Photograph of  this open well in a home basement - many concernsWater Test or Septic Test Cheating
Beware When Buying a Home

  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about manipulated, dishonest, or unreliable well water potability tests - how do you protect against water or septic test dishonesty

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Well test result manipulation:

Beginning with this article, this series on well water test result manipulation explains why people might do something that prevents you from obtaining an accurate water potability test, how to detect this bad behavior, and what to do about it.

Cheating on drinking water tests is a risk to public health, most likely fraudulent, and water test manipulation may come as a surprise to most folks but it happens all too often. Who would do such a thing, and why?

How can you protect yourself against water test manipulating when buying a home? We answer those questions.

We also provide a MASTER INDEX to this topic, or you can try the page top or bottom SEARCH BOX as a quick way to find information you need.

CHEATING ON WATER TESTS - Testing Water for Real Estate Transactions - Water Test Cheating Warnings for Home Buyers and Home Inspectors

Article Contents

The Shocking Case of the Disappearing Septic Dye

Photograph of septic system adjacent to a public water body. Photograph of septic test water flowing into an old site-built septic system.

Why would someone cheat on a water potability or bacteria test?: perhaps it's the pressure of the deal - a real estate transaction is an unusual event with lots of pressure on the participants.

[Click to enlarge any image]

Or perhaps some people just don't take the health of new building occupants seriously.

There are ways to fudge a water test other than the obvious one of collecting the test for building "A" from a known good "source B" at another location. We have encountered a distressing number of cases in which we arrived at a property to collect a water test sample only to discover (by means we discuss below) that someone had attempted to cheat by temporarily sterilizing (with bleach) a contaminated water supply.

After encountering this problem a number of times we began testing for cheating before testing for bacteria.

How can we detect dishonest water or septic tests?: These photos and case report illustrate how the septic system test process may actually catch someone's attempt to cheat on a water potability test by shocking the well with bleach right before the inspection. Shocking a well can obscure unsanitary drinking water and it might disguise a septic system that is not working.

At a property inspection we noted that the approach to the home was along a causeway through a swamp - the house sat on a rise of land surrounded by wetlands. With very little dry land around the home, it seemed to me unlikely that the property could possibly have a working well and a working conventional septic system (though special equipment could be installed there was none.)

But we were informed that these systems were in good working order.

The two photos above show a similar case in which an old home-made septic tank was located just a few feet from a public lake. You can see our septic test water pouring into the septic tank in the upper right part of the right hand photo.]

Bleach in a Water Supply can Hide Septic Dye in the Septic Tank or at Ground Surfaces

The two photos below are of septic dye on a wet leafy ground surface were adjusted in my lab (we boosted the photo's color saturation) for purpose of illustration, to show how a green septic dye may fade to clear when exposed to bleach in the water supply.

Photograph of green septic dye. Photograph of faded green septic dye.

We put in some septic dye: During conduct of my septic loading and dye test we introduced a florescent septic tracer dye into the waste system and turned on the building water supply to load the system. Luckily there was access to the septic tank (which we opined was way too close to the wetlands).

We saw the dye entering the septic tank, but ...: Peering into the septic tank we could see my septic tracer dyed water entering the tank. To my amazement, the dye was disappearing immediately on entering the tank rather than staining that water as well.

Do not lean over the septic tank: It's dangerous to lean over or into a septic tank (it can be fatal) so we didn't look further. We had heard of this exact phenomenon from my (now departed) friend Steve Vermilye who had encountered the same thing, which we dubbed the "shocking case of the disappearing septic dye". Fortunately for the home buyer (and too bad for the water test cheater) we knew what this disappearing septic dye meant.

Owner explains why septic dye disappears: we asked Mrs. owner if there were any problems with the well or septic. Happily she was far more forthcoming than the other parties to the selling end of the transaction. "Well," she said, "we were told by XX [name withheld so as to avoid being sued by a large powerful national group] that there would be no problem if we just poured some Clorox™ into our well early this morning before you got here. We were told to run the water until the smell was gone from our fixtures."

What could we make of this? "Shocking the well" with bleach might indeed temporarily hide a bacterial contamination of the water source - it would never "fix" a real problem if one were present. At this point we didn't know if the water source was contaminated or not. But the large amount of bleach put into the system earlier in the day was resting at such high concentration in the septic tank that it was literally bleaching out my dye as it entered!

When to re-test a well that has been shocked with chlorine, Clorox™ or other disinfectants: This question is explained at" When to re-test a well that has been shocked with chlorine bleach or some other disinfectant". Watch out! Testing too soon or testing water improperly after chlorine or other disinfectants have been in use is likely to give false results.

How much bleach will be needed to cheat on water and septic testing?

How much bleach is added to a well or septic tank to manipulate a potability test or a septic loading & dye test?

Photograph of faded green septic dye.

How much bleach would you need to obscure a septic loading and dye test? Four grams of 12% bleach will remove the coloration of one gram of septic dye in solution according to Tramfloc Inc.

When performing a septic loading and dye test we use a minimum of one tablespoon of septic dye powder - which is about 2/10 of an ounce by weight to dye a 1000 gallon septic tank during a septic dye test. Since an ounce is about 28 grams by weight, this means we're using about 5 grams of powder.

Photograph of  this open well in a home basement - many concernsSo if my math is correct, 20 grams of 12% bleach would obscure a septic dye test. The cheapest household bleach is about 5.25% in strength. A gallon, or 128 oz, should be more than enough.

It doesn't take much bleach to lie to the dye.

As we mention in the list above, people might shock a well for a legitimate reason, as one step in determining if the building piping or well casing have become soiled and contaminated or after actually doing work on the well pump or piping in the well itself.

Shocking a well with bleach will have only a temporary effect in reducing the bacteria level in water if there is a persistent source of contamination in the water supply.

We discuss this water problem diagnosis procedure in detail at WATER TEST INTERPRETATION and Correcting Unsatisfactory Drinking Water and the details of well shocking with bleach are located there.


Continue reading at CHLORINE SOURCES in WATER - How chlorine gets in water and How to avoid water potability test dishonesty or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.




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