Protect Your
Test Your Well’s
Water Qualify Today
Testing for
A Guide to Water Quality
in Massachusetts
United States
9 EPA Environmental Protection
Agency New England
EPA 901 -F-04-002A
February 2004

Private Wells
If you have a private well, then water
quality testing should be important to
you and your family.
Some contaminants in drinking water
have been linked to cancer and toxicity,
posing a risk to human health. Many
contaminants often have no taste, odor,
or color. Their presence can only be deter-
mined by laboratory testing.
While there is no state requirement to
have your well water tested (although
there may be from your mortgage lender
or local Board of Health), the Massachu-
setts Department of Environmental Pro-
tection (DEP) recommends that all
homeowners with private wells do so,
and use a state certified laboratory.
Contamination of Wells
Well water originates as rain and snow
that then filters into the ground. As it
soaks through the soil, the water can
dissolve materials that are present on or
in the ground, becoming contaminated.
Some contaminants are naturally oc-
curring from features found in the rocks
and soils of Massachusetts. These include
substances like bacteria, radon, arsenic,
uranium, and other minerals.
Other contaminants find their way onto
the land from human activities. On a large
scale, industrial/commercial activities,
improper waste disposal, road salting,
and fuel spills can introduce hazardous
substances to the ground. However, even
typical residential activities, such as the
application of fertilizers and pesticides,
fueling of lawn equipment, and disposal
of household chemicals can contaminate

the ground when done improperly. Even
an on-site residential septic system can
pose a threat to your well That is why
taking measures to protect your well from
contamination is so important.
Recommended Tests
The following tests provide only the
most basic mdicators of a well’s water
quality. These tests identify some of the
common natural and man-made contami-
nants found in our state’s well water.
However, you should also consider nearby
land uses to decide whether additional
tests are appropriate for your well. It is not
necessary to do all of the tests at one time
o Standard Analysis
This basic analysis covers the most com-
mon contaminants. Some of these contami-
nants pose health-related concerns, while
others only affect aesthetics (taste and odor).
0 Radon
Radon can be a well water problem in
Massachusetts, especially in bedrock
wells. Presently, there are no federal or
state standards for radon in drinking
water, only suggested action levels. [ Note:
If Radon levels are elevated in your well
water, you should also consider checking
your indoor radon levels.]
0 Gross Alpha Screen
Radioactive minerals, such as radium
and uranium, may be dissolved in well
water. A Gross Alpha Screen is a simple
test to judge whether further testing for
specific radioactive minerals such as ra-
dium or uranium might be needed.
This brochure was funded in part by the
U S Environmental Protection Agency

Contaminants & Tesling
Standard Analysis Testing
Arsenic ‘ Monitor
Chloride initially for all
Copper I contaminants,
Fluoride and then at a
Hardness ( minimum of
Iron : once every ten
Lead i years (except
Manganese I for bacteria
pH I and nitrate/
Sodium — — J nitrite which
should be
Coliform Bacteria sampled
Nitrate/Nitrite yeariy, or as
Radon otherwise
Gross Alpha Screen required by the
(bedrock wells only) local Board of
VOCS Health.
č Volatile Organic
compounds (VOcs)
The most common VOCs come from
gasoline compounds (such as MtBE and
benzene) and industrial solvents (such as
TCE). MtBE can be found in well water
even m remote areas.
6 Additional Tests
Circumstances relative to your well
may require additional testing not de-
scribed here. For instance, DEP does not
recommend frequent testing for things
like pesticides, herbicides, or synthetic
organic compounds, mainly because of
the high cost. However, such (cont. over)

testing might be warranted if your water
has elevated nitrite/nitrate concentrations
or significant amounts of pesticide have
been applied near the well. These less-
routine tests may not be performed at all
state certified laboratories.
When To Test
DEP recommends that prospective
homebuyers test the water in a home with
a private well before purchase. Water
quality in wells is generally stable, and if
a change is going to occur, it occurs slowly
Thus the interval between water quality
tests, once you’ve purchased the home,
can generally be in terms of years (see
chart) if a well is properly constructed
and located in a safe area.
However, the following conditions
would prompt more frequent testing:
• Heavily developed areas with land uses
that handle hazardous cherrucals.
• Recent well construction activities or
repairs. DEP recommends taking a
bacterial test after any well repair or
pump or plumbing modification, but
only after disinfection and substantial
flushing of the water system.
• Contaminant concentrations above
state or federal standards found in
earlier testing.
• Noticeable variations in quality like a
water quality change after a heavy
rain, extended drought, or an unex-
plained change in a previously
trouble-free well (i.e. funny taste,
cloudy appearance, etc).
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When taking any sample, DEP recommends
that it be taken after a heavy rainstorm. These
events tend to highlight conditions of im-
proper well construction or poor soil ifitra-
What the Tests Tell You
Results will reveal the level at which any of
the tested substances were found m your wa-
ter sample. The mere presence of these con-
taminants in well water does not necessarily
imply that there is a problem However, when
levels exceed state or federal health standards,
you should take steps to correct the situation.
Several methods are available from conimer-
cial contractors to treat contaminated water.
For More Information
As private wells in Massachusetts are
regulated at the local level, you should first
contact your local Board of Health for your
town’s private well testing requirements.
For more information about private wells
including additional water quality testing
recommendations, you should refer to the
DEP Pnvate Well Guidelines, which are avail-
able on the Drinking Water Program’s Pub-
lication web page. Other information such
as the listing of state certified laboratones
can also be accessed through the web page.
For additional assistance contact the DEP
Drinking Water Program at
Massachusetts Department of
Environmenbi Protection Drinking Water Prognm
1 Winter Street, Floor
Boston, MA 02108
phone: 617-292-5770 dep