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Enjoy Safer Drinking Water – Get Your Well Water Tested Regularly

Apr 03, 2013
As the temperature gets warmer and the snow begins to melt, we start to see winter in the rearview mirror. As is our practice at this time of the year, the health unit would like to remind those of you who draw water from a private well to check the integrity of your well and to take water samples to detect the presence of any contamination that may have resulted from the spring snow melt and run-off.

As the temperature gets warmer and the snow begins to melt, we start to see winter in the rearview mirror. As is our practice at this time of the year, the health unit would like to remind those of you who draw water from a private well to check the integrity of your well and to take water samples to detect the presence of any contamination that may have resulted from the spring snow melt and run-off.  In addition to the bacteriological hazards, two other contaminants – nitrates and sodium – could influence the safety of your drinking water.

Nitrates are chemicals that occur naturally in soil and groundwater. The presence of nitrates in drinking water is usually the result of residential or agricultural fertilizers, or seepage from septic systems. Other sources may include the natural decay of plants and animal waste. Nitrates tend to be found in higher concentrations in water from shallow wells – less than 50 feet deep.

Because nitrates are tasteless, odourless and colourless, the only way to know whether your drinking water is safe is to have it tested. Municipal drinking water systems are tested regularly, but if you draw your drinking water from a well, the health unit recommends testing for nitrates at least once a year.

An elevated level of nitrate in drinking water is primarily a health concern for bottle-fed infants less than six months of age, as they have not yet developed the ability to properly digest nitrates. If the level of nitrate in your drinking water is above 10 mg/L, you should use a different water supply to prepare baby formula and food, or use ready-to-use formula for babies in that age range. Breastfeeding is encouraged since breast milk is safe and is not affected by nitrate levels in drinking water.

Sodium, another common element found in the environment and in drinking water, is not considered to be toxic but high concentration levels can alter the taste of drinking water to the point of being undrinkable. If you are on a sodium-reduced diet, a discussion with your physician may result in recommendations for a water treatment device or alternate source of drinking water.

Testing for sodium and nitrates can be performed by private laboratories in Ontario. You can find an up-to-date list from the Ministry of the Environment at www.ene.gov.on.ca

The health unit recommends that you test your well water for bacteria at least three times a year. Bacterial contamination can be an indicator that surface water is entering your well. The good news is bacterial testing is free for private homeowners and you can pick up a test bottle and instructions at your local health unit office.

For more information on well water testing programs in your area and for interpretation of test results, visit www.simcoemuskokahealth.org or call Your Health Connection at 705-721-7520 or 1-877-721-7520 and speak with a public health inspector.

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Dr. Pfaff is one of Simcoe Muskoka’s associate medical officers of health


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