Arsenic in drinking water

Arsenic is an odorless and tasteless semi-metal drinking water contaminant that can enter drinking water through naturally occurring deposits or from agricultural and industrial runoff. The primary industrial use of arsenic is as a preservative for wood, while its agricultural applications usually involve fertilizers or large-scale animal feeding operations. Mining operations also contribute to arsenic dissemination into the ecosystem and water supplies.

The adverse health effects of arsenic in water when consumed by humans can manifest in both the short and long terms. Short term reactions can present within hours of consumption, while long term effects can present through chronic disorders over several months or years. Arsenic has been linked in humans to several physical ailments, including skin disorders, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, partial paralysis, and even blindness. It has also been linked to a wide range of cancers, including cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney and prostate.

The Environmental Protection Agency has set the limit for arsenic as a drinking water contaminant in potable water at .010 parts per million. This limit includes both the organic and the inorganic forms of arsenic present in a water supply. Around the world, it is estimated that over 100 million people are exposed daily to dangerously high amounts of arsenic in their water supply, with particularly prominent contamination occurring across Southeast Asia, including India, Myanmar and Bangladesh.

In the United States, several cleanups of arsenic outbreaks have occurred, including an event in South Minneapolis that resulted from wind-scattered arsenic blown from a pesticide plant. Cleanup began in 2004 and took over 5 years, covering over 700 residences. It is suspected that the contamination had occurred several decades before it was discovered in the local ecosystem.


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