Skip all navigation Skip to page navigation

DHHS Home | A-Z Site Map | Divisions | About Us | Contacts | En Español

NC Department of Health and Human Services
NC Division of Public Health
N.C. Public Health Home
 
 

Occupational & Environmental Epidemiology

Well Water and Health

Most private wells provide a clean, safe supply of water for many people in North Carolina. But sometimes contaminants can get into your well water and make you sick. As a private well owner, it is up to you to test your water to ensure it is safe to use.

The majority of private drinking water wells in North Carolina are supplied by groundwater. Our groundwater is typically composed of rain and snowmelt that seeps into the ground and flows between the soil, clay, and small cracks in underground rocks before it finally becomes groundwater and enters the well supply. Because contaminants can also follow this pathway and influence the quality of the well water, private well owners must take special precautions to ensure the protection and maintenance of their drinking water supplies.

Contaminants in Well Water

Groundwater contaminants can come from natural sources and processes as well as human and animal sources. Activities which impact the water quality may be close to the drinking water source or many miles away. Groundwater flow is subject to change, which means the distribution and concentration of contaminants in an area may change as well. While the presence of some contaminants can be detected because they change the taste, smell or appearance of the water, others may only be detected by laboratory testing.

You can find out about some of the contaminants that have been found in wells throughout North Carolina by visiting the following links:

View maps by contaminant name.

View contaminant averages for each county.

Health Effects of Contaminants

Some contaminants, like bacteria and nitrates, can cause short-term illnesses such as gastrointestinal upset, diarrhea, and nausea. Some contaminants may be especially dangerous for certain high-risk populations such as small children, pregnant women, elderly, or individuals with compromised immune systems such as people on chemotherapy or with long-term infection. Contact with high levels of some contaminants in drinking water for many years may increase the risk of long-term (chronic) diseases such as anemia, high blood pressure, and in some cases, cancer. Contact with chemicals that are genotoxic carcinogens will have some degree of risk at any level of exposure.

The degree of risk from contact with contaminants in drinking water depends upon the length of time that you are in contact with the contaminant and the amount of the contaminant to which you are exposed.  The effects of exposure to any substance also depend upon how you are exposed, your individual susceptibility to a contaminant, and whether other chemicals are present.

The most important thing private well owners can do to ensure the safety of their drinking water is regular water testing.

Learn more about private well water testing in North Carolina.

Learn more about N.C. DHHS recommended practices for private well water safety.

For Additional Information