The use of arsenic as a poison is widely documented. As a result, many people are alarmed when they hear that their drinking water, either from a public or private water system, may contain an amount of arsenic. What do you do if your water contains arsenic, and can it be removed? This Q&A addresses these questions and more.
Arsenic can combine with other elements to form inorganic and organic arsenicals. In general, inorganic derivatives are regarded as more toxic than the organic forms. While food can contain both inorganic and organic arsenicals, primarily inorganic forms are present in water.
Exposure to arsenic at high levels poses potential serious health effects as it is a known human carcinogen, or cancer-causing agent. It also has been reported to affect the vascular system in humans and has been associated with the development of diabetes.
Arsenic enters the human body principally through the mouth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and inhaled arsenic also is absorbed through the lungs into the bloodstream. “Small amounts of arsenic may enter the body through the skin, but this is not usually an important consideration,” reads the CDC’s Public Health Statement on arsenic
Private well water should be tested annually for bacteria, nitrates, and anything else of concern to the well owner, such as arsenic. Testing should be conducted by a certified drinking water laboratory. Visit http://water.epa.gov/scitech/drinkingwater/labcert/statecertification.cfm to find your state drinking water testing laboratory certification officer who can provide a list of certified labs in your area, or call the Private Well Owner Hotline at (855) 420-9355.
If you do have an arsenic level in your water that is higher than you would like, there are water treatment technologies available to address the problem.
Some of the treatment technologies may not be amenable to point-of-entry, or whole-house, treatments. In these cases, point-of-use units, which treat water at the tap, may be the best option.
Following installation of a treatment device, water quality should again be tested to verify the operation of the device. After that, water should be tested at least annually to confirm treatment effectiveness. A maintenance agreement for such devices is highly recommended.
Again, since water quality varies greatly, be sure to have your water tested and consult a local water professional for advice before purchasing a water treatment system.
Testing water for arsenic in areas where arsenic is a concern is an important strategy for private water well owners to safeguard the health and well-being of their family. Working with a water professional to monitor and maintain the quality of the well and water supply is an important responsibility of the private water system owner. Your groundwater contractor is your central source of information about caring for your system.
For more information on arsenic, visit the Dartmouth Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program’s webpage, Arsenic and You.