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Minnesotans deserve safe well water

Buying a house is one of the most significant financial and personal decisions that people and families make. Your home is the place where you make memories and where you expect and strive to be safe. In some cases, however, Minnesotans who rely on private wells find out belatedly that their family's safety has been compromised by something they never expected — the well water coming out of their faucets.

We can be thankful that across Minnesota most well water is safe. However, in some cases the groundwater from which private wells draw their water can become contaminated with pollutants such as coliform bacteria from human and animal wastes, naturally occurring or man-made arsenic, or nitrates from leaching of nitrogen fertilizer.

Minnesota Department of Agriculture has found that 10 percent of the wells they have tested had levels of nitrates that are above the health risk limit. Studies have shown that ingestion of high levels of nitrate by infants can affect the ability of blood to carry oxygen and can cause a potentially lethal condition known as blue baby syndrome.

When Dakota County began requiring well testing for any home sold, 10 percent of wells tested had bacteria or nitrates that exceeded safe standards. Fortunately, thanks to the county's testing requirement the families found out about the problems and could address them promptly.

However, residents in many other Minnesota communities do not have the benefit of this information. There is currently no requirement that well testing be part of home-sale transactions in Minnesota, and yet thousands of Minnesotans rely on their wells for drinking water, cooking and other daily uses.

When people commit to borrowing hundreds of thousands of dollars for a mortgage, they want to know they are making a sound investment. Under current Minnesota law, sellers are required to disclose if there is lead paint and radon on the property that may be a public health risk.

But if the home for sale draws water from a private well, buyers may not know if the water is safe to drink — or if it contains arsenic, chemicals or other contaminants that can harm the family's health and the value of their investment. The seller is only required to disclose the existence of wells on the property.

Gov. Mark Dayton wants Minnesota families to have complete information about the quality of the water they drink and use in daily life when they are making the decision to purchase a new home. That's why he has proposed the Well Water Awareness Act.

This proposal would require an inexpensive water quality test for private wells at the time of a home sale. One of 37 certified laboratories in Minnesota would conduct the test to check for nitrates, coliform bacteria, and arsenic. Home buyers would be informed about drinking water contamination and know whether a treatment system is needed. They also would be able to factor that information into their negotiations.

Minnesota families not only deserve safe drinking water, they deserve no less. The entirely sensible thing to do is test the water so every household knows the state of their own water.

Safe water is important for our health, and so is good information. Governor Dayton's proposal helps provide both in a low-cost, reasonable way. We urge the Minnesota Legislature to pass this common sense measure to protect families all across Minnesota.

Jan Malcolm is a commissioner with the Minnesota Department of Health. John Linc Stine is a commissioner with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

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