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Small ants in my plumbing!
16 October 2004

Q. I have very small ants in my plumbing! Amazing! They come out with the water from various faucets-- not in droves, but only a few-- occasionally. Dead ones. I searched the web and found loads of information on ants near plumbing pipes, ants following pipes etc, but I found nothing about ants in the pipes and in the water. It's time for Jim. I checked the cartridge filter that is installed after the pressure tank and it had quite a number trapped in it. There was a hole in the filter so I replaced it. I'm sure there will be no more hot and cold running ants as long as the filter is intact but what is going on here? The ants must have come from the well. They couldn't nest in the pressure tank - it is full of water and pressurized. Could the intruders have been carried into the house via the well? How could they get in the well? It is 180 feet deep, has a PVC liner and is sealed on top at the wellhead (maybe it isn't as sealed as I think). Could the liner be ruptured? Any ideas? And how can I get rid of them?

A. You bet they can get in at the wellhead, especially if the wellhead cap is over ten years old. The top of the well is actually a vent and the older ones weren’t sealed against bug entry and bugs did enter and they could be getting in at a subterranean loose joint. You think it's sealed -- it's not. The top of the wellhead should be clean, unencumbered (not under any bushes or lawn ornaments etc.) and extend at least 8 inches up from the ground -- go out and look around the wellhead. Those ants got in there somehow and fell down and got into the water.

I called Andy Brown of Brown’s Well Service to discuss your problem with him. He’s been in the business longer than we’d both like to admit and he’s my go-to guy with well problems. We discussed the history of the more bug resistant well caps and the perennial problem of bacteria contaminated well water. It doesn’t take much to muddy the water in a well and a tiny creature falling into and dying in one’s well will contaminate the well water until someone comes along and disinfects it. It’s not necessarily a dangerous condition. Some in medicine are of the opinion that exposure to small doses of various environmental biologic contaminants amounts to self-inoculation against infection. When I lived on a dug well for years we used to joke that the reason we were all so healthy was due to repeated well water inoculations. But a whole ant colony in the well is beyond the pale.

Andy observed that if you hadn’t had a hole in your cotton filter you might never have become aware of the ants being there.

We agreed you need to disinfect, or shock as it’s sometimes called, your entire water system from the bottom of the well to every faucet and showerhead in your house. The well disinfecting procedure promulgated by the Anne Arundel County Health Department after Isabel is the procedure you should follow as step one. Go to the website www.aahealth.org. Once there, click on the Search option of the menu and you will see the title “How to disinfect well water after a flood”. Follow it. Basically you’ve got the same problem when it comes to bug contamination. Don’t forget to run the hot water lines also after the bleach has been introduced into the well.

After all that’s done I'd use a filter -- as you are -- and I'd get a UVC emitter light on the water line as a sanitizer. Call plumber or a well service company for that. They kill 99.9% of the bacteria that crosses the light beam. They cost a few hundred dollars to install and the UV light tube has a year’s working life and must be replaced on a regular basis but they work. Remember that well is a hole in the ground from which we take and drink the water that happens to be in it. The fact that we draw our water from shiny, clean chrome plumbing fixtures inside our comfortable homes masks its origins. Municipal water, county or city, gets all sorts of treatment before it’s piped to the user. Not so with well water. Whatever is done to well water before it’s used—you do.

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