Most people simply do not know if their well or spring is free of bacteria. “We’ve been drinking that water for years and have never had a sick day in our lives.” Well, that may be true. People can develop immunities to certain strains of coliform and may never have a problem.
What people need to remember is that the human body is not a static system. Resistances to certain substances or organisms increase and decrease over time, immune systems become compromised, or family members move into the house (ie. marriage, birth, adoption, death of a spouse, etc) permanently or even for a short weekend visit. Any one of these can mean that someone who does not have the immunities that you have may come into contact with organisms that can cause significant gastrointestinal distress – enough to warrant hospitalization.
A simple, inexpensive test can help you with that. The sample can be taken by the homeowner and brought to the lab where it can be tested for total coliform and E.coli. Alternatively, you can call us to come to your home to collect the sample for you. This is a presence / absence test that will statistically assure you that your well is free of coliform contamination and requires a sterile sample bottle (available in our office dropbox), a small bottle of alcohol (available in most medicine cabinets), and a cotton swab or two. You may need to have some pliers on hand to help gently remove the aerator from the faucet. Please see our sampling procedures available on our website.
The test is inexpensive and takes approximately 24 – 48 hours to get results. The results are available electronically in a pdf format as well as in hard copy form. We are a state-certified laboratory for testing total coliform and E.coli in drinking water.
Quantitative tests are also available. This is an MPN – Most Probable Number – test. The test is outsourced to another lab. Limited hold times apply and there is an increased cost. So, please, call us in advance to schedule this test.
You may ask “Why test for coliform / E.coli only? Why not test for other organisms?” The reason for this is that coliform organisms are found in nearly all surface water sources such as rivers, lakes, ponds, streams, springs, etc – in combination with other organisms such as Giardia, Cryptosporidium, and more. Testing for other organisms can be very expensive and may not be a conclusive indicator of surface water contamination. Testing for coliform/E.coli is inexpensive and the sample can be collected by the homeowner.
When you test for coliform, you are actually testing to see if your well or spring has been in contact with surface water. If your well or spring has had surface water contamination, then it is likely that you may also have other organisms contaminating your water source. A positive total coliform/E.coli test then leads to detective work necessary to locate the source of the contamination. This could have been be a single incident, such as a pump replacement or well repair or a flood that inundated the wellhead, or it could be a continuous contamination such as rock fractures, poor grouting around the well, a sinkhole, or more.
For this reason, the EPA recommends that routine annual testing for total coliform bacteria, nitrates, total dissolved solids (TDS) and pH be done. Regular testing establishes a record of water quality that is useful in solving current or future problems.