Vermont Department of Health Reinforces Recommendations for Testing of Private Wells

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 7, 2005

CONTACT: Communication Office
802-863-7281

BURLINGTON – The Vermont Department of Health today advised that private well owners test their water supply for inorganic chemicals.

Well water tests of public and private wells show that several locations around the state have levels of arsenic that exceeded newly established standards for drinking water set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The EPA maximum contaminant level (MCL) for arsenic in public drinking water systems - with a compliance deadline of Jan. 23, 2006 - has been lowered from 50 parts per billion (ppb) to 10 ppb.

The current standard of 50 ppb was set by EPA in 1975, based on a Public Health Service standard originally established in 1942. A March 1999 report by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that the current standard does not achieve the EPA goal of protecting public health and should be lowered.

“If elevated levels of arsenic are found in a private well, there are several water remediation systems available that will remove arsenic and other inorganic chemicals and clean the water supply,” said Larry Crist, director of Health Protection for the Vermont Department of Health. “This is a correctable problem.”

Health Department water testing recommendations, established in 2000, remain unchanged. Privately owned wells should have a routine bacteriological test every year and an inorganic chemical scan and a radionuclide scan every five years.

“Because the new, lower standard is being applied to public drinking water systems, it is a good time to remind homeowners of the recommendation and encourage people to test their wells,” Crist said.

The Vermont State Geologist’s Office (Vermont Geological Survey) is actively working with the Vermont Department of Health to determine which bedrock formations in the state may contribute arsenic to ground water. This fall, the State Geologist’s Office will start a cooperative mapping project with the Middlebury College Geology Department that involves testing bedrock ground water wells in central Vermont for arsenic.

Nearly one-third of all Vermonters’ drinking water comes from private wells, and the quality of the water is not currently subject to federal or state regulation. Arsenic is a naturally-occurring element found at various concentrations in rocks and soils of Vermont and New England. Arsenic found in drinking water can have natural, and/or man-made (arsenic-containing pesticides) sources.

Exposure to high levels of arsenic in drinking water that exceed the EPA standard over many years could lead to skin damage, circulatory system problems and may increase the risk of certain types of cancers.

Test kits can be purchased from the Vermont Department of Health laboratory by calling 1-800-660-9997. The cost of the kits is $12 for arsenic only, $90 for inorganic chemicals, and $149 for inorganic chemicals, bacteria and radiation.

Test kits can also be purchased from private, certified laboratories.

For more information on arsenic and testing recommendations can be found at the Vermont Department of Health’s website, www.healthyvermonters.info, or by calling 1-800-439-8550.