Water, Water Everywhere — but is it Safe to Drink?

Posted in: Drinking Water News, US Water News, Water Contamination
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(Photo credit: Lorene Parshall/Herald Times) Chuck Edwards, environmental health inspector, demonstrates the process necessary to have well water tested for contaminating bacteria and chemicals.

Article courtesy of Lorene Parshall | May 18, 2015 | Herald Times | Shared as educational material

OTSEGO COUNTY — After the air we breath, water is the second most essential requirement for life. It is nearly 60 percent of our body and we can’t go more than a few days without it.

We’re pretty lucky when it comes to plentiful safe water in Northern Michigan compared to other parts of the world with droughts and less stringent regulations.

But that doesn’t mean we can take it for granted.

“In Otsego County everybody has well water except for the City of Gaylord, one little section in Elmira and a few small pockets like that,” said Chuck Edwards, environmental health inspector housed at the Gaylord office of Health Department of Northwest Michigan.

“We get many requests to have well water tested. I can’t say specifically how many requests are from Otsego County — our lab is a regional office that deals with 20 municipalities — but some are from Otsego County and some of the water tested has problems.”

Edwards said there are a number of variables that might cause residential well water to become contaminated.

“Anytime you open your plumbing to be repaired or do work around the pump it could introduce bacteria into the water,” he said. “It is always good to have the water tested and disinfected if it’s needed. Water from a well should be tested if a new well is driven or if there is any change in the quality, smell or odor of the water. We do coliform testing for bacteria.”

The presence of coliform bacteria indicates pathogenic or disease-causing organisms may be present. The test also analyzes for E. coli organisms and if found further suggests sewage contamination. The cost of the test is $18 per sample.

Edwards said the health department can also do “partial chemistry” testing which tests for fluoride, chloride, hardness, nitrate, nitrite, sulfate sodium and iron. The test determines if a well has been contaminated by chemicals. The cost for a partial chemistry is $20 per sample.

“Most people take their own samples,” Edwards said. “We can come to your house and take the samples, but it’s expensive. “We give you the instructions on how to do it when we give you the sample bottles.”

In Otsego County, only 6 percent of households have city water and the other 94 percent depend on private well water, according to statistics from the U.S. Census Community Survey.

Almost half of all Michigan residents depend on groundwater as their sole source of drinking water, according to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. The DEQ reported at one point there were more than 10,000 places in Michigan where groundwater was contaminated. Seventy percent of the sites have been polluted by leaking underground oil and gasoline storage tanks and 30 percent by landfills, manufacturing, mining and bulk-chemical storage facilities.

Nitrates/nitrites are more commonly found in rural areas and are associated with septic waste and the use of nitrate bearing fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.

“In general, the Otsego County water supply is good,” said Holly Gohlke, environmental quality analyst with the Gaylord DEQ office. “If there are any problems the county and state are monitoring them to keep the public safe.

Gohlke said there can be problems having to do with specific sites anywhere, but there are worse problems in other areas of the state — such as high concentrations of arsenic in groundwater in southeast Michigan — that are monitored and dealt with. On the whole, she feels we’re lucky to live in Michigan.

“In Michigan we have a pretty awesome-grade drinking water,” Gohlke said. “We have very strict regulations on well construction. And we address water with a multi-barrier approach to ensure the safety of drinking water and protect groundwater — well construction, sampling, monitoring and isolation for contamination.”

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