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Everything You Need To Know About Coliform Bacteria In Your Water

This Fact Sheet helps you understand what it means if the water sample taken from your well comes back positive for Coliform or e.Coli bacteria. Think of the presence of Coliform bacteria present as a “Tornado Watch” where weather conditions are favorable for tornadoes to form in your vicinity. If e.Coli is present, think of a “Tornado Warning” where tornadoes have been spotted near your home, and you should take cover immediately to protect you and your family. Unfortunately, in East Tennessee, well contamination by Coliform and e.Coli is much more common than damage from tornadoes.

My well has tested positive for the presence of Coliform bacteria. Should I be concerned?

Yes, home owners should be concerned for themselves and guests. The fact that any Coliform bacteria type is present means that conditions in and surrounding your well are favorable for all members of the Coliform family of bacteria to grow, flourish, and thrive.

The Coliform group of bacteria consists of several hundred types of bacteria found in nature that can survive in favorable environments. Your well is one of those favorable environments. Of those several hundred, about a dozen can cause very serious stomach and bowel issues in healthy people. Persons with weakened immune systems are at much greater risk from the dozen. Two types in the coliform bacteria group, known as e.Coli, can cause kidney failure and death. E.Coli is the same contaminant that is regularly in the news recently about contaminated lettuce, Serrano peppers, hamburger meat, and tomatoes.

The two e.Coli potential killers, H 157 and H104, come from fecal contamination (human or animal bowel waste). E.coli is eliminated through the lower gastrointestinal tract of all living mammals – including humans as well as domesticated animals like cows, horses, sheep, goats, llamas, dogs, cats and wild animals like bears, deer, raccoons, opossums, skunks, beaver, etc. Some fowl and birds have e.Coli in their droppings as well.
Another e.coli source is from from leaking or over burdened septic systems polluting ground water. In densely populated neighborhoods like cabin developments or mountain communities with both wells and septic systems, coliform contamination is common in some areas ranging as high as 70% of wells. In 2018, 18 neighboring wells in Bean Station, TN were poisoned with e.Coli after the septic system failed at a cattle slaughter house a few miles away and introduced e.Coli into ground water.