Arsenic In Water Wells in Northern and Central Massachusetts
Arsenic is a naturally occurring chemical present in soil and bedrock throughout New England, including in areas of Massachusetts. During a period of rain and snowmelt, as water percolates through the soil, it absorbs the chemical and carries it as it makes it way to underground aquifers that supply homes using private wells.
Arsenic contamination is typically found in bedrock aquifers in Massachusetts like those found in the central part of the state and in the Merrimack River Valley. Drinking water from bedrock wells also known as drilled or artesian wells, and from shallow or dug wells may contain arsenic.
Arsenic and Your Health
Arsenic has no smell, taste or color when dissolved in water, even at high levels. As a result, the only way to determine if arsenic is present in your water is to have it tested at a state certified testing laboratory. They will test your water to detect the presence and concentration of arsenic contamination.
If arsenic is present even in trace amounts it can negatively impact your health if ingested. Arsenic poisoning can result in both chronic (long-term) and acute (short-term) effects including:
Acute Effects of Arsenic Ingestion
• Cardiovascular effects
• Neurological effects like numbness or burning sensations in the hands or feet
• Decreased production of red and white blood cells leading to fatigue
Chronic Effects of Arsenic Ingestion
• Changes in skin color
• Skin thickening
• Small corn like growths on the hands and feet
Long-term exposure to arsenic has been shown to be a factor in the increased risk of serious health ailments including skin, bladder and lung cancer. There is also evidence that chronic exposure to arsenic can increase the risks of kidney and prostate cancers.
There are several factors that can determine the extent of health risk. These include:
• The concentration of level of arsenic present
• The amount of water you consume each day
• The length of time you have been consuming contaminated water
• Dietary intake (in the foods you eat) and...
• Individual sensitivity to arsenic.
The EPA sets the guidelines for contaminants in the water supply. These are stated as the maximum contaminant level or MCL. The MCL for arsenic 10 ug/L or 10 parts per billion. In 2001, the EPA reduced the MCL from 50 ppb to 10 on the basis of increased bladder and lung cancer risks. This means that long-term exposure to drinking water containing greater than 10 ppb of arsenic increases the chances of getting certain cancers.
If you test your water and it returns an arsenic level of greater than 10 ppb, you should consider getting water from another source, or installing a water treatment system. The higher the level of arsenic, the greater the long-term exposure risk, especially to children, pregnant women, the elderly and persons with compromised immune systems.
A recent US Geological Survey study found elevated levels of arsenic in some private wells in central and Northeastern Massachusetts. Researchers analyzed 478 private bedrock wells in 116 area cities and towns and found that 13% exceeded the Federal Drinking Water Standards for arsenic. Because private wells are not subject to the same regulatory practice as municipal water supplies, if you receive your water from a private well and live in central or Northeastern Massachusetts, you should have your well tested for arsenic.
Testing and Treatment Options
If you live in an area of Massachusetts that has naturally occurring arsenic, it's important to conduct annual testing on your well. You need to be aware of the fact that there are two varieties of arsenic that may be present, arsenic 3 and arsenic 5. This is important because arsenic 3 is very difficult to remove and must be oxidized to arsenic 5 before it can be removed. When testing your water, the lab can, for an additional cost, determine how much of each type is present in your water. Oxidants like chlorine bleach, hydrogen peroxide, or ozone can convert arsenic 3 to 5.
Treatment options are available to remove arsenic from your drinking water supply. Both point of use and whole house treatment is available. A point of use system is usually installed under the sink with a dedicated faucet that produces water for drinking and cooking purposes. A whole house system treats water as it enters your home and removes contaminants before the water enters your plumbing system.
Your well water professional can help you to arrange testing to determine the level and type of arsenic that may be present and can advise you of the treatment options available. Arsenic removal methods include Anion exchange systems, reverse osmosis (RO) systems and activated alumina and other types of absorptive filtration that remove arsenic as well as other contaminants from your water supply.
At Skillings and Sons, we help our clients with all aspects of their well water treatment. We can help to arrange to test, analyze and review the results with you and then recommend the perfect water treatment system to provide your family with clean, healthy drinking water. If you live in central or Northeastern Massachusetts or New Hampshire and believe you may have a water contamination problem, give us a call. We're always here and ready to help!