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Public health urges county residents to test well water

by Patrick Raftis

GUELPH - Private well users in Wellington County should be having their water tested on a regular basis, but only a small percentage are, the local health unit reports.

Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health (WDGPH) is looking for ways to encourage county residents to have their private wells tested, Medical Officer of Health and WDGPH CAO Dr. Nicola Mercer told Wellington County councillors  on Nov. 30.

Public health analyzed private well water sample results from 2011 to 2015. Of the 31,593 samples, two thirds came from Wellington County.

“What was really surprising,” said Mercer, is 17.5 per cent of samples from Wellington had evidence of bacterial contamination.

“That’s a warning. That means that well water might not be safe to drink,” she explained.

On average, only 15% of Wellington County residents with private wells have their water tested in any given year.

Mapleton and Centre Wellington residents have their water tested most frequently, with an average annual sampling rate of 16 to 19%. In Erin, Wellington North and Minto, the rate ranges from 14 to 16%, while in Puslinch and Guelph-Eramosa only 10 to 14% of private well users have their water tested on average.

In Guelph, that rates drops to eight to 10%, which makes sense, said Mercer, “because most of Guelph is not on private wells.

“I think the message here is not one area of Wellington County is actually sampling their well water enough,” Mercer stated.

The low rate of residents submitting samples for testing is probably related to a number of factors, Mercer suggested.

“And one of them is, I think people think they have to pay for it and they don’t,” she said.

“Well water testing is actually free … There’s no limit on how many times each year you can submit. We would ideally like to see people submitting their water for testing about three times a year. Once is probably the minimum but we really think that everyone that has a well should be submitting their samples, for free, to have their well water tested.”

Mercer noted a contaminated sample “doesn’t guarantee that you shouldn’t be drinking the water,” but,  “It’s a pretty good indicator that you probably shouldn’t be drinking the water.”

Mercer asked councillors for suggestions on how the county and public health can work together to encourage more regular testing.

“Is there something we can do to ensure residents of Wellington County know where to go, how to test and that its free?” Mercer asked.

Mercer’s report indicated four geographic clusters of contaminated samples were detected through the sampling process between 2011 and 2015. Mercer said public health is working to identify potential causes of increased contamination in these areas.

“The better our data, the more tests we have, the better that we would be able to look at potential clusters of contamination and look at what is driving this,” she noted.

Mapleton Mayor Neil Driscoll noted township residents used to be able to drop samples at the Mapleton municipal office, where the health unit would pick them up, but that practice was discontinued.

Mercer said public health is looking at ways to make drop-off locations more convenient, bearing in mind they have to be places where the samples can be refrigerated until picked up.

“We are looking for all kinds of suggestions as to how to make getting your well water tested easy, convenient, as well as functional,” she said.

Councillor Pierre Brianceau asked if residents with filtration systems in their homes should supply samples from both before and after filtration.

Mercer said residents should only submit samples taken from water that has not gone through filtration.

Residents wishing to have their well water tested should:

- pick up an empty water sampling bottle and form from participating public health offices in Guelph, Fergus, Orangeville and Shelburne or call their municipal office to find out if their municipality participates in the program;

- follow the instructions provided to take a sample and fully complete the form that accompanies the bottle; and

- drop off the sample at one of the participating health unit locations, or the laboratories at Palmerston and District Hospital or Louise Marshall Hospital in Mount Forest.

Specific drop-off times to  ensure samples make it on time to the Public Health Ontario testing lab in Hamilton can be found on the WDGPH website: www.wdgpublichealth.ca.

 

December 8, 2017

 
 

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