Well Water Contaminants that Can Affect Your Health

Adapted from a Vermont Health Dept. Bulletin

You have probably heard about the big three contaminants that could be in your well water: arsenic, lead and E. coli bacteria. But what about lesser-known contaminants, such as manganese and nitrates?

They can have harmful health effects, too, and testing is the only way to know if they’re in your drinking water.

Manganese is a naturally-occurring metal found in rocks and soil that can dissolve from bedrock and enter groundwater. We get manganese from the foods we eat, and small amounts are also added to most vitamin supplements and baby formulas.

Nitrogen, also a natural element, can be found in water in the form of nitrate. Nitrate contamination of water usually comes from fertilized agricultural fields, septic system failures, or manure piles that are too close to wells.

Manganese and nitrates are required for health,  but we typically get all that we need from our diet, so we don’t need extra manganese and nitrates in our water.

Exposure to high concentrations of manganese over many years has been linked to toxicity to the nervous system.

Babies who drink formula made with nitrate-contaminated water are at risk for blue baby syndrome, a condition where the baby’s blood is less able to carry oxygen. Affected babies develop a blue-gray color and need emergency medical help.

Infants are more susceptible to adverse health effects associated with high levels of manganese and nitrates in drinking water because their bodies are smaller and still developing.

Health Departments recommend that people with private wells or springs have their water tested every five years for manganese and nitrates. In fact, comprehensive tests that evaluate all significant well-water issues, not just nitrates and manganese, are recommended.