Your neighbors could be drinking water with traces E.Coli, Uranium, and Arsenic, three very deadly poisons, without even knowing it. That’s what the Georgia Department of Public Health tells us.
Contaminated private well water is a health hazard dozens of families in Georgia have been facing for years without an end in sight.
And while we often associate contaminated water with underdeveloped countries in Africa, thousands of people in the US can’t drink the water pouring out of their sinks.
This problem often goes unrecognized because contaminated water can look and taste the same as clean water.
“Many families and communities cannot afford to extend public water lines to rural homes because it can cost up to $1 million per mile,” said Margaret Martens, Executive Director of the Water Well Trust and Water Systems Council.
The Water Well Trust is a privately funded organization that funds the repairs and construction of private wells. Via referral, word of mouth, and their hotline, The Water Well Trust serves low-income, rural families who cannot afford to repair, install, or replace private wells on their property.
They funded the repairs of hand-dug or damaged wells in Jones and Ben Hill Counties, Georgia, where some residents had been bleaching contaminated water to bathe in, and lugging jugs of water from town for cooking and drinking for over ten years. These families near Milledgeville and Fitzgerald are just some of the many on The Water Well Trust’s waiting list for a new well.
Martens says many families feel stigmatized when they can’t afford to have clean water for their basic daily needs.
WATER’S REALITY IN GEORGIA
The Georgia Department of Health says that one in five Georgians drinks from a private well. Since the quality of this water can vary, the GDH says well water should be tested annually for traces of bacteria or harmful chemicals.
Ground water and well water pollution can be caused by landfill seepage, failed septic tanks and underground fuel tanks, pesticides, and runoff from other areas, according to the Center for Disease Control.
These problems can leave traces of E.Coli, uranium, and arsenic. The Georgia Department of Public Health says that these chemicals and bacteria can result in both short term and long term health effects like stomach pain, respiratory illnesses, or even various cancers if ingested often.
GDPH and the University of Georgia water testing laboratory say arsenic, uranium and E.Coli are all naturally occurring in bedrock, soil and water runoff.
To prevent this, wells must be installed properly and with filtration systems, or tested regularly. The University of Georgia offers water quality testing in every county in the state through their extension offices.
But properly installed wells don’t come with a cheap price tag in Georgia.
Wells in Georgia can cost between $5,000 and $11,000 depending on the region, says Martens. The Water Well Trust covers these costs for communities in need of funding.
And these problems are still happening in one of the most wealthy countries in the world, the United States.
But the access to drinking water is even more widespread in underdeveloped, third-world countries, says Leonardo DiCaprio.
THE WOLF OF WATER
Leonardo DiCaprio, star of “The Wolf of Wall Street”, wants to end this global health hazard. One of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation’s biggest initiatives is providing access to clean water to countries in dire need.
This year, LDF partnered with Concern Worldwide to fund wells in Tanzania, Mozambique, Sierra Leone and Darfur. Their efforts affected 430,000 people, according to the LDF website.
LDF’s contribution is one small effort to solve a large issue facing millions of people globally.
“This is not a partisan debate; it’s a human one. Clean air and water and a livable climate are inalienable human rights. And solving this crisis is not a question of politics. It’s our moral obligation — if, admittedly, a daunting one…” said Leonardo DiCaprio at the 2014 United Nations Climate Summit.
At the end of the day, scientists, ecologists, and politicians agree that everyone needs water to survive. Organizations like The Water Well Trust and The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation say that this water needs to be clean and accessible, whether it be in Africa or even in Georgia.