By Doug Ireland
---- — It may be national Groundwater Awareness Week, but state environmental officials don’t expect too many people to be marking it on their calendars.
But they do hope New Hampshire residents are recognizing this week by having their wells tested for potentially dangerous contaminants.
So does Maureen Peck of Atkinson.
“Who knows what’s in your water?” Peck said. “I think if anyone didn’t have their water tested, they’re really playing with their lives.”
Peck is one of 34 Atkinson homeowners whose well water was contaminated with 1,4 Dioxane, a cleaning solvent. It may be linked to a nearby manufacturer who used it more than 20 years ago, according to New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services groundwater expert Stephen Roy
For nearly two years, Peck, her husband and neighbors have been drinking bottled water as they await a resolution from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA is negotiating with the Hampstead Area Water Company to provide water to the affected homes.
Peck said it was the type of routine testing recommended by the DES that led to the detection of the problem in her Emery Drive neighborhood and the surrounding area.
If not for the testing, Peck said she and her husband, Robert, would have been drinking contaminated water for at least another year.
“It’s odorless, colorless and undetectable,” Peck said.
Paul Susca, also a water expert with DES, said it’s important homeowners have their drinking water tested. That’s because there is often no other way to detect if harmful contaminants are in their wells.
There’s also no state requirement that private wells be tested, though some communities — including Salem, Windham, Pelham and Derry — mandate they be checked to obtain occupancy permits, Susca said.
The most two commonly found contaminants — radon and arsenic — are linked to wells drilled in bedrock and known to cause cancer over an extended period, he said.
They can only be traced through testing because they colorless and odorless, Susca said. Another contaminant is manganese, which is gray and can stain clothing, making it easier to detect, he said
Other contaminants include coliform and E. coli bacteria, often linked to sewage systems, Susca said. Manmade substances, such as gasoline, are also sometimes found in groundwater, he said.
Approximately 250,000 New Hampshire homes — or about 40 percent — rely on wells for water, he said. Rather than take a chance, homeowners should have their wells tested, he said.
DES provides free test bottles and can test the water for approximately $85 a sample, depending on the contaminant. There are also approximately 20 private labs in the state that test drinking water, including Granite State Analytical of Derry.
The solutions and costs for these dealing with these problems can vary, Susca said.
Granite State owner John Lyons said his company conducts about 1,000 tests a month for those interested in making sure their water is safe.
Lyons recommends that anyone with a private well have their water tested. He said the public is becoming increasingly aware of the importance of testing.
For more information about the state’s testing recommendations and a list of accredited labs, go to des.nh.gov and select private well testing from the A to Z list, or call the NHDES Drinking Water and Groundwater Bureau at 271-2513.