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Well Water Tested for Bacteria, Officials Provide Tips

STAFFORD, Va. — About 40 Stafford County residents lined up to have their well water tested by the Virginia Cooperative Extension at Virginia Tech.

The testing program will help identify what may be lurking the groundwater in the wells outside their homes, and can provide information on any contaminants that could be making their way to water faucets after being piped through the home. Each participant in to the testing program paid $49, collected water samples from a faucet in their home, and handed over the samples which were then taken to Virginia Tech where they will be examined over the next three weeks.

Program participants who met for the first time during an informational session on March 24 will meet again to hear the results of their tests on April 30.

“Generally we find a fair amount of coliform bacteria in household water. It can come from somewhere in the house, like a faucet, but can also come from the well water itself,” said Erin Ling, with the Virginia Household Water Quality Program at Virginia Tech and Virginia Cooperative Extension. “Coliform bacteria are present in the digestive systems of humans and animals and can be found in the soil and in decaying vegetation. While coliform bacteria do not cause disease, they are indicators of the possible presence of disease causing bacteria, so their presence in drinking water warrants additional testing. We see some E. coli, which is a more serious result, indicating that human or animal waste are entering the water supply.”

What if I have bacteria?

Some at the informational meeting asked what they should do if these types of bacteria are found in their well water supply.

“We’re doing the testing but what you do with the information once you have it is up to you,” said Guy Mussey, an agent with the Cooperative Extension who lead the informational session.

For instance, if E. coli bacteria is found in the water supply, a homeowner could add chlorine to the well and “shock” the water, but the homeowner would still need to find the source of the E. coli bacteria.

There are several things that can cause groundwater contamination; Landfills, seeping gas tanks, and manure are just some of the culprits. Agents like copper and lead are usually not found in groundwater but can be detected inside homes after water travels through pipes.

Water collection

The participants were told to collect water from a tap that had its faucet aerator and screen already removed, and then to fill each bottle and then place it in a refrigerator until it was time to take the samples to the collection point. Mussey also told them to remove any dishes from their sinks to avoid any possible contamination of the water samples, which he was scheduled to collect March 26 at the Rowser Government Building in Stafford.

Low turn out for testing

The Virginia Cooperative Extension offers periodic testing of well water every four to five years in Stafford County. This year, Stafford’s testing program is being done in conjunction with King George County. Mussey said previous testing programs included more than 300 participants, and he said this latest round of testing in Stafford County drew far fewer interested participants than he had expected.

An announcement about the upcoming testing program was placed on the Stafford County Government website. No more water samples will be accepted in this round of testing, said Mussey.

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