Is there Arsenic in Your Water?

May 14th, 2014

Is There Arsenic in Your Water?

mono lake sunrise

Mono Lake in California is believed to house a living organism that carries arsenic in its DNA.

Image via Dhilung Kirat (Flickr)

If you look at the list of ingredients on the box of rat poisoning you have in your garage, you’ll see that it contains arsenic. That can of ant spray? Arsenic. The wood preservative for your deck and patio furniture? Arsenic. You’re not supposed to consume pesticides; you’re not supposed to inhale the wood preservative. Clearly, arsenic is a toxic material. So why is it sometimes in our water? Let me answer the questions I am asked frequently about arsenic in your water supply.

Q: What exactly is arsenic?

A: Scientifically speaking, arsenic is classified as a semi-metal chemical element. Its chemical symbol is As, and its atomic number is 33. You’ll find arsenic naturally in minerals that also contain sulfur and metals.

Q: Will I smell arsenic if it is in my water supply?

A: No. Arsenic does not emit any odor, nor does it have taste. You will not smell or taste arsenic if it is lurking in your water supply.

Q: How does arsenic get into my water supply?

A: As with many of the “baddies” that end up in our water, arsenic is primarily an agricultural and industrial run-off pollutant. It is also naturally found in many of the earth’s mineral deposits.

Q: If arsenic is so dangerous, why do these industries use it?

A: That might just be the million-dollar question, and it’s one that I continually fail to understand every time I answer it. The agricultural industry uses pesticides containing arsenic on our foods; industry uses arsenic in the manufacturing of dyes, metals, paints, pharmaceuticals, semiconductors, soaps, and, as I already mentioned, wood preservation.

Q: Are there any other industries that release arsenic into the environment?

A: Unfortunately, yes, there are. The mining industry and the metals industry both release arsenic into our environment.

Q: Well, if all of these industries and applications use arsenic, it can’t be that bad for me… can it?

A: The EPA has set regulations for what it considers safe amounts of arsenic in your water supply, and their maximum contaminant level goal for arsenic is zero! In other words, the federal agency doesn’t want to see any arsenic in our water, and the reason why is because of arsenic’s health-related risks.

Yes, arsenic is that bad for you. Excess amounts of arsenic in your water can cause skin damage. Arsenic also interferes with the health of your circulatory system, and, yes, it causes the biggie: cancer.

Your risk for any of these conditions is increased exponentially if your drinking water contains more than that maximum contaminant level of 0.010mg/L or 0.010 parts per million. I, however, am a proponent of the EPA’s zero goal and strive to ensure that there is no arsenic in the water that enters my home.

Q: Okay, it is that bad. Are there any water supplies at greater risk than others for arsenic?

A: Good question! If you live in a highly agricultural or industrial area, you might be at greater risk for arsenic in your water supply. If you use well water, you might also have a greater risk of arsenic finding its way into your water supply. Honestly, however, to a limited degree, everyone is at risk.

Q: Okay, now I’m just getting scared! How can I tell if there is arsenic in my home’s water?

A: There’s no need to be frightened. If you are getting your water through your local water authority, it is required by law to test your water regularly for arsenic and other baddies. Should your water become tainted above the EPA’s maximum level, your municipality must notify you within 30 days and provide an alternate source of safe water.

People running water into their homes from wells should also be conducting regular arsenic testing. Generally, your local health department or water municipality has information and test kits available for you to ensure that your water is at safe EPA-designated levels.

Q: Well, I’m not comfortable with any arsenic in my water at all, and if my water authority is only required to remove it to a certain extent, how can I make sure the rest is removed? It isn’t going to do it!

A: No, chances are it isn’t, and that is why I stress and re-stress the importance of properly filtering any water coming into your home; this includes your bath, shower, and laundry taps. When shopping for a water filtration system and filters, make certain you purchase ones that specify arsenic removal. Generally, these filters effectively reduce arsenic levels in your water by adsorption media, coagulation and/or oxidation filtration, or ion exchange. All of these methods are EPA-approved ways to remove excess arsenic from your water.


Written By: Lynn Taylor

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