PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon Health Authority is offering to cover the cost of well water testing for 2,000 households impacted by the 2020 wildfires.
Some Oregonians are still feeling the impacts of the wildfires, more than a year after the fires consumed communities across the state, according to OHA.
Curtis Cude, from OHA’s Environmental Public Health section, said the fires impacted private wells in many different ways, from destroying water distribution structures and treatment systems on the surface to heating the underground components, like the well casing and pipes. He said heating certain materials, such as plastics and rubbers, can release toxins into the water.
“We’re helping people look for bacteria. We’re helping people look for nitrates. There’s some of the chemicals that we’re looking for that would indicate plastic, you know rubber-type, synthetic, contamination from those burned components,” Cude explained.
He also said labs are testing for high levels of arsenic in water and galvanized steel or lead components.
This is OHA’s second round of providing vouchers to cover the cost of well testing for people impacted by the 2020 fires. The first round took place between February and June 2021.
During that time, OHA received 85 lab results and of those, 30 well owners received results with contaminants exceeding the Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum contaminant level. Total coliform was the most frequently occurring contaminant and two samples tested positive for E. coli bacteria.
OHA said it distributed follow-up education materials to the 30 well owners with contaminated water.
“What we’re really trying to do with this program is to help people be assured that the water that they’re drinking from their domestic wells is safe to drink following the wildfire,” Cude said.
OHA said people who apply for vouchers online can request sampling from an accredited laboratory and OHA will reimburse the lab for the cost of the test, up to $300.
Before sampling, OHA recommends well owners first assess the damage to their wells and repair damaged components. It also suggests people re-pressurize and refill their wells, flush the water lines and treat the well for microbial contaminants.
OHA will provide testing vouchers to well users through May 15, 2023, or until the 2,000 vouchers are used.
For more information or to apply for a voucher, visit the Oregon Health Authority website.
OHA said even if people weren’t impacted by the 2020 wildfires, it’s still a good idea to have wells tested every two to three years.