Water Testing

Generally speaking, well-owners are responsible for protecting the water in their wells, just as the government is responsible for protecting public water. To that end, the EPA recommends annual testing of well-water for potential contaminants. The most popular bundle of items to test for is the one that most lenders require – we call it the VA/FHA sampling package.

It generally takes fewer than twenty minutes, has a turnaround time of 3 business days and includes testing the water for specific Primary and Secondary Drinking Water Standards:

  • The Primary Drinking Water Standards are enforceable standards set forth by the EPA. When these levels exceed the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) they are considered to be unsafe for human consumption. These include: bacteria (Total Coliform and E.coli), nitrates, nitrites, and lead.
  • The Secondary Drinking Water Standards were also set forth by the EPA and are generally not considered to be dangerous to human health. They can cause aesthetic or cosmetic problems to the water quality and plumbing system. These are: iron, turbidity, and pH. 

Water sampling while we are on-site performing a home inspection is $250 for bacteria, nitrates, nitrites, lead, iron, turbidity, and pH. For stand-alone water sampling, without a home inspection, it is $325.

Let’s take a closer look at the tests that clients in our region commonly sample for. I’ve put a * next to each one that is part of the $250 bundle. ( Primary and Secondary Standards on the EPA website has a full list of all standards).

  1. *Total Coliform (primary, turn around time 3 business days) testing is used to indicate if potentially harmful bacteria are present. The treatment is to chlorinate the well, install a UV light, or to make any necessary well repairs.
  1. *E. coli (primary, TAT 3 business days) causes stomach illness and comes from human and animal fecal waste. The treatment is to chlorinate the well, install a UV light, or to make any necessary well repairs.
  1. *Nitrate and Nitrite (primary, TAT 3 business days) can reduce the blood’s ability to carry oxygen and cause blue-baby syndrome. These come from the erosion of natural deposits, run-off from fertilizers, leaking septic tanks, or sewage in the water. The treatment is to install a reverse osmosis system.
  1. *Lead (primary, TAT 3 business days) causes slowed mental development, kidney problems, and high blood pressure. This testing indicates the presence and level of lead in water. Folks on well water AND on public water– have the potential for elevated levels of lead in their water.

a.) Homes on public water built in 1986 or earlier can have lead in the water caused by corrosion of household plumbing systems or hardware. Lead in well water can be caused by corrosion and erosion of natural deposits of lead.

b.) The entity responsible for public water’s safety ensures its safety from the water treatment plant to your property. Once the water is in the pipes on your property, its safety is up to you.

c.) EPA protocol for sampling water for lead requires home occupants (or in the case of vacant homes, the real estate agent or property manager) to follow specific instructions prior to the testing.

i.) If the home is vacant, we recommend running the cold water from the kitchen faucet for an hour the day before the sampling. If it’s occupied, the occupants should put a towel over their kitchen sink faucet the night before the sampling as a reminder to not run the water from the kitchen sink until after the sampling. The water sampler must be the first to run the water from the kitchen sink on the day of the sampling. To obtain the most accurate results, the faucet must not be used for at least six hours before the sampling.

d.) To reduce the levels of lead in water, pipe replacement or installation of a neutralizer or chemical feeder are recommended.

  1. Radium (primary, TAT 7 business days) causes an elevated risk of bone cancer, can require more than one test, and has a turnaround time of 7 business days.

a.) Gross Alpha (short-term gross alpha) is the first test done when radium is your concern. If the short-term gross (total) alpha activity levels are less than 5 picoCuries per liter (5 pCi/l), the water meets the safety requirements, so no additional radium tests are needed.

b.) Radium 226 & 228 (TAT 10 business days) testing is recommended if the short-term gross alpha activity level is greater than 5 pCi/l but below 15 pCi/l.

c.) If the short-term gross alpha activity exceeds 15 pCi/l, it has exceeded the maximum contaminant level, so additional radium tests are needed.

d.) Elevated levels of radium can be lowered to meet the safety requirements by installing a water softener or point of use ion exchange, reverse osmosis, or distillation water treatment system for drinking and food preparation.

e.) Maps of some of the Maryland locations where testing for radium in well water is recommended can be found at these three links. These three counties are the ones that have public maps of known elevated radium levels. For information from other counties, contact their health departments for more information.

i.) Anne Arundel County Radium Risk Area

ii.) Anne Arundel County Well Water Problem Areas) (Annapolis Neck, Gambrills, Fort Meade/Odenton area, and the Annapolis/Edgewater peninsula)

ii.) Baltimore County Radium Risk Areas

iii.) Howard County Radium Risk Areas

  1. Radon in Water (TAT 7 business days) can raise the risk of developing lung cancer and the EPA and CDC do not have an actionable threshold for radon in water like they do for radium. Below 4,000 pCi/l is the commonly acceptable level. Testing for radon in water in a real estate transaction can cause confusion between buyer and seller due to the lack of precisely set actionable threshold guidelines. A whole house aeration treatment or granular activated carbon system are effective in reducing radon in water.
  1. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) (primary, TAT 7 business days)) cause an increased risk of cancer and come from gas and chemical leaks. A charcoal filter is the recommended course of action to minimize the risk of exposure.

  1. Arsenic (primary, TAT 3 business days) causes skin damage, circulatory problems, and cancer. It can be naturally occurring and come from industrial waste. It is recommended that wells in Calvert and St. Mary’s Counties, the Eastern Shore, and Mayo, Edgewater, Arnold, and Annapolis be tested.  To treat water for arsenic, install a reverse osmosis system.
  1. Cadmium (primary, TAT 7 business days) can lead to kidney damage and comes from natural deposits, pipes, and industrial waste. Treatment is the use of a reverse osmosis system.
  1. Copper (primary, TAT 3 business days) can cause gastrointestinal distress and liver or kidney damage. It comes from the corrosion of household plumbing and erosion of natural deposits. An acid neutralizer, reverse osmosis, or pipe replacement are recommended.
  1. *Iron (secondary, TAT 3 business days) can cause staining on plumbing fixtures and laundry. It is naturally occurring and can be minimized by installing a water softener.
  1. *Turbidity (secondary, TAT 3 business days) interferes with filtration and can indicate a failing well. In some instances, a sediment filter will solve the problem.
  1. *pH (secondary, TAT 3 business days) is naturally occurring and when it’s low, it can cause water to have a bitter taste and be corrosive. When it is high, it can have a slippery feel and leave deposits on plumbing fixtures. An acid neutralizer will balance the pH.
  1. Chlorides/Total Dissolved Solids/Saltwater Intrusion (secondary, TAT 3 business days) can damage plants if used for gardening, give drinking water an unpleasant taste, and, because of its high corrosivity, it will damage plumbing, water heaters, and appliances (i.e. washing machine and water and ice dispensers in your refrigerator). It is usually found in wells at properties near tidal water and heavily trafficked roads that are treated with salt during the winter. Reverse osmosis is an effective treatment.

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