Arsenic

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What is arsenic and where does it come from?

Arsenic is a naturally occuring semi-metal found on the earth's crust. It is odorless and tasteless. Arsenic can be spread and enter water through natural pathways including volcanic activity, erosion and dissolving of rocks and minerals, or from human activities such as agricultural or industrial practices.

What are some health concerns of arsenic in water?

Arsenic can be found in inorganic and organic forms. The organic form is harmless to humans, but the inorganic form can have serious health impacts. The first changes usually observed after long-term exposure to arsenic are discoloration of skin or abnormal growths. Long-term exposure to arsenic has been linked to higher risks of lung, bladder, skin, liver, kidney, nasal passages, and prostate cancer. Other effects include thickening and discoloration of skin, nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, hands and feet numbness, partial paralysis, and blindness. Although ingesting arsenic is a health concern, absorbing arsenic through the skin is minimal. Hand-washing, bathing, laundry, etc., with water that has high levels of arsenic do not pose a health risk.

How do I find out if there is arsenic in my water?

If you rely on a public water system, then your water is tested annually for arsenic and other pollutants. If arsenic concentrations above the drinking water standard are found, the supplier is required to notify the public within 30 days. Most water companies will send out an annual Consumer Confidence Report which discloses contaminants found, possible health effects, and the water’s source. This report is generally sent in July with your water bill. If you do not receive a report, contact your water company for this information.

If you have a private water system (private well) then you are responsible to ensure your drinking water is safe for human consumption. To test for arsenic contact a certified testing lab near you. An arsenic test will cost approximately $12-20.

What is the drinking water standard for arsenic?

As of January 23, 2006 all public water systems must comply with the arsenic standard of 10 parts per billion (ppb). There is no standard for private well waters, nor is testing required, which means the private well owner is responsible for testing their own water. For more information about well water and arsenic see the fact sheet Arsenic.

What can I do to reduce arsenic in my drinking water?

Systems such as distillation, reverse osmosis and ion exchange columns can be installed in your home to reduce arsenic levels. However, these methods are expensive and must be carefully maintained to be effective. For more information on these systems see the fact sheet Drinking Water Treatment Systems.