Pesticides Found In Stamford's Well Water

Jul 5, 2012

State and local health officials are asking residents with private wells to get their water tested for possible contamination. This time the sources aren’t the usual chemicals. As WNPR’s Neena Satija reports, they’re pesticides that were used in the soil decades ago, and are now believed to be a risk to human health.

Around 2.3 million people in New England get their water private wells, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. But the EPA doesn’t have any way of regulating the safety of the water in those wells. In Connecticut, rules about testing mostly apply only to newly-built wells. And they almost never include testing for pesticides.

“In general, people do not test their wellwater for pesticides. It’s fairly expensive, and people just don’t do it," said Bill Warzecha, an environmental analyst for the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Warzecha says most laws about well-water testing focus on things like microbial bacteria. Adding things like pesticides to that list can make the cost of a test climb from around $150 to $500 or more. But he thinks those additions are necessary, especially since pesticides can be a risk for human health even at trace levels.

“You can’t see it, you can’t taste it and you can’t smell it," Warzecha said. "And so except if you test it, you’re not going to know that it’s in there.”

There’s hardly any data about pesticides in Connecticut’s well water. But Stamford has been testing hundreds of wells a year since 2009, and health officials have found that almost one-sixth of them have dangerous levels of chlordane and dieldrin – two pesticides that were banned in the 1980s and are now considered carcinogenic by the EPA.

“We saw things on the New Canaan border, things on the Greenwich border, things on the Darien border," said Joseph Kuntz, who works for Stamford's health department. "And it was like, OK, this is something anybody with a well anywhere needs to be concerned about.”

The city has a one-of-a-kind program that lets residents who apply get their wells tested for just $100. Normally it would cost $350. Over 1700 people have signed up so far.

“I don’t know of anyplace that’s done this much testing," Kuntz said.

The solution to contamination is fairly simple – just install what’s called a granular activated carbon filter. But that’s another expense ranging from a few dollars to hundreds of dollars, and filters also need to be tested regularly.

For more on this story, visit the Connecticut Mirror at ctmirror.org.