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Wisconsin Department of Health Services

Water Issues

Man Kayaking on Lake--CDC/ Amanda Mills   Handwashing--CDC/ Amanda Mills   Water Testing--USEPA/ Shannon Bond  Water Fountain--CDC/ Amanda Mills

Drinking Water Protection

List of water-related contaminants

Public Water SystemsNRCS/Bob Nichols

Drinking Water Quality Data is a DNR webpage with data about Wisconsinís drinking water and groundwater quality.

Consumer Confidence Reports provide an annual report on public water systems. This includes test results and violations.

Private Well Water

DNR provides private drinking water well testing recommendations and an updated list of labs that test private well water for Bacteria (PDF, 31 KB) and Contaminants.

There is a searchable database on groundwater data including private wells, public wells, and monitoring wells.

Approved Treatment Devices for Contaminants - Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services

Surface Water

Direct and indirect pollution sources of Wisconsin surface waters - Wisconsin DNR

Water Recreation

Blue Green Algae or Cyanobacteria

Wisconsin's Harmful Algal Blooms program collects information about human and animal illness and death resulting from exposure to blue-green algae. Tracking illness information will help the Wisconsin Division of Public Health measure the problem of blue-green algae in our lakes and rivers. Learn more.

Beach Advisories

Beach Water Quality - An extensive list of beaches along the Great Lakes and their advisory information.

Pool Licensing and Safety

Public swimming pools include but are not limited to a pool serving or installed for the state or any political subdivision of the state; a pool serving or installed at a motel, hotel, tourist rooming house, bed and breakfast establishment, campground, camp, club, association, housing development or school, or a religious, charitable or youth organization; a mobile pool; and a pool at an educational or rehabilitative institution.

Information about public pool licensing: Food Safety and Recreational Licensing

For swimming pool safety tips in all seasons of the year, see the CDC's Healthy Swimming pages.

Campground Licensing and Safety

Information about the licensing and the regulation of campgrounds: Food Safety and Recreational Licensing.

Safety tips for swimming in lakes or rivers: CDC's Healthy Swimming: Oceans, Lakes, and Rivers.

Water-Related Emergencies

Flood Hazards and Recovery Cows Flooded-BEOH 2007/ Farm field between Soldiers Grove and Gays Mill

Every year, areas of Wisconsin routinely flood. If you live or work in an area likely to flood, take some simple steps to protect yourself and your property. DHS has more information on the Flood homepage.


Drought conditions can directly affect human health. Lower levels of water in lakes and streams increase the concentration of pollutants and can lead to standing water. Droughts can also pose a risk to people who get their water from a private well. Visit the Drought homepage for more information.

Boil Water or Emergency Chlorination Notices

Fact Sheet for Private Residences (PDF, 38 KB) - How to protect your home during a boil water or emergency notice.

Fact Sheet for Public Facilities (PDF, 38 KB) - How to protect customers' health during a boil water or emergency chlorination notice.

Pharmaceuticals in Drinking Water

Studies show that trace amounts of pharmaceuticals have appeared in various community water supplies. The current best practice for managing waste drugs is through high temperature incineration at a licensed facility. Until a permanent solution is in place to collect unwanted medications, several temporary collections have been set up across the state. DHS provides links and resources to temporary collection places.

Environmental Contaminants in Drinking Water

Click the '+' image to see information about the contaminant.




  • Aluminum

      Aluminum is a naturally occurring metal that is found in the earthís crust. Aluminum salts are used as coagulants to purify municipal water that is drawn from lakes or reservoirs. Aluminum-contaminated water has no taste or odor. However, very high aluminum levels can sometimes cause water to have a bluish color.

  • Aromatic Concentrates

      Aromatic concentrates are purified mixtures of chemicals found in crude oil. These mixtures are used to make gasoline and other fuels. They are strong-smelling liquids that range in color from yellow to black. If spilled, aromatic concentrates evaporate quickly. However, part of the spill can go into the air, the soil, and sink down into the groundwater.

  • Atrazine

      Atrazine is a white crystal solid. Farmers have used it widely as a weed killer on corn fields since the early 1960s. A recent survey of rural Wisconsin wells found widespread atrazine contamination. In most cases, the amounts detected did not pose a serious risk to health. However, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection has taken action to reduce atrazine use to prevent any more groundwater contamination.

  • Benzene

      Benzene is a widely used industrial chemical. It quickly evaporates from water or soil. If benzene leaks from buried storage tanks or landfills, it can contaminate nearby drinking water wells. Benzene can move long distances in groundwater.

  • Cadmium

      Cadmium is a metal found naturally in the earth's crust. The normal intake of cadmium (1-3 micrograms/day) does not appear to cause health problems. People can be exposed to increased amounts of cadmium by drinking contaminated water, which is typically caused by improper disposal of industrial chemicals.

  • Carbon Tetrachloride

      Carbon tetrachloride (Carbon tet) is a non-flammable colorless liquid with a heavy, sweet odor. Carbon tet may contaminate groundwater near locations where the chemical was improperly disposed. Since the compound is heavy, some of the spilled liquid will sink through soil and enter groundwater.

  • Chlorine

      Chlorine is a poisonous, greenish-yellow gas described as having a choking odor. It is a very corrosive, hazardous chemical. Usually combined with other chemicals, it is used to disinfect water, purify metals, bleach wood pulp and make other chemicals. Low level exposure can occur when water containing chlorine is used for drinking or for food preparation.

  • Cyanide

      Cyanide is sometimes found in contaminated drinking water. People can be exposed when they drink contaminated water. Cyanide is very poisonous. Cyanide can exist as a gas, liquid or white crystal powder. Cyanide is used in the electroplating industry, in metal cleaning operations, and as an industrial bug killer.

  • 1,2-DCA

      1,2-DCA is a thick, colorless liquid which has a pleasant odor and sweet taste. In the home, 1,2-DCA can be found in some cleaning solvents, pesticides, glues, varnishes, and strippers. When 1,2-DCA enters the environment, it can seep into the soil or evaporate into the air. It eventually may reach groundwater and contaminate local drinking water supplies.

  • Lead Arsenate Pesticides

      Lead Arsenate Pesticides were used commonly to control agricultural pests in Wisconsin. The pesticide residues bind tightly to the soil, and some has remained there for decades, and may pose a health risk to humans when the land changes from agriculture uses.


  • Manure Contamination

      Manure-related problems are usually caused when liquid manure is spread during the late winter and early spring months. During these times, manure cannot be tilled in or adequately absorbed by the soil.

  • Molybdenum

      Molybdenum is a metal that occurs naturally in the earthís crust and is usually found in very small amounts. It is an important dietary nutrient in very small quantities, yet too much molybdenum may cause health problems. In nature it can be found in poorly drained highly organic soils and as part of some minerals found in soil and rock. Molybdenum is occasionally found naturally in groundwater.

  • Nitrate

      A common contaminant in drinking water. It is largely used in agricultural and residential fertilizers.

  • Old Dumps and Landfills

      Many old dumpsites had no liners to prevent groundwater contamination. When the dumps were full, they were typically covered with loose topsoil. Rainwater and precipitation can seep into the waste and carry chemicals to the groundwater below. Because some old dumps used wetlands for disposal sites, the wastes were directly in contact with the groundwater table.

  • Pesticides

      Pesticides used on corn, soybeans, and other crops can affect water supplies.

  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)

      PCBs are a group of 209 different compounds. PCBs are man-made and have no smell. They are yellow, oily liquids that donít easily burn. There are no natural sources of PCBs. For most people, eating fish or other seafood caught from polluted water is the main way in which they are exposed to PCBs.

  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs)

      Most PAHs in the environment are from incomplete burning of carbon-containing materials like oil, wood, garbage or coal. Charcoal-broiled foods, especially meats, are a source of some PAH exposure. Shellfish living in contaminated water may be another major source of exposure. PAHs may be in groundwater near disposal sites where construction wastes or ash are buried; people may be exposed by drinking this water.

  • Radium

  • Strontium

      A mineral that occurs naturally in the environment. Non-radioactive or "stable strontium" is very common in soil and bedrock and may dissolve entering groundwater.

  • Sulfates

      Sulfates are mineral salts containing sulfur. Sulfate salts are found in some Wisconsin soils. Mines, tanneries, steel mills, pulp mills, and textile plants also release sulfates into the environment. Industrial waste water, household waste water, runoff from a hazardous waste site or naturally decaying material can put sulfates into waterways rivers, lakes and streams. Wastes that contain sulfates seep through soil and contaminate groundwater.

  • Trichloroethylene

      Trichloroethylene (TCE) is a man-made chemical that does not occur naturally in the environment. TCE can enter ground water and surface water from industrial discharges or from improper disposal of industrial wastes at landfills. TCE has been found in many drinking water supplies in the United States, including Wisconsin.

Can't find what you are looking for?
See the A-Z Environmental Chemical Contaminants list.

Resources and Links

Environmental Public Health Tracking - Wisconsin DHS tracking website. See statewide data for drinking water contaminants for the past 10 years.

What's Wrong with My Water?  - This Wisconsin DNR page provides information to:

  • Help you choose the right lab tests to give you a definitive diagnosis;
  • Tell you whether your water problem is more likely to be a health concern or a nuisance problem;
  • Help you find a laboratory certified to do testing;
  • Help you choose a possible fix; and
  • Direct you toward the licensed professionals who can help you.

Wisconsin's Groundwater as a Natural Resource - Wisconsin Groundwater Coordinating Council

Topics on Groundwater and Various Drinking Water Issues - Wisconsin DNR

Drinking Water Fact Sheets - Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

A-Z List of Chemical Fact Sheets - Complete list of DHS chemical fact sheets

Complete List of EH topics - Complete list of DHS Environmental Health Topics


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A-Z List of Environmental Topics

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Last Revised:  August 28, 2014