health: Arsenic - How to test for it and keep it out of your water
Leon Moore, Environmental Health Supervisor
Arsenic is a naturally occurring element widely distributed in the earth's crust. It's also a documented human carcinogen and is associated with increased rates of bladder cancer.
Arsenic occurs naturally in some areas of the county and is the result of any man-made contamination. You can view arsenic level maps on the Washtenaw County Public Health website.
The most common way people are exposed to arsenic is through water used for drinking and cooking. People can also be exposed to arsenic by eating certain fish and seafood or by working with arsenic containing products.
However, drinking water poses the greatest public health threat, because arsenic is most toxic when it is ingested. The type of arsenic found in drinking water is also more harmful than that found in fish and seafood. Skin contact with arsenic is considered to be less of a health risk, so it is generally safe to shower, bathe and do laundry in water that contains arsenic.
The Washtenaw County Health Department now has arsenic testing data from drinking water wells at more than 7,000 homes in the county. Approximately 7 percent of homes have been testing over the U.S. Enironmental Protection Agency drinking water limit of 10 parts per billion (ppb) or less.
Most homeowners have been able to reduce their arsenic levels by installing arsenic removal devices, as the health department allows treatment to be used if the well tests less than 50 ppb. If a well tests over 50 ppb, a new well must be drilled.
Some homeowners have been utilizing reverse osmosis (RO) water treatment devices at their kitchen faucets, and data shows that these units have successfully removed 90 percent of the arsenic.
However, health department officials still recommend that homeowners who have installed these units test their water annually to ensure that their water treatment device is still working. Many homeowners who have arsenic treatment have not been testing their water and this is a concern as most of the treatment units need maintenance on regular basis.
Important to know:
Based on studies in other countries, long-term exposure to levels greater than 300 parts per billion (ppb) of arsenic has caused thickening and discoloration of the skin, stomach pain and nausea, and numbness in the hands and feet. If you feel that you are experiencing any health affects from arsenic exposure,please consult with your health care provider.
Sample bottles for test a well for arsenic are available at the county office, located at 705 N. Zeeb Road, at a cost of $17 per sample.
The Centers for Disease Control also has helpful information
Leon Moore welcomes any questions you may have about your water supply. You can contact him at 734-222-3848.