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Your Well Water And E. Coli: Three Things You Should Know

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Escherichia coli is a type of bacteria that lives in mammals' and birds' intestines, and it's found in the fecal matter produced by these animals. If fecal matter gets into your well, you could ingest E. Coli and get sick. Here are three things you should know about your well water and E. Coli.

How does E. Coli get into wells?

E. Coli can get into groundwater in a variety of ways. Agricultural runoff is one potential source of this contamination. When rainwater, snowmelt, floodwater or other water sources flow across agricultural land, manure—and the bacteria it contains—is transported, and when this water soaks into the ground in a new location, the groundwater can become contaminated. Your own septic tank, or a neighbor's septic tank, can also contaminate the water supply if it's not functioning properly. This is why the surrounding area is important to keep in mind during the initial water well drilling

Additionally, if your well is in poor repair, E. Coli bacteria could seep inside at ground level. For example, if your well cap is old or missing, contaminated surface water could flow in. Cracks in the casing could also allow feces-contaminated water to get into your well.

Why is E. Coli a concern in well water?

If you ingest contaminated water, you could develop an intestinal infection. This leads to stomach problems like nausea, stomach cramps or bloody diarrhea. More serious problems can also occur, like anemia or kidney failure. Drinking contaminated water can even kill you, so it's important to ensure that your well water is safe. You should have your well water tested by a laboratory at least once a year; test more often if you have reason to suspect the water is contaminated.

How are contaminated wells treated?

If your well water contains E. Coli, the well will need to be disinfected. A plumber can use either sodium hypochlorite or calcium hypochlorite to disinfect your well; don't try to do this yourself unless you're confident that you have the right equipment and training to handle the job.

The chlorinated water will be run through all of your home's plumbing fixtures to get rid of any E. Coli remaining in the pipes; this water will remain in the pipes for at least 12 hours, and then the pipes will be flushed. Your well water should be re-tested about a week later to make sure it's safe. If the contamination returns, further steps, like repairing the well, may be necessary.

To protect yourself, make sure to have your well water tested for E. Coli and other dangerous contaminants.