Groundwater sampling across the state suggests that the 13% of Marylanders who get their water from individual wells may be drinking contaminated water.
Andrew Lazur, University of Maryland Extension (UME) water quality specialist, spearheaded the effort to collect samples from 75 farm wells across the state to analyze for various contaminants. Lazur found that 39% of the wells featured a presence of coliform bacteria and 10% had evidence of E. coli.
“Maryland doesn’t have a lot of data on well water quality, and collecting more data helps to point at what, if any, issues exist,” said Lazur, who teamed up with extension agricultural agents to work with farms across Maryland. “I was really interested in working with the farming community because, essentially, 100% of them are on well water.”
Lazur’s efforts were supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program.
Lazur then partnered with Rachel Rosenberg Goldstein, director of the UMD School of Public Health Water Quality, Outreach, and Wellness Lab as well as peers at Virginia Tech. The samples were analyzed for bacteria as well as the presence of numerous hazards like copper, arsenic, and lead.
“The well cap could be cracked, or the casing could have a hole in it where bugs can get in; and bugs can die and fall into the water, causing the bacteria,” he said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that the septic, or the neighbor's septic, is contaminating the well, but it is an indicator of a potential problem.”
About 30% of tested wells had elevated sodium levels while 5% had high levels of nitrates. Three wells indicated the presence of arsenic.
Lazur recommends farmers having their water tested annually by a certified state lab to determine quality.
“I hope people take drinking water quality seriously,” he said. “This work is rewarding because you’re helping somebody’s health.”