Well Water Purification Systems

Over 43 million people in the United States use private well water as their water source.  This page discusses common contaminants and some well water purification systems.

A 2004 study by the United States Geological Service (USGS) illustrates both the major aquifers of the United States from which some of these people draw their water. The study found that over 23% of wells contained at least one contaminant in excess of public health standards. You may view that study here.

The safety of your well water cannot be taken for granted and testing well water is an excellent way to learn what’s in it.  Although well water may look, smell and taste fine, it may contain contaminants that are harmful to your health.

There are two times to treat your well: the extremes of dry and wet weather. Since your well is recharged by rain testing during drought and extreme wet weather will show you the range of variability within your well.

It is possible to treat almost any well water problem with the appropriate well water purification system. However it seems like a common misconception to well owners that they can just go out and buy a well water treatment system that will solve any issue. This is simply not true. In order to treat your well correctly you must first identify the contaminants present. Then you may choose the correct well water filter or treatment to remove the contaminants present in your water. The following is a list of the physical characteristics, metals, and common well water contaminants that I test for and treat.


Coliform Bacteria are groups of bacteria that indicate the possible presence of infectious disease organisms.  It is recommended that water with coliform bacteria not be consumed until the problem is resolved.  Coliform bacteria may get into the water supply through surface water run-off, especially after heavy rainfall.  Fecal coliform, when accompanied by high nitrate and sulfate levels, may indicate a septic system or other fecal pollution source.  Coliform bacteria present at a public water supply user’s faucet may be a result of water and sewage pipes being cross connected causing plumbing backflow.

In the microbiological section of your report, columns two and three will list a “P” indicating that any presence of coliform bacteria would exceed the MCL and our detection level is a presence.  An “A” for absence in column four indicates that no coliform bacteria was detected.  A positive result will be noted as “P” for presence.  If you have a positive result for total coliform, the sample is automatically tested for the presence or absence of E. coli.  The result will be noted as “EP” or “EA” after the “P” in column four.  E. coli (a subset of fecal coliform) is a type of coliform bacteria that is indicative of human and animal feces contamination.  E. coli presence “EP” indicates that E. coli bacteria is present.  E. coli absence “EA” indicates that the coliform bacteria present is a type other than E. coli.

Recommended Treatment:  Chlorination, Ozonation or Ultraviolet Light.


The fourth most common element in the earth’s crust, aluminum is naturally present in drinking water and is added as a chlorination preparation at water utilities.  Most of what is added is usually removed, but a residue may sometimes be passed into treated water.  Aluminum may cause discoloration of water.

Recommended Treatment:  KDF (if no iron is present in water) Distillation or Reverse Osmosis


Arsenic in water can result from both natural process and industrial activities, including smelting operations, use of certain pesticides, and industrial waste disposal.  Arsenic compounds have been shown to produce acute and chronic toxic effects which include systemic irreversible damage.  The EPA has classified it as a known human carcinogen.

Recommended Treatment:  KDF, Reverse Osmosis, Distillation, or Activated Alumina Absorption.  I use a custom reverse osmosis system or a whole house arsenic system


Barium is a naturally occurring metal found in many types of rocks.  In stream water and most groundwater, only traces of the element are present.  It is also used in oil and gas drilling muds, automotive paints, bricks, tiles and jet fuels.  Exposure has been associated with hypertension and toxicity in animals.

Recommended Treatment: MAZ, Distillation or Reverse Osmosis


Cadmium is found in very low concentrations in most rocks, as well as in coal and petroleum and often in combination with zinc.  It is introduced into the environment from mining and smelting operations.  Other cadmium emissions are from fossil fuel use, fertilizer application, sewage sludge disposal or galvanized pipe corrosion.  Acute and chronic exposure to cadmium in animals and humans may cause hypertension, anemia, and kidney effects.

Recommended Treatment:  KDF, Distillation or Reverse Osmosis


Calcium exists in soil and rock such as limestone, dolomite and gypsum.  Drinking water contributes only a small amount of the required daily intake.  Concentrations as great as 1800 mg/l of calcium in water are reported harmless, although others suggest calcium as a contributor to kidney stones.  It can be a nuisance as it contributes to the hardness of the water and build up on pipes or water heaters may inhibit their performance.  Low levels can be helpful as it tends to form a coating on pipes which may prevent corrosion.

Recommended Treatment: Cation exchange using a Water Softener


Chloride in water can be a residual of chlorine and has been attributed to use of salt to de-ice roads.  Other sources of chloride in ground water may be related to sea water trapped in sediments.  High levels can contribute to corrosivity of plumbing and may be accompanied by high sodium levels which may be a health concern.

Recommended Treatment:  Reverse Osmosis


Chromium is a naturally occurring metal.  It is often used in electroplating of metals.  Although chromium is not currently mined in the U.S., waste from old mining operations may enter surface and ground water through runoff and leaching.  Exposure at high levels has been shown to result chronic toxic effects such as dermatitis, ulceration of skin or liver, and kidney damage in animals and humans by ingestion.

Recommended Treatment:  KDF, Distillation or R O


Water can be a significant source of copper intake depending upon the geographic location, water character, water temperature, and the presence of copper pipes.  At concentrations above 1mg/l, copper can stain laundry and plumbing fixtures.  Copper can also cause a greenish/blue tint to blond hair.  Copper is an essential element at lower levels but levels above 5 mg/l can cause gastrointestinal disturbances or other acute toxic effects.  Copper staining may be due to acid water (low pH) dissolving your pipes or fixtures rather than copper in your water.

Recommended Treatment: KDF, Distillation, R O, or “Soda Ash” Feed to raise pH


Fluoride is naturally occurring and may be added to municipal water systems.  Some suggest that at the level of 1 mg/l, it has been shown to be effective in reducing dental cavities.  Levels over 2 mg/l may cause mottling of teeth in normal individuals living in a temperature climate.  Fluoride may also cause fluorosis in the elderly.  Federal law requires a community well system to notify users when monitoring indicates that fluoride in the users’ water exceeds 2 mg/l.  The current allowable level is 4 mg/l.  Your family dentist should be notified of your fluoride level.

Recommended Treatment:  Anion Exchange, Distillation, Reverse Osmosis, or Activated Alumina


Hardness is usually caused by the presence of calcium and magnesium in water.  They can combine with soap to form a scum on water and a ring around the tub.  You may find larger amounts of soap are required to form washing suds.

Recommended Treatment: Cation exchange using a Water Softener – To convert your results from mg/l to grains per gallon, divide your hardness results by 17.1.  My personal recommendation is to avoid water softeners unless your water is above 12 – 15 grains, at which a softener becomes your only option for controlling calcium deposits.


The ‘rotten egg’ odor often present in wells.

Recommended Treatment: I recommend Aeration for levels up to 2 ppm


­­­­­­­­Iron in drinking water is a very common problem.  It occurs naturally from rock or can be introduced by plumbing materials.  When iron comes in contact with oxygen, it changes to a reddish compound that can discolor bathroom fixtures and laundry.  At this time, there are no known health effects from elevated iron in drinking water.

Recommended Treatment:  Oxidation and Filtration, the Iron Removal System I sell uses air to oxidize the iron followed by a backwashing filter


The main source of lead in drinking water is leaching from lead piping and lead solders.  Lead enters primarily in areas having soft, acidic waters.  When elevated lead levels are found, consult a physician.  Children and fetuses are especially sensitive to lead poisoning.

Recommended Treatment:  KDF, Lead absorption media, Distillation, Reverse Osmosis


Magnesium is commonly found in rocks such as granite, sandstone, limestone and dolomites.  High levels can be a nuisance contributing to the hardness of the water and inhibiting performance of pipes and water heaters.

Recommended Treatment:  Cation exchange using a Water Softener


Manganese in water is a common, naturally occurring problem but can also be introduced by industry.  It can produce a brownish discoloration and have a very unpleasant odor and taste.  It may produce black deposits and black filaments.  Chlorine bleach should not be used in laundry washed in water with a high iron or manganese content because it can cause stains to set.  Currently known cases of manganese poisoning have occurred at elevated levels much higher than levels found in most natural water.

Recommended Treatment:  Oxidation and Filtration   


Mercury is one of the least abundant elements in the earth’s crust.  This metal is used in electrical equipment and some water pumps.  It usually gets into water as a result of improper waste disposal or air dispersal from gold mines and power plants.  Mercury is extremely toxic.  Exposure may result in kidney disease or central nervous system problems.

Recommended Treatment:  KDF, Distillation or Reverse Osmosis


Nickel is not commonly found in nature as a pure metal.  Nickel is often used in electroplating, stainless steel and alloy products.  It generally gets into water from mining and refining operations.  The absorption of dietary nickel from the gastrointestinal tract appears to be quite low, with the majority of nickel passed through the body.

Recommended Treatment:  Distillation or Reverse Osmosis


Nitrates occur naturally; however, the major sources of nitrates or nitrites in drinking water include fertilizer, sewage and feedlots.  The toxicity of nitrate in humans is due to the body’s reduction of nitrate and nitrite.  These contaminants can cause methemoglobinemia (blue baby syndrome).  Therefore, notifying your baby’s pediatrician of these levels is advisable.  While EPA allows up to 10 ppm of nitrate I will not drink water with levels over 3 ppm.

Recommended Treatment:  Distillation, Reverse Osmosis or Anion Exchange


pH is a measure of the hydrogen ion content of water.  The suggested level is a range of 6.5 – 8.5.  A value of 7 is neutral, which is the theoretical ideal.  The human body is alkaline and a slightly alkaline water of 7.4 is ideal from a health perspective.  Values lower than 7 are called “acidic” and values above 7 are called “basic” or “alkaline”.  A pH difference of one actually represents a tenfold difference in acid or base content.  Acidic water dissolves metals readily and can be corrosive to plumbing which can increase the amount of toxic metals leaching into the water.  Drinking water with a high pH by itself is not necessarily a problem, although the underlying cause of high pH may be a health concern.

Recommended Treatment: Low pH:  Neutralizing Chemical Filter, “Soda Ash Feed”, or Calcite


A common route for pesticides, herbicides and PCBs to reach your water is through runoff from surface water and leaching into ground water.  Pesticides are used to control insects and other “pests”.  Certain pesticides have been banned but may still be found in the environment.  Some herbicides may be used to control algal blooms in reservoirs and general weed control.  PCBs were once widely used in electrical transformers and industrial equipment.  There may be a range of health effects related to the nervous, respiratory, or reproductive systems, as well as the heart, liver or kidneys.  Also, some PCBs are probable carcinogens.

Recommended TreatmentWhole House Water Filter using KDF and Granular Activated Carbon


Radon is a gas more commonly found in soil but it sometimes occurs in water.  When it does, the danger comes from inhalation in the shower or at the sink.

Recommended Treatment: Aeration


Selenium is found naturally in food and soils.  It is used in electronics, photocopy operations, glass manufacturing, chemicals, drugs, and as a fungicide and feed additive.  It can cause dermatitis or affect the nervous system.

Recommended Treatment:  Distillation or Reverse Osmosis


Silver is a relatively rare metal originating from natural sources and from industrial waste.  The only adverse effect resulting from chronic exposure to low levels of silver in animals and humans is a blue-gray discoloration of the skin and internal organs.

Recommended Treatment:  KDF, Distillation or Reverse Osmosis


Sodium in water can come from geological sources, road salt or as a result of using a water softener.  A guidance level of 20 mg/l in drinking water is suggested by the EPA for the high risk population of hypertensive and heart patients.  If your sodium intake is being monitored, consult your family physician for advice.

Recommended Treatment:  Distillation, Reverse Osmosis, or Demineralization, Sodium specific filter


Sulfate is found in almost all natural water.  It may enter through waste discharges and may indicate septic leaching into the water supply.  Sulfate presence can cause a pungent odor and taste in drinking water and may have a laxative effect.

Recommended Treatment:  Oxidation and Filtration, Distillation or Reverse Osmosis


TDS values are a measure of the amount of solids dissolved in your water.  If you left a small amount of coffee in a cup for a few days, the water would evaporate and the dissolved solids would stay behind.  The TDS value is derived from certain items on your report and possibly other soluble substances.  Although EPA allows up to 500 mg/l of tds I prefer to drink water with a tds in the range of 30 to 240.

Recommended Treatment:  Distillation or Reverse Osmosis


Trihalomethanes (THMs) are in many water supplies, especially municipal water supplies where it may be formed as a by-product of the reaction of chlorine and organic matter.  The most common THM, chloroform was one of the earliest anesthetics, but is no longer used for this purpose because of its toxic side effects.  It is used widely as a solvent in industry.  This group of compounds can effect the nervous system and muscles and is carcinogenic.

Recommended TreatmentWhole House Water Filter using KDF and Granular Activated Carbon


Turbidity in water is caused by suspended matter, such as clay, silt, fine particles of organic and inorganic matter, and microscopic organisms.  A turbid sample may not appear clear to the eye.

Recommended Treatment:  Sediment Filtration 


This group of chemicals can be described by their behavior.  They readily “evaporate” into the air at very low temperatures.  For example, gasoline contains VOCs.  If you have ever pumped gas and spilled it, especially on a warm day, it disappears very quickly into the air and you can smell it very strongly (similar to applying perfume to skin).  VOCs can exist in water and a small increase in temperature will release them into the air (for example taking a hot shower).  It may be in your interest to investigate the source of any presence of these compounds in your water.

Recommended Treatment:  Aeration or Whole House Water Filter using KDF and Carbon Filtration


Zinc is considered an essential element in human and animal nutrition.  It may come from industrial contamination or corrosion of plumbing.  In concentrations over 5 mg/l, zinc produces an objectionable taste and may cause water to appear milky, or upon boiling, to seem to have a greasy surface scum.  Cases of zinc poisoning have been reported from prolonged consumption of water at concentrations of 40 mg/l.

Recommended Treatment:  KDF, Distillation or Reverse Osmosis

If you’d like to test your well for these contaminants, contact me at 866-691-4214 for a complete well water test.  If you already have a test, find it and give me a call to discuss the appropriate water purification system for your well water.  Click here to read more about my well water purification systems and well water filtration.

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9 Responses to Well Water Purification Systems

  1. Brenda Fossett says:

    I recently purchased a Berkey water system which uses carbon filters. I live near Springfield, Mo and use a well. I used to use a distiller to use for my drinking water. It has been a couple of weeks and this water tastes good but my kidneys do not like it. Either its the carbon filters or its not getting rid of something in the water.Can one be allergic to carbon?I have 2 cats and they would rather drink the water straight from well. I am sure they have a return policy and may have to return it. Any info and, or ideas?

    • Jim says:

      Hi Brenda – thanks for asking this question. Based on the information you’ve provided I my response is first of all that a Berkey water system is not intended to be used on well water. I rarely use carbon filters for well water, only if there are pesticides present. Carbon filtration is more appropriate for use on city water for the purpose of removing chlorine. I urge you to test your well water using a comprehensive well water test to determine what is in the well. Once we determine what is in your well water we can decide how to treat it to remove those specific contaminants. If you’re saying that you used to use a distiller on this same water that suggests that the distiller removed some contaminant that the carbon filters do not. I doubt you’re allergic to the carbon. I hope this helps. Feel free to contact me at 866-691-4214 to order a complete well water test kit.

  2. Jim says:

    Well water testing provides a glimpse at your well water characteristics. Think of it as being like a photograph of yourself.

    Well water can change with use, drought or rain, changes in the recharge area such as construction or oil and natural gas drilling.

    The characteristics of well water can change daily or weekly though that is less likely. Here is a recent example of two tests of the same well taken one week apart:

    test 1
    hardness 16 grains
    iron .6 ppm
    manganese 0
    pH 7.5
    tannin .1
    tds 419
    turbidity 1

    test 2 – the same well one week later

    hardness 17 grains
    iron .5
    manganese 0.38
    pH 7.2
    tannin 0
    tds 510
    turbidity 2.6

    This slight difference in well water test results calls for different treatment methods. Because iron and manganese are the primary contaminants in this example and because of my experience I have learned to treat this water for the range of possibilities as opposed to the specific results of one test.

  3. Hamilton says:

    We have radon in our well water – 629. While not real high, I still want to find a system that removes as much as possible. The company that came out has suggested a activated carbon filter with an ion exchange. Do either of these remove uranium or radium? Is that the right system to keep my family safe?

    • For radon I use a well water aeration system that dissipates the radon into the air before it enters your home. For uranium I sell an expensive uranium filter that does use ion exchange. You can learn about these by visiting my website.

  4. Paul Muller says:

    I have a 2 foot bored well with average 6 feet of water in it.
    I have tested positive for coliform, the water is also a little brown, sticky.
    I need something to fix the problem for the whole house?
    What do you suggest?

  5. Sid Davidowitz says:

    I have a well. How do you find a reasonable cost water testing lab and what should you test for?

    • See my well water testing page. That lists some of the tests I provide. More are also available. But to determine what test you need I would have a conversation with you to ask what you find objectionable about the water.

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