Low level arsenic may be a health concern

By Patric Hedlund

While the science and the politics are getting sorted out about a common contaminant in well water, it might be wise for some people in Cuddy Valley, Lockwood Valley and possibly Pine Mountain Club to consider using reverse osmosis filters at their taps.

A study released July 8 from the National Institutes of Health on low levels of arsenic in drinking water raised new concerns last week about national standards set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for clean drinking water.

The study showed that cancerous tumors appeared in experimental mice raised on drinking water containing 50 parts per billion (ppb) of arsenic, a relatively low dose. In fact, the EPA arsenic standard for clean drinking water was 50 ppb until 2001, but mice given much higher doses of arsenic showed only slightly more tumors. EPA’s standard for arsenic is now 10 ppb.

The July 8, 2014 experiment has not yet been replicated by other scientists, but it raises new questions.

“Although this is only one study, it adds to a growing body of evidence showing adverse health effects from very low exposures to arsenic, raising the possibility that no level of arsenic appears to be safe,” Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program, told the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), an investigative journalism service.

Public and private companies delivering water to communities must run tests monthly. But private wells are not required to be monitored as systematically. Private well water in Michigan and in California’s mountain regions often contain arsenic levels higher than 10 ppb—50 ppb is not uncommon.

Arsenic is tasteless and odorless. It often appears as a natural mineral in groundwater, or may enter the aquifer from industrial or agricultural chemical contamination (such as from herbicides containing MSMA).

Some local wells in the Mountain Communities have shown elevated arsenic levels. The Mil Potrero Mutual Water Company reported Saturday, July 5 at their annual meeting that one of their wells, No. 7, has an elevated arsenic level which is diluted down to between 7 and 8 ppb through blending with water from other wells before distribution.

The public has been advised in some Center for Disease Control publications to look into reverse osmosis filtration at the home tap to cleanse drinking water further. In an interview, Jesse Dhaliwal (with the California Department of Public Health) said Saturday, July 12 that he suggests that residents study the label of reverse osmosis filters carefully, to confirm the one they select is certified by the NSF (National Science Foundation) for removing arsenic effectively. In addition, homeowners must be careful to service their systems and change filters appropriately.

Water samples from taps and private wells can be analyzed for arsenic by a certified laboratory for under $100.

CPI traced how Congress (led by Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho) with lobbyists for companies selling weedkillers containing arsenic (such as MSMA) slowed the EPA’s ability to issue a more restrictive arsenic standard, setting back the effort by 8 years or more.

Operators of small community water systems say they would need subsidies to cover the expenses of meeting stricter standards, whether 3 ppb or zero.
Untested private wells are the major concern at this moment, CPI said in its reports.

Arsenic poisoning may be associated with lung and bladder cancer, breathing problems, heart ailments, skin lesions and lowering of IQ in children.
A urine test can reveal the presence of elevated arsenic levels in individuals.

This is part of the July 18, 2014 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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