Arsenic Water Treatment

What is Arsenic?

Arsenic is an element that occurs naturally in soil and bedrock. Traces of arsenic can also be found in groundwater, lakes, rivers and ocean water. Some foods can also contain levels of the organic (non-toxic) form of arsenic.

High levels of inorganic arsenic, the more toxic form, have been found in over 1,200 private wells in Wisconsin. With the exception of Milwaukee county, arsenic levels in excess of 10 ppb have been found in all other counties in SE Wisconsin.

Arsenic Exposure

Since arsenic is a natural part of the environment, everyone is exposed to small amounts. The major source of arsenic exposure is drinking water that contains elevated levels of arsenic. Arsenic can be easily absorbed by drinking contaminated water or by breathing airborne particulates. Arsenic is not easily absorbed through the skin and does not evaporate from the water in to air.

Arsenic Testing

You cannot taste, smell or see arsenic. Testing is the only way to identify arsenic in drinking water. The current standard is a maximum contaminant level of 10 ppb. Arsenic levels below 100 ppb are typically considered safe to bathe in. Depending on the lab, total arsenic tests can now be turned around in approximately 7 business days beginning from the date the lab actually receives the sample.

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Water Treatment Options

  • Point of entry treatment – also known as whole house filtration with water softeners/conditioners.
  • Point of use treatment – reverse osmosis units that are attached to faucets/appliances, typically in the kitchen or bathroom.

How does arsenic get in to the drinking water?

Most of the arsenic found in Wisconsin groundwater is naturally occurring, deposited in the soil and bedrock over millions of years. Increased demand on the aquifer is believed to have exposed new areas of bedrock to oxygen resulting in chemical reactions that can release arsenic in to the water.

How can arsenic affect health?

The consumption of drinking water contaminated with arsenic has been associated with the following possible health effects: skin cancer, bladder cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, unusual skin pigmentation, numbness of hands/feet, circulatory disorders, tremors, nausea, diarrhea, diabetes, and depression.

Arsenic/Nitrate Testing Requirements

As of 10/1/14, all real estate transactions on a private well that require a well inspection will require that the water be tested for bacteria, nitrates and total arsenic. New construction projects are NOT subject to the arsenic and nitrate testing. However, if that new construction project is a model or spec home and the eventual sale takes place down the road and requires a well inspection, that property will then become subject to the arsenic and nitrate testing requirements.

The DNR has stated that “due to the chemical nature of arsenic in ground water, it must be recognized by all that arsenic levels can change with time. There is no such thing as an iron clad clean bill of health”.

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