Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Is your well water safe for you and your dog?

Is your well water safe for you and your dog?

If you live in the country and are not connected to the cities main water system, we recommend you test your well several times throughout the year to know for certain that your well water is safe for you and your dog.

Why should you test your well?

What many don't know is that wells can become tainted at any time with a variety of dangerous and harmful contaminates depending upon the drill level and the area in which you live.

These contaminates can include:
  • VOCs - VOCs (also known as volatile organic compounds) are industrial and fuel-related chemicals that may cause bad health effects at certain levels. VOCs are carbon-containing compounds that evaporate easily from water into air at normal air temperatures. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, "when VOCs are spilled or improperly disposed of, a portion will evaporate, but some will soak into the ground. In soil, VOCs may be carried deeper by rain, water or snow melt and eventually reach the groundwater table. When VOCs migrate underground to nearby wells, they can eventually end up in drinking water supplies." Depending upon where you live, your well VOCs may be a problem. For example, if you live near industrial plants and facilities, some VOCs may include benzene, carbon tetrachloride, toluene, trichloroethelene, and methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE).
  • Minerals and other chemicals - Other excessive levels of minerals chemicals may be present in your well water depending upon where you live. Minerals at safe levels are great for your health, however you may find excessive levels that can impact you or your dog's health. For example, we have a high level of copper in our GA mountains which at excessive levels can lead to gastrointestinal distress, and with long-term exposure may experience liver or kidney damage, according to the EPA. Some areas may have high levels of nitrates, lead, arsenic, iron, mercury, uranium, radium and more. 
  • Farm chemical runoff - If you live in farming country, you may have industrial farming chemicals leak into your well, including dangerous pesticides, herbicides and insecticides that studies have shown can have dramatic affects on your dog's health from increased canine lymphoma to significantly higher bladder cancer risk,  and more.
  • Bacteria - Any of several thousand types of bacteria (both non-pathogenic and pathogenic) can contaminate your water supply. Water testing labs use a total coliform bacteria test, to find out whether the water is free of bacteria. Bacteria are single-celled organisms very commonly found in soil, on our bodies, on leaf material and in water. Bacteria serves many functions in nature by breaking down and decomposing matter. Most coliform bacteria is perfectly safe, however pathogenic bacteria can cause diseases like typhoid, dysentery, giardia, E. coli, and cholera. If these bacteria are in drinking water, they can cause serious health problems.
That's what we found out last summer.

Last summer I developed a poison ivy rash on the back of my hands. It wasn't too bad, just a few little areas on both hands. But what should have healed up easily in about 10 days, turned into a couple of months of pain, itching and open wounds on the back of my hands.

Over the course of these two months, I had no idea why my hands wouldn't heal. I took extra supplements, tried every homeopathic and all natural cream, salve and rub to contain the spreading, itching and to speed healing. But nothing worked.

Then, one weekend YoYo, Gracie and I attended an agility trial in another town. I washed my hands there and they seemed to begin to heal. That's when it hit me, it was the water that was affecting my hands. I had been continually washing my hands with bacteria filled well water.

I immediately went out and purchased a faucet filter and installed it where I washed my hands most frequently. Working from home, I wash my hands very often throughout the day. And again, I immediately saw more improvement.

That's when I had proof that all the rains we've had here on our mountain last year (nearly 90 inches in total in 2013, compared to the usual 50 or so inches) had contaminated my well.

I called my local environmental agency and discussed my situation with them. They recommended I contact my local county extension office for a water testing kit. When I talked with the individuals at the county extension office, they indicated that their system only tests for minerals, not bacteria. In addition, I would have to drive over an hour to pick up the test, gather the water sample, then drive another hour to overnight the test to the University of Georgia Agricultural & Environmental Services Laboratories who performs the testing. Not a cosnumer friendly system, by any means.

Being as miserable as I was, I wanted immediate answers. So I picked up the phone and called UGA's Agricultural & Environmental Services Laboratories who was ultimately responsible for the testing and was quickly connected to the head of the department, Dr. Uttam Saha.

I explained my situation, symptoms, and discoveries over the past few months and he immediately confirmed that my well was contaminated; as he has heard of this situation before. I discussed with him options of how to decontaminate our well and there were only three:
Being green and eco-friendly, pouring bleach down my well, then waiting 12 hours and flushing the entire plumbing system, just didn't seem like a firm, green, healthy decision.

So we went with the whole house filter system.

As we are on our adventure experiment and moving around a lot throughout the country, we are now renting a cabin in the mountains in Georgia. I immediately contacted my landlord, explained the situation, and he quickly ordered the filter units that Dr. Saha recommended for the location of our well, the size of the cabin and volume of water usage.

These units are the Trojan Whole House UV Filter System (as UV filtering systems are the only systems that will rid your water of bacteria); and the Watts WH-LD Premier Whole House Filter System, which is a sediment filtering system installed in front of the UV system to reduce the sediment flowing into the home and through the other filter.

In two days the units arrived and were installed. In the meantime, I had been boiling all of our washing and drinking water; as you can rid your water of contaminates by boiling your water at a rolling boil for one full minute.

I'm happy to report that our water is now contaminate free, safe to drink, wash with and enjoy. It was a painful, but yet very valuable process and learning experience that we wanted to share with you in the hopes that the information will be valuable to you, as well.

Thankfully, none of the dogs, cats or I have any lasting effects from the bacteria that entered our internal systems over those two months. And my hands have completely healed. I believe it's testament to our healthy lifestyle that allowed us to fight off the majority of the danger that the contaminated well posed.

If you have a well, please have it tested at least three to four times per year. You never know when your well will be contaminated and it can cause some very serious consequences, especially for those that are auto-immune compromised.

You can contact your local County Extension Office (by doing a Google search for 'county extension office' and 'your state, county') to see if they provide well testing. Some extension agencies will provide testing for free, others will provide test kits. If you'd like to test the well water yourself you can purchase Well Water Testing Kits to have on hand.

If your well contains other contaminates, or has a very high specific mineral content (which also can be dangerous to your health) you can purchase additional whole house filtering systems for all types of contaminates. If you shop around, you can get most probably get a system you need for under $500 uninstalled.

Centers for Disease Control
Minnesota Department of Health

University of Georgia
Photo: Joshua Ganderson and US Dept of Agriculture on Flickr.com

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