Around the new year, many people in the area started looking very carefully at what is in their private well water.
“One out of every six families in Delaware get their drinking water from private wells. … The Division of Public Health will actually test water — two tests for $2 apiece,” said U.S. Sen. Tom Carper while visiting the Division of Public Health site in Georgetown this week.
Indeed, people with private wells can purchase for $2 each a bacteriological test and a chemical test for private wells.
In Sussex County, people have been flocking to get the test kits. In January and February, DPH distributed around 1,100 total individual sample bottles, plus another 386 in late March.
That’s a huge jump from 2017, when the monthly average was 171 bottles. New Castle and Kent Counties only sold several hundred apiece for the whole year.
The upswing was partly triggered by an “upset” at the Mountaire Farms Millsboro wastewater treatment system that was announced in November. On a number of Millsboro fields, the Mountaire wastewater spray-irrigation system sprayed water with elevated levels of nitrogen, fecal coliform concentrations, biochemical oxygen demand (BODs) and total suspended solids (TSS).
People often test private wells once or twice a year. Private well owners should also test if there is a change in color, taste, odor or clarity; if a baby or pregnant woman is consuming the water; if neighbors find a dangerous contaminant in their water; or after any repairs to the well or plumbing system.
Wells can also benefit from annual inspections to find any mechanical problems.
People can purchase the kits with cash or check. There are specific instructions for taking the water sample. Results are mailed to the home, with the results and information on what the results mean. People can also call to ask more questions. Kits are available during business hours, for private well owners only. The kits may be purchased at any of these locations:
• Adams State Service Center, Georgetown
• Thomas Collins Building, Suite 5, Dover
• Delaware Public Health Laboratory, Smyrna
• University Office Plaza, Chopin Building, Suite 105, Newark.
Because the Community Environmental Health Services has more public offices, they help distribute wells tests for their sister office, the Office of Drinking Water. Both are overseen by Health System Protections.
The tests do not test for PFCs, which were recently found in the public drinking-water supply in Blades. These tests include chloride, alkalinity, fluoride, hardness, iron, nitrate, nitrite, pH, sodium, sulfate and more.
“Nitrates in this area are found naturally, as well as because of the agricultural history we have here. They’re fairly common [to have] high nitrates. That’s why we think it’s very important for people to have their wells tested, because of the potential effects of high nitrates,” said Jamie Mack, action section chief of Health Systems Protections.
People can also invest in much more thorough tests that identify other substances. Those can be purchased through a retailer or online.
“We do see a need for private well owners to have access to the tools they need in order to make sure that their water is safe,” Mason said.
With the health concerns over water, it’s important that the State subsidizes these inexpensive tests, officials said.
“This is really important. This is a nice — a real way to help,” Carper said.
The Office of Drinking Water can also provide information on how to treat any problems.
To learn more, contact the Delaware Health & Social Services, Division of Public Health, Thurman Adams State Service Center, 546 South Bedford Street, Georgetown, or call (302) 515-3300.