Contaminants found in private wells pose health risks for Iowans

Those interested in having their well tested for nitrates can do so for free by contacting their county health department. (

Jake Slobe | January 16, 2017

This weeks’ On The Radio segment discusses nitrates in Iowa drinking wells and the negative effects they can have on human health.

Transcript: A 2016 special report found that water from many private wells in southwest Iowa contain high levels of contaminants that pose health risks for humans.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

IowaWatch, a nonpartisan, non-profit news organization, tested twenty-eight wells in southwest Iowa as a part of their special report titled, “Crisis In Our Wells.” Eleven of the wells, which were tested in May and June, contained nitrate levels that exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s health standard limit of 10 milligrams per liter. Water from fifteen of the wells tested had unsafe amounts of bacteria, and a few wells contained trace amounts of arsenic and lead.

The report notes that high levels of nitrates in drinking water can increase residents’ risk for some types of cancer, diabetes, thyroid conditions and reproductive problems. Bacteria in drinking water, while not necessarily harmful on its own, can be a sign that the well is susceptible to outside contaminants such as agricultural runoff or septic system leaks.

About 288,000 Iowans rely on private wells for their drinking water. Those that are interested in having their well water tested can do so free-of-charge by contacting their county health department.

For more information about these findings and for a link to the complete IowaWatch special report, visit

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

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