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19% of US Drinking Wells Contaminated According To USGS Study

For the first time a national study has been conducted testing for potential trace contaminants in wells and aquifers. Conducted by the United States Geological Survey, it was found that overall 19 percent of the 5,183 tested untreated public, private and monitoring wells exceeded health-based safety standards. When private drinking water wells were removed from the data set, it was found that a surprising 13 percent of all private wells exceeded the health standards or guidelines. As a result, the report recommends homeowners consider purchasing a home water filter to purify their drinking water to protect themselves from these trace contaminants. According to the study, the estimate of those potentially at risk are 6.5 Million households, or approximately 26 Million people!

A total of 20 trace elements were monitored in the study. The three that were shown to have the highest levels were Arsenic, Radon, and Manganese. These were not isolated to a couple regions, but rather found to be persistent nationwide stating, "Wells with human health benchmark exceedances were widespread across the United States; they occurred in all aquifer groups and in both humid and dry regions."  A copy of the study can be found here.

The wells that were found to be most at risk were the private wells used by homeowners. This is due to the fact that these wells are not monitored by any agency and are not regulated. It is the homeowners responsibility to keep tabs on the water quality and for many reasons this is not commonly done. As a result, an increased amount of contaminants and health effecting trace minerals have seeped into these wells unnoticed.

Arsenic Well Contamination

Here we show the study results in map form for Arsenic:

Arsenic Well Contamination Levels


According to the EPA website on the dangers of arsenic,  "Non-cancer effects can include thickening and discoloration of the skin, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting; diarrhea; numbness in hands and feet; partial paralysis; and blindness. Arsenic has been linked to cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney, nasal passages, liver, and prostate."

Joseph Ayotte, one of the researchers and a hydrologist with the U.S.G.S. states "It was a bit surprising how many of these trace elements had exceedances of human health benchmarks, especially compared to other contaminants we are often concerned about. The findings certainly underscore the message we hear from the public health agencies, that everyone should test their wells for a suite of trace elements." For interested customers, the Berkey PF-2 filters are used inside the lower chamber of our home water filter system for removing arsenic from the water.

Radon Well Contamination

Here we show the study results in map form for Radon:

Radon Well Contamination Levels


According to the EPA website on Radon; "Radon in water is only a concern if your drinking water comes from underground, such as a well that pumps water from an aquifer. Breathing radon in indoor air can cause lung cancer. Radon gas decays into radioactive particles that can get trapped in your lungs when you breathe it.. ..radon in indoor air is the second leading cause of lung cancer." This statement directly corresponds to the radon dangers this study has found.

Joseph Ayotte makes another statement many should pay heed to. He states, "We often get more upset about these anthropogenic contaminants but we have to remember that these naturally occurring elements are often times more of a widespread problem. Not to diminish the importance of the others, but trace elements are also hugely important and arguably more so."  This is in large portion due to the fact that these trace elements build up in the body over time and can cause a slow degradation of health. This can be more dangerous as an individual can experience a slow growing health issue over many years. That individual and their doctor may struggle to isolate the root cause and not recognize that it could be harmful trace elements from their own well water. With this many Americans potentially at risk, we also strongly advocate that home owners take the necessary steps to test their wells on a yearly basis. We also recommend a home water filter like the berkey to remove these harmful trace elements from the water.

One additional poignant USGS statement was that harmful elements "far outpace" other pollutants, many of which get far more public attention. Based on previous USGS research, this 19 percent of wells that were discovered in this study compare with 7 percent of wells contaminated with nitrates and 1 to 2 percent for pesticides and volatile organic compounds.

Manganese Well Contamination

Here we show the study results in map form for Manganese:

Manganese Well Contamination Levels


The EPA does not have primary health risks associated with Manganese, rather they set secondary standards due to impacts "such as the corrosion of iron and copper, may stain household fixtures, and impart objectionable metallic taste and red or blue-green color to the water supply as well. Corrosion of distribution system pipes can reduce water flow."  Manganese can have a "black to brown color; black staining; bitter metallic taste"

Protection With a Home Water Filter

The primary question we have to ask ourselves is: How have these concentrations gotten so high putting so many US citizens at risk, and how does one protect their family? There are two primary causes for these major well changes; natural chemical evolution / groundwater age, and pollution.

The geochemistry of groundwater changes in time due to the contact with it's aquifer materials. This constant change and reactions with minerals is considered chemical evolution. Basically, the longer the water has been in contact with the aquifer, the more chemically evolved it is deemed to be and thus the greater concentrations of these trace minerals, some of which are harmful to the body such as arsenic and radon. Not stressed enough in this report is the fact that the study analysis is based on NAWQA (National Water-Quality Assessment) Program data collected from 1992 to 2003. Given the statements in the report and prior historical data, our feeling is that these harmful levels have most likely inclined, not declined since this data was collected.

In addition, while not discussed nor a focus of the USGS study, a major and still growing problem is pollution. As our lands continue to be treated with fertilizers and chemicals, in concert with continued land development, population growth, and industry pollution we experience an ever increasing trickling of chemical waste into our groundwater systems and waterways. Many of these chemicals seep and soak through the sediment impacting our wells directly. However, they also contaminate the wells indirectly by surface water runoff flowing into the underground waterway systems and ultimately finding their resting spots in karsts and water aquifers that these wells feed off of. The reality is that has been a growing problem for decades now. We've stressed the importance of conservation of karsts before as most folks do not realize that once these groundwater supplies are contaminated naturally or by human pollution, it is very difficult and expensive to reverse the condition. Regardless, protection with a home water filter is essential for homeowners whose wells have been compromised by these harmful trace minerals or chemical pollutants.

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