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What type of harmful compounds might be found in well water? And howoften should a well be tested?

While county regulations require wells for new homes to be tested, banks may also require samples be taken before they grant a mortgage, said Larry Leitch, deputy health director for the county.

Harmful materials most likely to be found in Carroll are bacteriaand nitrates, said Charles Zeleski, the county's head sanitarian. Wells also are tested for clarity, ph and lead, he said.

"The bacteria test that we run is for coliform bacteria, but those are simply indicators of the many other actual harmful bacteria that could be present," he said.

Nitrate testing is necessary, since a level higher than 10 milligrams per liter can cause a "blue baby" type of syndromein infants called methemoglobinemia, Zeleski said.

When consumed,nitrates are transformed into nitrites by the body and combine with hemoglobin in the blood. The nitrites take the place of oxygen, disabling the blood from carrying it to the cells.

"The baby is simply not getting enough oxygen in the blood," Zeleski said. "However, there are effective treatment methods once the syndrome is recognized."

Older children and adults are not adversely affected by nitrates, he said. In addition, excessive nitrates in water can be corrected by in-house units.

Although lack of clarity does not directly affect the healthiness of the water, it can affect the treatment of other problems, Zeleski said.

"It does have an impact on other health issues," he said. "It can interfere with the treating for bacteria, softness or other things."

Homeowners also may wish to have tests done for gasoline or carcinogenic materials.

"You might want to test for those things if you are in close proximity to a service station or industry that uses (cancer-causing) chemicals," said Tom Devilbiss, county hydrologist.

Health department tests are free, Zeleski said.However, due to state hiring freezes, citizens will have to wait a week to 10 days for a county sanitarian to take a water sample.

After that, it takes seven to 10 days for the sample to be tested in a state lab and the results returned, he said. Tests for other chemicalscan take from a few weeks to an indefinite amount of time.

Citizens who want tests done sooner can call a state-certified laboratory and pay for the service. A full list of state-approved labs is available from the Carroll County Health Department, 540 Washington Road, Westminster.

Residents also can call 857-5009, 876-1884 or 875-3390.

Fountain Valley Analytical Lab Inc. in Westminster charges $65 totest for bacteria, turbidity, ph balance, nitrates, iron and sand. Tests for other compounds run about $125.

"On most of our prices, we give discounts according to the volume of testing we're doing," said Charles Mooshian, lab president. "We take great pains to be competitive in our pricing with Baltimore and the surrounding counties."

Fountain Valley technicians can come to a home within 24 hours of a request. Final results are available within two to four days.

"We take a bacteria confirmation test, and if it is positive there are twomore days of incubation under the method the state requires us to use," said Darlene Goodnow, Fountain Valley's director of marketing.

All water samples -- whether tests are done by the state or an independent lab -- are taken from a stationary indoor tap.

"In taps that have aerators or swivel, bacteria can accumulate, and then the testwould come out positive and the bacteria would be in the plumbing, not the water itself," said Goodnow. "We have to assess the best location to take the sample when we get to the house."

Homeowners should consider having wells retested for bacteria every year and about every three years for nitrates, Devilbiss said.

"Conditions do change," he said. "But the frequency is all in how comfortable a homeownerfeels with these things."

Residents also should have water testedif they notice a sudden change in taste, odor or color.

Other independent labs providing testing in Carroll are Arthur Caple, 876-2073, and National Inspection Service Co., 876-8300.

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