Releases Initial Results of Private Well Testing Program
Home Buyers Learn of Water Quality during Property Transactions
(04/15) Trenton - Department
of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley M.
Campbell today announced test results from more than 5,000
private drinking water wells sampled across New Jersey from
September 2002 through March 2003. The results show an eight
percent failure rate for meeting health-based standards
for drinking water contaminants, excluding lead.
"The results demonstrate the importance
of testing residents' drinking water sources for a variety
of contaminants that may need treatment to ensure a safe
supply," said Commissioner Campbell. "When contamination
issues arise, county and local health officials step in
to assist residents taking corrective action."
provides a summary of 5,179 well tests triggered by real
estate transactions. Based on the results of the first six
months of the program, 92 percent of the 5,179 wells, which
represent approximately one percent of New Jersey homes
with private wells, passed all the required health-based
standards, with the exception of lead. For reasons presented
below, the lead results are not included in any of the summary
Of the eight percent (417 wells) that exceeded
a health-based drinking water standard, the most common
reason for failure statewide was elevated nitrate levels
(189 wells) followed by fecal coliform (92 wells) and volatile
organic compounds (71 wells). In the counties where arsenic
and mercury testing was required, 72 wells failed for arsenic
and 14 wells failed for mercury. Elevated levels of nitrates
usually come from fertilizer runoff or septic leaching,
fecal coliform stems from septic leaching, sewer leaks or
animal waste runoff, while volatile organic compounds originate
from improper use and disposal of solvents and fuels. Arsenic
occurs naturally in soil and ground water in the Piedmont
region of the state and mercury is linked to leaching in
soils of air deposition and past pesticide use.
Treatment systems for these various contaminants
range from $200-$4,000 with additional costs for annual
maintenance. State money from DEP's Spill Fund pays for
residents' treatment and maintenance costs for volatile
organic compounds and mercury contamination found.
"Families have the right to know whether
their drinking water is safe when purchasing homes with
private wells," said Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell.
"This program is successful due to support from local
and county health officers across the state who provide
information to persons involved with the private well testing
New Jersey is the only state that requires
mandatory statewide private well testing upon sale of a
home. DEP provides local and county health officials the
results of well tests that show an exceedance of a primary
or secondary drinking water standard within five days of
receipt of the data from laboratories performing the analyses.
Only primary drinking water standards are based on health
concerns. Secondary drinking water standards address aesthetics
such as corrosivity, taste, odor and color. The fundamental
goal of the Private Well Testing Act is to ensure that purchasers
and lessors of properties served by private wells are fully
aware of the quality of the untreated drinking water sources
prior to sale or lease. In the future, as more sample results
are received, DEP will perform updates to the report's summary
tables (Appendix B) by county and municipality of the quality
of the water sources that supply New Jersey's private wells.
The private well tests were conducted on
untreated (raw) water samples collected prior to entering
any water treatment system. Many houses or wells may already
have treatment systems in place to remove or lessen the
degree of contamination. Although not required, DEP recommends
post-treatment samples collected at a kitchen tap to evaluate
the effectiveness of a treatment system. The Private Well
Testing Act requires landlords of property with private
wells (non-public water systems) to complete testing of
their water source and to provide notice to their tenants
by March 14, 2004. The requirement includes a test once
every five years from the initial sampling date.
Shortly after the private well testing
program began in September 2002, county and local health
officials and DEP staff noted that some of the reported
lead results were unexpectedly high. Local health departments
often could not confirm the lead results through careful
confirmatory sampling. Previously, the presence of lead
had been detected only rarely in well water. In most cases
high lead levels were attributed to well structures or plumbing,
not ground water sources. As a result DEP considers the
lead results suspect and did not include them in summary
The suspect lead results indicate 640 wells
(12 percent) out of the 5,179 tested had levels above the
state's Ground Water Quality Standard of 10 parts per billion.
Public water systems must act to reduce the corrosiveness
of the water when 10 percent of homes within their distribution
system tested fall above 15 parts per billion. Lead levels
reported in the private wells tested ranged from 1 to12,000
parts per billion, which does not correlate to past ground
water studies in New Jersey and indicates a likely problem
with the sampling location. A research study is underway
with Rutgers University to further evaluate lead sampling
and analytical techniques so that DEP may better understand
the lead sampling results. A water sample taken at the kitchen
tap is being used to help determine actual lead levels being
consumed in homes after an elevated level is found during
a test from plumbing closer to the well.
The private well tests also look for three
naturally occurring secondary parameters: pH, iron, and
manganese. A total of 3,089 wells tested (59 percent) exceeded
one or more of the recommended limits for secondary parameters.
Of the 5,179 wells tested, 2,047 had pH values outside the
recommended range of 6.5 to 8.5. Both iron and manganese
are inorganic ions that occur naturally in soils and rocks
throughout the state. Of the 5,179 wells, 1,457 reported
iron levels above the recommended standard of 0.3 mg/l.
For manganese, 1,027 of the wells were above 0.05 mg/l,
the recommended standard. Testing for secondary parameters
determines if the water is suitable for laundering, plumbing,
and showering or if prior treatment is needed.
All private well test water samples are
analyzed for a core set of parameters: total coliform (if
positive, fecal coliform/E. coli), nitrate, all 26 volatile
organic compounds with established drinking water standards
called maximum contaminant levels, lead, iron, manganese
and pH. In some counties, samples must also be tested for
the presence of arsenic or mercury and radiological contamination.
Laboratory results are submitted to the DEP electronically.
If a well demonstrates an exceedance, or
failure, the local health agency normally notifies the well
owner plus neighboring homes and businesses of potential
problems with the water supplies. For more information about
the Private Well Testing Act Program, including treatment
methods available for private wells and health effects associated
with contaminants, visit www.state.nj.us/dep/watersupply/pw_pwta.html.