Private well water should be tested yearly, and in some cases more often, according to new guidance offered by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of the National Institutes of Health, took a lead role in working with the AAP to develop these recommendations and draft a new AAP policy statement about the things parents should do if their children drink well water. The recommendations call for annual well testing, especially for nitrate and microorganisms such as coliform bacteria. The recommendations point out circumstances when additional testing should occur, including testing when there is a new infant in the house or if the well is subjected to structural damage.
"Children are especially vulnerable to waterborne
illnesses that may come from contaminated wells," says Walter Rogan, M.D.,
an epidemiologist at NIEHS and lead author on the policy statement and
technical report that appears in the June issue of Pediatrics. The new
policy statement, "Drinking Water from Private Wells and Risks to
Children," offers recommendations for inspection, testing and remediation
of wells providing drinking water for children.
"With few exceptions, well owners are responsible for
their own wells," says Rogan. Private wells are not subject to federal
regulations, and are only minimally regulated by states.
Nitrate is the most common contaminant in wells. The
presence of nitrates can be a problem particularly for infants under 3 months
who cannot metabolize nitrate. Water with a nitrate concentration of more than
1.0 milligrams per liter should not be used to prepare infant formula or given
to a child younger than 1 year. The policy statement suggests using bottled
water for infants when nitrate contamination is detected, or when the source of
drinking water is not known.
The policy statement and accompanying technical report point
out that water contamination is inherently local, and that families with wells
need to keep in contact with state and local health experts to determine what
should be tested in their community. For example, some parts of the country may
have arsenic, radon, salt intrusion or agricultural runoff that may get into
the water supply. Approximately one-sixth of U.S. households now get their
drinking water from private wells. A compilation of state-by-state telephone
and Web-based resources of local experts is included in the technical report.
New Guidance Recommends Testing Well Water Annually for Children's Health
May 27, 2009