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Professional Testing, Proper Filtration Keep Well Water Clean

clean is the water from your well?

Hopewell Junction resident Robert Angevine asked himself this question a few years ago after some of his neighbors experienced well contamination from methyl tertiary butyl ether, known commonly as MTBE, a gasoline fuel additive.

Since then, Angevine has his water tested on a regular basis.

While tests have found no evidence of MTBE, recent results came back positive for coliform bacteria, prompting Angevine to install an ultraviolet filter.

"I have a 3-year-old child and another on the way," said Angevine, who said the ultraviolet filter system will give him the peace of mind that his water will be free of contaminants.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, approximately 15 percent of Americans have their own sources of drinking water, such as wells, cisterns and springs.

The potential exists for groundwater to contain some natural impurities or contaminants, even with no human activity or pollution.

The EPA notes that natural contaminants can come from many conditions in the watershed or in the ground. Water moving through underground rocks and soils may pick up magnesium, calcium and chlorides.

Some groundwater naturally contains dissolved elements such as arsenic, boron, selenium or radon, a gas formed by the natural breakdown of radioactive uranium in soil.

In addition to natural contaminants, the EPA reports, groundwater can be polluted by human activities such as improper use of fertilizers, animal manures, herbicides, insecticides and pesticides.

Others include improperly built or poorly located and/or maintained septic systems for household wastewater; leaking or abandoned underground storage tanks and piping; storm-water drains that discharge chemicals to groundwater; improper disposal or storage of wastes; and chemical spills at local industrial sites.

In Angevine's situation, after receiving results from his water test, he contacted William Zykoff, owner of Ideal Water in Hopewell Junction, to determine a plan of action.

Zykoff had installed a water softening system for Angevine several years back and will integrate a ultraviolet system this month to address the bacteria issue.

Zykoff said homeowners typically have water systems installed for two reasons: aesthetics and bacteria.

Aesthetics, Zykoff said, relates to the hardness of water due to elements such as iron and sulfur.

Bacteria is more serious, he said, and refers to the potability, or drinkability, of water. Iron and sulfur can be addressed by installing a water softening system, while bacteria issues require installation of systems such as an ultraviolet filter or chemical injection.

The softener system, Zykoff said, uses salt to reduce hardness in water and prevent scale buildup. Water softeners, he said, protect plumbing systems and reduce the amount of soap needed to wash clothing and dishes.

A new salt-free softening system is available as well, Zykoff said, that is more ecologically sound. He said the system, introduced last March, was originally used for industrial water cooling towers and is becoming more popular for residential use.

Zykoff recommends that homeowners test their well water every year for contaminants such as bacteria.

"I'm a strong proponent of peace of mind," Zykoff said.

The naked eye, Zykoff said, can't detect contaminants in water, making professional testing necessary.

"Water doesn't turn green, it doesn't turn blue — it's just there," he said.

Bacteria in drinking water can be detrimental to a person's health, Zykoff said, particularly "if there is an elderly person, an infant or a person with a compromised immune system in the home."

According to Russ Chapman, owner of Hudson Valley Water Resources, many homeowners don't put a lot of thought as to whether their well water is clean.

"If it doesn't smell bad or stain anything, people don't notice problems," he said.

Unfortunately, Chapman said, "areas of the Hudson Valley, particularly Dutchess County, have had serious water contamination problems over the years."

Contaminants from industrial waste, gasoline stations and groundwater runoff can adversely affect well water.

Even animal waste from household pets and deer can seep into a well and contaminate drinking water with coliform, Chapman said.

Many counties, Chapman said, require home sellers to test wells prior to selling a home. He suggests that potential buyers conduct tests of their own as an added precaution.

"Be prudent after the seller does a test," Chapman said. "Spend the money to do another bacteria test," as there are some instances where water tests produce inconsistent results.

Chapman, who has been installing water systems for more than 23 years, notices differences in water quality in various regions of the Hudson Valley.

The Pine Bush and Walker Valley areas have a lot of sulfur in their wells, Chapman said, while some wells in Monroe have "super high amounts of iron."

In the Accord and Kerhonkson region, Chapman said, some wells have high amounts of methane gas in them.

"You can light it on fire," said Chapman, who uses an aeration method with an explosion-proof motor to treat the well. "Methane is not as volatile as natural gas or gasoline, but it's a problem nonetheless."

Sulfur is often found in homes in the northern area of Dutchess County as well.

According to Hudson Valley Water Resources, a cost-effective method of water filtration includes reverse osmosis, which works by pressuring water up against a semipermeable membrane that stops contaminants from passing but allows clean, clear water to get through.

Carbon filters are also inexpensive and among the most common home treatment systems for problem water because of their effectiveness, ease of use and cost-efficiency.

They are most often used to eliminate undesirable odors and tastes, organic compounds and residual chlorine. They can also remove some potentially hazardous contaminants such as radon gas, herbicides and pesticides.

With the potential for contamination, water experts agree that regular, professional well testing is key to maintaining clean water, followed by installation of the proper filtration system by a skilled water technician.

Chapman advises homeowners to be diligent.

"Take stock of where you're located, and let common sense prevail," he said. "If there's a reason for concern, consider testing your water."

To view this article, visit http://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/article/20100926/LIFE07/9260365/1005/LIFE/Professional-testing--proper-filtration-keep-well-water-clean.