Private Well Program to Protect Public Health

About the Program

The Private Well Program to Protect Public Health is a community partnership funded by The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts. In an ongoing effort to promote better public health and safety for Massachusetts households with private wells, RCAP Solutions is engaging with key stakeholders and state government officials to advocate for public policy that would ensure well water is tested for contaminants on a routine basis.

The program is also testing well water quality throughout Massachusetts, educating homeowners on what their water test results show, and working directly with homeowners if there is a need for remediation efforts. Using the data gathered from this program, we hope to effect change by moving the Massachusetts legislature to enact statewide private well regulations that would ensure all residents have equitable access to healthy drinking water.

Private wells can sometimes be contaminated by substances including arsenic, E. coli, radon, and uranium, which can have both short and long-term health impacts. Despite this, private wells are currently not subject to any statewide drinking water standards. RCAP Solutions is partnering with Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), the Montachusett Public Health Network, Nashoba Associated Boards of Health, and the Massachusetts Environmental Health Association on this important project.

For the latest updates, follow #WhatsInYourWellWater on social media.

The Value of Well Water Testing

Unlike public drinking water systems, private wells do not have experts regularly checking the water’s source and quality before it is sent to the tap. Households that use private wells should take special precautions to ensure the safety of their drinking water.

When considering well contamination problems and risks, it’s important to know what kind of well you have and how it was constructed. Knowing how water gets into your well and from what source will help you understand what you need to do to protect your groundwater source and well from adverse impacts. Through this program, RCAP Solutions can provide a complimentary water test for participating private well owners in order to identify potential contamination threats.

Complimentary Well Water Testing – Eligible Communities

When private well water testing is offered, more information for homeowners and town officials will be provided.

Complimentary Well Water Testing – Our Process

RCAP Solutions technical assistance providers will be performing a limited number of complimentary water tests on unregulated wells throughout the region. Well water testing identifies potential threats to your drinking water.

Testing Will Assess the Following:

  • Arsenic
  • Chloride
  • Copper
  • Fluoride
  • Hardness
  • Iron
  • Lead
  • Manganese
  • pH
  • Sodium
  • Coliform Bacteria
  • Nitrate/Nitrite
  • Uranium
  • Radon

RCAP Solutions will not be testing for Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) through this program. Should you wish to sample your private well for PFAS at your own expense, please find a certified laboratory for water testing here.

Please note: Safety is our top priority. When visiting your home, our staff will not be going inside. We will meet you outside and instruct you on how to take a water sample from your tap.

Requests are handled on a first-come, first-served basis. When registering to receive the grant-funded services, residents will be asked for their permission to complete short surveys – one prior to and two others following the water test. Information from these surveys helps us improve our understanding of resident priorities and informs improvements to our programming. Aggregate, de-identified results will be shared with local boards of health and our partners to inform development of this program.

Advocating for Statewide Regulations

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 residents 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 PFAS, arsenic, radon, uranium, and more.

  • 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.
Massachusetts Maximum Contaminant Levels (MMCLs) are a set of guidance levels for various contaminants that could potentially be found in drinking water. These levels are based on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) federal standards for drinking water, though MassDEP has adopted more stringent standards in some cases.

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.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a class of thousands of synthetic chemicals used to make products resistant to water, heat, and stains. Often referred to as "forever chemicals", there is growing concern that PFAS in drinking water can have negative health impacts.

The ongoing MassDEP PFAS Private Well Testing Program has found that ~5% of private wells tested across Massachusetts have PFAS exceeding state health standards.
Many people who discover contaminants in their wells resort to drinking bottled water, which is expensive. Plastic also harms the environment; 80% of plastic water bottles used in the United States end up in landfills.
Residents who live in municipalities with public water systems or with local private well regulations are more likely to have access to safe drinking water than residents who don't.

Coalition for Safe Drinking Water

The Coalition for Safe Drinking Water is a group of diverse individuals and organizations advocating for equitable access to safe drinking water for private well owners across Massachusetts.

Led by RCAP Solutions and The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts, the goal of this grassroots effort is to effect change by moving the state legislature to enable the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) to enact sensible, health-based regulations for private wells and to offer financial resources for homeowners who discover contaminants in their well water.

Unlike with public water systems, there are currently no statewide regulations to ensure private well water is safe from contaminants like PFAS, arsenic, radon, and more. This problem can be solved, but it will take leadership from community advocates, non-profit organizations, legislators, and others.

Learn More About the Coalition & Get Involved

What’s in Your Well Water? 3 Easy Steps to Drill Down Some Answers

1) What to test your water for…

Many contaminants are naturally occurring from features found in the rocks and soils of Massachusetts. These include substances like bacteria, radon, arsenic, uranium, and other minerals. For more detailed information check out MassDEP’s Guide to Water Quality Testing for Private Wells.

2) Where to go to get your water tested…

If you are concerned about the quality of your drinking water, you can contact a MassDEP-certified laboratory to have your water tested.

3) What your water test results mean…

Be Well Informed (BWI) is an online tool hosted by EPA that allows you to enter your water quality lab results and obtain information regarding any contaminant concentrations that exceed MassDEP or federal standards or guidelines that exist for public drinking water. To access the BWI tool, and for instructions, click here.

Our Staff & Contact Information

Lili Dagle
Project Assistant

The Private Well Program to Protect Public Health is managed by Lili Dagle. She serves as the Project Coordinator and is responsible for managing communication with town officials, private well homeowners, and our partners. For more information or assistance regarding the program, please contact Lili.

Jim Starbard
Regional Director (MA/CT/RI)

Jim Starbard is the Lead Sanitarian for the Private Well Program to Protect Public Health. Mr. Starbard is experienced in all aspects of public health protection and promotion at the local level including inspectional services, emergency preparedness activities, and administrative duties.

Helpful Links


UMass Amherst

National Resources

Video: Advocating for Massachusetts Private Well Protections

Our Partners

This program is made possible through funding from The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts