Lab Matters Fall 2018 | Page 16

ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH Private Wells: Regulations, Testing Recommendations and a New Public Health Lab Initiative in Iowa by: Susie Dai, PhD, associate director, Environmental Health Programs, State Hygienic Laboratory at the University of Iowa; Alyssa Mattson, administrative services specialist, State Hygienic Laboratory at the University of Iowa; Michael Schueller, assistant director, Environmental Operations, State Hygienic Laboratory at the University of Iowa; Christl Tate, program manager, Program & Partnership Development, National Environmental Health Association; and Steve Wilson, groundwater hydrologist, The Private Well Class, Illinois State Water Survey at the University of Illinois. • State public health laboratories typically provide more thorough follow up with well owners with contamination issues than private laboratories. About one in eight Americans rely on a private well as their primary drinking water source but public health protection of those sources is inconsistent nationwide. In Iowa, approximately 110,000 private wells supply drinking water to nearly 300,000 people. These private wells are unregulated in the state, and only about 20% have been characterized for water chemistry and physical characteristics. In 2017, the State Hygienic Laboratory at the University of Iowa (SHL) launched the Iowa Well Survey (IWS) to increase awareness of the need to characterize private well water. IWS is a sustained statewide alliance in partnership with Iowa Department of Public Health, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, University of Iowa professors and students, and several local health departments. Through IWS, wells are tested free of charge for bacteria (total coliforms, E. coli), nitrates and arsenic as well as emerging contaminants, such as neonicotinoid insecticides. A Case for National Testing Standards The National Environmental Health Association recently conducted an overview of state private well water quality testing regulations and guidance to determine public health protection variability. Thirty states have no well water testing regulations, and the remaining 20 have regulations with differing testing requirements, such as post-construction, post-repair and/ or when a real estate transaction occurs. Local regulations and guidance information is often specialized to meet the needs of the immediate jurisdiction and may not be relevant state-wide. Some states have well programs that provide 14 LAB MATTERS Fall 2018 • States or localities with focused sampling or reduced-cost testing events generate more frequent testing. IWS Provides More Information The State Hygienic Laboratory at the University of Iowa offers more than 20,000 tests for private wells annually. Private well samples are typically tested for total coliforms, E. coli bacteria, arsenic and nitrates. Photo: SHL free testing and well owner educational programs whereas other states do not. General takeaways from the overview include: • Multiple agencies are often involved in private well testing, which can lead to confusion for well owners if efforts are not coordinated. • States or localities that collect water quality data from well testing often create contaminant-specific programs. • In most states, university extension services partner with state agencies, but in some states they provide guidance independent of the state. Preliminary survey results from Iowa indicate areas of concern. Approximately half of the samples have a quantifiable concentration of one or more contaminants of concern, with some of the wells exceeding US Environmental Protection Agency Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCL) for bacteria, nitrate or arsenic. Those who use these private wells now know they have a health concern based on empirical evidence and are able to pursue appropriate mitigation. IWS is paid for through existing funding streams and testing projects. Current project success can be attributed to: • coordinating existing resources and partners with similar motivations • good customer service and communication • offering testing for contaminants of concern • providing benchmark information for each county in relation to other counties in the state. The ultimate goal is to test as many wells as possible in all 99 Iowa counties, to better understand contaminants of concern and to create a sustained market for private well testing, to increase public health protection across the state. n PublicHealthLabs @APHL