Well water has been making news throughout New England in recent weeks, as a new U.S. Geological Survey has shown that areas that have bedrock aquifers, like Newtown, have “Potentially harmful levels of naturally occurring arsenic, uranium, radium, radon and manganese.”
According to , “There are 10,000 to 11,000 wells in Newtown. There are about 13,000 households, and only about 20 percent are on town water.”
Belden said that people regularly test for radon when they buy a house, but added that the levels could change from year to year.
"The same geologic forces which gave rise to the spectacular mountains and architecturally significant rock quarries of New England are also responsible, over time, for leaching trace contaminants into the groundwater that can be harmful to human health," said USGS Director Marcia McNutt in a statement issued through the US Dept. of the Interior.
“Among the findings, arsenic in untreated samples exceeded federal safety standards for public drinking water at 13 percent of sites - nearly double the national rate. Manganese exceeded its human-health benchmark in more than 7 percent of wells tested. Radon exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's proposed standards in 33 percent of wells. Additionally, uranium, which is easily measurable, was found to be a significant predictor of the presence of other forms of radioactivity (radon, radium, gross alpha radioactivity) that are a cause of concern for human health,” the statement read.
The statement also said that depending on concentrations and the period of time someone consumed the water, health issues associated with water contaminated above state benchmarks could include “various types of cancer; reproductive and developmental problems; kidney and blood diseases; diabetes; and a weakened immune system.”
An accompanying map of areas of concern included many areas effected in Connecticut, including the Greater Danbury areas.
Besides the naturally occurring minerals, there has been a growing concern about areas that were once agricultural, and buildings that were sprayed with termite pesticides. “Some people think it is fine to build on houses on farmland, but it could be a big issue if it was farmed over many years,” Belden said.
“Technology has not caught up with what we have done to the environment,” Belden said, noting that people who live near gas stations should also have their water tested. “Every single gas station leaks,” Belden said, whether or not it is a substantial leak or the day-to-day leaks of gas spilling from a gas tank.
Another concern of Belden’s is what happens when all of these compounds come into contact with each other. “What we often don’t know, is what happens when we put these cocktails together.”
Belden assures Newtown residents that the water in the town’s aquifer is as good as water anywhere else, however, he said it is important to have well water tested, “especially in places where there is a need to be concerned, such as old farms, areas near gas stations, dry cleaners, and pharmaceuticals.”
Donna Culbert, director of the Newtown Department of Health agreed with Belden, “I do think people on wells should test their water. They should start with the basic chemistry of water. Test your ph, minerals and bacteria. That will give you your baseline.”
Both Belden and Culbert said it is difficult, and expensive, to test for pesticides because there are so many different kinds. “If you test for uranium and radon, then you might also want to look at nitrates,” Culbert said. “Five is higher than you would expect it to be, and then you might want to look into it a little. It could be coming from leaking septic or historic pesticide use. Under five for nitrates, even a five won’t give you health problems, but it means you should have a look. It’s like when cholesterol is at 200, you want to break it down and see what is causing that,” she said.
Tom Braun, laboratory director and owner of Aqua Environmental in Newtown, said that water can change from well to well, and that everyone has radon to some degree. He said that there are state benchmarks for water quality, and that people may have chloroform and bacteria. Braun also said that very often, people don’t test their water at all.
“You should really get a foundation, at least you should know the basics of the water,” he said. “There may be bacteria or gas dumped on the property. The EPA recommends chloroform bacteria testing on a yearly basis.”
“If you have gastrointestinal distress, your well may have been compromised,” Braun said.