Testing Your Drinking Water Supply

If you have a particular smell, taste, color, sheen or other unusual indication of a water problem, use an alternative safe water source until test results are known.

Determine Which Tests to Order

The water test(s) to be ordered depends on the source of your water. Below is a list of the most common sources of drinking water. Click on the group which best pertains to you for more information on ordering.

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Public Water Supplies

If you pay a bill for your water, or your landlord or housing association pays a bill for your water, your water comes from a public water supply.

Drinking Water Contaminants for Compliance Monitoring

Under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, all municipal and other public water supplies must be tested regularly for bacteria, nonorganic chemicals, naturally occurring radioactivity, and naturally occurring compounds. Schools on their own wells are public water supply systems, and are tested routinely.

The Water Supply Rule includes a list of contaminants and corresponding contaminant levels (Table 6.1, pp. 40-45).

The Water Supply Rule applies to all water systems in Vermont, which
include Public water systems, bottled water systems, Non-Public water systems, and privately owned water sources.

The Drinking Water and Groundwater Protection Division at Department of Environmental Conservation oversees the testing schedule and compliance.

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Private Water Supplies

There are no requirements for the testing of private residential wells. However, to ensure that drinking water is safe, the Vermont Department of Health recommends the following testing schedule:

Kit A - Total Coliform Bacteria
A Total Coliform bacterial test ( "Kit A") is recommended every year for homeowners with private wells. Coliform bacteria are a large group of soil and intestinal bacteria that indicate potential well contamination and may cause health problems. However, coliform bacteria do not necessarily make you sick. If Total Coliform bacteria are found, the water is then checked to determine if the origin of the contamination is fecal. This result indicates whether recent animal or human waste has entered the water. Do not drink water that has tested positive for bacterial contamination. Boiling drinking water for one minute will kill bacteria so that it can be used for drinking.

Kit C - Inorganic Chemical Test
This test is recommended every five years for wells that includes arsenic, chloride, copper, fluoride, hardness, iron, lead, manganese, nitrate, sodium and uranium.

These inorganic chemicals can create nuisance problems, or in some cases, health symptoms. When you receive test results they will be compared with maximum levels.

Kit RA - Gross Alpha Test
This test ("Kit RA") is recommended every five years. It is a screening test for mineral radioactivity in water, for example, uranium and radium. This radioactivity is measured and reported in picoCuries per liter (pCi/L).

While water usually has some radioactivity, the gross alpha test will help determine if the levels are high enough to warrant additional testing due to potential health concerns. If screening results are equal to or greater than 5 pCi/L, the water should also be tested for radium. If the screening results are equal to or greater than 15 pCi/L, the water should be tested for radium and uranium.

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Rental Property Water Supplies

Rental Property Owners

If your rental rental property is on a private well, you are required by the Rental Housing Health Code to provide safe drinking water.


If you use a public water supply, your water bill may be paid by your landlord, in which case you probably don't receive the annual Consumer Confidence Report. The report details the water supply information and any elevated test results in your area. To request a copy of this report , or if you have any related questions, call your local water department or 800-823-6500.

If your water comes from a private supply, such as a well or spring, you may ask your landlord to test it. The Vermont Rental Housing Health Code requires that rental water supplies be safe.

If you have unresolved concerns about the quality of  your private water supply, you may contact your town health officer, who can take a sample for bacteria testing. Find your Town Health Officer

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Hospitality Industry Water Supplies

If your food or lodging business is on a public water supply, your testing is done by your local water department. You should receive testing information and results in your annual Consumer Confidence Report.

If you have any questions or concerns about your public water supply, call the local number listed on your water bill or 800-823-6500.

If your business is on a private well, your water should be sampled by a Health Department Food & Lodging sanitarian during your inspection. If you wish to test it yourself, see the information under Private Water Supplies.

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Water Supplies for Farms and Animals

If you operate a farm or keep animals or livestock, protect your health and the health of the animals by following the recommendations based upon your water supply.


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Why it's Important to test your drinking water

Total Coliform Bacteria
Health symptoms related to drinking water that is contaminated with bacteria can range from no ill effects to cramps and diarrhea. Potential health effects from chemicals in drinking water depend on the amounts found in the water, the length of time and amount of water used for drinking and, in some cases, personal health issues.

Concerns related to specific inorganic chemicals and alpha radiation found in drinking water:
has been linked to increased lifetime risk for bladder, lung, or skin cancer. Arsenic is also associated with cardiovascular disease. Potential links between arsenic and diabetes and other cancers are being studied, but the evidence to date is not conclusive. The maximum level for arsenic in water is 0.010 milligrams per liter (mg/L).
do not cause health problems, but high chloride levels in drinking water may be a sign of other problems. For example, road salt can contaminate water supplies causing chloride levels to be high. High levels of chlorides in drinking water may also give water an unpleasant taste. The maximum level for chlorides in water is 250 mg/L.
is an important mineral for the formation of red blood cells. However, high amounts of copper in water can cause stomachaches, vomiting, or diarrhea. Young children are more sensitive to high levels of copper than adults. Water with copper levels above 1 mg/L can stain plumbing fixtures and give the water a metallic taste. The maximum level for copper in water is 1.3 mg/L.
is a naturally occurring mineral in well water. It helps the body resist tooth decay. It is important to know if your well water contains fluoride so adjustments can be made before making infant forluma or giving children supplements. The maximum level of Fluoride in water is 4.0 mg/L
causes no known health risks. However, very hard water can cause reduced lathering of soap, and buildup of scale in water heaters, cookware and plumbing fixtures and valves. No limits are established for water hardness.
< 75 mg/L is not considered hard
75 - 150 mg/L is moderately hard
> 150 mg/L is considered hard
>250 mg/L is considered HARD
is an essential element and does not generally cause negative health effects. However, water with iron above the maximum level of 0.3 mg/L, metallic tastes and staining of clothing, sinks, toilets, and bathtubs can result.
is a highly toxic metal that can cause serious health problems, especially for infants, children, and pregnant women. Nervous system, kidney, and red blood cell problems may be effects of exposure to high lead levels. In young children, lead may have harmful effects on nervous system and brain development. Lead has been used in making solder, fittings and fixtures found in household plumbing. The maximum level for lead in water is 0.015 mg/L.
is an essential element for human metabolism. However, manganese can discolor water, stain clothing, sinks, toilets and bathtubs. Undesirable tastes in drinking water sometimes can result from manganese. The maximum level for manganese in water above which these symptoms begin to appear is 0.050 mg/L. The Health Advisory level for manganese in drinking water is 0.300 mg/l to protect the nervous system.
in elevated levels is linked with two known health problems. It can cause an oxygen deficiency in the blood called "blue baby syndrome" (Methemoglobinemia). This causes bluish skin tone in infants. In adults, ingested nitrates can form chemicals called nitrosamines that have been linked to cancer. These may pose long-term health risks. Elevated nitrate levels in well water may also indicate other problems such as contamination from sources such as septic systems, fertilizers or animal waste. The maximum level for nitrate in drinking water is 10.0 mg/L.. Actions to remove/reduce nitrates should be taken if levels exceed 5.0 mg/L.
is a necessary dietary element and occurs naturally in water. High levels of sodium in drinking water can cause a characteristic unpleasant taste and can be corrosive to copper plumbing Sodium in drinking water can contribute to high blood pressure for those people on sodium restricted diets and who ingest sodium due to softened water or sodium contaminated wells. Sodium can enter a well from a septic system or from road deicing, both of which indicate other water problems. The maximum level for sodium in drinking water at which taste may become noticeable is 250 mg/L
is a radioactive element found in nature, including soil, water, rocks, plants and food. Most ingested uranium is eliminated from the body, but a small amount is absorbed and may go through the bloodstream and kidneys. Elevated levels of uranium may increase a person’s risk of kidney damage or lifetime risk of cancer. The maximum level for uranium is 0.020 mg/L in Vermont.
Gross Alpha Radiation
There are no immediate health risks or symptoms from drinking water that contains alpha radiation. However, it may cause health concerns over time. Because alpha radiation looses energy rapidly, it doesn't pass through skin. It is not a hazard outside of the body, however, if an individual eats or drinks something containing alpha radiation or breathes it in, the radiation can be harmful. Over a long period of time, and at elevated levels, radium increases one's risk of bone cancer and uranium increases one's risk of kidney damage.

Well water that contains elevated levels of radioactive minerals sometimes increases the level of radon in the air inside a home. Actions like taking showers, doing laundry or running a dishwasher can release the radon into the air inside your home. Breathing air with elevated levels of radon over a lifetime increases a person's risk of getting lung cancer. If alpha radiation is detected at or above 5 pCi/L in your home well, additional testing is needed to pinpoint the source. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set 15 pCi/L as the maximum contaminant level for public drinking water supplies.

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Laboratories Certified for Drinking Water Analysis

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If you have a particular smell, taste, color, sheen or other unusual indication of a water problem, use an alternative safe water source until test results are known.

For more information

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Questions about test results:

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