Q: I have read your warnings about the hazards of iron. What about well water with iron in it? We have a well and even though we have a water filter that removes heavy metals, it does not filter out minerals. So the heavy-metal iron is removed but the dissolved-mineral iron is not removed. Should my family and I be concerned?
— L.S., from Facebook
Dr. Micozzi: There are a variety of minerals and metals that may be found in well water. I suggest you have a water-quality analysis done by a reputable local water/sanitation company to determine the actual levels of iron and other metals and minerals present, since it is not possible to provide recommendations without knowing specific levels.
If it does turn out you have too much iron or other heavy metals in your well water, just make sure the “cure” isn’t worse than the original problem. For instance, one common way of treating your well for excess iron is to flush it with chlorine. But this chemical can irritate your eyes, lungs, and respiratory tract.
A better option is aeration. Adding oxygen to your well water not only helps remove excess iron, but also other toxins. Just make sure you don’t remove the many components of well water that are actually good for your health.
Most recent scientific analysis has found that well and mineral waters may contain trace amounts of calcium, copper, magnesium, manganese, selenium, sulfur, and other minerals that are key for your body and brain’s function. Magnesium, in particular, is critical to overall health and well being.
I’ve written before about how magnesium is involved in a whopping 300 different processes in your body. It’s important for cardiovascular health; brain health (including protection against Alzheimer’s); and bone, joint, and muscle health. And research shows that people with low levels of magnesium in their blood are more prone to diabetes and insulin resistance, hearing loss, and tension headaches.
It’s hardly a surprise that the U.S. RDA for magnesium is woefully low — 360 mg a day for women and 420 mg for men. But a variety of studies show that up to 80% of Americans fail to even get that much magnesium a day.
So by all means, test your well water for magnesium too. Hopefully it’s swimming with this key nutrient. If you have “hard” water, chances are you may have high levels of calcium and magnesium. Do not let anyone talk you into water-softening devices or chemicals — that just removes these vital minerals. (And since I recommend against taking calcium supplements, you need to get this important nutrient from dietary sources, like water, dairy products, fish, and meat.)
Of course, your well water may also contain substances that aren’t as good for your health. Here are two potential toxins I suggest you test for:
Nitrates are usually caused by fertilizer runoff into the water system. The World Health Organization announced back in 2010 that these chemicals are probable human carcinogens. And there’s research showing nitrates may also interfere with babies’ ability to get enough oxygen in their blood. If your well water contains fertilizer or animal waste byproducts like nitrates, nitrites, or ammonia, the first thing you should do is protect the area around your wellhead from contamination by animals, fertilizers, or any other toxic chemicals. Then, consider aeration or reverse osmosis to decontaminate your well water.
The EPA limits arsenic in tap water to 10 parts per billion. But levels of this metal may be up to 100 times higher in well water in some areas of the country. Even so, an arsenic level as high as 1,000 parts per billion may not be something to get upset about. Arsenic has actually been approved in high dilution as a safe homeopathic remedy in the U.S. for decades with no ill effects.
But if testing shows your well water contains dangerous levels of arsenic, you should take measures to decontaminate it via aeration or reverse osmosis.