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ARSENIC IN DRINKING WATER

 
     
 
Arsenic is a semi-metal element in the periodic table. It is odorless and tasteless. It enters drinking water supplies from natural deposits in the earth or from agricultural and industrial practices.
 

Several studies have shown that arsenic
has been linked to cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney, nasal passages, liver, and prostate1. The World Health Organization (WHO), the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have determined that inorganic arsenic can cause cancer in humans.

Non-cancer effects can include thickening and discoloration of the skin, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting; diarrhea; numbness in hands and feet; partial paralysis; and blindness.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), arsenic can enter the water supply from natural deposits in the earth or from industrial and agricultural pollution. Arsenic is a natural element used for a variety of purposes within industry and agriculture. It is also a byproduct of copper smelting, mining, and coal burning. Industries in the United States release thousands of pounds of arsenic into the environment every year. Once released, arsenic remains in the environment for a long time.

It is widely believed that naturally occurring arsenic dissolves out of certain rock formations when ground water levels drop significantly. Surface arsenic-related pollutants enter the ground water system by gradually moving with the flow of ground water from rain, melting snow, and so on.

High arsenic levels may come from certain fertilizers, animal feedlots, and industrial waste. High levels of arsenic found in well water are often used to indicate improper well construction, or the location or overuse of chemical fertilizers or herbicides.

 
     
 NATIONAL ARSENIC OCCURRENCE MAP  
  EPA has set the arsenic standard for drinking water at .010 parts per million (10 parts per billion) to protect consumers served by public water systems from the effects of long-term, chronic exposure to arsenic. Water systems must comply with this standard by January 23, 2006, providing additional protection to an estimated 13 million Americans.

This map is intended to show the general areas that are hardest hit by the highest levels of arsenic. However, to determine whether arsenic has been found in a particular public water system, according to data reported to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, refer to the table of water systems reported in Appendix A. The map cannot be used by itself to identify whether a particular water system has an arsenic problem, because often there are several water systems located immediately adjacent to each other, and the map was generated at a scale that cannot be used to identify precisely which water system contains a given level of arsenic.
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 What should I do if I have concerns about arsenic exposure?  
  One thing you can do is have your water tested. For AMI pricing on testing water for arsenic call 1-800-369-8532.

You should also see your health care provider to discuss your concerns. For more information, call the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), Division of Toxicology at 1-888-422-8737.
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 How is arsenic exposure diagnosed?  
  Talk to your doctor about tests that measure the level of arsenic in your body. Arsenic can be measured in blood, urine, hair and fingernails. Testing urine will tell you if you have been exposed to arsenic in the last few days. Testing hair and fingernails will tell you if you have been exposed to arsenic in the past six to twelve months. These tests will tell you if it was arsenic that made you sick. However, the tests cannot tell if the arsenic will make you sick in the future.2
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 What is the treatment for arsenic exposure?  
  There is no effective treatment for arsenic exposure. Your health care provider can only help provide relief from your symptoms.3
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 Can I remove arsenic from my drinking water?  
  Yes. There are several types of point-of-use, in home filters that can be used to remove arsenic from drinking water, which use methods such as reverse osmosis, ultra-filtration, and ion exchange. Distilling the water can also be used to remove arsenic. If you want to know more about these removal technologies, please contact NSF International, an organization for public health and safety through standards development, product certification, education, and risk-management. Contact information is provided below. Boiling water will not remove arsenic and could slightly increase the concentration of arsenic in your water if you continue boiling and lose a large amount of water as steam. Chlorine (bleach) disinfection will also not remove arsenic.
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 Is my private well at risk from arsenic?  
  Like many contaminants that enter drinking water supplies, arsenic is potentially hazardous at high levels. Because you cannot see or taste arsenic in water, it is up to the well owner to test for arsenic. Arsenic tends to occur more frequently in ground water supplies, especially when demand causes significant drops in water levels in certain areas. It is best to consult your local health department about this situation and ask about your area. You may also wish to talk with your state geological survey office or USDA agent.4 [return to top]  
     
  Resources:
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Arsenic and Drinking Water from Private Wells, http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dpd/healthywater/factsheets/arsenic.htm

2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Arsenic and Drinking Water from Private Wells, http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dpd/healthywater/factsheets/arsenic.htm

3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Arsenic and Drinking Water from Private Wells, http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dpd/healthywater/factsheets/arsenic.htm

4. Environmental Protection Agency: Arsenic in Drinking Water,
http://www.epa.gov/safewater/arsenic/basicinformation.html

ADDITIONAL RESOURCE LINKS:
US Dept. of Labor - Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA)

Wikipedia - Arsenic Poisoning

National Library of Medicine - Aresenic

 

 

 

 

 
QUICK LINKS
National Arsenic Occurrence Map
What Should I Do If I Have Concerns About Exposure?
How Is Arsenic Exposure Diagnosed?
What Is The Treatment For Arsenic Exposure?
Can I Remove Arsenic From My Drinking Water?
Is My Private Well At Risk From Arsenic?
 

EPA ARSENIC RULE

Maximum Contaminant Level
in parts per million (ppm)
MCL = 0.010 ppm

Maximum Contaminant Level Goal MCLG = 0 ppm

Health Effects
Skin damage or problems with circulatory systems, and may have increased risk of getting cancer

Sources of contamination
Erosion of natural deposits; runoff from orchards, runoff from glass & electronic production wastes
 
 
 
 
 

All AMI
Indoor Environmental Professionals
are ESA Certifed

 
 
 

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