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Waterfall in Cold Spring, NY Poughkeepsie Journal
Friday, August 20, 2004

Health board split on mandatory well tests
By Dan Shapley

The Dutchess County Board of Health is divided about whether it should call for mandatory or voluntary private well testing.

The board was asked by the work group appointed by County Executive William Steinhaus to recommend well testing, but decided after public hearings it should require them.

The three-member subcommittee chaired by Dr. William Augerson has since drawn up an 11-point proposal. Dutchess County has between 30,000 and 40,000 private wells, which unlike public systems, are the responsibility of the owners.

High-profile instances of well contamination with colorless, odorless chemicals linked to serious health problems raised the issue in the county in recent years.

Same standards sought

The board agreed unanimously Thursday private wells should meet the same health standards as public water supplies. They agreed Dr. Michael Caldwell, the health commissioner, should establish a plan for a countywide well-water safety surveillance system. And they agreed, as they have advocated in the past, residents throughout the county ultimately should have access to piped water.

On the issue of whether or not comprehensive, countywide well tests should be mandatory, however, the board split. Some members argued it was the only way to ensure the safety of the water supply and public health.

Voluntary system

Others said a voluntary system that offered tests discounted by the county, or one that started with tests on new wells and on properties being sold or transferred was a better strategy. Suzanne Horn, a Republican legislator from Pleasant Valley and board of health member, argued for a voluntary system. The Town of Pleasant Valley paid to test 27 private wells volunteered by their owners in the hamlet in 2003 as a way to see if contamination was an issue. ''This is probably the single most doable, cheapest goal,'' she said.

Others questioned how effective a voluntary program would be.

''I would like to hear from somebody how to predict the quality of wells without testing,'' Augerson said.

The Hudson Valley Builders Association supports public water supplies built and maintained by government -- not builders, and would favor a well testing program that is uniformly applied, said Mario Johnson, the association's spokesman and a former county legislator who attended the meeting. ''If you're going to test,'' he said, ''test all the new homes, as well as resales.''

Dan Shapley can be reached at

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Waterfall in Cold Spring, NY

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