Adventures in Home Owning: Drilled or Dug? Unwell in the Well

Mar 4, 2019 | Blog

Dear Homeowner,

In last week’s article we discussed how both commonly found wells, dug and drilled, can be subject to contamination. This is primarily because the soil that wells pass through is filled with a variety of naturally occurring and man-made contaminants that can leach into the water sources below the water table, finding their way first into your well, and eventually into the water you drink, brush your teeth with, and use to wash your food. Today we’re looking into two of the most commonly found contaminants, arsenic and uranium, both of which are particularly prevalent in New England soils.

Arsenic is an element that occurs naturally in the earth’s crust. Traces of it can be found in rock, soil, water, and the air we breathe. In low levels, arsenic is not particularly dangerous. However, when it becomes more concentrated, or when man-made activity increases the level of arsenic seeping into the soil, prolonged exposure to the element can cause nausea, and diarrhea, with more severe cases frequently connected with the development of certain types of cancer. Although arsenic is steadily being phased out of common household products, it has historically been an ingredient in pesticides and wood staining treatments, both of which allow the element to seep into the soil or water sources in unnatural levels. Because of this, higher arsenic levels can not only be found in drinking water, but also in our food, as many animals also encounter the element as they eat and drink, and plants and vegetation blossom from arsenic-laden soil.

Our second element, uranium, has previously been touched on during our discussion on radon and its dangers in the household. Uranium is the chemical element that the noble gas, radon, derives from during a process of chemical decay. Like arsenic, uranium is naturally occurring and can be found in rock, soil, and water. Although bathing and showering in water contaminated with uranium is not a concern, the body has a difficult time breaking radon down when ingested, meaning that a certain amount of the chemical remains within where it will travel through the bloodstream to various organs. Uranium can do particular damage to the kidneys, possibly resulting in kidney failure after long-term exposure.

The legal levels of arsenic in drinking water are set by the Environmental Protection Agency at 10 parts per billion, while the legal level of uranium in drinking water is slightly higher at 30 parts per billion. It is important to remember that, while this regulation is enforced in wells that provide public water, there is no regulation for private wells. In order to determine the amount present in a private well, one must conduct their own testing, so stick around with us while we dive deeper next week!

Until next time, homeowner!