Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Well test kits ready for town residents

by Chris Schultz

August 18, 2011

LINN TOWNSHIP — About 75 testing kits will be ready for use by town of Linn residents who want to find out what's in their drinking water.

Residents gathered at Chapel on the Hill Saturday morning and, in the afternoon, at the Linn Town Hall to hear presentations on the well testing program.

About 15 town residents at Chapel on the Hill heard Ted Peters, director of the Geneva Lake Environmental Agency, explain that the program is entirely voluntary. Peters is also president of the Linn Sanitary District board. Another 35 residents showed up later at the town hall.

Peters said some of the people at the meetings were representing a number of residents who are interested in testing their wells.

Peters said water for testing should come from a sampling valve, located just outside the pressure tank inside the house. In the past, samples were taken from outside spigots, but those are too easily contaminated, Peters said.

Samples will be sent to the State Laboratory of Hygiene in Madison. There, the samples will be tested for coliform bacteria, arsenic, nitrates and chlorides.

There are more than 20 contaminants for which qualified labs can test. Those four items were selected because they had caused problems in the past, Peters said.

- Coliform bacteria is a whole family of microbes, some of which are harmless and some of which cause disease. Presence of any in the water indicates the water system is not properly closed and is vulnerable to biological pathogens.

There should be zero colonies of bacteria per sample.

- Arsenic is a heavy metal and in certain concentrations can be dangerous and even deadly to humans. Arsenic is naturally occurring in some wells more than 200 feet deep, but can also be run off from some commercial pesticides.

Maximum allowable arsenic in drinking water is 10 parts per billion.

Wells should be tested for arsenic every year, Peters said.

- Nitrates are one nitrogen molecule surrounded by three oxygen molecules. The chemical is very soluable and moves with water. It's usually found in lawn and agricultural fertilizers.

High levels can be a health issue. Related to nitrates are nitrites, which have just two oxygen molecules. Nitrites need a third oxygen molecule to stabilize and, if ingested in drinking water, will take that oxygen out of the drinker's body. While not a threat to adults, nitrates in high concentrations can be a danger to young children and pregnant women, Peters said.

Maximum allowable nitrates is 45 parts per billion. Maximum allowable free nitrogen is 10 parts per billion.

- Chloride is used as a tracer for other contaminants. Chloride is most commonly bound up in sodium chloride, or table salt. However, calcium chloride, also called road salt, can also be found in the water table.

Drinking water has a taste standard of 250 parts per billion. It's not really a health issue, said Peters, but it's at the level where the presence of chloride is noticeable in the water.

Sea water has 19,000 parts of chloride compounds per billion.

The testing kits are $91 each, a discount of 10 percent, Peters said.

If tests show that certain private wells are contaminated by one or more of the tested items, there are treatment processes that residents can consider, Peters said. Residents can also seek the source of the contamination and try to stop it there, he said.

Contaminated wells will not be shut down.

"We're not going to tell you you can't drink the water," Peters said. State drinking water standards apply only to public systems, he said.

The GLEA and the Sanitary District started sending out informational brochures in January, with follow ups in March, April and May.

Interested residents can pick up their sterile water sampling bottles and instructions on how to take samples on Aug. 20 at The Chapel on the Hill from 9 to 10:30 a.m. and at the Linn Town Hall from 10:30 a.m. to noon.

Samples will be collected Aug. 22. Residents can drop off their samples for collection and analysis at Chapel on the Hill between 9 and 10:30 a.m., and at Linn Town Hall between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

Once the results are available, a public meeting will be scheduled to discuss the results. Homeowners will be informed of the results, what they mean, and what, if anything, needs to be done to continue to monitor their well water and maintain groundwater integrity.

Sampling a Private Well:

- Locate a sampling faucet that is closest to the well head.

- Do not sample water that has passed through a hose, softener, filter, or any type of treatment system. Most new wells have a sampling faucet near the pressure tank. If you do not have a sampling faucet by the pressure tank, sample at the first faucet from the pressure tank on the cold-water line by holding a small torch or flame, sterilize the faucet lip, being careful not to get the faucet so hot that the washers melt. Do not flame plastic faucets.

- Flush the water line by letting water run a even flow for three to five minutes, until the pump turns on.

- Carefully open the sampling bottle so as to not contaminate the bottle, cap, or faucet.

- Slowly run sample water into the bottle, leaving a small unfilled area at the bottle's top.

- Carefully close the bottle, and put it in the enclosed plastic bag.

- Complete the information on the data sheet, and include it in the Styrofoam shipper with the sample bottle.

- Keep the sample refrigerated until it is taken or sent to the lab.

- Samples should arrive at the lab within 24 to 36 hours of sampling.

Specific tests require specific sample bottles and techniques. Always check with a certified lab that will be doing the analysis for any special sampling methods or bottles that may be needed.