Bad Well?
August 17, 2006 11:47 AM   Subscribe

A test by the Department of Environmental Protection has confirmed Coliform bacteria is present in well water. The sample does not contain E. coli, which would be indicative of fecal contamination. How does one go about determining the source of this contamination, and what remedial action should be taken?
posted by furiousxgeorge to Health & Fitness (10 answers total)
 
What kind of well? A residential well? Generally the procedure is to shock the well by dumping unscented bleach in it. (more) Since a well is not a sterile environment, the source is not really a big deal as long as the shock treatment gets rid of it and the tests are not indicative of a septic leak.
posted by rolypolyman at 11:54 AM on August 17, 2006


Residential, yes.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:11 PM on August 17, 2006


What rolypolyman said. You run a hose from your house to th well, dump clorox in the well, then run the hose for a while to circulate it. Once it gets going you turn on each faucet in the house briefly, until you can smell the bleach coming out. That gets the bleach into the pipes in the house.
posted by alms at 12:42 PM on August 17, 2006


I notice that link I posted talked about waiting months before retesting. Obviously that's not practical when selling a house. When we were selling our house the water department recommended retests one week after a shock. There's probably more on this that can be Googled, with varying personal anecdote in misc.consumers.house.
posted by rolypolyman at 1:04 PM on August 17, 2006


It doesn't sound like you need this, but when I was renting an old ranch house where tests showed contamination, the owner installed chlorination equipment between the pump and the house. It dripped bleach into the incoming water, then held it in a 50 gallon tank, followed by an activated charcoal filter to remove the chlorine. It was a pretty simple set-up and worked well. I think it cost around $2K in the mid-90s.

Fwiw at a previous rental with bad water we got shigella infections, and two of our kids were hospitalized. It was probably my mentioning that which prompted the owner's aggressive water treatment.
posted by anadem at 1:15 PM on August 17, 2006


You might want to consider hiring an environmental consultant if you want to identify the source.
posted by curie at 1:32 PM on August 17, 2006


Fixing your problem is going to mean finding the source and stopping the release into your water supply. You then need to wait until the aquifer naturally flushes and the bacterial levels fall below dangerous concentrations, as established by more testing.

Source attribution can be hard and expensive, but there a few easy things you can try next. Check with other sources near by. Get your neighbors tested. See if there's a geographic clustering of results. Sometime this produces an obvious source, like a manure pad or a leaky septic system. if so, and you can get to owner to correct it, end of story.

If you can't find an obvious source, or if the source is in dispute, things get more complicated. Have you contacted your local state and federal offices? I know you've had a sample tested by the EPA lab, but have you directly involved their drinking water office? These are often different people. You are in EPA region 3; their drinking water page is here. I'm not certain how jurisdictions work in the US, but calling them would be a good first step. Your governmental people may take over finding the source and correcting the problem for you, particularly if this affects a lot of people.

If you feel that you have suffered significant damages, you may want to spend some money to get your own assessment. An environmental or geochemistry consultant is a good idea at this point. They can do a land-use assessment and a survey of the local water systems. They should be able to nail the source pretty definitively. There are bacterial forensics that can be done, DNA testing for example, that can be used to prove source identifications. This may be necessary to force clean-up. Look for someone professionally licensed as an environmental/geological engineer or certified as an analytical chemist to do the assessment and survey. Hire them as you would any professional---don't be shy about asking for references. Make sure that they use a lab accredited under the EPA/NELAC or A2LA programs to do your analysis. This means that they've been audited for performance recently and also protects you if people start making legal talk which is frequently where environmental issues such as these end up.
posted by bonehead at 2:22 PM on August 17, 2006


(sorry, in case it isn't oblivious, I'm talking about chronic problems with significant health effects. If this is low-level or a one-off event, follow rolypolyman and alm's advice above.)
posted by bonehead at 2:27 PM on August 17, 2006


there are many, many fecal coliforms besides e. coli.
posted by brandz at 6:28 PM on August 17, 2006


Presence of such bacteria may in itself not be dangerous; your water department may be able to give you free advice on this.
Tracking the source depends on geography.
Sand is easy to trace contaminants in.
Fractured limestone is a nightmare, and usually involves dye tests;
these inject dye at a point and then look where the dye comes out.
However, a potential point source is unlikely to voluntarily allow you on their property.
posted by dragonsi55 at 4:59 PM on August 19, 2006


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