Test well water for contaminants

April 12, 2008|By BOB KESSLER

Penn State Cooperative Extension-Franklin County is offering a water-testing program during National Drinking Water Week. The program encourages private well owners to test their water at group rates.

Previous testing shows about one of every three well owners will find coliform bacteria in their well water. About one of every six wells will have levels of nitrates above the limit for drinking water. Something can be done about these problems - IF you know you have them.

Two groups of tests will be provided. Group 1 provides the most essential tests and includes coliform bacteria, E. coli and nitrate. Penn State recommends running these tests annually. The price is $38.

Group 2 is recommended for first-time testing and every three years thereafter. It includes coliform bacteria, E. coli, nitrate, lead, pH, and total dissolved solids.


The price for this group is $70. The tests will be run in a lab certified by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Coliform bacteria indicate the potential presence of disease-causing organisms. They originate from soil, sewage or manure. The presence of E. coli confirms an origin in sewage or manure.

Nitrate is of concern when infants younger than six months drink the water. Nitrates enter the groundwater from heavily fertilized areas - home lawns, farm fields or septic systems.

Lead at high levels in the blood affects nerves, kidneys and the brain. Children absorb more of the lead in their diet than adults do. Lead in water comes primarily from solder joints in copper pipe.

The pH test measures acidity and is a measure of the tendency of water to corrode plumbing.

Total dissolved solids is a useful measure for tracking the overall quality of the water. It is related to hardness, taste and corrosion tendencies.

Test kits can be purchased at the Franklin County Cooperative Extension Office from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Monday, May 5, to Friday, May 9.

The sample must be collected and returned on Tuesday, May 13, between 8 a.m. and noon. There will be a follow-up session at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 5.

For more information, call 717-263-9226. The extension office is located at 191 Franklin Farm Lane, Chambersburg, Pa.

Backyard composting workshops; free bins

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Penn State Cooperative Extension are teaming up to offer composting workshops and free backyard composting bins to Franklin County residents.

Each person who preregisters for a workshop and attends will receive a free composting bin while supplies last. One bin will be given per household.

Five backyard composting workshops will be held - at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Monday, May 12, and Wednesday, May 14, at the Penn State Cooperative Extension Office, 181 Franklin Farm Lane; and at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 13, at Tayamentasachta Center For Environmental Studies, 500 Leitersburg St. in Greencastle, Pa.

To attend the workshops and receive a free composting bin, you must register in advance at 717-263-9226.

Winter annuals

A group of weeds called winter annuals start from seed in the fall and grow until late fall, then go dormant during the winter. In spring, they start to grow and produce flowers, then seeds, then die by the time we get the warm weather.

One winter annual you might see the most often is henbit. It has a square stem and purple flowers with round-toothed leaves. Another winter annual that looks almost the same is dead nettle. It also has a square stem, but the leaves are more triangular with little lobbing.

Both can show up in lawns, gardens and cornfields, so you see these bright pink and purple flowers in last year's cornfields.

The third plant you are likely to see in your yard or garden is chickweed. This is a finely stemmed weed that has mouse-ear-shaped leaves and white flowers. Chickweed grows over the ground.

These weeds are easy to hoe out or remove by hand. You want to avoid using any chemical control in these areas because some herbicides can leave a small residue that will cause problems for other plants.

In your established lawn, you can use broadleaf weed killers in combination in one container. Trimec and Weed-B-Gone are just two of many that work best in autumn when weeds are small. But when spring rolls around, you are better served to look at conditions in your yard.

To germinate, the seeds need exposure to light and need to be resting on the soil surface. Is your grass thin? Do you need to overseed a lawn that has thinned out over time? And is your grass too short? Are you mowing so your grass is at least two and one-half inches tall after you mow?

Look for cultural changes you can make to prevent these weeds this fall. For now, keep mowing them off so few seeds are produced, and work on those things you need to improve.

Bob Kessler specializes in consumer horticulture and energy for Penn State University. He can be reached weekdays at 717-263-9226 or by e-mail at

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