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Pasco private well leads to E.coli in newborn

Posted at 5:06 PM, Mar 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-11 19:23:07-05

Hunter Murray looks like any other sleeping baby...precious.

Only, the newborn isn't sleeping soundly but making some sounds, particularly grunting and wheezing noises.

"It's frightening," explained Courtney Murray, mother to Hunter and his 3-year-old sister.

Murray began worrying about Hunter when he developed a severe diaper rash.

"It got to the point where it was bleeding," she explained.

Having already raised one child in diapers, Murray became alarmed and took her son to the doctor.

"He was always crying and it sounds like pain, not a normal baby cry," Murray said.

Hunter was unable to keep down formula and grew dehydrated.

After multiple calls and visits to a pediatrician, doctors decided to run a stool culture.

"My heart dropped, you hear E.coli and you are thinking third world country, you are thinking something that is deadly," Murray recalled of the diagnosis.

Questions immediately flooded Murray's mind.  How did this happen?  What could her son have come into contact with?

She immediately ruled out tap water because Hunter's formula is mixed with special nursery water that the family purchases at the store.

But, research led Murray to realize that tap water may contain something harmful, something she couldn't see, taste or smell.

PRIVATE DRINKING WELLS NOT REGULATED BY CITY, COUNTY

Murray decided to test the water in her family's private drinking well.

She purchased a kit, took a sample of water from her kitchen faucet and prepared to wait 48 hours for the results.  It only took 24 hours before the water turned a murky yellow and a thin layer of gel formed on the surface, indicating the water tested positive for coliform.

"I freaked out and I said, 'That is it, no more water!'" Murray recalled.

But still, how did Hunter get infected?

The family's pediatrician had a simple explanation.

"Washing his bottles with the water, washing his clothes, giving him a bath, as simple as him putting his hand in the bath water and putting his hand in his mouth, he got exposed to it," Murray said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates 15 percent of American use private drinking wells.  These wells are not overseen by cities or counties, unlike public drinking water.  That means, homeowners are responsible for protecting their wells and ensuring water quality.

It is recommend homeowner's test private drinking wells every year.

According to the EPA, ground water contamination can come from many sources, including:

  • Seepage through landfills
  • Failed septic tanks
  • Underground storage tanks 
  • Fertilizers and pesticides
  • Runoff from urban areas

KEEPING YOUR WELL SAFE

To keep your well safe, EPA officials urge you to be aware if any possible sources of contamination are nearby. Check with your local health department or environmental program for setback requirements. Possible sources of contamination may include:

  • Septic tanks
  • Livestock yards, silos, septic leach fields
  • Petroleum tanks, liquid-tight manure storage, and fertilizer storage and handling
  • Manure stacks

The EPA lists following are tips for keeping your well safe:

  • Maintain your well, find problems early, and correct them to protect your well’s performance. Many homeowners tend to forget the value of good maintenance until problems reach crisis levels. This can be expensive. 
  • Keep up-to-date records of well installation and repairs, plus pumping and water tests. Such records can help you spot changes and possible problems with your water system. If you have problems, find a local expert to check your well construction and maintenance records.
  • Protect your own well area. Be careful about storage and disposal of household and lawn care chemicals and wastes. Best-practice farmers and gardeners minimize the use of fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Take steps to reduce erosion and prevent surface water runoff.
  • Regularly check underground storage tanks that hold home heating oil, diesel, or gasoline.
  • Make sure your well is protected from the wastes of livestock, pets, and wildlife.

FAMILY WARNS OTHER HOMEOWNER'S WITH PRIVATE WELLS

The Murray family is now in the process of hiring a plumber to flush their well.

It is not clear yet if they will have to replace pipes, buy a filtration system or need more repairs.  However, estimates are starting at $3,500.

The family has purchased bottled water.  They're using it to bathe the baby, do dishes, etc.

Their circumstances have them warning others who rely on private wells.

"Just research and know what you are getting into when you get a well.  Make sure you are testing it right. It's not something you can left unsaid like city water," Murray said.

Hunter is expected to recover.