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Groundwater contamination: August 2011 Archives

GET YOUR WELL WATER TESTED!

This is about the importance of getting your well water tested, immediately, when there is even the possibility that it is contaminated. North Stamford, Connecticut and Rockford, Illinois are half a country apart, and have many other things that would seem to distinguish them from one another.  But they have one thing profoundly in common:  both have a serious groundwater contamination problem, and need to quickly test families' drinking water wells to see how far the contamination has spread, where it is coming from, and how many of the families are threatened by it. North Stamford In 2009, testing of a fraction of the 5,000 private drinking water wells in the North Stamford area revealed that "elevated levels" of dangerous pesticides had infiltrated the water used by those families for cooking, bathing, etc.  [See this  Stamford Advocate article dated July 27, 2011]  While that's obviously very troubling news for those families, it's also very necessary news.  Because now they know.  Now they know that they have a serious problem, and can move quickly to protect themselves against this threat, and to demand a permanent solution.  For example, they can minimize their exposure to the contaminated water (especially for kids) through use of bottled water, or filtered water.  And they can demand that their government determine who or what is the source of this contamination, and make them pay for the clean, permanent water supply that those families now know that they need. But what about those thousands of families whose wells were not tested?  I would imagine that, like the many families I have represented in groundwater contamination cases over the years, these families have anguished over questions like: "What if my water is contaminated, too?"  "How will I feel about learning that I have been unknowingly exposing my family to this danger?"  "If my water is found to be contaminated, will it hurt the value of my home?" "Can I afford to pay for the water test, and for whatever may be necessary to protect my family if I turn out to have a problem?" As families have struggled with these painful questions, many wells have gone untested.  Either the cost of the water test ($350), or the fear of receiving a bad test result and having to deal daily with its consequences (lost market value, living on bottled water, etc.), is causing families to resist the testing upon which their very health and peace of mind may depend.  Most unfortunate - and dangerous. Concerned about all these un-tested wells, the North Stamford city council has recently decided to dedicate $100,000 a year to well testing in the community.  [See this May 26, 2011 Stamford Advocate article]   Good job.  With this action, the city council simultaneously emphasizes the importance of families knowing whether they have a problem, and takes away at least one excuse for not testing (i.e., the cost of the test).  Also, many hundreds of additional test results will give local scientists a fighting chance to determine the source of the contamination...because the more information these scientists have about what chemicals may be in the wells, and whether the concentrations of those chemicals increase or decrease in certain directions, the easier it is to identify the source. Plus:  home values which fall with the discovery of contamination in a neighborhood are never restored by pretending that there is no contamination.  They are restored by getting rid of the contamination, which is a process that starts with testing to show where the contamination is. But, what took North Stamford and its residents so long to do more testing?  This failure to test since 2009 has almost certainly left some families unnecessarily exposed to dangerous chemicals in their water, and means that the city and its residents have lost more than two years in their effort to figure out who/what is responsible for this contamination, and to make them pay for fixing the problem. Rockford Let's hope the Rockford contamination gets addressed more quickly and responsibly.  Rockford's contamination appears for the moment to be smaller, and newer, than North Stamford's.  In late July, 2011, after families in two homes smelled a strange odor in their water, testing showed that the water was indeed contaminated-- with a dangerous chemical known as "benzene".  Government officials quickly notified the residents of some 200 nearby homes that they, too, might have contaminated water, and that they should take precautions....like using bottled water, or filtering the water coming from their private well.  Early reports are promising:  government says that it will move quickly to test more homes, and one news story notes that a local resident is already using bottled water....even for the family dog. [See this August 2, 2011 Rockford Register Star article] A good start.  But all this means is that Rockford today is where North Stamford was in 2009.  Now what?  The bottom line is that Rockford must quickly test  more wells, in order to find out who's in harm's way, and who's responsible for this problem.  That's government's job.  But the 200 families have a job, too:  take this problem seriously, and hold government's feet to the fire.  Get the testing done. Now.  Then protect those who need protection.  And start holding accountable whoever did this. Otherwise, two years from now, 200 families in Rockford will still be wondering if they have a problem, when timely testing in 2011 would have given them the answer, possibly spared them further exposure to a dangerous chemical, and taken them well down the road toward a permanent solution to their problem.

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