Heading out to the countryside may not guarantee you clean living. University of Iowa professor Peter Meyer studied private wells in fifty small rural communities and says virtually everywhere, there’s something in the water. Meyer says you find a lot of nitrate, ag chemicals, and an assortment of naturally-occuring substances like arsenic and radium — he says there’s little chance you’ll get “totally pure” water no matter where you are. He says since Iowa’s mainly an agricultural state, we use a lot of chemicals to produce crops, and urban areas use the fertilizers and weedkillers as well, so it’s both a city and country issue how those affect our water quality. Weyer says public drinking-water systems are regulated by the state Department of Natural Resources as well as the federal EPA as far as what can be in the water, in what concentrations. But private well owners are not required to do the rigorous testing towns are. He’s concerned that people aren’t testing private well water, and are unaware of health concerns. Testing for nitrates and bacteria is free for well owners, and Weyer says all you have to do to use the state testing program is call your local health department. They’ll provide a kit you use to take a water sample and send it to the state hygienic lab for free testing, and he says if they find something that needs further examination, more tests are covered by the program. Weyer is a professor in the University of Iowa’s Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination, which studies drinking water, what kinds of contaminants get into it, and how that affects human health.
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