Many Kempen families use well water for drinking water applications while they are not sure whether this water is suitable. An analysis of 171 well water samples now shows that more than half do not meet the drinking water standards, which may pose a health risk.

Results of the 3xG study – a health study ongoing in Dessel, Mol and Retie – showed that mothers who use well water for cooking or watering the vegetable garden had higher levels of toxic arsenic in their body. That is why Logo Kempen launched a campaign together with fourteen Kempen municipalities, called “Do not bury your head in the sand … do you know what type of groundwater comes from your well?”. The campaign used an online tool to encourage people who use well water for drinking water applications (drinking, cooking, dishes or hygiene) to have a water sample analysed. 171 inhabitants agreed and had a well water analysis carried out by the Provincial Institute for Hygiene (PIH).

Annelies De Decker (PIH): “We found that more than half (65.7 %) of the tested wellwaters exceeded the drinking water standards for at least one parameter”. The most common norm deviations were a too low pH and/or too high levels of ammonium (NH4), manganese and iron. Abnormalities of the norm were also found for many health-related parameters (Lead, E. coli, Enterococci, nitrite (NO2), arsenic, cadmium).

“The use of well water for drinking applications that exceeds the drinking water standards for one or more parameters can pose a health risk”, according to Annelies De Decker. Anyone who wants to use this well water to wash the car, flush the toilet or water the lawn are not exposing themselves to a health risk. A survey among residents who had their well water tested shows that 54 % of the participants whose well water had at least one standard deviation, is aware of this difference in applications. They have improved their well water usage based on the results of the analysis or the advice from the campaign tool.  For example, the inhabitants no longer use well water for cooking, but rather for watering the lawn.

The survey also shows great satisfaction with the online tool and the execution of the analyses. 81 % of the participants also indicated that they would have the well water tested again in the future. “This is important if you want to use the water for drinking, cooking, doing the dishes or taking a shower. The quality of the well water can be subject to fluctuations”, says Ruth Lembrechts of Logo Kempen. “The campaign has made many residents of the Kempen region aware of their well water consumption. This clearly demonstrates the importance of sensitisation”, says Ruth Lembrechts.

Do you have any questions about well water? Then contact Ruth Lembrechts, medical environmental expert of Logo Kempen via or 014 44 08 34.

Do you want an analysis of your well water? Contact PIH via or 03 259 13 26.

Background information

Health monitoring as a local condition

The study is carried out by the Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO), the University of Antwerp (UA) and the Provincial Institute for Hygiene (PIH) commissioned by NIRAS. It fits into the framework of the construction of the surface disposal installation for low and intermediate level short-lived waste that NIRAS is preparing in Dessel in collaboration with local partners STORA (Dessel) and MONA (Mol). Continuous health monitoring is one of the requirements of the local communities to accept this installation on their territory. In 2010, 3xG was launched  as a feasibility study to find out how the health of an entire region can be monitored. At present, 300 mothers and their babies from Dessel, Mol and Retie are taking part in the study; they are the first birth cohort. Every ten years the research will be expanded with a new cohort of 300 new participants.

Personal health screening

The technique applied in the 3xG study is human biomonitoring. With this method, researchers are looking at biomarkers in blood and urine samples, representing contaminants and health effects in the body. Thus, one can determine whether there is a connection with polluting substances that are present in the region, and whether the contents in the body cause harmful effects. The analyses of all 300 participants are interpreted at group level. Consequently, the resulting findings are of interest to all inhabitants in the region. A second part of the study compares the official figures on illnesses and deaths in the municipalities of Dessel, Mol and Retie with the rest of the country.

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