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Storms may have contaminated area wells; check yours to be sure

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By Alice Du Pont

Last week when more than 12 inches of rain drenched the county, the telephone at the environmental health section of the Gadsden County Health Department hardly stopped ringing.

"People were concerned about their wells. The flooding caused concerns and people were asking questions about the safety of their drinking water," said Addie Brooks, environmental manager for the county. "We advised that the heavy rainfall might have made the water unsafe and if they are unsure whether their well had been impacted, they should either use bottled water, boil water at a rolling boil for one minute or disinfect their water before drinking, making beverages, brushing teeth, washing dishes or washing areas of the skin that has been cut or injured."

If a well has been flooded, call the Environmetal Health Office at 850-875-7223, ext. 407, for information on how to sample water and where to bring the samples for testing.

"If the test shows bacteria, the well and water system will need to be disinfected and we can give instructions on how that can be done properly by the homeowner," Brooks said.

According to materials provided by the Florida Department of Health, it is important to disinfect both the well and the plumbing water with unscented household bleach to ensure that all infectious agents are destroyed.

DOH recommends the following steps to disinfect a contaminated well:

• If the water is discolored before adding the bleach, run the water until it is clear for up to 10 minutes.

• Turn off and drain the hot water heater (bleach is not effective in water above 105 degrees).

• Remove and replace charcoal filters after the disinfecting process is completed.

• To avoid adding to contamination in the well during disinfection, clean the work area around the top of the well, then remove grease and mineral deposits from accessible parts of the well head and flush the outside surfaces with a half cup of unscented household bleach in 5 gallons of water.

• Turn off the pump and remove the cap of the well plug on the rubber seal. There are many types of well caps and plugs.

If you have any questions, contact a licensed well driller. If you have a submerged pump, you may also want to contact a licensed driller.

• Recap or plug the well opening and wait 30 minutes.

• Turn on and, if necessary, reprime the pump. Open all of the faucets on the system, one at a time.

Allow the water to run until there is a noticeable smell of bleach. You may also want to flush the toilet.

If you have outside faucets, direct the water away from sensitive plants. If you cannot smell the bleach, repeat the disinfecting process.

• Turn off all faucets to allow the bleach to remain in the system for at least eight hours.

• Backwash water softeners, sand filters and iron removal filters with bleach water.

After disinfecting the well, the water needs to be tested to verify that it is safe to drink. Bleach is not effective against micro-organisms and will not remove chemical contamination that may have gotten into the well.

Contact Brooks for a bleach chart.