Photograph of the arsenic test lamp used for detection of arsenic in drinking water Tests & Remedies for Arsenic in Drinking Water
     

  • ARSENIC in WATER - CONTENTS: Sources of Arsenic in water. Health effects of arsenic exposure - Arsenicosis. Standards and limits for arsenic exposure. How to remove arsenic from water. How to test water for arsenic contamination
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Arsenic in drinking water:

This article discusses the detection of arsenic in drinking water, sources of arsenic in water, arsenic exposure limits, and how to remove arsenic from drinking water. Sources of arsenic in drinking water may be from natural occurrence of arsenic in soils and rock, or in some areas from industrial waste.

Because arsenic contaminants in drinking water cannot be tasted by the consumer, if your drinking water is coming from a private well and if there is particular risk of arsenic in your drinking water the water source should be tested.

[Above we show a photograph of the arsenic test lamp used for detection of arsenic in drinking water - courtesy of Aquacheck Water Testing Laboratory].

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Data on Arsenic Hazards in Drinking Water

The following data is derived from the US EPA:

The U.S. 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.  That maximum contaminant level (MCL) for arsenic in drinking water for total arsenic level, regardless of whether the arsenic is in inorganic form. Public water systems have been required to comply with this standard since January 23, 2006.

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.

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. 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.

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. - updated 9/2010

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. - updated 9/2010

Also see TOXIC GAS EXPOSURE EFFECTS for more about arsenic poisoning from this element in its gaseous form.

If your drinking water is coming from a municipal supply, or from a privately-owned water company that has more than 15 service connections or serves 25 people more than 6 months of a year, the water company or municipality are required to regularly test for arsenic in your water and you should not need to order this test privately

Sources of Arsenic in Drinking Water

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 (i.e., 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 (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.

Here is a local copy of the US EPA's Arsenic and Clarifications to Compliance and New Source Monitoring Rule: A Quick Reference Guide.

What To Do About Arsenic in Drinking Water

Scott Bradley, Aquacheck Water Testing Laboratory

Arsenic is a soft, semi-metallic element that is found naturally in our environment. We also see arsenic introduced through orchards, treated lumber, and certain industrial processes such as glassware and electronic components production.

Arsenic exposure limits - maximum levels allowed in drinking water

The MCL, or maximum contaminant level had been set at 50 ppb (parts per billion) from 1975 until January, 22, 2001 when the new EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) level became 10 ppb. Why lower the level five-fold? What did the EPA discover after studying arsenic to make them drop the level that much?

Effects of exposure to Arsenic

Watch out: Long term exposure to arsenic in drinking water has been linked to cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidneys, liver, and prostate. Other non-carcinogenic effects may include cardiovascular, pulmonary, immunological, neurological, and endocrine (diabetes) disorders. Large doses of arsenic can be lethal and has been the "poison-dujour" for centuries!

Question & Answer About Symptoms of Arsenic Poisoning Due to Arsenic in Water

Question: How soon will arsenic poisoning symptoms go away?

I have a quick question about your article in regards to arsenic levels in well water. I am in the process of getting my water
tested as my sons have had some of the symptoms of low level exposure. I immediately ceased drinking the well water and they are only drinking bottled water now. How soon would the symptoms go away if they were not drinking it anymore (for example stomach pain, nausea, etc).

I ceased all family drinking of my well water. As soon as I did, within 48 hours my 8 year old stopped complaining of stomach ache and nausea.

I just was wondering as I have been concerned since I couldn't find the source of my sons illness. -- Donna

Answer on Arsenic Poisoning from Well Water - Symptoms

Quoting from Asenic Contamination of Ground Water in Bangladesh, a Briefing Paper, an article on extreme arsenic poisoning from well water in Bangladesh, from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Bangladesh

The use of arsenic free water may probably stop the deterioration of the symptoms but information of complete recovery is not yet known.

In any specific case of suspected arsenic poisoning such as your concern for your family, you need to discuss this question with your doctor who will no doubt want to perform tests, an examination, and assessment of your 8 year old's health. Your physician will decide if tests are appropriate, and will advise you if arsenic poisoning is a candidate for possible causes of your son's complaint. Certainly the cessation of the complaint when he stopped drinking the water is suggestive, but without further work we don't know that the problem was arsenic or something else. Knowing your son's health condition at start will surely be important in assessing whether additional steps are needed and what to expect.

Continuing from the article we cited above is more helpful information about arsenic poisoning from well water:

Arsenic contamination in groundwater is due to the various natural geological processes that exist in the geological environment.

The source of arsenic in sediments is mainly the parent rock materials from which it is derived. Arsenic associated with sediment particles can be a major source of arsenic contamination when particles are detached and carried as sediments during erosion. Sediments can contain substantial amounts of total arsenic. During the formation of sedimentary rocks, arsenic is carried down by precipitation of iron hydroxides and sulphides. In a moist climate, arsenic sulphides are easily oxidized, become water-soluble, are washed out of the sediment particles by meteoric precipitation, and are transported with run off.

Arsenic undergoes reactions of oxidation -reduction, precipitation-dissolution, absorption- desorption, and organic and biochemical methylation. All of these reactions control mobilization and accumulation of arsenic in the environment. A biotic reaction between arsenic species and the substrates on the species and the substrates on the sediment surface, as well as physical disturbance of sediments, all play very important roles in controlling the mobilization of arsenic.

In nature, arsenic bearing minerals undergo oxidation and release arsenic to water.

and IMPORTANT

Arsenicosis, a disease born by drinking arsenic contaminated water which can lead to a very painful death. Arsenite and arsenate are known as carcinogens and have an affinity to deposit in hair, nail, bone etc. Arsenic is found in high concentration in liver, spleen, kidney and lungs as well.

Toxic effects of arsenic involve these organs. Toxicity of arsenic depends on its accumulation in the body. The time taken to develop symptoms in the human depends on the exposure, body defense mechanism, nutritional status etc. It is thought that it may take 2-20 years to develop symptoms.

The arsenic poisoning from the contamination of ground water is very chronic in nature. Most of the time the victims do not complain of the above symptoms until they are detected through screening. The above symptoms are also very difficult to identify from other clinical conditions. The present experience to identify the arsenic cases are by external manifestations specially with the presentation on the skin called melanosis (blackening of skin) and keratosis (hardening of palms and soles) with the history of consuming arsenic contaminated source water.

Gangrene of peripheral organs and ulceration due to toxic effect on the small blood vessels may also be found. Cancer of the skin along with cancer of some internal organs - liver, kidney, bladder is not uncommon. The stage of keratosis is known as potentially malignant. It is also observed that even if a person having no manifestations after consuming contaminated water the chance of having cancer cannot be ruled out.

Notice and discuss with your doctor the health ministry's comment from above that

The time taken to develop symptoms in the human depends on the exposure, body defense mechanism, nutritional status etc. It is thought that it may take 2-20 years to develop symptoms.

Also see TOXIC GAS EXPOSURE EFFECTS for more about arsenic poisoning from this element in its gaseous form.

Arsenic exposure standards can be improved

Adopting the new, stricter standards will provide increased protection for over 54,000 community water systems - such are the type that serve small cities and towns, apartments, and mobile home parks. Also, over 20,000 systems that serve such institutions as schools, churches, and nursing homes also must have complied to the new regulations by January 23, 2006.

Geographic "hot spots" where Arsenic is Found in Drinking Water

In the laboratory, we analyze arsenic from all parts of the United States. Arsenic is more common in the U.S. in drinking water from wells in the Southwest and Western states. We find geographical "hot-spots" where arsenic turns up at higher levels. "Hot spots" of arsenic contamination might also be found in other states, particularly if it is coming from industrial contamination. It is not uncommon to find levels well over 100 ppb in some areas.

Arsenic is odorless and tasteless, so the only way for you to tell if your well or source water has arsenic in it is to have it analyzed by a laboratory certified for that parameter. To find a certified lab., you can check with your state health department or call the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at, 1-800-426-4791.

How to remove arsenic from drinking water

Arsenic can be removed from water, but we need to take a closer look at the element itself.

Arsenic can come in two forms, or valences. One, is inorganic, the other organic. The EPA MCL of 10 ppb is based on total combined arsenic. One form, trivalent or AsIII is also known as arsenite.

The other form, pentavalent, or AsV is also known as arsenate. Most manufacturers produce filters that will remove pentavalent arsenic as long as the starting level is less than 300 ppb. Speciation can be performed to determine which forms you have and in what proportions, but as you read further, it is not really necessary to speciate.

Typically, the trivalent form is converted to pentavalent form using free chlorine or other similar oxidation chemical because AsV is easier to remove. As previously mentioned, have a certified lab give you the total arsenic number, then let a qualified and experienced treatment professional take care of the filtration.

 

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