Press Release

November 10, 2005



Analysis Finds that Reliance on Private Well Water Not Limited to Small Towns and Rural Areas in Illinois: Homeowners Urged to Test Water for Potential Contaminants

SPRINGFIELD --- The Blagojevich Administration today announced a partnership between the state and local health departments to make sure people get their water tested for contamination.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, the Illinois Department of Public Health and local health departments are launching a new campaign to encourage the estimated 400,000 Illinois households served by their own private drinking water wells in both urban and rural areas to get them tested for potential contamination.

A new analysis by the Illinois EPA shows that most of these wells are in and around the state’s largest cities as opposed to small towns and rural areas, as some may have thought. In fact, the ten counties with the most private water wells are all in metropolitan Chicago and northern Illinois. In central and southern Illinois, the highest densities of drinking water wells are found in and around the largest cities such as Champaign, Peoria, Springfield and the Metro East area.

However, the analysis found that the less populous parts of Illinois are generally more dependent on private well water compared to public water supplies. Seven of the ten counties with the most wells per person are small or medium-sized counties.

Although public and community water systems are tested regularly by the State for a variety of contaminants, regular testing of private well water is the owner’s responsibility.

“Drinking water in Illinois is much cleaner and safer today than in the past, but private well water can become contaminated by bacteria or manmade chemicals,” said Illinois EPA Director Doug Scott. “The only way to ensure that your well water is safe is to test it. This is especially important for wells located near a current or former commercial or industrial area, gas station, or landfill.”

“Clean, healthy drinking water is essential for good health, especially for infants and children whose bodies are growing so quickly,” said Dr. Eric Whitaker, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health. “If you drink private well water, make sure it’s safe for you and your family.”

Directors Scott and Whitaker urged private water well owners to consult a new web site, for information on testing and potential private well contamination sources, or they may call 888-372-1996 toll-free, or contact their county or local health department.

Wells that are located in communities with commercial or industrial development are more susceptible to chemical contamination. For example, in the Chicago suburbs of unincorporated Downers Grove and Lisle, hundreds of private wells were contaminated by chemical spills from one or more nearby industries.

“My experience demonstrates the importance of well water testing,” said Ann Muniz, one of the residents from unincorporated Downers Grove whose well was contaminated. “I learned the hard way not to assume that your well water is safe, and I want to make sure others learn from our experiences.” All affected residents have since been connected to the Downers Grove public water supply.

Another recent example occurred in Wauconda where the well water for at least 100 homeowners in the Hillcrest subdivision was contaminated by chemicals. The most probable source of contamination was an old sand and gravel quarry that was used as a landfill prior to environmental requirements for such activities. “Wauconda is a small, rural community where you might not suspect chemical contamination of well water,” said Bonnie Thompson-Carter, a Lake County Board member. “Thankfully, the State of Illinois and our congressional delegation have secured funding to connect the affected homeowners to the public water supply.”

The agencies recommend an annual test for bacteria and nitrate. The presence of bacteria in well water indicates contamination by human or animal wastes that can cause infectious diseases. Nitrate contamination is usually caused by faulty septic systems or agricultural runoff and is especially dangerous for infants. Bacteria and nitrate testing is offered by most local health departments for approximately $25.

For wells that are located near a current or former commercial or industrial area, an above or below ground fuel tank (including gas stations), or landfills, the agencies recommend testing for Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs. This is especially important if the well is old or shallow. "VOCs" are common components of gasoline and other fuels, as well as solvents, paints, cleaners, and degreasers. Wells located in agricultural areas should be tested for pesticides.

VOC testing can cost anywhere from $150 and up, while a pesticide screening test starts at roughly $50. Homeowners should consult with their local health department about how often to test for VOCs and pesticides. For a limited time, some certified laboratories are offering discounted rates to coincide with the education campaign.

One contaminant that can affect both private and public water supplies is lead, which can enter drinking water through the decay of plumbing materials. Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures and solder. The agencies recommend running the water until it gets cold before using it for drinking or cooking. Also, never use water from the hot water tap for drinking or cooking. Hot water is more likely to contain higher levels of lead. The only way to be sure of the amount of lead in your household water is to have it tested by a certified laboratory.

Map showing private drinking water well density by county
Map showing private drinking water well density by township

Top 10 Counties in Illinois: Number of Water Wells*

  1. Lake
  2. McHenry
  3. Will
  4. Kane
  5. Winnebago
  6. Cook
  7. DuPage
  8. LaSalle
  9. Kanakakee
  10. Ogle

Top 10 Counties in Illinois: Number of Water Wells per Person*

  1. Boone
  2. Mason
  3. Fayette
  4. Jo Daviess
  5. Ogle
  6. Kendall
  7. McHenry
  8. Monroe
  9. Henderson
  10. Shelby

*Source Information: Illinois State Geological Survey Database of Wells, 2005. This database contains records of all types of water wells, including community, non-community, and private. This data does not represent all water wells in Illinois, only those catalogued by the ISGS. The status of wells within this database is unknown.

idph online home
idph online home

Illinois Department of Public Health
535 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, Illinois 62761
Phone 217-782-4977
Fax 217-782-3987
TTY 800-547-0466
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