Coliforms are bacteria naturally present in the environment and used as an indicator that other, potentially harmful, bacteria may be present. Fecal coliform and E. coli are bacteria whose presence indicates that water may be contaminated by human or animal wastes and harmful to human health.
A primary source of arsenic to drinking water wells is from water flowing through arsenic-rich rocks and soil. It can be further released into the environment through natural activities such as volcanic action and forest fires, as well as through human actions. Arsenic is used in paints, dyes, metals, drugs, soaps, and semiconductors. Agricultural applications, mining, and smelting also contribute to arsenic releases in the environment. These can enter the groundwater system by gradually moving with the flow of groundwater from rains, melting of snow, etc.
Testing water for arsenic in areas where arsenic is a concern is an important strategy for private water well owners to safeguard the health and well-being of their family. Working with a water professional to monitor and maintain the quality of the well and water supply is an important responsibility of the private water system owner.
Exposure to arsenic at high levels poses potential serious health effects as it is a known human carcinogen, or cancer-causing agent. It also has been reported to affect the vascular system in humans and has been associated with the development of diabetes.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a maximum contaminant level for nitrates at 10 parts per million. High levels of nitrates can cause health problems, including methemoglobinemia, commonly known as “blue baby syndrome.”
In blue baby syndrome, nitrates are reduced to nitrites in an infant’s stomach. When the nitrites enter the bloodstream, they interfere with the blood’s ability to carry oxygen to body tissues. This can be an acute condition in which the baby’s health deteriorates rapidly in a span of a few days. It can cause shortness of breath, increased susceptibility to illness, heart attacks, and even death by asphyxiation.
The greatest source of nitrates is fertilizers that are used to provide nitrates to crops. Animal and human waste also contains nitrogen in the form of ammonia. Decomposing plant and animal materials also generate nitrates.
Radon can cause lung cancer, and drinking affected water can lead to stomach cancer. High exposure to radium-226 and radium-228 has been known to cause bone, stomach, lung, and other forms of cancer. Uranium is believed to cause bone cancer, and the EPA has stated it can be toxic to kidneys too. Gross alpha, beta, and photon emitters are considered carcinogens as well.
Hydrogen sulfide is a colorless gas that can exist naturally in groundwater. Sulfur-reducing bacteria present in groundwater use sulfur as an energy source to chemically change sulfates to hydrogen sulfide. The bacteria use sulfur from decaying plants and other organic matter in oxygen-deficient environments. They can occur in deep or shallow wells, and reside in plumbing systems.
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