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Water Quality / Well Inspection Answers

What causes poor water quality?

Many contaminants contribute to poor water quality. Sometimes, the source of contamination is simply a natural occurrence in the environment. Rocks containing nitrates, arsenic, and lead can contaminate the water supply. So can radon gas. Other times, the source may be man-made, such as a failed septic tank, waste from households or industry, or pesticides.

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What are the health hazards?

The health hazards of contaminated water depend on the type of contaminate and the degree of ingestion or contact. Children, pregnant women, and people with weak immune systems are at greater risk.

To determine the potential health risks of a specific contaminate, see the EPA's Drinking Water Regulations.

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How do I find out about my drinking water?

Public water suppliers are required by federal law to provide a Consumer Confidence Report to their clients. The report must list contaminants in the water supply as well as the amount and source of the contamination. You can request a copy directly from your water supplier. If your supplier has a web site, the report may be viewed there. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also provides links to many Consumer Confidence Reports .

If you depend on private well water, you'll need to have it tested to determine contaminants. The EPA recommends testing annually for coliform bacteria, nitrates, total dissolved solids, and PH levels. Contact the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791 to find a certified laboratory to conduct the tests. For more information about testing and protecting well water, see Water on Tap .

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Should I have my tap water tested?

It is a good idea to have your tap water tested, especially for lead. Lead is considered dangerous and can have serious health consequences. It enters the water supply through pipes and plumbing products containing lead.

Both old and new homes can have a lead problem. In older homes, deteriorated pipes contaminate tap water. In newer homes, the solder that connects copper pipes can be the culprit. So can newer lead-free" plumbing. In fact, the EPA cautions that lead may be leached into the water supply of new homes for up to 5 years. At this point, mineral build-up on the pipe interior minimizes the leaching process.

If you decide to test your water, be sure to hire a certified laboratory. Your state's health department should be able to provide referrals.

You can also take steps to reduce your exposure to lead. For example, it's always a good idea to use cold tap water for cooking, drinking and brushing teeth. And, plan to flush your pipes if water has sat in them overnight or more than 6 hours. You can flush your pipes by running your sink faucets until the water runs cold.

For other tips, see Actions You Can Take to Reduce Lead in Drinking Water.

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How much does a water test cost?

Testing costs vary depending on the number of samples taken and the type of contaminants tested for. A basic test for pH, bacteria and mineral components can cost between $300 and $800.

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Should I consider a water treatment system?

There are four main types of treatment systems sold for residential use: Activated carbon fiber, ion exchange, reverse osmosis, and distillation. Each has its benefits and limitations and some cost more than others. An activated carbon filter that fits on your faucet, for example, is much less expensive than a whole-house reverse osmosis system.

Unfortunately, no system is capable of removing all contaminants. Before selecting a system, it's a good idea to have your water tested. Then you'll know what system will work best for you. To avoid a conflict of interest, send your water sample to a certified laboratory, rather than allowing a sales person to conduct the test.

See the EPA's Water on Tap for a comparison of treatment systems and their limitations.

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How can I help protect the water supply?

A significant portion of water contamination is the result of human activity. Here are some steps you can take reduce water contamination and help protect the water supply:

  • Eliminate or limit the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers
  • Maintain and test your septic system and well
  • Report hazardous dumping to your local health department
  • Report failed septic systems to your local health department
  • Don't dump chemicals or paint down the drain

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Smart Tips
  • If your dishes have water spots, or your tub is stained, or you detect a strange taste in your tap water, visit the Water Quality Association's water quality symptom search engine. This online tool may help diagnose your ailing water.
  • If you're building a new home or replacing existing plumbing, ask your plumber to use lead-free solder and plumbing materials. NSF International provides guidance on purchasing the safest plumbing products for the home.

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What is a well inspection?

A thorough examination of a water well, including water flow, water quality, pump motor performance, as well as an inspection of the pressure tank and pressure switch contact to ensure optimum performance.

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How should I choose a water well service?

Ask whether the inspector or contractor is certified by the National Ground Water Association (NGWA), a nonprofit trade and professional society, which operates a voluntary certification program that establishes standards for professional competency. The association offers certifications in well drilling, pump installation and ground water contracting.

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How often do I need a well inspection?

Private wells should be inspected annually or at the point of sale.

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How much does a well inspection cost?

Prices vary depending on the type of sampling and testing procedures used. A general inspection ranges from $150 to $350.

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It is customary for the buyer to pay?

In most states, it is customary for the buyer to pay for the inspection.

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