The Problem of Arsenic in Well Water

In January 2006 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) implemented regulations to reduce acceptable levels of arsenic in public and well water drinking water systems. Private well owners, however, are largely on their own to test and assure the safety of their water since they are not regulated in the same manner. EPA studies show that arsenic levels from public water systems are not nearly as high as reported by some private well owners. Counties within the state of Virginia and Maryland may have different regulations as to what test individual or privately owned water drinking wells should go through.

Arsenic generally occurs naturally in most water sources and is odorless, colorless and tasteless. Arsenic is a toxic element. The negative health impacts of arsenic are well publicized. According to a 1999 study by the National Academy of Sciences, arsenic in drinking water causes bladderlung and skin cancer and may cause kidney and liver cancer. The study also found that arsenic harms the central and peripheral nervous systems, as well as heart and blood vessels, and causes serious skin problems. It also may cause birth defects and reproductive problems.

Arsenic has been detected in some well water of the Coastal Plain Province of Maryland at levels exceeding acceptable drinking water standards. Research conducted by the Maryland Geological Survey (MGS) confirmed the presence of detectable arsenic in drinking water wells located in CalvertCarolineDorchesterKentQueen Anne’sSt. Mary’s, and Talbot and Worcester counties.

Private well owners in known arsenic areas are encouraged to have their wells tested on an annual basis. Certified water testing labs are the best choice for accurate results. Arsenic levels can vary quite widely even over short periods within a year.

There are currently no Virginia State regulations that require existing private owners to install water treatment, construct a replacement well, or meet the drinking water standard for arsenic but there are counties within the state that do. However, where arsenic levels exceed safe drinking water standards, a deeper replacement well or water treatment system is recommended. When selecting a well water treatment unit, the effectiveness, cost efficiency, and maintenance requirements of the unit should also be considered. One technology that has a proven record of accomplishment amongst water dealers has been granular ferric oxide (GFO). GFO, also known as Bay oxide E-33, has successfully removed arsenic, including at sites listed above 100 ppb.

When deciding between a whole-house or a point-of-use treatment system, many well-owners choose the whole-house option, in large part because a GFO system treats all the water in a home for about the same cost as buying bottled water every day. Many homeowners feel more secure showering, bathing or brushing their teeth knowing that all the water in the home is arsenic free, even if it only comes in contact with the skin.

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