On January 23, 2006, public and private water agencies all over the U.S. will have to meet tough new standards from EPA that drastically reduce the levels of arsenic allowed in America's drinking water. But those protections will not apply to the millions of suburban homeowners and residents of rural areas who depend on their own well for their drinking water.
What is a homeowner to do? How do you find out if there is arsenic in your well, or coming out of the tap in your home? And what steps can you take to get the arsenic contamination down to the level that the scientists at EPA have determined is safe?
The answers to these and many other questions about arsenic and groundwater are covered in a guide just published by the American Ground Water Trust (AGWT). AGWT is a non-profit public service agency that provides educational programs throughout the US on groundwater and its role in meeting America's need for safe drinking water.
"We are hopeful this effort will help to fill a critical need because the responsibility for checking the quality of water obtained from private wells lies exclusively with the property owner," said Andrew Stone, executive director of AGWT. "There are no regulatory agencies or community organizations that have any authority over private wells under the new rules."
The 24-page guide entitled “Arsenic and Ground Water: Questions, Answers and Solutions” explains the geologic origins of arsenic, its occurrence in groundwater, arsenic related health issues and methods to remove or reduce arsenic levels. Although many regions in the U.S. have natural occurrences of arsenic, drinking water contamination can also be caused by human activities such as mining, metal smelting and pesticide usage or from man-made products such as wood preservatives, paints, drugs, dyes and soaps.
EPA's new arsenic standards change the allowable amount of arsenic in water supplies from 50 ppb to 10 ppb. Groundwater is the source of approximately half of America's drinking water supplies, but EPA standards do not cover individually owned wells and water systems that have fewer than 15 service connections or serve fewer than 25 people.
"Left untreated, arsenic in groundwater poses a potential health hazard for millions of Americans," said Andrew Stone. "Although there is no one-size fits-all solution to removing arsenic from drinking water, well owners who are armed with objective information about treatment options can select equipment to protect themselves from contamination."
Arsenic is considered an "accumulative enabler" because it makes people more likely to become ill from various cancers, diabetes and high blood pressure. If consumed in high amounts, arsenic may cause diseases related to the cardiovascular, pulmonary, immunological, neurological and endocrine systems in the body. Many of these health issues can be avoided if water is properly tested and treated for arsenic contamination.
The Trust's guide was first unveiled at the recent New England Private Drinking Well Symposium in Portsmouth, N.H. Robert Varney, US EPA Region 1 administrator, was among the many government officials and academic experts at the conference who discussed the need to educate property owners about the importance of testing their well water for contaminants.
The Trust is distributing the new arsenic guide at educational conferences around the country. Copies to purchase are available through the Trust's website at www.awgt.org. Agencies and water well professionals interested in distributing copies of the guide to their customers can purchase in bulk at a reduced price on AGWT's web site or can call (603) 228-5444.
Source: American Ground Water Trust