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Families Urged to Have Wells Tested Yearly

Young kids are especially vulnerable to contamination, experts say

FRIDAY, May 29, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- The American Academy of Pediatrics says that families who get their water from private wells should have these drinking sources tested annually for possible contamination.

The new recommendation, part of a policy statement crafted with help from the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, aims to protect children whose immature immune systems are more vulnerable to water-borne contaminants such as pesticides, fertilizers and sewage.

"As people move out of urban and suburban areas into areas that are not reached by municipal water supplies, it is more important than ever that people know who to contact in their local health department to get information about local groundwater conditions," policy consultant N. Beth Ragan said in a news release from the environmental institute.

About one in six U.S. households uses private wells for drinking water. Though safe to drink from when properly managed and cared for, wells are not regulated by federal guidelines and are regulated minimally, if at all, by state or municipal law.

The policy statement stresses that well owners should watch for several potentially dangerous contaminants, most notably nitrate and coliform bacteria. Nitrate, which can come from sewage and fertilizers, is especially a problem for infants younger than 3 months, because they cannot break it down. The presence of coliform often indicates contamination from sewage.

Families should also have wells tested before a new infant is brought into the house or after structural damage or changes to or near the well source, the statement adds. And it encourages well owners to talk with local health experts about what else their water should be tested for, based on known issues in the community, such as radon or agricultural runoff.

"This statement will be extremely useful to many audiences, especially pediatricians," Linda Birnbaum, the institute's director, said in the news release. "Pediatricians needed a one-stop shopping document that they can share with parents who have concerns about their children's sources of drinking water."

The statement and an accompanying technical report are in the June issue of Pediatrics.

More information

The U.S Environmental Protection Agency has more about drinking water safety.

SOURCE: U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, news release, May 26, 2009
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