Common Well Water Contaminants

Groundwater and Well Water Contamination

In certain areas where it’s difficult to get city or county water, many people rely on wells as their water source. Wells are fed by underground water called groundwater and are naturally occurring water sources.

Unfortunately, due to groundwater not being pumped through controlled systems like city or county water, it can be subject to contamination.

Groundwater contamination itself is an environmental problem, but when a well is tapped into that water source it becomes a health hazard as well. Well water contaminants can cause a number of health issues or lead to hazardous health conditions.

How Well Water Gets Contaminated

Any time a chemical or byproduct is disposed of or released into the environment (either on purpose or by accident) there is a potential for groundwater contamination, and subsequently well water contamination. There are several activities/sources that contribute to well water contamination per the EPA:

  • Agriculture: Fertilizer storage and use, animal feedlots, animal waste disposal systems, animal burial, manure stockpiles (e.g. pits and lagoons), manure spreading, general waste disposal wells, pesticide storage and use (e.g. spread by airplane), field irrigation
  • Commercial: Airports, boatyards, railroad track and yards, junkyards, recycling and waste transfer stations, auto repairs shops, carwashes, laundromats, dry cleaners, paint shops, gas stations, construction sites, golf courses, floor drains and waste disposal wells, research laboratories and medical institutions, funeral homes and cemeteries
  • Industry: Oil and gas production and storage, pipelines, petroleum refineries, chemical manufacture and storage, mining, electroplating facilities, foundries, metal fabrication facilities, machine shops, waste disposal wells, paper mills, textile mills
  • Residential: fuel oil storage tanks, household chemical storage and use, swimming pool chemical storage, septic tanks and leach fields, sewer lines, floor drains, lawn fertilizer storage and use
  • Misc: road de-icing, landfills, sewer lines, storm water pipes and drains, abandoned production and disposal wells, nearby active disposal wells, illegal dumping

Common Well Water Contaminants

The activities and sources of well water pollution produce impurities that make their way into the surrounding well systems. Common well water contaminants that are more present than others in underground water sources include:


Microorganisms include bacteria, viruses and parasites that come from human and animal waste. Additionally, any sort of run-off from rain or snow melting can drag these contaminants into the water supply.

Any type of leakage from underground storage tanks or septic leach fields can also pollute surrounding well water. Microorganisms can cause gastrointestinal issues and infections when ingested.

Nitrate and Nitrite

Originating from chemical fertilizers, human waste and animal waste/fertilizers, these elements pollute well water from groundwater movement as well as water seepage or run-off.

After consumption, nitrates are converted into nitrites. Nitrites are a serious health hazard for infants. Infants who ingest contaminated water can develop “blue baby syndrome”—falling ill or passing away.

Heavy Metals

Arsenic, antimony, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead and selenium are among the many heavy metals that can pollute well water. Heavy metals find their way into a well system from groundwater movement and surface water seepage.

The pollution comes from household plumbing and service lines, mining operations, petroleum refineries, electronics manufacturers, municipal waste disposal, cement plants and natural mineral deposits.

When consumed, heavy metals can cause acute and chronic toxicity, liver and intestinal damage as well as anemia and cancer.

Organic Chemicals

Organic chemicals come from household, agricultural and industrial products such as inks, dyes, pesticides, paints, pharmaceuticals, solvents, petroleum products, sealants and disinfectants.

Once these are disposed of, spilled or collected in surface water run-off, they can make their way into the groundwater well systems pull from. At high levels, organic chemicals can cause damage to the kidneys, liver circulatory system, nervous system and reproductive system.


Radionuclides are radioactive forms of elements like uranium and radium, which are harmful to humans. Uranium mining, coal mining and nuclear power plants are typically the sources of these pollutants. However, radionuclides can be naturally present in some areas as well.

These radioactive contaminants make their way into well water from groundwater flow, wastewater seepage and flooding. When these are ingested they can cause toxic kidney effects and heighten the risk of cancer.


While helpful in preventing tooth decay, fluoride in excess can cause skeletal and dental fluorosis, tooth discoloration and pitting of teeth. It can be present in aquifers and also found in well water.

Testing for Common Well Water Contaminants in Virginia

Many residents in Virginia are on city or county water systems but there are plenty of areas still using well water. These areas can be at risk for well water contaminants just like any other rural or developing area in the U.S. According to the VDH, these are the type of well water contaminant tests you should be using in Virginia:

  1. Basic Indicators (Potability)
  2. Bacteriological
  3. Radiological
  4. Petroleum Constituents
  5. Herbicides/Pesticides

Test Your Well Water to Make Sure You’re Safe

Well water contaminants can be serious health hazards for you or your family. When you live in an area with a well water system, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

EHS will test your water for heavy metals such as copper or lead. If you need more than just copper or lead testing, we offer WaterSmart Kits, which are for other contaminants and will be analyzed by our sister lab, National Testing Laboratories.

Contact our team today to get started.