New Hampshire is known as the “Live Free or Die” state and her residents have a strong independent streak. In fact, more than 40 percent of the population of the state are disconnected from the municipal water supply and rely on private wells to provide their homes with drinking water.
The Safe Water Drinking Act does not grant the EPA the authority to regulate or monitor private wells. As a result, unless the state or local authorities have enacted regulations, you as the homeowner are responsible for testing your well regularly, and if any contaminants are found, it is your responsibility to remedy contamination problems with a water treatment system.
One contaminant that can be present in untreated well water is arsenic, a Class 1 carcinogen and currently ranks number one on the Priority List of Hazardous Substances published by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. If you test and find contamination in your private well system, it can be treated. First, let’s examine what arsenic is and how to remedy the problem.
What is Arsenic?
A semi-metallic element that naturally occurs in rocks and soil, it is odorless and tasteless and can combine with other elements to form inorganic and organic arsenicals. As a general rule, chemical derivatives are more toxic than in its organic form. Exposure at high levels can cause serious health effects, especially in small children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems. It is a known carcinogen has been reported to affect the vascular system in humans and has been associated with the development of diabetes.
Arsenic enters the body primarily through the mouth and if inhaled can enter through the lungs into the bloodstream. Arsenic exposure through drinking water has been identified as a health concern in states where the bedrock contains unusually high concentrations. This water-borne arsenic exposure includes all of New Hampshire and parts of Massachusetts and Maine.
The primary source for arsenic occurring in drinking water is through leaching. As rainwater passes through arsenic-rich soil and dirt on its way from the surface to your aquifer, it is dissolved and carried. It can also be released by other natural processes including volcanoes and forest fires as well as by human actions. Paint, dyes, metals, drugs, soaps and semi-conductors all contain trace amounts. Man-made processes like agriculture and mining can also contribute.
The most important thing you can do as a homeowner if you live in a region of New England where arsenic may be present is to test your well annually. Work with a water professional to monitor and maintain the quality of your well and water supply. It’s an important responsibility as a private water system owner.
Arsenic Water Treatment
If after testing your well water you learn that you have arsenic in your well, it’s important not to panic. Treatment options are available that can completely remedy the problem. Treatment is available as both point-of-use systems (at a source like your kitchen faucet) as well as point-of-entry, or whole-house treatment units. Your water professional can help you to determine the level of contamination and the appropriate treatment options for your system.
Point-of-use systems such as reverse osmosis and distillation devices work to reduce arsenic levels. Pre-treating by running your water using oxidation or chlorination may be necessary to make these methods most useful. If you are concerned, point-of-entry systems, which pre-treat your water before it enters your home are also available. The best option is to have your water tested by a qualified water specialist. They can explain what options are available and the costs and maintenance associated with each system. Remember to test your water a second time after installing any system.