Well Water Testing: How Labs Can Stress Its Importance and Serve Their Communities

Nearly 44 million Americans depend on private wells for their drinking water, according to a study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). But since the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) doesn't regulate private wells, the recommended criteria and standards of its Safe Drinking Water Act don't apply to these sources. That means private well owners are the ones responsible for well water testing and ensuring their supplies are safe.

Many well owners let testing fall by the wayside or don't test annually, as the EPA recommends. Water labs can work with domestic well owners to ensure these water supplies are safe for use by educating them on why testing is important, how often it should be done, and what to do if the results are positive for contaminants.

Why Well Water Testing Matters

The USGS's 2017 study, conducted in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), evaluated more than 20,000 private domestic wells across the country and discovered that 2.1 million people may be using water that contains high concentrations of arsenic.

Well water may contain other potentially harmful substances, according to the EPA, including other heavy metals, nitrate, pesticides, solvents, microbial contaminants, and parasites. The risks associated with using contaminated well water can vary from short-lived gastrointestinal illness to serious conditions, such as kidney damage or cancer.

Oftentimes, as the USGS and CDC study shows, well owners are unaware that they're putting the health of their families in jeopardy. By educating the public on the importance of water testing, labs can bridge this gap.

What Well Owners Need to Know

Testing can help prevent or reduce instances of illness within households, but it can be a complex process. Water labs can guide well owners through each step of the way. Be prepared to answer these three basic questions:

1. How Often Should I Test Well Water?

The EPA recommends that well owners test their water annually. More specifically, the CDC recommends that well owners check these supplies each spring to ensure no mechanical issues occurred over the winter.

In addition, the National Groundwater Association recommends testing well water more often if:

  • An infant is living in the home.
  • Someone in the family is suffering from a chronic or unexplained gastrointestinal illness.
  • The well has been contaminated before.
  • The well water changes in taste, odor, color, or clarity.
  • The home's water treatment equipment is being checked for performance.

Encourage well owners in your community to assess their homes against these criteria and consider if it's time to test their water. Make it known that your lab is available to help, either with advice or as a testing services provider.

2. What Should I Be Testing For?

The CDC suggests water well owners test annually for the following common drinking water indicators, plus any additional ones identified by their regional health or environmental departments:

  • Total coliform bacteria
  • E. coli
  • Nitrates
  • pH
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)

Explain the health risks associated with each contaminant and make sure well owners are aware of — and test for — other contaminants suspected in your area. For example, certain states are at risk for elevated concentrations of chromium and trichloroethylene, according to the Water Systems Council.

3. Why Should I Use a Water Lab?

When water testing is done through a lab, it comes with the added benefit of having an expert help interpret the data. Highlight this added value, as well as your lab's ability to offer guidance on the best next steps.

Labs identify what might be a health risk versus an aesthetic issue, and can refer private well owners to their contacts at local health departments for help with more serious concerns. Emphasize that well owners should choose labs approved by their state for the specific tests needed. This is a perfect opportunity to show off any accreditations your lab boasts.

You should also be prepared to answer their questions on well water testing costs, turnaround time, and what's included in the results.

Communication Tips:
  • Emphasize the need to test annually in light of the EPA's lack of regulations concerning well water quality.
  • Determine what contaminant risks are present in your community, and encourage well owners to test for these, among the other common indicators.
  • Add well water testing information and governmental resources to your website, and let potential customers know you're available to answer questions.

Be a Resource and Gain Customers

The most important question to answer in well water testing is whether or not the concentration of a particular contaminant poses a health threat. If it does, water testing labs can serve as a valuable resource for domestic well owners on matters of disinfection or on-site water treatments, as well as when a new well may need to be constructed.

Offering this guidance can boost your reputation and expand your customer base — as word of mouth continues to be a powerful driving force in why consumers choose a business. In addition to offering praise-worthy services, water labs can make their organization known to private well owners by:

  • Contacting well owners in their area with a letter, flyer, or brochure, letting them know of local well water issues and testing recommendations.
  • Giving talks on testing to civic, health, and school organizations.
  • Exhibiting with water well contractors and drillers at trade shows.
  • Publishing advertisements or articles in publications that target rural dwellers.

Additionally, by putting useful references on your website, your water lab can build trust with these consumers and gain authority for your business. Some helpful resources to share include Wilkes University's comprehensive guide to analyzing private well water testing results and the "Protect Your Private Well" infographic from EPA.

Your staff should be prepared to answer more specific questions on well testing, as well as on the wide range of services your lab offers. By offering great customer service and promoting education efforts around your community, you can set your water lab apart from competitors in the space. And once private well owners realize the value that comes with doing business with your lab, they'll be more likely to choose you as their service provider and to recommend you to others, too.

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Diana Kightlinger

Diana Kightlinger is an experienced journalist, copywriter, and blogger for science, technology, and medical organizations. She writes frequently for Fortune 500 corporate clients but also has a passion for explaining scientific research, raising awareness of issues, and targeting positive outcomes for people and communities. Diana holds master’s degrees in environmental science and journalism.