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Arsenic (As)

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pH ScaleProblem – Arsenic 

Symptoms: There are really no "common symptoms" which indicate arsenic is present in your water supply.  It is odoress and tasteless, so it must be specifically tested. If you are on a well, you should have this done periodically.

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

Health Concerns: Health effects can include thickening and discoloration of the skin, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, numbness in hands and feet, partial paralysis and blindness.  Arsenic has also been linked to cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney, nasal passages, liver, and prostate.    Unless your arsenic level is over 500 ppb , showering, bathing and other household uses are safe. Arsenic is not easily absorbed through the skin and does not evaporate into the air.

Action Level: Any level over .010 ppm (10 ppb) should be treated. 

The Problem: 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.

Arsenic occurs naturally in rocks and soil, water, air, and plants and animals. It can be further released into the environment through natural activities such as volcanic action, erosion of rocks and forest fires, or through human actions. Approximately 90 percent of industrial arsenic in the U.S. is currently used as a wood preservative, but arsenic is also used in paints, dyes, metals, drugs, soaps and semi-conductors. High arsenic levels can also come from certain fertilizers and animal feeding operations. Industry practices such as copper smelting, mining and coal burning also contribute to arsenic in our environment.

Higher levels of arsenic tend to be found more in ground water sources than in surface water sources, such as lakes and rivers, of drinking water. The demand on ground water from municipal systems and private drinking water wells may cause water levels to drop and release arsenic from rock formations. Compared to the rest of the United States, western states have more systems with arsenic levels greater than EPA’s standard of 10 parts per billion or ppb. Parts of the Midwest and New England have some systems whose current arsenic levels are greater than 10 ppb, but more systems with arsenic levels that range from 2-10 ppb. While many systems may not have detected arsenic in their drinking water above 10 ppb, there may be geographic hot spots with systems that may have higher levels of arsenic than the predicted occurrence for that area.

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. Arsenic has been linked to cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney, nasal passages, liver, and prostate.

EPA has set the arsenic standard for drinking water at .010 parts per million or 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.

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.

What are arsenic’s health effects?
Human exposure to arsenic can cause both short and long term health effects. Short or acute effects can occur within hours or days of exposure. Long or chronic effects occur over many years. Long term exposure to arsenic has been linked to cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidneys, nasal passages, liver and prostate. Short term exposure to high doses of arsenic can cause other adverse health effects, but such effects are unlikely to occur from U.S. public water supplies that are in compliance with the arsenic standard.

The Solution: Depending upon what a detailed water analysis of your water reveals, there are multiple ways of removing arsenic from water supplies. If there is also iron present in the water, then there are medias which bind the arsenic with the iron or rust in the water. Before any sizing or determination of system design can be started, a detailed water analysis must be completed.