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Inside Inspections: Well Testing

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BENTON COUNTY, Ore. — The Benton County Department of Environmental Health got grant dollars to test for harmful contaminants that may enter homes. Some of those contaminants could even cause cancer.

“I think this is a wonderful journey. I think we have some great help with some interns and some volunteers from OSU,” said Bill Emminger, Benton County Health Division Manager.

The journey begins at a home overlooking beautiful Benton County. As homeowners venture out of the city, they look for land under the canopy of Oregon’s trees. But the county life can come with some challenges.

“There is testing requirements for public systems and so we got a fairly good handle on that piece of the puzzle. But so many people get their drinking water from domestic wells and we know virtually nothing about that,” Emminger said.

That’s why Emminger applied and was granted money from the Oregon Health Authority to test wells for nitrate levels, coliform and arsenic.

Arsenic can trigger cancer and low doses over a long period may also affect children. The plan is to inspect about 90 homes.

“We know some of the soil types here. We suspect there will be some areas that will have low levels of arsenic, but we really don’t know at this point,” Emminger said.

A team of health experts and interns on their first big test at the home of Judy Sundquist.

“My concern is that we sort of retired here and, particularly my husband, we use this water 24/7. So normally, when you are working and you are out and about you might be drinking water that may be 10 to 20 percent of the time. So now the full exposure with whatever is going on with your water, your there and your responsible,” Sundquist said.

The first step, the team powwows with Sundquist.

“The number of wells you have on the property are two, correct? You’re only using one,” Emminger said.

It’s important for them to seek out sources of contaminates and then it was off to check out the well.

The team looks at the wellhead, making sure there are no cracks. They’re looking for anything that might change the outcome of their results.

In order to make sure the water they are getting is truly from the well, the team runs the hose for about five minutes. Then its collection time.

“It is just nice to see that environmental health takes the lead on this; you can trust that they know what they are doing,” Sundquist said.

“If we get a positive on e-coli that is really a red flag for us,” Emminger said.

The only way to find that out is at this lab. The just collected samples are taken to Edge Analytical in Corvallis.

“We recommend that you test for coliform at least yearly as well as nitrate at some point. A lot of homeowners don’t realize that they should and I think it will be great to have people realize ‘I need to be concerned about my well’” said Gretchen Schrock, Edge Analytical.

If a sample were to test positive, the team would then take the necessary steps to help the homeowner remedy the problem.

“There are some immediate things that the homeowner can do for instance shock chlorinate the well,” Emminger said

The project is a big undertaking in Benton County. Ultimately the team says it hopes these samples will help them understand what’s below the soil, so that what ends up on the surface and in your home isn’t harmful.

The arsenic and coliform testing came back negative. The nitrate levels, however, came back low; but at this time, the team doesn’t think there is a public health concern.

Homeowners in the target areas will be notified when outreach events will be held in their area. Since the number of tests are limited, those who aren’t selected for these free tests will get a voucher for a reduced price for testing.

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