The University of Iowa
The University of Iowa News Services Home News Releases UI in the News Subscribe to UI News Contact Us
5139 Westlawn
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 335-8032; fax (319) 384-4638

Release: May 8, 2002

NOTE TO EDITORS: May 5-11 is National Drinking Water Week. To contact Michael Wichman, call (319) 335-4479. To contact Peter Weyer, call (319) 335-4014. For additional sources, contact David Pedersen at (319) 335-8032.

UI researchers to lead statewide study of drinking water quality

University of Iowa researchers, along with county, state and federal agencies, will begin a statewide study of drinking water quality in Iowa communities without public water supply systems.

The study includes approximately 60 Iowa communities that use private wells as their sole drinking water source. Researchers will monitor the wells to assess exposure to water contaminants that may increase the risk for adverse health effects, assess the probability for well contamination and increase community awareness statewide about water contaminants through a public communications campaign.

Communities that only use private wells for their drinking water are not required to monitor for contaminants specified by the Safe Drinking Water Act for communities with municipal or other public water systems.

"We believe that there is a definite need to assess the well water quality in communities that utilize only private wells and are not protected by the Safe Drinking Water Act," said Michael Wichman, Ph.D., water quality program manager for the UI Hygienic Laboratory and one of the study's researchers.

Residents of communities that use private wells rather than central public water supplies may be at risk of consuming contaminated drinking water through the surface or sub-surface contamination of wells. Some of these wells may contain trace amounts of petroleum products, agricultural chemicals and other contaminants.

"Data on drinking water quality in Iowa communities that only use private wells is limited," said Peter Weyer, Ph.D., associate director of the UI Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination (CHEEC) and another of the study's researchers.

The study will have two components. Researchers will sample 134 private wells in 16 incorporated Iowa communities that have been identified as having a number of possible nearby sources of contamination. Water samples will also be collected from 120 private well locations randomly chosen from approximately 60 incorporated communities around the state. The research team will analyze water samples for bacteria, nitrate and other inorganic compounds, metals, herbicides and insecticides, and other synthetic organic compounds. Both study components will include periodic sampling of wells; local county environmental health departments will collect the water samples and gather information about the how the wells were constructed.

The research team will gather and review available computerized data on the location and number of nearby contaminant sources and factors that may impact well water quality in these communities. Efforts to raise public awareness about potential health risks related to groundwater issues include a project Web site, progress reports and educational materials, and regional meetings to inform the public about study results.

The results may be used to determine the general vulnerability of private wells across Iowa and help identify problematic regions and need for additional studies.

The 15-month, $250,000 multi-agency study is being conducted by the UI Hygienic Laboratory, CHEEC, the UI Environmental Health Sciences Research Center, Iowa Ambient Water Monitoring Program, IDNR Water Supply Section and the U.S. Geological Survey.