Arsenic taints a number of US water wells

February 9, 2015

People across the United States and parts of Canada are at risk of arsenic exposure, according to a series of scientific papers "to be published in February. The studies focus on naturally occurring sources of arsenic present in a large number of private wells across the country.

Geochemist Yan Zheng, an adjunct researcher at Columbia University's Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, who worked on the papers, stated, "Arsenic is the biggest public-health problem for water in the United States–it's the most toxic thing we drink. For some reason, we pay far less attention to it than we do to lesser problems." The report points out that the United States has only a few lax regulations regarding naturally-occurring arsenic, adding that owner inaction and a lack of measures to alleviate the problem all increase the severity of the issue.

Materials in the earth, such as rocks and sediments, often carry traces of arsenic in them. These are usually harmless, but in recent years geologists have witnessed an increase in arsenic enrichment in geological formations. The chemical and physical properties of such material enables arsenic to become mobile.

Certain chemical conditions allow rocks to react with groundwater, releasing the toxic element into wells and water sources. Private wells serve about 43 million Americans, and 6.8 percent of the tested wells violate federal standards of arsenic contamination. Experts estimate that about 3 million people are potentially at risk.

The research papers come on the heels of recent discoveries that even low amounts of exposure to arsenic can decrease childhood IQ, along with many other health risks. Environmental consultants can conduct groundwater assessments if your company owns wells, and aid in the development of effective strategies for federal compliance.