Extension office to offer water testing

Area residents concerned about their water can test for lead and other common contaminants through a program beginning next month.

The Virginia Cooperative Extension plans to conduct its drinking water clinics for the Northern Shenandoah Valley in November. The program gives people with private water systems such as wells access to affordable testing, interpretation of the results and possible treatment options, according to information from extension agent Mark Sutphin.

The extension office has typically seen “fantastic” response to the program in the valley, Sutphin said Monday. The agency likely will be limited to testing about 200 samples each week or 400 total, Sutphin added. The extension office tested about 250 samples last year and approximately 350 the previous year, though the agency conducted the program over two weeks, Sutphin noted.

The agency likely could see a high number of participants especially after the much-publicized and reported incident in Flint, Michigan, in which tests found high levels of lead in the water Sutphin said. Flint’s situation focused on a municipal water system, not private wells and other sources, Sutphin noted.

“The $40 cost for this test is certainly a reasonable amount for the number of parameters we’re testing,” Sutphin said.

Testing by a private lab could cost $250-$300, Sutphin said. The agency provides the test as an educational service to inform residents using a private supply and make sure they know that the owner bears the responsibility of testing the water, Sutphin explained.

“Unfortunately, often it’s out of sight, out of mind,” Sutphin said. “We find that often it will go decades without being tested and many of the parameters that are harmful are not noticeable to the human senses, so you wouldn’t see, taste, smell some of the harmful parameters.”

Tests conducted in spring 2015 showed many samples contained levels of lead, total dissolved solids, sodium, coliforms and E. coli that exceeded recommendations set by the Environmental Protection Agency, according to results provided by Sutphin. The analysis looked at 648 samples. Approximately 28 percent of the samples tested high for hardness.

Specific data provided by the extension office for 2012-2015 showed E. coli bacteria, total dissolved solids, hardness, total coliform bacteria and sodium taken from household water samples in Shenandoah County exceeded recommended levels. Data provided by the office for the same period showed water samples taken at households in Warren County showed low pH and levels of manganese, hardness, sodium and total coliform bacteria that exceeded recommended amounts. Water samples taken from Frederick County during that period showed manganese, hardness, total dissolved solids, coliform bacteria and sodium exceeded recommended levels.

The agency requires registration in advance for the program and advises that space is limited. A sample analysis costs $20-$40 due with the pre-registration or at the kick-off meeting. Contact the local extension office to register: Clarke County, 955-5164; Frederick County, 665-5699; Page County, 778-5794; Shenandoah County, 459-6140; Warren County; 635-4549.

The extension set the following dates and times for meetings and sample collection:
Frederick County, Mid Atlantic Farm Credit, 125 Prosperity Drive, Winchester – Kick off at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 7; sample collection from 7-10 a.m. Nov. 9; follow-up at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 12

Shenandoah County, government building, 600 N. Main St., Woodstock – kick-off at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 1; collection from 7-10 a.m. Nov. 2; follow-up at 5:30 p.m.
Warren County, community center, 538 Villa Ave., Front Royal – kick-off at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 1; collection from 7-10 a.m. Nov. 2; follow-up at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 7.

Participants will pick up a kit at a brief informational meeting and receive instructions. They will collect water from a tap at home, complete a questionnaire and drop off the sample at a designated location and time. Participants will attend a follow-up meeting about four weeks later to receive confidential results, an explanation of what the numbers mean and information on how to handle any problems present.

Testing covers 14 common contaminants, including iron, manganese, sulfate, hardness, sodium, copper, nitrate, arsenic, fluoride, pH, total dissolved solids, coliform bacteria, e. coli and lead.

The first Page County residents pay $20 for a kit due to funding from the Water Quality Advisory Committee, limit one per household. Additional participants and/or samples from a household pay $40 per sample.

Download the program flyer at http://tiny.cc/c2esfy.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com.

An earlier version of this story should have listed the phone number for the extension office in Warren County as 635-4549.