Free well testing available for Chatham residents

BY CASEY MANN, News + Record Staff
Posted 3/5/19

Chatham County residents had their well water tested for free this week thanks to a partnership between UNC-Chapel Hill and Virginia Tech. The partnership is studying contaminants that can make their way into ground water through industry, storm runoff, and by naturally occurring means.

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Free well testing available for Chatham residents

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Chatham County residents had their well water tested for free this week thanks to a partnership between UNC-Chapel Hill and Virginia Tech.
The partnership is studying contaminants that can make their way into ground water through industry, storm runoff, and by naturally occurring means.

“Everybody should get their well tested,” said Andrew George, Community Engagement Coordinator for UNC-Chapel Hill’s Institute for the Environment, “especially if it’s been flooded.”

Testing kits were picked up Tuesday from the two locations and returned on Wednesay from the Wesley Samuel Annex, next to Liberty Chapel Church at 1915 Old US 1 Hwy in Moncure and at Central Carolina Community College in Conference Room 2 in Building 42 at 764 West Street in Pittsboro.

Any private wells, used for indoor or outdoor purposes, were eligible for testing.

The results of the testing will be mailed to participating residents after four to six weeks. George will then hold a community meeting — date and location to be determined — to summarize what the study reveals.
George estimates that up to 60 percent of wells in Chatham County have not been tested, noting some residents are fearful because their wells are old and residents may be afraid to hear the results or what might happen to their wells as a result of the testing.

That’s why George has secured a “certificate of confidentiality” for the study, which George notes was a challenge.

“People were fearful of their results going public,” George said. “That’s why I have the certificate. Even in a court of law, I can’t share your results unless you want me to.”

George, who holds a PhD, has been conducting the study of wells across the state to measure the amounts of a variety of elements, including Hexavalent Chromium-6 sometimes simply called Chromium-6, a carcinogenic that George says has been “popping up” all across the state.

George has collected samples across the state, mostly around coal ash sites. This includes testing 80 wells in New Hanover near the Duke Energy Sutton plant, 40 wells in Stokes and 20 in Wayne. In one day last week, he collected 775 in Iredell County, mostly from residents who live near Lake Norman, which was found to contain the radioactive substance radium last year.

In Chatham County, George has been working with a group of Moncure residents, the Chatham Citizens against Coal Ash Dumping, to organize distribution and collection of well samples for their neighbors. However, anyone in Chatham County with a private well could also take advantage of the program.

The kits contained three bottles with simple instructions for residents to collect samples. The water was collected first thing in the morning, prior to using it.

The first bottle was filled with water right out of a faucet or spigot and collected before even a toilet is flushed. George explained that this first sample is to check the condition of the pipes that lead from the well to the home.

“We want to see if they are old pipes or if there is anything that can be leaching from the plumbing,” George said. “That’s where a lot of contamination comes from.”

George noted that the first bottle will let the researchers and homeowners know if there is lead or copper in their water. He also noted that most state agencies don’t test the first draw as they are often testing the groundwater, not necessarily the water in the home.

The second and third bottles were filled after the water flushes for about five minutes. These bottles test the well water itself. The second bottle tests for metals that may be in the ground that can affect the water including manganese and arsenic which are naturally occurring and can be problematic for individual’s health.

The third bottle allows for testing of Hexavalent Chromium-6. The bottle contains a liquid compound to ensure that the Chromium-6 doesn’t convert to something else, binding to the compound.

George notes that Chromium-6 is not something that is typically tested during normal well tests. The ability to test for the compound is the reason George chose to partner with Virginia Tech as they are able to identify it. George’s counterpart at Virginia Tech, Mark Edwards, was the first to discover lead in the water in Flint, MI.

“We’ve found it in 25 percent of all the wells checked previously,” George said.

Chromium-6 doesn’t have a federal standard or limit assigned to it. It is a common metal associated with coal ash, but with no federal standard, there is no level to measure somebody’s water quality.

The state, following the coal ash spill at the Dan River, passed its own standard in 2014 based on readily available science at the time. The state determined the risk was based on a one in a million standard or .07 parts per billion.

“It’s basically like a drop in a giant Olympic sized swimming pool,” George said. “That’s all it take to affect a person’s health. And that’s according to the state’s department of environmental quality and department of health and human services.”


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