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Private water wells more vulnerable to contamination

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As the population grows and rural areas become more developed, homeowners on private water wells are finding they're more vulnerable to drinking-water contamination problems than their urban neighbors, said Bob Schultheis, a University of Missouri agricultural engineering specialist for outreach and extension programs.

"In the city, residents pay a fee through their utility bill each month to have a qualified person assure their drinking water stays safe. In the rural areas, the

homeowner is the person responsible for testing and keeping the water safe," he said in a news release.

Bacteria and nitrate contamination, which can cause health-threatening diseases, are the primary concerns, Schultheis added, especially if the water well is within 100 to 200 feet of the home's septic-tank lateral system or if barren feedlots on livestock farms can drain downstream toward the well.

"Water-sample bottles are available through county health departments to test for bacteria or nitrates at a cost of $10 per sample," Schultheis said. "It's best to test four times a year until you identify a pattern of any contamination problems, and then at least annually thereafter."

Recommendations for correcting any problems found will be supplied with the test results. The results should be kept with other important papers in case good water goes bad at a later date, Schultheis said.

"Some people have well water that has a rotten-egg odor and taste, which is caused by hydrogen sulfide. If the odor and taste are in the hot water only, remove and discard the anti-corrosion magnesium rod from the electric water heater. If it's in both hot and cold water, check with a reputable water-treatment company about installing an iron and sulfur water conditioner, or an automatic chlorinator and sand filter," Schultheis said in the release.

"If the water has a metallic taste and causes reddish-brown stains in sinks, commodes and bathtubs, iron is the culprit. Dissolved iron in the groundwater is oxidized by air in the pressure tank and forms an insoluble, rusty, iron oxide," Schultheis said. "The selection of a treatment process to remove the iron depends on the chemical form of the iron and its concentration."

Hydrogen sulfide can produce a laxative effect in some people, he added, but, while iron causes unsightly stains, it won't cause health problems.

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