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About one in every eight well water samples brought in to the Springfield-Greene County Health Department this month have tested positive for fecal bacteria. As KSMU’s Jennifer Davidson reports, heavy rainfall and flooding can lead to contaminated wells.
Coliform is fecal bacteria, and E.Coli is one of the species of bacteria in that coliform. And it can make people very sick, particularly children.
The health department encourages homeowners who rely on wells to test their well water for bacteria at least once a year, especially after a flood. Machelle Petit is a senior scientist at the health department lab.She says 17 of the 137 well water samples brought in this month have tested positive for coliform.
“Water, as it comes out of the tap, of course looks clear. And that’s what it looks like when we receive it. Then, we add our testing media to it and let it incubate for 24 hours. If there’s coliform in there, it becomes a yellow color. And then if there’s E.Coli in there, we put those yellow samples under a black light—and if it glows, then that means there’s E.Coli in the sample,” said Petit.
Floods carry more runoff, which means more fecal bacteria in the ground water. Flooding also increases the risk that bacteria will get into the well casing, or the pipe that comes out of the ground and connects to the pump, Petit said.
“If you have flooding, of course, not everything seals perfectly. And so it can seep into there, and actually get into your ground source, and cause contamination,” Petit said.
The bacterial test costs $13, and chemical tests are $8. Homeowners can pick up a test kit at the health department’s main location: 227 E. Chestnut Expressway in Springfield.
According to the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, samples can be dropped off between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursdays, excluding holidays. Instructions for properly taking a sample are found online at health.springfieldmo.gov/water.
The department can also test for:
• High levels of sulfate, which is a naturally occurring substance that can have a laxative effect if too much is ingested
• Presence of nitrates, which can be harmful if ingested by infants
• Iron, which can stain laundry and fixtures
• Hardness levels
• Chlorine, which is used to “shock” wells with high bacteria levels, but which can itself be problematic if levels are too high
Well owners can call the laboratory at (417) 864-1673 for more information or to request collection supplies.
For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Davidson.