Drinking Water Testing
Why should you test your drinking water?
There are over 1 million private wells in Pennsylvania serving 3.5 million people in rural areas. Approximately 20,000 new wells are drilled each year. About half of the private water wells that have been tested in the state have at least one water quality problem. Yet, despite the importance of testing your water, only half of Pennsylvania wells have ever been tested.
- Should I Have My Water Tested (PDF) - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- Common Drinking Water Problems and Solutions - Penn State Extension
What should you test for?
In general, you should test your water annually for coliform bacteria and every three years for pH and total dissolved solids. If you are concerned about potential pollutants or if you are experiencing aesthetic problems such as staining, taste, or odor, more extensive testing is warranted. Pollutants that enter wells can often be linked to activities on the land surface such as mining, agriculture, or industry.
If you have one of these activities within sight of your home, you may wish to select a drinking water test package based on pollutants most commonly found in association with each activity. Or, if you have concerns about the potential contamination of your well from a near-by septic system, the Agriculture/Septic test package is recommended.
Finally, if you are experiencing aesthetic problems, you may want to test for the components that are primarily responsible for these (see Aesthetics Packages). Individual drinking water analyses are also available.
The goal of Penn State's Drinking Water program is to promote well water testing and to educate home-owners on its importance. Penn State's Agricultural Analytical Services Laboratory is accredited by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for drinking water analysis. In addition to the Penn State laboratory, there are private laboratories in the state that perform water testing. A list of these labs may be found on the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Laboratory Accreditation Program web site.
Drinking Water Test Packages
|WD01||Standard||Basic tests for which drinking water samples should be routinely tested||Total coliform bacteria, E. coli bacteria, pH, and total dissolved solids||$50.00|
|WD02||Aesthetics / Corrosivity||Includes tests from standard package plus those for water components that can contribute to bad taste, staining, scaling and corrosivity||Total coliform bacteria, E. coli bacteria, pH, total dissolved solids plus hardness, corrosivity index, copper, iron, and manganese||$75.00|
|WD03||Aesthetics / Corrosivity plus lead||Includes all tests from aesthetics/corrosivity package (above) plus first draw and running water tests for lead||Total coliform bacteria, E. coli bacteria, pH, total dissolved solids plus hardness, corrosivity index, copper (first draw and running water), iron, manganese, and first draw and running water lead||$115.00|
|WD04||Agriculture / Septic||Includes tests from standard package plus nitrate-nitrogen which may be elevated in water supplies located near intensively managed agricultural sites or in proximity to densely spaced or poorly operating septic systems||Total coliform bacteria, E. coli bacteria, pH, total dissolved solids plus nitrate-nitrogen||$65.00|
|WD05||Mining||Includes tests from standard package plus those of greatest importance for water supplies located near existing or future mining activity||Total coliform bacteria, E. coli bacteria, pH, total dissolved solids plus aluminum, iron, manganese, and sulfate||$70.00|
|WD06*||Gas / Oil Drilling||Includes tests from standard package plus those of greatest importance for water supplies located near existing or future gas or oil well-drilling activity||Total coliform bacteria, E. coli bacteria, pH, total dissolved solids plus barium and chloride||$65.00|
|WD07||Trace||Includes tests from standard package plus trace elements and metals that may be present in water supplies located near industrial waste or dump sites||Total coliform bacteria, E. coli bacteria, pH, total dissolved solids plus arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, nickel, mercury and zinc||$130.00|
*If you are performing this test for the purpose of documenting water quality before and/or after gas-drilling activities, it is recommended that you use an accredited laboratory that can collect your sample and provide full chain of custody. For more information about chain of custody water testing and a list of labs that provide this service, go to http://extension.psu.edu/natural-resources/water/marcellus-shale/drinking-water/chain-of-custody-water-testing
Drinking Water: Individual Analyses
|Test||Importance / Sources||Fee|
|Aluminum||Importance: Causes metallic-tasting water.
Sources: Some naturally occurring, but most from mining activities.
|Arsenic||Importance: May cause cancer and produce other serious health effects.
Sources: Naturally occurring, but most from mining activities.
(Total Coliform and E. Coli)
|Importance: May cause gastrointestinal illnesses and cause water to have bad taste or odor.
Sources: Surface water, septic systems and animal wastes.
|Barium||Importance: May cause hypertension and other health effects.
Sources: Mostly from deep brines from gas/oil well drilling; may also occur from industrial activities.
|Chloride||Importance: Causes salty tasting water; corrosion and blackening of steel.
Sources: Mostly Some naturally occurring, but primarily from gas/oil well drilling brines or road salt.
|Copper||Importance: Causes blue-green stains; bitter metallic tasting water; gastrointestinal upset; liver and kidney damage.
Sources: Most from corrosion of copper plumbing; more rarely from industrial waste sites.
|Corrosivity||Importance: Causes metallic-tasting water; blue green stains, leaky pipes in homes with copper plumbing.
Sources: Most is naturally occurring; some due to mining activities.
|Fluoride||Importance: May cause bone damage and discoloration of teeth.
Sources: Naturally occurring; present in some industrial wastes.
|Hardness||Importance: Causes whitish-gray residue when water is heated; decreased life of water heater elements; increased use of soap.
Sources: Naturally occurring in many areas, especially where limestone occurs.
|Iron||Importance: May cause orange, brown stains; metallic-tasting water.
Sources: Naturally occurring or from mining activities.
|Lead||Importance: Many serious health effects; often found in associate with copper.
Sources: Primary source is metal plumbing; more rarely from industrial wastes.
|Manganese||Importance: Causes black stains; gives water metallic taste. Sources: naturally occurring or from mining activities.||$15.00|
|Mercury||Importance: May cause kidney and central nervous system damage.
Sources: Naturally occurring; various industrial wastes.
|Nitrate Nitrogen||Importance: Causes blue-baby syndrome in infants.
Sources: Fertilizers, animal wastes, septic systems.
|pH||Importance: When low, causes bitter, metallic taste, corrosion and leaks in metal pipes; when high, causes slippery feeling water with soda taste and leads to scale deposits.
Sources: Naturally controlled, but may be impacted by mining activities.
|Sulfate-sulfur||Importance: Causes bitter medicinal-tasting water; laxative effect.
Sources: Naturally occurring, mining activities.
|Total dissolved solids||Importance: Causes cloudy and/or bad-tasting water.
Sources: Naturally occurring, but may be caused by any land-use changes.
|Total suspended solids||Importance: Causes cloudy or muddy-looking, bad-tasting water.
Sources: Can occur naturally after heavy rain, but most comes from land disturbance activities such as construction and mining.
How do you submit a water sample?
To submit a drinking water sample to Penn State’s laboratory, you must first obtain a Drinking Water Test Kit. Kits are available at many county extension offices or may be obtained directly from the laboratory. The kit consists of a cooler, shipping box, sample bottles, instructions on how to take a sample, and a submission form.
After taking your water sample, you must send the kit to the laboratory by overnight mail along with your payment for the test(s) requested. For the bacteria test, included in all test packages, the laboratory must receive the sample within 30 hours after sampling. If you need the bacteria test only, contact the laboratory to receive a smaller cooler test kit.
How soon will you get your results?
In general, tests are complete within two weeks after sample receipt by the laboratory. With mailing time, you should receive your report within two to three weeks after sending your sample.