public water systems aim to protect people from both short and long term health hazards. The amounts of contaminants allowed are based on protecting people over a lifetime of drinking water. Public water systems are required to test their water regularly before delivery.

They also treat it so that it meets drinking water standards, notify customers if water does not meet standards and provide annual water quality reports.

Compare your well's test results to federal and state drinking water standards. (You can find these standards at or call the Safe Drinking Water Hotline 800-426-4791.) In some cases, the laboratory will give a very helpful explanation. But you may have to rely on other experts to aid you in understanding the results.

also see

  • TABLE of Allowable Water Contaminant Limits
  • The state agency that licenses water-well contractors can help you understand your test results. It will also provide information on well construction and protection of your water supply.

    The agency is usually located in the state capital or other major city. It is often part of the department of health or environmental protection. Check the blue "government pages" of your local phone book or call the American Ground Water Trust at (614) 761- 2215 or the EPA Hotline at (800) 426-4791 for your licensing agency's phone number.
  • The local health department and agricultural agents can help you understand the test results. They will have information on any known threats to drinking water in your area. They can also give you suggestions about how to protect your well water.
  • The state drinking water program can also help. You can compare your well's water to the state's standards for public water systems. State programs are usually located in the state capital or another major city.

    They are often part of the department of health or environmental regulation. Again, consult the blue "government pages" in your local phone book for the address and phone number or call or the EPA Hotline - (800) 426-4791.
  • The Safe Drinking Water Hotline at (800) 426-4791, mentioned above - can help in many ways. The Hotline can provide a listing of contaminants public water systems must test for. EPA also has copies of health advisories prepared for specific drinking water contaminants.

    The EPA Hotline staff can explain the federal regulations that apply to public water systems. They compare your lab results to the federal standards. In addition, they can give you the phone number and address of your state drinking water program, and of your state laboratory certification officer. That officer can send you a list of approved labs in your area.

This article on water contaminants describes types of activities in your area that can create threats to your water supply. It also describes problems to look for and offers maintenance suggestions. Sources for more information and help are also listed. [Editing for clarity by DF are marked by brackets or italics] Initial Source: EPA 816-K-02-003 January 2002

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