How Safe Is Your Drinking Water?

Maureen Robb's picture
By Maureen Robb on May 24, 2016

Since the drinking water crisis erupted in Flint, Michigan, people around the country have been wondering just how safe their own water is.

In Virginia, residents are particularly concerned about well water. Tests by Virginia Tech’s Cooperative Extension have found contaminants exceeding federal standards in about 60 percent of well-water samples.

Since 2008, Virginia Tech agents have tested wells used by 16,000 people around the state and found Flint-like levels of lead in almost 20 percent and coliform bacteria in some 40 percent.

About 1.7 million Virginia residents are said to get their water from private wells unconnected to any municipal water systems. Many of these wells serve rural homes, but many also supply homes in subdivisions near metro areas.

If you are concerned, you need to test your water for a wide spectrum of contaminants and discuss with your water inspector some techniques to remove contaminants from your water supply.

Radon can also be a concern in well water, especially when the water is used for bathing or washing dishes. Every year, about 1,000 deaths in the U.S. are attributed to radon in well water.

Another thing to look for is that your water provide some fluoride. The U.S Department of Health and Human Services recommends that water have at least 0.7 mg/dl of fluoride to reduce tooth decay. That is why doctors may apply fluoride gel to children’s teeth during an office visit if they don’t get enough from their water.

To help Virginia well owners determine how safe their drinking water is, the Virginia Household Water Quality Program holds water testing clinics across the state every year. Tests cost $60.

The next tests in our region will be available in Franklin and Henry counties on Aug. 21. After testing, agents will help residents interpret the results and make informed decisions about how to remedy any problems.

For more information and for testing dates in other locations, go to wellwater.bse.vt.edu. Pre-registration is required. There are also private well-water testing firms across the state. 

This article was reviewed by Carilion Children's physicians.