The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, the Illinois
Department of Public Health and local health departments are
launching a new campaign to encourage the estimated 400,000 Illinois
households served by their own private drinking water wells in both
urban and rural areas to get the wells tested for potential
A new analysis by the Illinois EPA shows that most
of these wells are in and around the state's largest cities, as
opposed to small towns and rural areas, as some may have thought. In
fact, the 10 counties with the most private water wells are all in
metropolitan Chicago and northern Illinois. In central and southern
Illinois, the highest densities of drinking water wells are found in
and around the largest cities, such as Champaign, Peoria,
Springfield and the Metro East area.
However, the analysis found that the less populous parts of
Illinois are generally more dependent on private well water compared
to public water supplies. Seven of the 10 counties with the most
wells per person are small or medium-sized counties.
Although public and community water systems are tested regularly
by the state for a variety of contaminants, regular testing of
private well water is the owner's responsibility.
"Drinking water in Illinois is much cleaner and safer today than
in the past, but private well water can become contaminated by
bacteria or man-made chemicals," said Illinois EPA Director Doug
Scott. "The only way to ensure that your well water is safe is to
test it. This is especially important for wells located near a
current or former commercial or industrial area, gas station, or
"Clean, healthy drinking water is essential for good health,
especially for infants and children whose bodies are growing so
quickly," said Dr. Eric Whitaker, director of the Illinois
Department of Public Health. "If you drink private well water, make
sure it's safe for you and your family."
For information on testing and potential private well
contamination, Whitaker and Scott urged private water well owners to
consult a new website,
www.illinoiswellwater.org; call (888) 372-1996 toll-free; or
contact their county or local health department.
Wells that are located in communities with commercial or
industrial development are more susceptible to chemical
contamination. For example, in the Chicago suburbs of unincorporated
Downers Grove and Lisle, hundreds of private wells were contaminated
by chemical spills from one or more nearby industries.
"My experience demonstrates the importance of well water
testing," said Ann Muniz, one of the residents from unincorporated
Downers Grove whose well was contaminated. "I learned the hard way
not to assume that your well water is safe, and I want to make sure
others learn from our experiences." All affected residents have
since been connected to the Downers Grove public water supply.
Another recent example occurred in Wauconda, where the well water
for at least 100 homeowners in the Hillcrest subdivision was
contaminated by chemicals. The most probable source of contamination
was an old sand and gravel quarry that was used as a landfill prior
to environmental requirements for such activities.
"Wauconda is a small, rural community where you might not suspect
chemical contamination of well water," said Bonnie Thompson-Carter,
a Lake County Board member. "Thankfully, the state of Illinois and
our congressional delegation have secured funding to connect the
affected homeowners to the public water supply."
The agencies recommend an annual test for bacteria and nitrate.
The presence of bacteria in well water indicates contamination by
human or animal wastes that can cause infectious diseases. Nitrate
contamination is usually caused by faulty septic systems or
agricultural runoff and is especially dangerous for infants.
Bacteria and nitrate testing is offered by most local health
departments for approximately $25.
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For wells that are located near a current or former commercial or
industrial area, an above- or below-ground fuel tank (including gas
stations), or landfills, the agencies recommend testing for volatile
organic compounds, or VOCs. This is especially important if the well
is old or shallow. VOCs are common components of gasoline and other
fuels, as well as solvents, paints, cleaners and degreasers. Wells
located in agricultural areas should be tested for pesticides.
VOC testing can cost anywhere from $150 and up, while a pesticide
screening test starts at roughly $50. Homeowners should consult with
their local health department about how often to test for VOCs and
pesticides. For a limited time, some certified laboratories are
offering discounted rates to coincide with the education campaign.
One contaminant that can affect both private and public water
supplies is lead, which can enter drinking water through the decay
of plumbing materials. Homes built before 1986 are more likely to
have lead pipes, fixtures and solder. The agencies recommend running
the water until it gets cold before using it for drinking or
cooking. Also, never use water from the hot water tap for drinking
or cooking. Hot water is more likely to contain higher levels of
lead. The only way to be sure of the amount of lead in your
household water is to have it tested by a certified laboratory.
Illinois Environmental Protection Agency lists the top 10
Illinois counties with private wells as follows:
Top 10 counties in Illinois: number of water wells*
Top 10 counties in Illinois: number of water wells per person*
- Jo Daviess
Maps showing private drinking water well density are available at
or through the links below.
[To download Adobe Acrobat Reader for the PDF
files, click here.]
*Source information: Illinois State Geological Survey Database of
Wells, 2005. This database contains records of all types of water
wells, including community, non-community and private. This data
does not represent all water wells in Illinois, only those
catalogued by the Illinois State Geological Survey. The status of
wells within this database is unknown.
[News release from the
Environmental Protection Agency and
Department of Public Health]