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Local officials advise well owners to disinfect water to avoid contamination from E. coli and other bacteria 

Health agencies to well owners: Don't go near the water--until it's tested

by Cara Cooper
Apr 24, 2013

Chicago area residents with private wells are being urged by health officials to perform tests for possible bacteria and E. coli in their water caused by recent flooding.

Will County, where close to 70,000 residents have private well, saw substantial rain from flooding last week, but many residents with wells were ready for testing before the floods began.

“Spring is the time of year when we traditionally recommend well testing, so most well users call in spring anyway because they are conditioned to do that,” Will County Health Department spokesperson Vic Reato said. “We aren’t detecting an increase in the amount of calls.”

Will County Health Department offers testing for a charge, and the turnaround is usually between 48 and 72 hours.

Reato says that the amount of rain Will County saw was much more manageable than some of the surrounding counties.

DuPage Count, where close to 18,000 homes have private wells, received much more damage from the floods. The DuPage Health Department is providing free well testing kits to residents. David Hass, health department spokesperson, said wells should be tested whenever flooding occurs.

“If the well has been covered by floodwater, the well should be disinfected and then the water should be tested,” Hass said.

Hass said that wells must be disinfected before they are tested by the county.
Cook County residents near the Des Plaines River should also have their wells checked.

The Cook County Health Department will send out a staffer to check residents’ wells at no cost. Test results are returned in no more than three days.  Until then, Tom Varchmin, director of environmental health, said not to use water for drinking or eating until “you are sure it is clean and drinkable.”

“We tell residents if there is any doubt, don’t use until tested,” Varchmin said. “Use bottled water.”

Varchmin said water can be used for cleanup if you put between one-fourth and one-half of a cup of bleach in two gallons of water. There are currently 5,000 homes with private wells in Cook County.

Kane County spokesperson Tom Schlueter said nearly two-thirds of county residents have wells. The Kane County Health Department offers tips and instructions for testing and kits available at the health department offices in Aurora and Elgin.

Cliff Treyens, public awareness director for the National Groundwater Association in Westerville, Ohio, said that the main reason for testing wells is because if the floodwaters are high enough, they could exceed the level of the wells surface and creep into the clean water.

“There’s lots of bacteria on the ground, and that could be taken down into the well,” Treyens said. “Also, chemicals, gas, and various things could be picked up by floodwater.”

Treyens said that even though the ground is a natural filter, depending on the area, the bacteria could remain in the water for several weeks, and  disinfecting water is the best way to be sure it is clean.  He also suggested that well owners have trained professionals service their wells rather than doing it themselves.
“With electric wells, you run the risk of electrocution if you try to service it when you don’t know what you’re doing,” Treyens said. “Trying to clean and disinfect a flooded well requires expertise and maybe special equipment especially if debris got in the well.”

Residents of these counties can find more information about disinfecting wells and picking up test kits at their local health department's website.