Common Problems

with Well Water

Well water can be plagued with high levels of total suspended sediment due to water drilling, water runoff, or any other type of activity that disturbs the earth. These high sediment levels may indicate that there are oxidized metals, like iron and manganese, microbial life, or pollutants in the water.

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Typical issues with well water

Rain hits the ground as a weak acid H2CO3 (Carbonic Acid). If it runs across calcium and/or magnesium in the ground on the way to a well or reservoir it dissolves some of it. These two minerals raise the ph (acid) condition of the water up to neutral but they constitute the hardness found in water. Hardness is not considered a health threat and therefore it is not treated in public water supplies. Public water is just as likely to be hard as well water. Hard water will shorten the life and ruin the efficiency of any kind of Water Heater. It will also significantly shorten the life and ruin the appearance of all faucets and plumbing fixtures. Hard water uses up soap products at a rate 3 to 4 times greater than soft water. It leaves the film on fixtures, tubs and showers that is so hard to clean. Soft water allows you to eliminate the use of many cleaning products. The thing you still use will work just as well or better with 1/3 or 1/4 as much as you are presently using. It is not unusual for a family of four to save the cost of the water softener in just a few years on cleaning products they buy at the grocery store.

When it rains water dissolves carbon dioxide into it on the way to the ground. Water (H2O) plus Carbon Dioxide (CO2) yields Carbonic Acid (H2CO3). So rainwater is always acidic. If the water does not run through limestone on the way to your well it will not neutralize and is still an acid when it enters your plumbing system. It is a weak acid and is not a threat in itself, but if you have metal plumbing in your home it may be a severe threat. Most houses are plumbed with copper pipes. If water in copper pipes is acidic it leaves green or bluish-green stains in sinks, tubs, and toilets. While the acid in the water is not a health threat, the copper in the water is. Houses built before 1986 generally used solder with copper pipes that was 50% lead. Lead is a very serious health threat especially to children. Today some homes use CPVC plumbing pipes that eliminate the staining of fixtures to a large extent. Faucets, however, are still brass which is 10 or more percent lead. Hot water heaters are metal as well as are washing machines and dishwashers. Damage to these fixtures and appliances continues unless treatment is applied. Remember that acid neutralizers add hardness to treated water and often create the need for a water softener where there was no need. A qualified water treatment professional may have other solutions.

Iron in water in Southeastern Pennsylvania is sporadic but widespread. It is not considered a health threat but in quantities above 1/2 part per million will leave a pronounced and difficult to clean stain on fixtures. Iron exists in water in several different forms and treatments are very tricky. They should be handled by a qualified water treatment professional and top quality equipment or duration of treatment will be short lived or become expensive to maintain. Remember the terms ferrous iron, ferric iron, organically bound iron, and iron bacteria. These forms of iron require different treatment methods and are often found together.

VOC’s are caused several things – the dumping of industrial solvents, the biodegradation of gasoline or heating oil after it leaked into the ground, and chlorine byproducts. Treatments are fairly easy and generally inexpensive however testing is expensive and unfortunately testing results are for the water contained in the sample tested and tells nothing of the water quality at anytime in the future. Most VOC’s are dangerous overlong term exposure however since dangerous quantities are just a few parts per billion and these levels cannot be seen, smelled, tasted, or felt coupled with the high cost of testing dangerous levels are consumed year after year by unsuspecting consumers. VOC’s often do not biodegrade for 100 years or more so many have had years to soak into the aquifers we have tapped for our drinking water.

If your water smells like rotten eggs it has hydrogen sulfide (H2S) in it. H2S is a gas that travels underground. If an H2S crevice exits into your well the smell is overwhelming. The treatment for H2S is oxidation. There are a variety of ways to accomplish this and some exciting new technology that may save considerable cost.

Clay silt in water is very common and widely mistaken for iron. If an orange film builds up in toilet bowls in a short period of time the part of the film that just brushes away is clay silt. The part that stains and must be removed with chemicals is the iron. Clay silt varies in particle size and can be very difficult to filter when very fine. Clay silt can also tie up iron ironically making it difficult to remove the iron totally. Again qualified water treatment professionals may have some very interesting and high tech ways of handling this most difficult treatment.

Standard water testing for bacteria consists of a total coliform bacteria test. Coliforms are a large family of bacteria of which only a small percentage are harmful. The most notorious of these are the fecal coliforms as well as e-coli. In well water, these bacteria may be present anywhere or at anytime. Ultraviolet light treatments are highly effective. Bacteria testing is quick and inexpensive and home test kits are now available. A failed bacteria test is serious. It indicates a source of contamination has access to your well. Since you do not know where your well water actually comes from it is also very difficult to determine the source of bacteria. If the source is unknown then it follows that coliform may not be the only bacteria present. Typhoid fever, malaria, and cholera are only a few of the diseases caused by water-borne bacteria.

Fertilizer and sewage waste is how nitrate gets into the ground and finds its way into some water supplies. Nitrates are most dangerous to infants. A particular digestive bacterium in an infant’s stomach converts nitrates into nitrites. Nitrites attach themselves to red blood cells and prevent them from carrying oxygen. This condition is called methemoglobinemia, which is also known as “blue baby syndrome”. Nitrates have no taste in the water. Whole house treatments, as well as single faucet treatments, are available.

Radon is a term we have known for some time now as it pertains to air. The limit of radon in the air in our homes is 4 Pico curies per liter. We now know that large amounts of radon are found in underground drinking water supplies. In parts of the northeast, levels as high as 1,000,000 Pico curies per liter have been tested. Radon in water aerates very readily so when running faucets and showers in our homes this vented radon gets added to the air radon that may be seeping from the ground into our homes. For each 10,000 Pico curies per liter in water that is venting in your home adds about 1 Pico curie per liter to the air radon level. The EPA has recently proposed a drinking water standard (MCL) for radon in water of 300 Pico curies per liter. This is for the some 60,000-community water systems located across the United States. Approximately 24,000 of these systems at present do not meet this standard. The EPA is also proposing an alternate maximum contaminant level (AMCL) of 4,000 Pico curies per liter to systems that have an air radon remediation program in place. That means if a system develops a program of testing and remediation as needed for air radon the water level radon would be safe at 4,000 Pico curies per liter. There are currently about 1,200 community water systems in the U.S. that can’t meet this standard.

Aeration is the best current treatment for high levels of water radon with the system aerating to the outside above the roofline. Lower levels of radon are best treated with granulated activated carbon. Sometimes aeration with a carbon polish will be the system of choice.

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