What Are Acceptable Levels in a Drinking Well Water Analysis?
Acceptable levels of contaminants, substances which can pollute or infect drinking water, are set by the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA enforces these levels for public water systems, but not for private water wells. However, when certified laboratories analyze private wells for acceptable levels, the EPA standards are applied. The EPA has developed a Maximum Containment Level for contaminants posing health problems. Such pollutants must test below the MCL figure to be acceptable. EPA advises that well water be tested for pesticides, organic chemicals and heavy metals before initial use. Annually, it should be tested for nitrates, among other chemicals and microorganisms.
Pesticides are used to destroy pests. They contain chemical pollutants which can enter the ground water and wells from gardens and lawns. MCL levels have been assigned to these organic chemicals, three of which are lindane, methoxychlor and oxamyl. Lindane, which may cause liver or kidney problems, has a MCL of .0002 milligrams per liter (mg/L); methoxychlor, which may cause reproductive problems, .04 mg/L; and oaxmyl, which can cause slight nervous system problems, .02 mg/L.
Many other organic chemicals exist which have EPA-designated MCLs. Included among them are benzene, chlorobenzene and dioxin. Benzene, caused by factory discharges and landfill leaching, may increase cancer risk and cause anemia. MCL is .005 mg/L. Chlorobenzene, a possible cause of liver or kidney difficulties, comes largely from chemical-factory discharges. It has a MCL of .1 mg/L. Dioxin, which causes increased cancer risk and reproductive problems, comes largely from waste incineration. MCL is .00000003 mg/L.
Construction and mining near water wells may release inorganic chemicals from heavy metals into the groundwater. They may also come from natural sources like rock and soil. They may contain arsenic, cadmium and lead. Arsenic, with a MCL of .010 mg/L, may increase cancer risk and circulatory difficulties. Cadmium, possibly causing kidney damage, has a MCL of .005 mg/L. Lead, which may lead to childhood developmental delays and adult kidney difficulties, has an MCL of .015 mg/L.
Nitrates are inorganic compounds which usually come from human and animal waste as well as from nearby landfills and garbage dumps. Infants under six months could become seriously ill and, if not treated, die when they drink water with nitrate levels above the acceptable MCL rate of 10 mg/L.
- Cooperative Extension Service University of Kentucky College of Agriculture: Drinking Water Standards
- United States Environmental Protection Agency: Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)
- United States Environmental Protection Agency: Private Wells
- United States Environmental Protection Agency: National Primary Drinking Water Regulations