Know what’s in your well

Nearly one in four people living in Oregon get their drinking water from a well.

If you are one of them, you have the right to know what’s in your water. Domestic well water can be contaminated by bacteria, nitrates, and arsenic, among other things—all of which can have serious health impacts. Oregon Environmental Council supports legislation in Salem to ensure that renters who depend on well water at their homes for drinking, cooking and bathing have information about contaminants so they can take action to protect their families.

Why should you be concerned?
These contaminants can cause serious health problems such as cancer, miscarriage and thyroid disorders. Pregnant women and small children are particularly at risk from nitrate exposure, especially infants because their digestive and enzyme systems are not fully developed. High levels of nitrates can cause infants to suffer from “Blue Baby Syndrome,” which decreases the ability of blood to carry oxygen and can be fatal.

Oregon has a fairly widespread problem with nitrate, arsenic and bacteria contamination of well water. Oregon Health Authority has excellent resources, including an online Water Well Owner’s Handbook and an interactive map showing areas where tests of private wells have concerning levels of arsenic and nitrates.

Oregon Health Authority recommends that all domestic well owners conduct a one-time arsenic test and annual nitrate and bacteria tests. State law currently requires property owners to test domestic wells at the time of a property sale. However, compliance with that requirement is low, and state officials have no enforcement mechanism.

In reality, most families that drink well water have never had their well tested, and renters often lack information on whether their well water is safe to drink, despite the legal requirement of landlords to provide safe drinking water.

Our “Safe Well Water” bill seeks to address this problem. House Bill 2860:

  • Requires landlords to test drinking water wells for E. coli, arsenic and nitrates, and inform tenants of the testing results.
  • Directs Oregon Health Authority to analyze well test data and provide public education in areas where contaminants are present.
  • Creates a new Safe Well Water Fund to help local health authorities and other educators provide well water education and testing of wells, and to provide grants and loans to low-income property owners and landlords for repair of drinking water wells or installation of water quality treatment systems.

The Safe Well Water Bill, HB 2860, is up for a work session on April 2, which means that policymakers in Salem will discuss its merits and decide whether to move it forward in the 2019 legislative session. Once it moves forward, we will need your help telling your state representative and senator that people who depend on well water across Oregon deserve to have the information they need to protect their families.

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