Natural sources of water contaminants: can some sources of ground water or well water contamination occur naturally? If so what are they and what do we do about them? What are the naturally-occurring pollutants likely to be found in water wells?
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Naturally-occurring sources of water well contamination or pollutants:
This article discusses the common sources of naturally-occurring water well contamination. Understanding when a water contaminant, such as certain microorganisms or bacteria or viruses are occurring from natural environmental sources can help guide our steps to make the water safe to drink. Natural water contaminant sources discussed here include microorganisms, radionuclides, nitrates and nitrites, heavy metals and fluoride. What can be confusing is that some of these same water pollutants may originate from a man-made source as well.
What are Some Naturally Occurring Sources of [Water] Pollution?
This EPA article (in series by subtopic) helps answer these questions. It gives you general information about drinking water from home wells (also considered private
drinking water sources). It 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.
[Editing for clarity by DF are marked by brackets or italics] Initial Source: EPA 816-K-02-003 January 2002 Edits, content addition, & web page design
Microorganisms naturally occurring in drinking water or wells
Bacteria, viruses, parasites and other microorganisms are sometimes found in water. Shallow wells - those with water close to ground level
- are at most risk. Runoff, or water flowing over the land surface, may pick up these pollutants from wildlife and soils.
This is often
the case after flooding. Some of these organisms can cause a variety of illnesses. Symptoms include nausea and diarrhea. These can occur
shortly after drinking contaminated water. The effects could be short-term yet severe (similar to food poisoning) or might recur frequently
or develop slowly over a long time.
Radionuclides naturally occurring in drinking water or wells
Radionuclides are radioactive elements such as uranium and radium. They may be present in underlying rock and ground water. Radon - a gas
that is a natural product of the breakdown of uranium in the soil - can also pose a threat. Radon is most dangerous when inhaled and
contributes to lung cancer.
Although soil is the primary source, using household water containing Radon contributes to elevated indoor
Radon levels. Radon is less dangerous when consumed in water, but remains a risk to health.
Nitrates and Nitrites naturally occurring in drinking water or wells
Although high nitrate levels are usually due to human activities (see below), they may be found naturally in ground water. They come from
the breakdown of nitrogen compounds in the soil. Flowing ground water picks them up from the soil. Drinking large amounts of nitrates and
nitrites is particularly threatening to infants (for example, when mixed in formula).
Heavy Metals naturally occurring in drinking water or wells
Underground rocks and soils may contain arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, and selenium. However, these contaminants are not often found in
household wells at dangerous levels from natural sources.
Fluoride naturally occurring in drinking water or wells
Fluoride is helpful in dental health, so many water systems add small amounts to drinking water. However, excessive consumption of
naturally occurring fluoride can damage bone tissue. High levels of fluoride occur naturally in some areas. It may discolor teeth, but
this is not a health risk.
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