Bacteriological testing of private well water: A trends and guidelines assessment using five years of submissions data from southeastern Ontario

Abstract

OBJECTIVE: Rural populations are at an elevated risk of gastrointestinal illness, as they are dependent on private groundwater sources, and water quality remains the responsibility of the owner. Previous research suggests that only a minority of well water owners test their wells for bacteriological contamination. The aim of this study was to use testing records, in conjunction with current provincial guidelines, to assess submission rates and temporal trends in southeastern Ontario.

METHODS: Using five years of data (2008-2012) from the Public Health Ontario Laboratory in Kingston, Ontario, submissions of well water samples from unique properties (identified through geocoding) were descriptively analyzed. Temporal trends in guideline compliance were tested using a Cochran Armitage test. Finally, correlations between time and submission numbers were investigated using a 10-year provincial dataset to identify longterm temporal trends.

RESULTS: There were 107,547 submissions in the five years studied, 84% of which were geocoded, culminating in 30,687 unique properties. Although 11%-12% of owners met the guidelines in any given year, only 0.3% met them every year in the five-year study. Statistically significant decreases were found temporally both in the number of properties that met current guidelines and in all samples tested.

CONCLUSIONS: This study is the first to use submission records, rather than surveys, to definitively demonstrate that private well water submission guidelines are not being met in Ontario. However, there are no consistent guidelines across the country or continent, and limited supporting scientific literature is available. Significant research is required to develop evidence-based policies.

Résumé

OBJECTIF: Les populations rurales ont un risque élevé de maladies gastrointestinales, car elles dépendent de sources d’eau souterraine privées; or, la qualité de cette eau est encore la responsabilité des propriétaires. Selon des études antérieures, seule une minorité de propriétaires de puits testent leur eau pour dépister une contamination bactérienne. Le but de notre étude était d’utiliser les dossiers de prélèvement d’échantillons d’eau, conjointement avec les directives provinciales en vigueur, pour évaluer les taux et les tendances temporelles des envois d’échantillons dans le Sud-Est de l’Ontario.

MÉTHODE: À l’aide de données compilées sur cinq ans (2008-2012) par le laboratoire de Santé publique Ontario à Kingston, en Ontario, nous avons fait l’analyse descriptive des envois d’échantillons d’eau de puits de propriétés uniques (identifiées par géocodage). Les tendances temporelles de conformité aux directives ont été évaluées à l’aide du test de Cochran-Armitage. Enfin, les corrélations entre le temps et le nombre d’envois ont été étudiées à l’aide d’un jeu de données provincial de 10 ans pour en dégager des tendances temporelles à long terme.

RÉSULTATS: Il y a eu 107 547 envois d’échantillons au cours des cinq années de l’étude, dont 84 % géocodés, ce qui donne 30 687 propriétés uniques. Bien qu’entre 11 et 12 % des propriétaires aient respecté les directives au cours d’une année donnée, à peine 0,3 % les ont respectées tous les ans au cours des cinq années de l’étude. Des baisses significatives dans le temps ont été observées, tant du nombre de propriétés conformes aux directives en vigueur que du nombre total d’échantillons testés.

CONCLUSIONS: Cette étude est la première à utiliser des dossiers d’envoi d’échantillons, plutôt que des enquêtes, pour faire la preuve définitive que les directives d’envoi d’échantillons d’eau de puits privés ne sont pas suivies en Ontario. Toutefois, ces directives ne sont pas uniformes à l’échelle du pays ou du continent, et les études scientifiques à l’appui sont limitées. Des recherches considérables sont nécessaires pour élaborer des politiques fondées sur les preuves.

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Correspondence to Anna Majury PhD, DVM.

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Acknowledgements: The authors thank the employees of Public Health Ontario Laboratories — Kingston for their kind support. Special thanks go to Gerald Evans, Alan Joyce and Sandra Edelsward.

Conflict of Interest: None to declare.

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Maier, A., Krolik, J., Randhawa, K. et al. Bacteriological testing of private well water: A trends and guidelines assessment using five years of submissions data from southeastern Ontario. Can J Public Health 105, e203–e208 (2014). https://doi.org/10.17269/cjph.105.4282

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Key Words

  • Drinking water
  • water wells
  • water quality
  • guidelines

Mots Clés

  • eau potable
  • puits d’eau
  • qualité de l’eau
  • directives