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Because we live in Florida, we are lucky to have a plentiful source of ground water. Ground water fills the cracks and pores in sand, soil, and rocks that lie beneath the surface of the earth, much like water saturates a sponge. These saturated layers of earth are called aquifers, and they are the primary source of drinking water in Florida.  
 
Due to its protected location underground, most ground water is naturally clean and free of contaminants. Unfortunately, Florida's aquifers can become contaminated by chemicals and microbes that can cause illness. Bacteria and nitrate can reach the ground water and wells through poorly maintained septic systems, livestock areas and fertilizer application, or as a result of poorly constructed wells. Chemicals can enter into the ground water from leaking gasoline storage tanks, pesticide applications, landfills, and improper disposal of toxic and hazardous wastes. As a private well owner, you should be aware of these potential risks to the ground water and your household water supply.

About 80% of Florida's residents are served by public water systems covered by the Federal and State Safe Drinking Water Acts. The other 20% receive their water from "limited-use" public water systems and private wells. While all public water systems in Florida are required to perform routine testing to ensure that they meet state drinking water standards, private well owners are responsible for ensuring that their OWN well water is safe to drink.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reported that consumption of contaminated drinking water in the United States has resulted in thousands of cases of illness each year. Contaminated drinking water can cause a number of diseases, and is sometimes fatal. The most common contaminants are microbes and nitrate.

Microbes: Many types of bacteria themselves are generally not harmful, but their presence is an indication that other harmful bacteria, viruses, or parasites may also be present. Diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting are some of the most common symptoms resulting from drinking water that is contaminated with harmful bacteria.

Nitrate: High levels of nitrate in drinking water can pose an immediate threat to infant children. When consumed, nitrate is known to react with hemoglobin in the blood causing an anemic condition known as the "blue baby syndrome."

To ensure that your private water supply is safe and healthy, you should understand the importance of maintaining your own well and water system and performing routine water quality tests.

If you have a private well, the Department of Health strongly recommends that you test your water for bacteria and nitrate at least once per year. Routine water testing is a simple and inexpensive measure you can take to ensure that your water supply is safe and to protect your family's health. 

Private state-certified laboratories are also available to perform water testing and can be located in the phone book, or by searching DEP's online laboratory listing.
 
While bacteria and nitrate are the most common threats to your drinking water, your water well may also be susceptible to other contaminants. Depending on past and present land-use activities or other sources of contamination in your neighborhood, additional water tests may be recommended. In some cases, the health department may be able to do testing for certain toxic substances free of charge under the SUPER Act Program.

Be sure to always use a state-certified laboratory to ensure that the results are valid. The county health department can help you understand your test results and advise you on measures you should take should the results show that your well water is contaminated. You may need to disinfect your well, repair your water system, or install treatment equipment. Again, be sure to use a state-certified laboratory to test your water to protect yourself from water treatment equipment sales companies that may try to sell you unnecessary treatment equipment.