- Personal Health Information & Self-Help
Arsenic Contaminated Drinking Water
A Major Problem
Arsenic is a carcinogen known to cause many kinds of cancers including skin, lung and bladder. It has also been linked to cardiovascular disease. Arsenic contamination has become a major problem in many parts of the world especially in our drinking water. Many have been slowly committing suicide for the better part of this century.
Arsenic is found more frequently in ground water supplies, especially when water levels drop below normal in certain areas. It is a semi-metal element in the periodic table. It is odorless and tasteless. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR,) “arsenic is a naturally occurring element, widely distributed in the earth's crust.”
It can be released into the environment through natural activities such as volcanic action, erosion of rocks and forest fires. About 90 % of industrial arsenic in the U.S. is used as a wood preservative. The rest is used in paints, dyes, metals, drugs, soaps and semi-conductors. Copper smelting, mining and coal burning are also contributors.
137 Million Affected
A recent 007 study revealed over 137 million people in more than 70 countries have been affected by arsenic poisoning of drinking water, including the United States. Arsenic can be found in food, water, tobacco, detergent, sea food and even beer. Some symptoms are headaches, confusion, drowsiness or convulsions. Vomiting, diarrhea, kidney, liver and lung problems can also occur, including death. Although the EPA regulates levels of arsenic in our public drinking water, it can sometimes slip through the cracks.
In 1928, Karl Vogel said, "It is an uncanny thought this lurking poison is everywhere about us, ready to gain unsuspected entrance to our bodies from the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe."
Some researchers conclude, even at low concentrations, arsenic contamination can still cause death. A study conducted in southeastern Michigan pointed to a relationship between moderate arsenic levels and 23 selected diseases. Exposure to arsenic can cause both short and long term health effects. Arsenic in drinking water may also adversely affect immune function. Short or acute effects can appear within hours or days. Long term exposure to arsenic has been linked to cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidneys, nasal passages, liver and prostate.
Most think water pollution is caused by man. True, but nature is responsible as well. Water incorporates minerals and other natural elements from its environment and becomes part of our water supply. Because it occurs naturally in the environment and as a by-product of some agricultural and industrial activities, it can enter drinking water through the ground or as runoff into surface water sources. If you own your well, you are responsible for testing it.
Of course, not everything in water is harmful. Calcium and magnesium-rich water, “hard water,” makes soaps and detergents less effective. However, trace amounts of such things as fluoride, iron, and copper, are actually beneficial. But at high concentrations even these can become dangerous. But there are some naturally occurring elements like cadmium and lead that are dangerous at even low concentrations.
High levels of arsenic in groundwater are often undetected until health problems begin to appear. Industrial uses have also added to the problem. There are many locations in the U.S. where groundwater contains arsenic concentrations in excess of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)standard of 10 parts per billion.
According to a recent study, millions of private wells have unknown arsenic levels, and in some areas of the U.S., over 20% of wells may contain unsafe levels. Arsenic contamination of ground water is found in many countries throughout the world, including the USA.
Some communities add fluoride to their water in small concentrations to protect teeth from decay and build bone strength. Yet, in high concentrations it can cause pitting of teeth, severe skeletal problems, anemia, stiff joints and fluorosis, a crippling condition.
Here are two things to make your water safe. You will need an arsenic test kit and a water-filtration system. Use the test kit to determine the level of arsenic in your water. Most test kits are relatively inexpensive and can provide results within 20 minutes. Purchase a water-filtration system specifically designed to remove or reduce arsenic. It may be a good idea to retest your water after it has been filtered. Many believe the EPA standards are too high.
If your job requires working around pesticides you are at risk of arsenic poisoning. Other hazardous jobs which place workers at risk are copper smelting, mining and metallurgical industries. Arsenic slowly accumulates in a body’s system over time. It is usually detected by hair analysis. Someone who suspects they may have arsenic poisoning should add lots of sulfur to their diet. Sulfur can remove some of the arsenic and can be found in eggs, onions, beans, legumes, and garlic. Or you may prefer it in tablet form. Fiber can also be helpful.
If arsenic is ingested accidently, immediately take 5 charcoal tablets every 15 minutes and report to an emergency room. It is advisable every first aid kit should be equipped with charcoal tablets for accidental poisonings.
If you are concerned about arsenic in a private well, visit: the following site: EPA's private drinking water wells web site