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Penn State Extension Completes Private Water Well Study in Cameron County

Posted: December 6, 2011

Penn State Extension Educator, Jim Clark, completed a study of 50 private water wells in Cameron County this summer

Penn State Extension Educator, Jim Clark, completed a study of 50 private water wells in Cameron County this summer, utilizing the Penn State Water Lab.  The study was administered through the Cameron County Conservation District and funded by a grant from the Headwaters RC&D Sinnemahoning Stakeholders Group.  The participants were self-selected through advertisements and word of mouth. They were not randomly selected. The project was designed for educational purposes and to encourage private water well owners to regularly test their private water supplies. A Penn State Extension Water Workshop was held for the participants in Emporium, PA, in November, to discuss the results. The testing of private water supplies is voluntary in Pennsylvania. Health related contaminants in water, in most cases, cannot be seen, smelled, or tasted. Testing must be completed to identify the presence of these contaminants.  In a survey of the 50 Cameron County Well Owners, 19 (38%) stated they had no problems that they knew of with their private water supply. Yet, 15 (79%) of these 19, failed at least one drinking water standard when their supply was tested.

Clark also completed a study in McKean County in 2006, where he tested 200 private water wells for the same parameters as the current 2011 Cameron County study.  Clark sampled all of the wells in the Cameron study.  Clark and several trained assistants took the McKean County samples in 2006. The two studies were compared during the workshop and the information is provided below, as well.

pH

The range for pH in drinking water should be between 6.5 and 8.5. The average for the 50 Cameron Wells was 7.47, with 4 (8%) testing outside the range with a high of 8.12 and a low of 5.61. In the 200 McKean Wells the average was 7.14 with 47 (23.5%) testing outside the range with a high of 9 and a low of 3.73.

Total Dissolved Solids (TDS)

The drinking water standard for public supplies for TDS is 500 mg/l. The average for the 50 Cameron Wells was 208 mg/l, with 3 (2.5%) testing outside the range with a high of 777 mg/l and a low of <20 mg/l. In the 200 McKean Wells, the average was 159 mg/l with 5 (2.5%) testing outside the range with a high of 3642 and a low of <20 mg/l.

Total Coliform Bacteria

The total coliform bacteria level should be 0. The 50 Cameron Wells showed 31 (62%) of the wells testing positive for total coliform bacteria. In the 200 McKean Wells there were 125 (62.5%) of the wells testing positive for total coliform bacteria.

E-coli

The E-coli level should also be 0. The 50 Cameron Wells showed 12 (24%) of the wells testing positive for E-coli. In the 200 McKean Wells, there were 22 (11%) of the wells testing positive for E-coli.

Arsenic

The standard for Arsenic is 0.01 mg/l. The 50 Cameron Wells showed only 1 (2%) of the wells above the standard with a high of 0.023 mg/l. The 200 McKean Wells showed 3 (1.5%) wells above the standard with a high of 0.039 mg/l.

Barium

The standard for Barium is 2.0 mg/l. The 50 Cameron Wells showed only 1 (2%) well above the standard with a high of 2.026 mg/l. It is interesting to note that all 50 Cameron Wells had some detection for Barium with the lowest level being 0.011 mg/l.  The 200 McKean Wells showed 2 (1%) wells above the standard with a high of 6.018 mg/l.

Chloride

The standard for Chloride is 250 mg/l. The 50 Cameron Wells showed only 3 (6%) of the wells above the standard with a high of 334.8 mg/l.  The 200 McKean Wells showed 3 (1.5%) wells above the standard with a high of 2196.2 mg/l.

Nitrate-Nitrogen

The standard for Nitrate-Nitrogen is 10 mg/l. The 50 Cameron Wells showed none of the wells above the standard with a high of 7.3 mg/l.  The 200 McKean Wells showed 1 (0.5%) of the wells above the standard with a high of 10.5 mg/l.