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Health Dept. Urges Testing as Drought, Wildfires May Affect Well Water Quality

Health Dept. Urges Testing as Drought, Wildfires May Affect Water Quality

Devastating wildfires and a previous prolonged drought may affect the quality of drinking water for some Gatlinburg-area residents who rely on home wells, springs and other private sources. While those served by community water systems in the area can rely on water quality assurances from their local utility managers, those supplied by other non-government-inspected sources may want to have their water supply tested.

The Tennessee Department of Health is now providing free testing of home wells and similar water sources for some Gatlinburg-area residents who have been directly impacted by the drought and wildfires. Testing will occur in phases to accommodate most urgent needs first. Phase one will be for those persons returning to homes in the next few weeks that have a functioning well. Phase two will be for those whose homes and property suffered more severe damage, with structures requiring more extensive repair/restoration before they can be habitable.

Information about testing eligibility may be obtained by calling the Tennessee Department of Health toll-free 866-327-9105 or sending an email to [email protected].

“Because home wells and other private water supplies can be damaged by wildfires or be at increased risk of microbial contamination during a drought, it’s important to know the quality of your drinking water,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “While potential impacts to home wells, springs and other private water sources are usually minor during a drought or after a wildfire, the only way to be sure your water is safe is to have it tested.”

Until well water supplies in question can be tested, TDH recommends boiling well water or using commercially available bottled water for drinking, making baby formula, brushing teeth and washing dishes. You can use your water for personal hygiene; do not swallow it while bathing or brushing teeth. If your water supply is found to be contaminated, TDH officials can recommend remedies which may include a different method of filtration, use of chemicals to kill harmful organisms or a disinfection of the system.

The effects of drinking contaminated water can vary based on the level of contamination and the health of the individuals. Children, older people, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems or other conditions may be at most risk for a severe complication.

“Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation staff members have been working closely with public water systems in the area to provide technical assistance and ensure drinking water needs are being met,” said TDEC Commissioner Bob Martineau. “We want to encourage people to contact their local water providers if they notice any issues that may be of concern with their public water supply; those on private wells should consider testing if they believe their water may be unsafe.”

The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. TDH has facilities in all 95 counties and provides direct services for more than one in five Tennesseans annually as well as indirect services for everyone in the state, including emergency response to health threats, licensure of health professionals, regulation of health care facilities and inspection of food service establishments. Learn more about TDH services and programs at www.tn.gov/health.

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