1 in 3. Like those odds?

Posted on December 10, 2013

cryptosporidiumI remember my first lecture in Organic Chemistry at university.  It was a first year course in a huge lecture hall.  The professor opened with “look at the person to your left, now look at the person to your right, one of you is going to fail my course”.  1 in 3.  I didn’t like those odds.

Recently a study “Unregulated private wells in the Republic of Ireland: Consumer awareness, source susceptibility and protective actions (Hynds, Misstear and Gill) was published in the Journal of Environmental Management.  It told a concerning and all too familiar story…

In the Republic of Ireland, approximately 16% of the national population obtain their water from private groundwater sources – some small private group water schemes and the majority private wells serving individual households.  For a three year period (2007-2009) that wells were monitored, 35% showed evidence of intermittent E. coli contamination.  So what’s significant in that?  First of all that’s more than 1 in 3 !  And that’s the monitored wells ! What was or is going on with all those that don’t get tested??  Moreover, the contamination was intermittent.  It’s there then it’s not there.  It comes and goes. Now you see you don’t. (Actually you never really see it.  You will see a test result but only if you test).

Recognizing that there are no regulations for private water supplies in Ireland, the authors set out to understand if the rural well owners understand the health risks.

Here’s the highlights:

  • Most knew if the well was drilled or dug – especially if they lived there at the time of construction.
  • Over 90% were aware of E.coli as a possible contaminant.  While 70% were aware of Cryptosporidium, nitrate and fluoride.  Other pathogens (those are the really bad bacteria) and chemical contaminants were less well known.
  • 30% did not know the symptoms or illnesses that could result from drinking contaminated groundwater.

So let’s review.  They knew the source of their water.  They knew it could contain harmful bacteria.  But they didn’t necessarily know just how it might affect their health.  Hmm.

The authors also recognized that there were basically 3 primary actions private well owners could take to protect themselves.

1) Appropriate water treatment 2) Source maintenance and 3) Periodic water testing.

And the survey says…

  • 20% indicated they were taking no protective actions.  While 41% were only using one of the three protective practices.
  • The majority (nearly 2/3) reported NO water treatment.  Of the other third that had water treatment in place – more than half had a water softener (Hint: As effective against bacterial contamination as no treatment at all).  So effectively, 80% did not have appropriate water treatment.

So let’s review again.  Knowing they were using groundwater – that could contain pathogens – that could  make them ill – fewer than 1 in 10 were doing all that they could to protect themselves.  Oh well, maybe their groundwater was somehow better than other groundwater in Ireland.  Not so.  32% of the water samples (in other words about 1 in 3)  tested – you guessed it – positive for E. coli.

Now, if you are the owner of one of the over 15 million private wells that supplies households in the USA, you may be thinking that’s rural Ireland that’s not here.  Again, not necessarily so.  A 2006 Scientific Investigations Report by the US Geological Survey stated, and I quote, “…and that domestic wells commonly are contaminated by total coliform bacteria, with 33 percent of these wells testing positive”.   Oh my, there’s that 1 in 3 again.  Now I know that total coliforms are only an indicator for E.coli but really, do you like those odds?!?!

Look east at your neighbor’s well, look west at that neighbor’s well, now (most importantly) look at your well.  At any given time, one of the three wells will likely fail a bacteria test.  Remember the three protective actions you can take.  Appropriate water treatment, source protection and periodic testing.  I strongly encourage you to pursue all these options.  But if you are going to choose only 1 of the 3 – get appropriate water treatment.  A properly maintained ultraviolet device can easily and readily protect you and your family.

I couldn’t buy insurance to get through Organic 101.  But you can get insurance for your drinking water supply.


VIQUA's Diane Arnott, Guest Blogger VIQUA's Diane Arnott, Guest Blogger

Guest Post by VIQUA’s, Market Research Specialist, Dianne Arnott,  With a background in CPG and the healthcare industry as a brand manager, Diane has over a decade of experience leveraging consumer insight to drive business.   She is passionate about voice of customer.  Outside the office she can frequently be found on the golf course where she also endeavours to avoid water hazards.