KSN Investigates: What you need to know when testing well water

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) - Perhaps the only thing worse than learning your well water is contaminated with dangerous chemicals is finding out the precautions you'd taken to protect your family made no difference. 

"We had multiple people telling us in focus groups that they had tested on an annual basis, and they were told that their water was fine," said Dr. Elizabeth Ablah from the KU School of Medicine-Wichita.

Yet their wells actually had dry cleaning chemicals from the former Four Seasons in west Wichita. 

RELATED LINK | Well Water Aware Campaign website

Dr. Ablah researched that groundwater contamination. She found several well owners affected had no idea the standard water quality test  would not detect "volatile organic compounds," considered extremely hazardous.

Those residents lived with a false sense of security.

"Yes, they maybe did not have bacteria and nitrates in their water, but they clearly had volatile organic compounds," said Dr. Ablah.

VOC's, as they're called, require a specific water test, the same kind she and her colleague, Jack Brown, recently did in Haysville, just outside the plume of contamination from former American dry cleaners.

The samples confirmed the dangerous chemicals had not spread to those wells, but they say residents should stay vigilant. Too many well owners rarely test their water. --Story continues below--


"As long as water comes out the tap, people think everything's fine," said Jack Brown, KU School of Medicine-Wichita.

So if you have a well, here's what they recommend-- get a basic test once a year for bacteria and nitrates. Then, every three years, test for volatile organic compounds.

Sedgwick County's well specialist also says to watch for any changes in your water.

RELATED LINK | KSN Investigates: Groundwater contamination

"You notice an odor change, color change, taste change in the water, we would recommend you test it at that point in time as well," said Monty Munyon, domestic well specialist for Sedgwick County.

But what if your well water is only used to irrigate your lawn and garden, fill a bird bath or swimming pool,or give the dog a drink, do you still need to test it for dangerous chemicals? 

"So Kansas Department of Health and Environment has said it's sufficient that once the water is aerated and exposed to outdoor air, that's sufficient," said Dr. Ablah, shrugging her shoulders.

She is not convinced and says until there's more research, she would test all wells for VOC's and play it safe.

Unfortunately, some well owners avoid testing because of the cost. Residents are charged lab fees which may cost $65 for a basic test and $185 for a VOC test.

You can schedule a testing by calling Monty Munyon at 316-660-1840.  

For wells inside Wichita city limits, call Darren Brown at 316-268-8351.

KDHE has also started a Well Water Aware campaign on its website.

There, you can find resources for well testing in other Kansas counties.


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