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APS TechNotes See all articles

Contaminants Found In Well Water

Wondering what microorganisms (germs) and chemicals can be found in your well water, and what they can do to your health?  Here is a list of some of them. 

Microorganisms Health Effects*
 * Healthy individuals may have mild or no symptoms from these infections.  They will usually recover without long-term health problems.  However, persons with weakened immune systems may have more severe or life-threatening illnesses.


· Diarrhea
(sometimes bloody), cramping, abdominal pain, and fever

Escherichia coli (E. coli) O157:H7

· Bloody or non-bloody diarrhea, stomach cramps; little or no fever

· Can cause hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) and kidney failure in young children or the elderly


· Diarrhea, typhoid fever, stomach cramps

· Infection can spread from intestines to blood and other body sites,causing serious illness


· Watery or bloody diarrhea, fever, upset stomach

· Vomiting and stomach cramping may also occur



· Usually causes mild upper respiratory, “flu-like” symptoms with fever and muscle pains, or a rash

· Meningitis is less common, and illnesses that affect the heart and brain may occur, but are very rare

Hepatitis A

· Jaundice (yellowing of eyes and skin), dark urine, tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fever, stomach ache

· Most infected adults will show symptoms while children often do not have symptoms (but could still pass the virus to others)

Norovirus (Norwalk)

· Upset stomach, cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea

· Headache and low-grade fever may also occur


· Vomiting, watery diarrhea, stomach cramps, fever


· Diarrhea, loose or watery stool, stomach cramps, upset stomach, and fever

· Usually causes mild illness, but can be serious or fatal for people with weakened immune systems


· Diarrhea, loose or watery stool, stomach cramps 

· Usually causes mild illness, but can be serious or fatal for people
with weakened immune systems

Chemicals   Health Effects**

** These health effects are caused by consuming large doses of chemicals. 


· Short-term: congestion of heart, lungs, and kidneys; low blood pressure; muscle spasms; weight loss; damage to adrenal glands

· Long-term: weight loss, cardiovascular damage, eye and muscle degeneration; cancer


· Stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, numbness in hands and feet, partial paralysis, and blindness

· Can also cause skin damage, circulatory system problems, and increased risk of cancer 


· An essential nutrient at very low levels 

· High level exposure causes upset stomach, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps 

· Long-term exposure at high levels can also cause liver and kidney problems


· Delayed physical and mental development in babies 

· Shortened attention span, hearing, and learning abilities of children

· Slightly increased blood pressures in adults 


· Long-term exposure at high levels can include stroke, kidney disease and cancer


· Kidney damage


· Methemoglobinemia – a blood disorder that causes shortness of breath and blueness of skin, and can lead to serious illness or death

· Methmoglobinemia mainly affects infants and pregnant women

· Long-term effects include increased urination and bleeding of the spleen


· Increases risk of cancer

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

· Drowsiness and decreased responsiveness

· Skin irritation

· Some cause cancer after long-term exposure

Revised Summer 2003

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