Residents should test their water now more than ever, according to the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.
At least 80,000 residents in Hillsborough, Rockingham and Strafford counties may have “unhealthy levels” of toxic metals, including arsenic, iron, lead, manganese and uranium in their drinking water.
“It’s quite common for there to be unhealthy levels of contaminates in private wells,” said Paul Susca of the DES Drinking Water Source Protection Program. “The numbers are quite surprising.”
The urge to test came after a U.S. Geological Survey published a paper finding “moderate to high concentrations” of arsenic in private bedrock wells in the counties.
“We reconfirmed what we’d seen previously with arsenic studies,” said Joe Ayotte, one of the survey writers. “This was the first time we’ve really been able to see just how much there’s been.”
Results showed that 28 percent of the water samples in more than 230 private bedrock wells contained trace concentrations of metals exceeding Environmental Protection Agency maximums.
Meanwhile, only 34 percent of the participants who drink their well water reported they had treatment systems.
“They’re not detectable without testing,” Susca said. “There’s nothing you can taste; you can’t taste them and there’s no odors.”
Susca said people might not test their wells because of inconvenience, cost or not being sure what to do with the results.
Christine Bowman, a hydrogeologist with the state Drinking Water and Groundwater Bureau, knew from her job that she should test her water.
“We had gone through a typical home inspection process to test our well water,” she said.
She was advised to test for items that would stain her clothes, discolor her water or make it taste strange.
She was not advised to test for compounds that would affect her health, but, as a hydrogeologist, she knew she would have to test for more, especially in New Hampshire.