In March of this year, Macon County Health Director Jim Bruckner informed the public that the county's recently implemented well program revealed that a string of private drinking water wells were contaminated with a significantly high amount of lead.
“Since July 1, 2008, the Health Department has been operating under the requirements of the new permitting rules for private drinking water wells,” said Bruckner. “These new rules require water testing as part of the permitting process for newly constructed private drinking water wells. Recently, our environmental health staff has noticed a trend toward high levels of lead in some of these wells. Exposure to lead is a significant health concern, particularly for young children and infants; therefore, by way of this notice, we are reminding owners of private drinking water wells that they should regularly test their well water for contaminants, including lead.”
Under the county's well program, which first began in 2008, 455 private drinking wells throughout the county are being monitored. After being notified by a private citizen in November of last year that his well came back positive for traces of lead contaminant, the health department turned to the well program and discovered that 10 percent of the wells monitored in the program also contain high levels of lead.
According to Bruckner, the individuals were immediately contacted and informed of the problem in order to take appropriate action. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention, private drinking water wells should, at a minimum, be checked every spring to make sure there are no mechanical problems, and tested once each year for contaminants, total coliform bacteria, nitrates, total dissolved solids, and pH levels.
In addition to the recommended standard precautionary tests, Bruckner also recommends testing wells for other metals as well. “The Health Department is continuing to work with local well contractors and the N.C. Division of Public Health’s Environmental Health and Epidemiology Sections to find the source of these high levels of lead in private drinking water wells.”
Because the wells that have been identified as having an unusual amount of lead are not geographically connected and can be found all over the county, Bruckner believes that the cause of the contaminants has to do with the construction of the wells and is transmitted into the waters from man-made interference.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, lead, a metal found in natural deposits, is commonly used in household plumbing materials and water service lines. The greatest exposure to lead is swallowing or breathing in lead paint chips and dust. But lead in drinking water can also cause a variety of adverse health effects. In babies and children, exposure to lead in drinking water above the action level can result in delays in physical and mental development, along with slight deficits in attention span and learning abilities. In adults, it can cause increases in blood pressure. Adults who drink this water over many years could develop kidney problems or high blood pressure.
“We are working with state officials and continuing the investigation into what is causing the contaminants,” said Bruckner. “For now, the most important thing people need to know is to be sure to get your wells tested, and to be sure to check them on an annual basis.”
Barry Patterson, Macon County Environmental Health Section Administrator, says that water testing is available either through the Health Department or one of the many state-certified laboratories.
For more information or if you have questions about having your well water tested, contact the Macon County Public Health, Environmental Health Section at (828)349-2592, or visit the well and water quality information page at www.maconnc.org/environmental-wells.html.