Potential Well Water Contaminants and Their Impacts

Drinking water can expose people to a variety of harmful pollutants and pathogens. Public water systems use water treatment and monitoring to protect consumers from such contaminants. Generally, private wells do not receive the same services that wells supplying the public do. Well owners are responsible for protecting their drinking water. To do so, a well owner must be aware of their well’s potential for contamination and the possible health effects those potential contaminants can have.

Potential Sources

Private wells can be contaminated by both naturally occurring sources and by human activities. The following are commonly found contaminants, their sources, and their possible human health impacts.

  • Microorganisms include bacteria, viruses, and parasites. They can be found all over the surface of our planet and are found in human sewage and animal waste. People that consume drinking water containing microorganisms can experience gastrointestinal illnesses and infections. Water run-off from rainfall or snow-melt can contaminate private wells by washing microorganisms into the well system or seeping underground. Leakage of waste from underground storage tanks and effluent from septic leach fields can reach a water source and result in microorganisms being present in water wells.
  • Nitrate and nitrite are present in chemical fertilizershuman sewage, and animal waste and fertilizers. They can contaminate a private well through groundwater movement and surface water seepage and water run-off. Once taken into the body, nitrates are converted into nitrites. High levels of nitrate and nitrite are most serious for infants. High levels of nitrate/nitrite in drinking water can cause methemoglobinemia or “blue baby syndrome”. These substances reduce the blood’s ability to carry oxygen. This acute condition can occur rapidly over a period of days. Symptoms include shortness of breath and blueness of the skin. Infants below six months who drink water with high levels of nitrate can become seriously ill and die. 
  • Heavy metals can leach into drinking water from household plumbing and service lines, mining operations, petroleum refineries, electronics manufacturers, municipal waste disposal, cement plants, and natural mineral deposits. Heavy metals include: arsenic, antimony, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, selenium and many more. Heavy metals can contaminate private wells through groundwater movement and surface water seepage and run-off. People that consume high levels of heavy metals risk acute and chronic toxicity, liver, kidney, and intestinal damage, anemia, and cancer.
  • Organic chemicals are found in many house-hold products and are used widely in agriculture and industry. They can be found in inks, dyes, pesticides, paints, pharmaceuticals, solvents, petroleum products, sealants, and disinfectants. Organic chemicals can enter ground water and contaminate private wells through waste disposal, spills, and surface water run-off. People that consume high levels of organic chemicals may suffer from damage to their kidneys, liver, circulatory system, nervous system, and reproductive system. 
  • Radionuclides are radioactive forms of elements such as uranium and radium. They are harmful to humans and can be released into the environment from  uranium mining and milling, coal mining, and nuclear power production. Radionuclides may also be naturally present in ground water in some areas. Radionuclides can contaminate private wells through groundwater flow, waste water seepage and flooding. Drinking water with radionuclides can cause toxic kidney effects and increase the risk of cancer.
  • Fluoride can be present in many aquifers and can be found in private wells. Fluoride can be helpful in preventing tooth decay. However, excessive consumption of fluoride can cause skeletal fluorosis, a condition characterized by pain and tenderness of bones and joints.  Excess consumption of fluoride during formative period of tooth enamel may cause dental fluorosis, tooth discoloration and/or pitting of teeth. 
Image credit: JEAN AURELIO PRUDENCE/L’Express Maurice/AFP via Getty Images

Boil Water Notices – Fact Sheet and Templates for Public Drinking Water Suppliers

Delray Beach issues boil water notice after water main break

This fact sheet will help public drinking water suppliers recognize when a boil water notice is needed and what their responsibilities are under State and Federal regulations.

  • Protect your Customers
  • Prepare
  • Consult with your Local Health Department
  • Meet the Requirements
  • Frequently Asked Questions from Drinking Water Utilities
  • Boil Water Notices – Templates for Download

Protect your Customers

  • Public drinking water suppliers are responsible to make sure the water they deliver to the public is safe to drink. When there is reason to suspect that water delivered to the public could be contaminated with disease-causing organisms, a boil water notice may be necessary. Timely distribution of accurate, understandable information is essential for your customers’ protection and is required by State and Federal regulation. Attached are Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) that can help utilities meet the public need and remain in compliance with regulatory requirements.


  • Public drinking water suppliers need to be prepared so that effective boil water notices can be distributed quickly to the public, local officials, consecutive (purchasing) water systems, and critical water customers. Pre-prepared boil water notices and up-to-date contact information are key items that will help water suppliers complete this notification. These items must be in the water supply emergency plans that are required for community water systems that serve 3,300 or more people and are highly encouraged for all other water suppliers.

Consult with your Local Health Department

  • Conditions that warrant a boil water notice are considered a public health hazard. Whenever conditions arise that may pose a public health hazard, public water suppliers are required to notify their Local Health Department. The Health Department will help determine if a public health hazard is present and provide guidance on appropriate actions. In many cases, a boil water notice can be avoided by immediate corrective action. This could include changing water sources, altering treatment, opening interconnections, isolating water quality problems, using storage, etc. For very small water suppliers, especially non-community systems, this may also include temporarily shutting down until water conditions are acceptable. When a boil water response is needed, the water supplier must distribute a boil water notice to its customers within 24 hours of learning of the conditions that pose the public health hazard. This makes it necessary to consult with the Health Department as soon as possible once these conditions are identified.
Copper & Zinc Water Contamination

The strange effect copper and zinc can have on drinking water, sound almost mythical. Yet, these two essential minerals in high doses can cause sensational harm to the human body. Normally with pipes connected to homes, they contain brass copper fittings to ensure a long duration as the years go by. No one wants to spend thousands each year replacing water pipes. However, the copper fittings could be adding to the high than normal copper levels found in drinking water a.k.a tap water. 

Doctor Samuel Kinner Wilson

This name is important to individuals who suffer from Wilson’s disease? Why? At the moment this disease is only known to be purely a genome mutation. But Wilson’s disease helps to cause a strange and unique buildup of copper minerals in the body. If an individual or child has gone undiagnosed and the drinking water contains high traces of copper, this is putting the individual at extreme risk.

Receiving Notice to Boil Water from the Water Department

It seems nowadays, no matter where you live, we have all received a notice from the water department. Suggesting we boil our tap water to cancel out some of the overloaded minerals that could be contaminating our water. Did you know that some have claimed that if a household continues to drink from the tap without taking proper precaution, that could end up with long-term liver damage? Or damage to the kidneys? Yes, this is happening now and it’s cause for alarm to ensure safe drinking water is available from the tap. So, the main question is what can be done?

1. Ion tablets can dissolve the excess copper and zinc
2. Using filters that promote reverse osmosis
3. Apparently, the best way to remove zinc compounds that are extremely hazardous (zinc cyanide) is through sand filtration

The Copper Problem

Elevated levels of copper in drinking water can affect the kidneys. The usual effects of too much copper can result in vomiting, cramps, and horribly digestive issues. Be careful if you are attempting to give a child under a year old tap water. Their body hasn’t fully developed the right digestive structure to protect against such this metal mineral. 

In some cases, individuals have experienced epigastric burning after drinking water. This is caused by too much copper possibly nearly blocking a water pipe. If you are at a drinking fountain and you notice the water is coming out with a slight copper-like tint, by all means, do not drink. Instead, contact your city Water department right away. 

How to tell too much copper is in your drinking water? There will be a definitive metallic taste. Remember, as a child and noticing the smell of pennies, that’s the exact same smell and taste.

If you’re a homeowner and you’ve noticed corrosion around the pipes, this is easily connected to copper. That’s why boiling water straight from the tap is expected when these pipes have corrosion. 

The Zinc Problem

What is unusual is people tend to be lacking zinc. Yet, in concentrated overloaded doses zinc can harm the human system. Typically, this comes from zinc chloride, which can cause extreme coughing, trouble breathing and problems with the respiratory functions. Severe cases of zinc intake have shown damage to the pancreas, developing anemia, and raised cholesterol. Also, it maybe should be suggested that a woman who is currently pregnant should stay away from tap water. How to tell if there is by far too much zinc in your water? The water will come out of the tap cloudy and chalky. We have mentioned boiling water, yet this method does not work with removing zinc. We highly suggest reverse osmosis as the best route.

Using filters

Filters such as Brita, Pelican, DuPoint, or Aquasana are known for purifying water of excess containments. We suggest you look into what specific minerals are registered with a higher ratio than the others with your Water Department. This way you can select the right type of filter to use at home.

The application in which copper and zinc water contamination are present and at what measurements depends on a number of theories. Is there a leak between the pipelines and the soil? How are these minerals sinking into our drinking system? Is it the way our drinking water is processed? Or there so how it’s not processed properly? We suggest contacting the Water Department to receive a test list of all the minerals present because you could have a copper and zinc water contamination within your drinking water.