Many residents rely on drilled, dug, or bored wells to supply water for drinking and other household uses. Groundwater is a shared resource that crosses property lines, and contamination from one well can put other wells at risk. To protect yourself and others, test your well water for bacterial contamination.
It is the homeowner’s responsibility to test their drinking water to ensure it is safe. Test as often as needed (bacteriological tests are free) and do so at least seasonally. You should also test your well water any time you experience issues with quality or quantity (e.g. flooding or drought).
Supplies to test your private well water supply for bacteria are available at your nearest Public Health office. Be sure to check out our Water Sample Drop-Off Schedule. If a chemical problem is suspected, these specific tests can be completed through a licensed private lab, for a fee.
Testing Your Well Water
- Pick-up a free water sample bottle from Hastings Prince Edward Public Health.
- Remove any aerator, screen or other attachments from your faucet. Do not take a sample from an outside faucet or garden hose.
- Disinfect the end of the faucet with an alcohol swab or dilute bleach solution (1-part household bleach to 10 parts water).
- Turn on cold water and let it run for two to three minutes to remove standing water from your plumbing system.
- Remove the sample bottle lid. Do not touch the inside of lid. Do not put the lid down. Do not rinse out bottle.
- Fill the bottle to the fill line marked on the bottle and close the lid firmly.
- Keep the sample cool (but not frozen) until it is returned to Hastings Prince Edward Public Health. Please remember to complete the bottle’s attached form and deliver the sample on the same day it was collected.
Understanding Your Test Results
- Total Coliform – these bacteria are always present in animal waste and sewage but are also found in soil and on vegetation. The presence of these bacteria may indicate that surface water is entering your well.
- Escherichia coli (E. Coli) – these bacteria are found only in the digestive systems of people and animals. Their presence in your well water is usually the result of contamination from nearby human or animal waste.
|Total Coliform||E. Coli||What it means|
|0||0||SAFE for drinking|
|1 – 5||0||Three samples with these results, collected 1 to 3 weeks apart, indicate water is SAFE for drinking|
|>6||0||UNSAFE for drinking unless boiled or treated|
|—||1 to >80||UNSAFE for drinking unless boiled or treated|
|Estimated (Est)||—||UNSAFE for drinking unless boiled or treated|
|Overgrown (O/G)||—||UNSAFE for drinking unless boiled or treated|
If your well water continues to test positive for bacteria you may wish to consult a Disinfection Instruction Sheet, or contact Healthy Environments at 613-966-5500 or 1-800-267-2803, ext. 677 for guidance.
Pregnancy, Young Infants and Well Water
Well water safety is especially important if you have an infant under 6 months of age at home. Nitrate, which is a salt-like substance, is present in the environment and sometimes found in well water. You are in a susceptible location for nitrates if near sources of animal waste run-off, fertilizers, or seepage of human sewage from private septic systems.
Babies do not have the ability to properly digest nitrates and may get a condition called “blue baby syndrome” (methemoglobinemia), where they turn blue because of a lack of oxygen. Women who are pregnant should also avoid drinking water high in nitrates.
Testing for nitrates can be completed through a licensed lab. If the nitrate levels in your well water are too high (10 mg/L or more) you should use another source of water for preparing food/formula for your baby (e.g. municipal water or bottled water). It is important to note that boiling water does not remove nitrates.