Roughly 15% of Americans – from 15 million households – drink water from unregulated private wells. These households must ensure that the water running through their taps is safe, yet drinking water quality is not their area of expertise.
In comes the public health laboratory. Many state and local public health laboratories test well owners’ drinking water to assess its quality, but this service is not available nationwide. Which public health laboratories conduct well water testing? Where are they located? What analytes do they test? Until this year, this basic information was not available.
Fortunately, organizers of the 2017 Private Well Conference, the first national meeting on private drinking water supplies, recognized the need to define the role of public health laboratories in private well water testing.
In comes APHL. Association members, in collaboration with the Private Well Class, developed a 12-question survey to provide a snapshot of private well water testing at public health laboratories nationwide. Distributed to 37 state public health and environmental laboratories and to the local laboratory directors’ listserv, the survey yielded an unprecedented analysis of public health laboratory well water testing capability and capacity. This information was presented at the Private Well Conference in May. Below are highlights from the survey:
- About 70% (18/26) of state public health laboratories and 57% (8/14) of local public health laboratories accept private well water samples from the public.
- Public health laboratories test an annual median of approximately 4,000 (state) to 1,000 (local) private well samples, with state outliers of 20,000 and 50,000 and local outliers near 4,000.
- Approximately 75-84% of local (6/8) and state (15/18) public health laboratories rely on fee-for-service to support private well testing program.
- Total coliform, E. coli and nitrates/nitrites are the most frequent analytes tested by state and local public health laboratories. Arsenic and lead (state) and fluoride (local) also are frequently tested.
- Public health laboratories identify lack of awareness, cost and complacency as factors limiting homeowner participation in well water testing programs.
Data from the survey has spurred conversation among stakeholders about partnerships, best practices and tools to enhance private well testing services at public health laboratories.
For additional information, contact Sarah Wright, senior specialist, Environmental Health.