Advocacy Toolkit: Get Involved and Stay Informed!
Whether you rely on a public water system or a private well for your drinking water, this is an issue of health equity, and we need your support! You can help spread the word by submitting written testimony to legislators, posting on social media, and including information about these efforts on your blog and in your newsletter. The toolkit below comes with pre-written content and graphics for you to share with your networks.
About the Legislation
An Act Promoting Drinking Water Quality for All (bill numbers S.2667 and HD.4693) aims to provide protections for households who rely on private wells for their drinking water. This bill would enable the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) to develop a set of health-based regulations, known as the private wells code, which would provide statewide water quality standards for private drinking water wells.
The regulations themselves would be developed by drinking water experts at MassDEP, likely in consultation with a technical advisory group and with a process for public input. To maximize public benefit, the bill would require MassDEP to evaluate practices to minimize the paperwork burden for private well owners.
To read the press release from Senator Jamie Eldridge and Representative Dan Sena, who filed this legilation, click here.
Why Legislation is Needed
Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution established “the right to clean air and water” in 1972, and the United Nations declared safe and affordable drinking water as a human right in 2010. Statewide legislation is needed to provide similar protections for residents relying on private wells as for residents served by public water systems.
- Over 500,000 households in Massachusetts rely on private wells for their drinking water, yet there are no statewide regulations to ensure their water is safe and free of contaminants such as arsenic, E. coli, radon, and uranium.
- In contrast, public water systems are subject to MassDEP Drinking Water Regulations (310 CMR 22.00), which set enforceable legal standards for water quality by which public utilities are required to comply.
- Unlike public water systems, private wells are not subject to statewide requirements for routine water quality testing.
- Currently, MassDEP can only issue recommendations for private wells and only local Boards of Health (BOH) have the authority to establish regulations, many of which are outdated or unused. MassDEP released model BOH regulations for private wells in 2018, but they have not been widely adopted.
- Private wells span the Commonwealth, thus there is a statewide need for change. The total number of Massachusetts towns in which 60% or more residents rely on private wells is 84.
- Contaminants in private well water may be naturally occurring or manmade. Contaminants such as arsenic, E. coli, radon, and uranium may have short-term and/or long-term health impacts.
- MassDEP reports that high levels of arsenic, a human carcinogen, have been found in Hampden, Worcester, and Middlesex counties.
- A 2011 U.S. Geological Survey study estimated that about 3,300 and 5,700 private wells in east-central Massachusetts may contain uranium and arsenic, respectively, at levels that exceed state and federal standards.
There are several potential health problems that can occur if contaminated water is consumed. In addition, contaminants may impact the aesthetic of drinking water (e.g., taste, color, odor) or a home's infrastructure.
The ongoing MassDEP PFAS Private Well Testing Program has found that ~5% of private wells tested across Massachusetts have PFAS6 exceeding state health standards.
Private Well Program to Protect Public Health Uncovers Contaminants
Many Massachusetts residents are consuming water that may be unsafe. In 2021, RCAP Solutions conducted 240 well assessments and water tests across six Massachusetts towns which had a high concentration of private wells. We discovered that approximately 27% of wells had levels of contaminants exceeding state health standards and/or suggesting potential health risks.
■ Wells that had levels of contaminants exceeding state health standards and/or suggesting potential health risks
■ Wells that did not have levels of contaminants exceeding state health standards and/or suggesting potential health risks
In comparison, data from MassDEP shows that only about 4.63% of community public water systems (PWS) throughout the state had instances of contaminants exceeding state health standards and/or suggesting potential health risks. These results show that sensible, health-based regulations and oversight for drinking water wells would lead to a public health benefit.
For more information about the Private Well Program to Protect Public Health, or to request a water test, click here.
If you would like to learn more about our public policy, or get further involved in our advocacy efforts, please contact:
Director of Community Resources
Video: Advocating for Massachusetts Private Well Regulations
This work is made possible through funding from The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts