Connecting state and local government leaders

2M Americans Drink High Levels of Arsenic in Their Well Water

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

Private wells aren't regulated like public water systems in the U.S.

In patches all over the US, an ancient layer of sediment in the Earth’s crust is rich in arsenic, a chemical element toxic to humans. And some 2 million people drawing water from private wells in the US may be getting exposed to it in levels above the legal limit, according to research published Wednesday (Oct 18) in Environmental Science & Technology.

Private water wells are common in rural America, especially in places outside the reach of municipal water systems. Around 15% of the US population uses private wells (about 43 million people total), but they’re largely unregulated. Because they aren’t covered by the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act, private wells aren’t subject to the same government contamination tests that public water systems undergo. It is entirely up to the well owner to test their water for hazards, like arsenic.

Based on a detailed assessment of where US geology is likely to create high levels of naturally-occurring arsenic, and where private wells are located, scientists from the U. Geological Survey and Centers for Disease Control estimated that around 2 million people are probably drinking it at levels higher than the legal limit of 10 parts per billion.

In patches all over the US, an ancient layer of sediment in the Earth’s crust is rich in arsenic, a chemical element toxic to humans. And some 2 million people drawing water from private wells in the US may be getting exposed to it in levels above the legal limit, according to research published Wednesday (Oct 18) in Environmental Science & Technology.

Private water wells are common in rural America, especially in places outside the reach of municipal water systems. Around 15% of the US population uses private wells (about 43 million people total), but they’re largely unregulated. Because they aren’t covered by the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act, private wells aren’t subject to the same government contamination tests that public water systems undergo. It is entirely up to the well owner to test their water for hazards, like arsenic.

Based on a detailed assessment of where US geology is likely to create high levels of naturally-occurring arsenic, and where private wells are located, scientists from the U. Geological Survey and Centers for Disease Control estimated that around 2 million people are probably drinking it at levels higher than the legal limit of 10 parts per billion.

Arsenic can’t be removed from water with chlorine, or by boiling. The CDC recommends private well owners distill their water or treat it with a reverse-osmosis filter. Public water utilities have a range of options for treating their water for arsenic—from reverse osmosis to a process called “coagulation and filtration.”

Natural geologic formations aren’t the only source of arsenic in water; certain pesticides contain arsenic and the chemical is also a byproduct of coal-fired power plants. Under administrator Scott Pruitt, the EPA halted the implementation of an Obama-era rule in May that was meant to lower the levels of arsenic that power plants were allowed to dump in waterways, calling it “costly.”

Zoë Schlanger is an environment reporter at Quartz, where this article was originally published.

NEXT STORY Senators Reach a Deal to Save ACA Insurer Payments