[StBernard] News Release (Region 6): EPA Provides Water Well Precautions and Actions

Westley Annis Westley at da-parish.com
Wed Sep 3 23:06:35 EDT 2008

EPA Provides Water Well Precautions and Actions

(Dallas, Texas - September 3, 2008) Homeowners with water wells need to take
special precautions and actions in the aftermath of hurricanes. What
follows is a "how to" concerning the steps homeowners should take to ensure
a safe return to water well operation. Because of the extensive flood area
and the speed and direction of ground water flow, your well may not be a
safe source of water for many months after the flood. The well can become
contaminated with bacteria or other contaminants.

Waste water from malfunctioning septic tanks or chemicals seeping into the
ground can contaminate the ground water even after the water was tested and
found to be safe. It will be necessary to take long range precautions,
including repeated testing, to protect the safety of drinking water.

Swiftly moving flood water can carry large debris that could loosen well
hardware, dislodge well construction materials or distort casing. Coarse
sediment in the flood waters could erode pump components. If the well is not
tightly capped, sediment and flood water could enter the well and
contaminate it. Wells that are more than 10 years old or less than 50 feet
deep are likely to be contaminated, even if there is no apparent damage.
Floods may cause some wells to collapse.

Also, after flood waters have receded and the pump and electrical system
have dried, do not turn on the equipment until the wiring system has been
checked by a qualified electrician, well contractor, or pump contractor. If
the pump's control box was submerged during the flood all electrical
components must be dry before electrical service can be restored. Get
assistance in turning the pump on from a well or pump contractor.

All pumps and their electrical components can be damaged by sediment and
flood water. The pump including the valves and gears will need to be cleaned
of silt and sand. If pumps are not cleaned and properly lubricated they can
burn out. Get assistance from a well or pump contractor who will be able to
clean, repair or maintain different types of pumps.

Turning on the pump poses danger of electrical shock and damage to your well
or pump if they have been flooded. Also, do not wash with well water.
People drinking or washing with water from a private well that has been
flooded will risk getting sick.

Drilled, driven or bored wells are best disinfected by a well or pump
contractor, because it is difficult for the private owner to thoroughly
disinfect these wells.

If you suspect that your well may be contaminated, contact your local or
state health department or agriculture extension agent for specific advice
on disinfecting your well. The suggestions below are intended to supplement
food precautions issued by state and local health authorities.

The EPA offers the following instructions for the emergency disinfection of
wells that have been flooded.

First, before disinfecting the well: Check the condition of your well. Make
sure there is no exposed or damaged wiring. If you notice any damage, call a
professional before the disinfection process.

Step 1: If your water is muddy or cloudy, run the water from an outside
spigot with a hose attached until the water becomes clear and free of

Step 2: Determine what type of well you have and how to pour the bleach into
the well. Some wells have a sanitary seal with either an air vent or a plug
that can be removed. If it is a bored or dug well, the entire cover can be
lifted off to provide a space for pouring the bleach into the well.

Step 3: Take the gallon of bleach and funnel (if needed) and carefully pour
the bleach down into the well casing.

Step 4: After the bleach has been added, run water from an outside hose into
the well casing until you smell chlorine coming from the hose. Then turn off
the outside hose.

Step 5: Turn on all cold water faucets, inside and outside of house, until
the chlorine odor is detected in each faucet, then shut them all off. If you
have a water treatment system, switch it to bypass before turning on the
indoor faucets.

Step 6: Wait 6 to 24 hours before turning the faucets back on. It is
important not to drink, cook, bathe or wash with this water during the time
period -- it contains high amounts of chlorine.

Step 7: Once the waiting period is up, turn on an outside spigot with hose
attached and run the water into a safe area where it will not disturb
plants, lakes, streams or septic tanks. Run the water until there is no
longer a chlorine odor. Turn the water off.

Step 8: The system should now be disinfected, and you can now use the water.

Step 9: Have your water tested for bacteria 7 to 10 days after disinfection.

Materials needed are one gallon of non-scented household liquid bleach,
rubber gloves, eye protection, old clothes and a funnel.

Contact your local health department to have well water sampled and tested
for contamination. Or, call your state laboratory certification officer to
find a certified lab near you. You can get this number from the Safe
Drinking Water Hotline (1-800-426-4791).

If the health department issues sterile bottles for the private well owner
to collect water samples, follow all instructions for the use of these
bottles. After the pump is back in operation, the health department should
sample and test the water at regular intervals.

If in doubt about the well water supply, follow health department drinking
and bathing advisories. Remember that there is a danger of electrical shock
from any electrical device that has been flooded; consult a certified
electrician. Rubber boots and gloves are not adequate protection from
electric shock.

Well disinfection will not provide protection from pesticides, heavy metals
and other types of non-biological contamination. If such contamination is
suspected, due to the nearness of these contaminant sources, special
treatment is required.

Information on home water treatment units is available from EPA by phone
(800-426-4791) or the U.S. EPA's hurricane website:

If you observe chemical containers (including barrels and drums) that have
moved to your property, call your state or county health department or the
Superfund Hotline (1-800-424-9346).

Well owners may have information about the construction or testing of their
well and this information will be helpful to the health department in
determining water quality conditions.

To learn more about Hurricane Gustav activities, please visit

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