Water is essential for life, and it is crucial to ensure that the water we consume is clean and safe. In rural areas, well water is often the primary source of drinking water, and it is important to understand the potential health risks associated with coliform bacteria in well water.
In this article, we will explore what coliform bacteria are, how they can get into well water, the negative effects of coliform bacteria in well water, acceptable levels of coliform bacteria, and how to test and treat your water.
What Are Coliform Bacteria?
Coliform bacteria are a group of microorganisms that are commonly found in the environment, including in soil, vegetation, and animal feces. They are a type of gram-negative, facultative anaerobic bacteria that are widely used as indicators of fecal contamination in water and food.
Types of Coliform Bacteria
While not all types of coliform bacteria in well water are harmful, the presence of certain strains can indicate the presence of harmful microorganisms. These are the three types of coliform bacteria:
Total coliforms are a group of bacteria that are commonly found in the environment, including soil, vegetation, and water. They are not necessarily harmful to humans, but their presence in water can indicate the potential for contamination by fecal matter or other sources of bacteria.
Total coliforms are used as an indicator of water quality, and their presence can trigger further testing to ensure that the water is safe for human consumption.
Fecal coliforms are a subgroup of total coliform bacteria that are specifically found in the feces of warm-blooded animals, including humans. The presence of fecal coliforms in water is a strong indicator of fecal contamination, and their presence in drinking water can indicate a potential health risk. Fecal coliforms can cause illnesses such as diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever if ingested in contaminated water.
E. coli is a specific type of fecal coliform that is commonly used as an indicator of fecal contamination in water. While not all strains of E. coli are harmful, some strains can cause serious illnesses such as diarrhea, urinary tract infections, and pneumonia.
Testing for E. coli is an important part of ensuring safe drinking water and food safety, as it can indicate the presence of harmful bacteria and the need for further testing and treatment.
How Do Coliform Bacteria Get Into Well Water?
Coliform bacteria in well water can indicate the presence of harmful microorganisms, and it’s important to identify and eliminate the source of contamination.
Here are some of the most common ways in which coliform bacteria can enter well water:
If the soil surrounding a well is contaminated with fecal matter, coliform bacteria can easily find their way into the water. This can happen when a well is located too close to a septic system or an animal feeding area.
Domestic and wild animals can be carriers of coliform bacteria. If they defecate near a well or in the surrounding soil, the bacteria can easily leach into the groundwater and contaminate the well.
If a septic system is not properly designed, installed, or maintained, it can leak wastewater into the surrounding soil, which can then contaminate the well water. This is especially true if the well is located downhill or down-gradient from the septic system.
Surface Water Runoff
Surface water, such as rain or snowmelt, can carry coliform bacteria from nearby animal feeding areas or septic systems into the groundwater and contaminate the well.
Improperly Constructed Wells
If a well is not properly constructed, it can become contaminated with coliform bacteria during the drilling process. For example, if the well casing is not installed properly, surface water can enter the well and contaminate the water supply.
Inadequate Well Maintenance
A poorly maintained well can also be a source of coliform bacteria. If the well is not regularly inspected and cleaned, bacteria can accumulate in the well and contaminate the water supply.
Negative Effects Of Coliform Bacteria In Well Water
While not all types of coliform bacteria in well water are harmful, the presence of certain strains E. coli in well water can have negative effects on human health and the environment.
Increased risk of illness
The presence of coliform bacteria in well water can indicate the presence of harmful microorganisms, such as E. coli, which can cause serious illnesses.
Drinking water contaminated with coliform bacteria can lead to diarrhea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and other gastrointestinal issues, especially in young children and people with weakened immune systems.
The discharge of coliform bacteria from wells can have negative effects on the environment, especially if the contaminated water enters nearby streams, rivers, and lakes.
The bacteria can contribute to the growth of harmful algae blooms and other aquatic organisms, which can lead to fish kills and other ecological problems.
The presence of coliform bacteria in well water can lead to economic costs, such as the need to install and maintain water treatment systems, increased healthcare costs due to illnesses caused by the contaminated water, and decreased property values.
What Is An Acceptable Level Of Coliform Bacteria?
The Environmental Protection Agency set the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) and Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG) for the maximum allowable levels of coliform bacteria in drinking water. The maximum contaminant level goal for total coliform bacteria at zero, which means that no coliform bacteria should be present in drinking water.
Having a Maximum Contaminant Level Goal of zero for total coliform bacteria is simply because waterborne illness breakouts have been caused by water in which even trace amounts of Coliforms were detected.
Can You Drink Water With Coliform Bacteria?
Drinking water with coliform bacteria can pose health risks, especially for individuals with weakened immune systems or underlying medical conditions. Consuming contaminated water can lead to gastrointestinal issues, such as:
- Stomach cramps
In severe cases, it may even cause serious illnesses such as hepatitis A, typhoid fever, or cholera. Therefore, it is not recommended to drink water with coliform bacteria.
Can You Shower in Water With Coliform Bacteria?
Showering or bathing with water containing coliform bacteria is generally safe, as the bacteria do not typically enter the body through the skin. However, if the water is ingested accidentally, such as by swallowing water while showering, it can pose a risk of illness. It is also important to note that prolonged exposure to contaminated water can cause skin irritation and other dermatological issues.
Therefore, it is best to take precautions and avoid using contaminated water for any purpose until it has been treated or disinfected.
How To Test If You Have Coliform Bacteria In Your Well Water?
Unlike city water, well water is not regulated, so you have to test your own water to ensure that it is safe to drink. There are two primary methods for testing well water for coliform bacteria: laboratory water tests and well water bacteria test kits.
Laboratory Water Test
Laboratory water tests involve collecting a water sample and sending it to a certified laboratory for analysis. The laboratory will test the sample for the presence of coliform bacteria and provide a report on the results. The cost of laboratory water tests can vary depending on the type of test, the location of the laboratory, and other factors.
Well Water Bacteria Test Kit
Well water bacteria test kits are a more affordable and convenient option for testing well water for coliform bacteria. These test kits are available at most home improvement stores and online retailers. They typically include test strips or vials that change color in the presence of coliform bacteria. The test results can be read at home, and the kits usually provide instructions on what to do if the water tests positive for coliform bacteria.
It is recommended to test well water for coliform bacteria at least once a year, or more frequently if there is suspected contamination or if the well has been repaired or opened for any reason.
How To Get Rid Of Coliform Bacteria?
It is important to note that the presence of coliform bacteria in well water does not necessarily mean that the water is unsafe to drink. However, it is an indication that the water may be contaminated with other harmful microorganisms, such as E. coli, which can cause serious illnesses. Therefore, it is important to test well water for coliform bacteria at least once a year.
If your well water has tested positive for coliform bacteria, it is important to take immediate action to treat the water and prevent the spread of harmful microorganisms. There are several methods for treating well water for coliform bacteria, including UV light and chlorination.
UV light treatment involves exposing the water to high-intensity ultraviolet light, which kills up to 99.9% of harmful microorganisms, including coliform bacteria. UV light treatment systems can be installed at the point of entry or point of use, and they are an effective method for treating well water for coliform bacteria.
If you plan to use a UV light purifier, it is important that your water be pre-filtered so it’s free of any debris. This is because the UV light will reflect off any debris in your water supply, which limits the effectiveness to kill bacteria and viruses. If your water is free of any obstructions, the UV will penetrate through your water at maximum strength, killing the bacteria.
Chlorination involves adding chlorine to the water to kill harmful microorganisms, including coliform bacteria. Chlorination can be done at the point of entry or point of use, and it is a highly effective method for treating well water for coliform bacteria.
Shocking a well is a cost-effective well water treatment solution as it only costs between $40 and $75 for a DIY chlorination kit.
It is important to note that while UV light and chlorination can effectively treat well water for coliform bacteria, they may not be effective against all types of harmful microorganisms. It is recommended to consult with a water treatment professional to determine the best treatment method for your specific situation.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between E. Coli and Coliform bacteria?
E. Coli is a subgroup of Coliform bacteria and is a good indicator of animal fecal matter and the presence of harmful pathogens.
Does boiling water kill coliform bacteria?
If you do not have other treatment options, boiling water is able to kill coliform bacteria in well water. Heat your water to a rolling boil for at least one minute to kill Coliform and E. Coli bacteria.
Can coliform bacteria be filtered out of water?
Bacteria can be filtered out of water if the micron rating of the filter is small enough. A single E. Coli bacteria is on average .5 microns in diameter and 2 microns long. If you have an absolute micron rating of fewer than .5 microns, you may be able to filter coliform bacteria from your water. Importantly, having a filter certified to NSF 53 or 58 standards can provide confidence in removing parasites, but may not completely remove bacteria and viruses. A reverse osmosis system can be an effective bacteria treatment method for bacteria removal.