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State Urges Private Well Owners: Test For Arsenic And Uranium Contaminants

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A survey of hundreds of private wells in Connecticut found around seven percent contaminated with unsafe levels of arsenic or uranium -- elements linked to a variety of illnesses.

In the report, Connecticut's Department of Public Health teamed up with the U.S. Geological Survey, analyzing nearly 700 privately-owned wells across the state by testing for unsafe levels of naturally-occurring arsenic and uranium.

When found in drinking water for prolonged periods of time and at high levels, the elements are linked to cancers or kidney issues.

In Connecticut, the report said contamination may be linked to bedrock, which can leach harmful elements into groundwater feeding nearby wells.

Because of that, Brian Toal, an epidemiologist with the DPH, recommended every private well owner get their well tested for arsenic or uranium, "either when a well is drilled, or when somebody's buying a house," he said, "even people that have been living in a house for a long time and have never had it tested."

Toal said testing costs about $200. He recommended private well owners test every five years. If unsafe levels of contamination are found, Toal said homeowners should contact a professional water treatment company, but "there are fixes," some of which are relatively inexpensive.

"In many instances to save money, you don’t have to treat the whole house, because it's really only a drinking water issue," Toal said. "You can put a treatment device on the kitchen tap, where most of the water comes from."

Public water supplies are mandated by law to test for both arsenic and uranium, but routine testing required for private wells does not usually include those elements.

"It's something we're thinking about changing," Toal said. "The regulations are fairly old. We only found out about this problem within the past five years, so it's not on the list currently, but it is something we are considering."

DPH estimates there are more than 320,000 private wells in Connecticut -- serving about one-quarter of the state’s population.

Copyright 2017 WNPR-FM. To see more, visit WNPR-FM.

This report comes from the New England News Collaborative, eight public media companies coming together to tell the story of a changing region, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter at WNPR. He covers science and the environment. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of WNPR's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached by phone at 860-275-7297 or by email: pskahill@ctpublic.org.