Thousands drink from unregulated private wells
*By *Clay Barbour
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Sunday, Sep. 10 2006
Clean water is something most people take for granted. Turn the spigot on and
like magic, fresh cold water travels from some treatment plant on the far side
of town, up through the ground and into the sink.
Whenever something bad happens - such as in July
There are about 800,000 private wells in Missouri and Illinois, serving about 3
million people. And in truth, that’s little more than an educated guess.
Missouri started keeping track in 1987. Illinois started in the mid-'60s.
Officials say records before that are spotty, at best.
Regardless, whether the existing wells provide clean, safe water depends almost
entirely on the vigilance of owners.
Robert Kiesel recently bought a house in Wildwood. One day while inspecting his
yard, he noticed the cap was off his well.
“My wife was convinced a chipmunk had fallen in,” he said.
So Kiesel had his water checked at the St. Louis County Health Department and
discovered that his well needed a strong chlorine treatment to kill off the
high levels of bacteria.
“I’m not worried about it,” he said. “But my wife is. She’s a chemist, and she
knows everything that could go wrong with water. So I’ll keep an eye on it.”
The federal government is currently working on a nationwide survey of drinking
water. Until now, there has been no such study.
There are about 1,800 private wells in St. Louis County. In the past three
years, officials have performed 266 water quality tests, 40 percent of which
failed because of high levels of coliform bacteria.
Across the river there are more than 10,000 wells in Madison and St. Clair
counties. Along with Monroe and Randolph counties, the two make up a region
that has been cited for having the “high potential” for groundwater
St. Clair does not offer water testing. Officials do give free kits and
applications for people who want the state to test their water.
Madison County, which has about 5,400 private wells, offers free testing to
residents once a year, but few get them. Officials have performed 135 water
quality tests so far this year, of which about 40 percent failed.
“I would imagine that most of the people who get their water tested think they
might have a problem,” said Mike Hungerford, Madison’s environmental health
services manager. “But there are probably a lot of people out there who think
their water is OK, when it’s not.”