GRANGER – Like many other Granger homeowners, Ken Krych, wondered what could be in his well water.
"My wife is a three-time cancer survivor in this house. We have had several of our pets die of cancer that drinks the water,” Krych told WSBT. “Now is that a coincidence? Perhaps, but I do not know.”
Krych lives very close to Granger's Business District in a subdivision named "New Granger Trails." The business district is where some are being switched from septic to sewer.
The Environmental Protection Agency says water that tests above 10 for nitrates is unsafe. WSBT tested 10 homes around Granger and Krych's home tested at 13.
"That bothers me, it really bothers me," he said.
There is no conclusive data linking high nitrates to cancer.
"I would not stretch it to say that nitrates caused the problems,” said Mark Nelson from the St. Joseph County Health Department. “That would take a very detailed medical assessment.”
But Nelson feels that it cannot be ruled out. He also says nitrates at that level are bad for the body, especially for toddlers, when the danger is more immediate. For adults the trouble can come after years of drinking the water.
Many homes WSBT tested in Granger do have safe nitrate levels. A home in the Quail Ridge South Subdivision tested below one for Nitrates and so did a home in Reynolds Park. A home in Timberline Trace tested just over one. A home in Prairie Lane West tested below four, which is also a safe level.
A home WSBT tested in Terri Brooke North tested just above seven and so did another in Partridge Wood. That is still considered safe under federal standards, but the health department recommends when nitrates reach five to test yearly and to make sure the number is not going any higher.
“If it is a health issue then it is kind of taken of out of local governments hands", said county commissioner Andy Kostielney.
The St. Joseph Health Department has the authority to force homeowners to make changes in serious cases.
"Before it gets to that, we as a local government, need to address the situation," said Kostielney.
Nelson says the Health Department is working on a solution. That does not mean all taxpayers will pay for a new water treatment plant or all homeowners will pay to hook up to sewer. Both of those things are expensive, and Nelson told us it is not necessary.
“Half of the people have acceptable levels and should not be worried about it,” said Nelson. “[The other] half the people have unacceptable levels or are getting closer to unacceptable levels need to start worrying about it.”
Nelson blames the problem most on homes bunched too closely together using well water. They were built that way so homeowners could afford them, but more than 30,000 people now live in Granger.
In Krych's case, Nelson says he should install a reverse osmosis system right away, which costs about $500. That should make the water safe to drink and it is already safe to use to bathe and clean.
But WSBT wondered about Krych's neighbors water after learning of his high test number. We tested two more New Granger Trails homes. They tested with Nitrate levels of 5.9 and seven. That is high, but not high enough to be considered dangerous.
A nitrate test usually costs about $40 and sometimes less. There are also local labs that will do it for you.