Arsenic from rocks, soil, pesticides, and industrial pollution can seep into U.S. drinking water supplies. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) originally limited the public water system maximum contaminant level to 50 parts per billion (ppb), but in 2006, the EPA’s Final Arsenic rule lowered the limit to 10 ppb. In New Jersey, it is even lower, 5 ppb. This is thought to have reduced the number of diagnosed cancer cases per year.
Even with these regulations, groundwater can still have unsafe levels of contaminants, such as arsenic. Higher levels of arsenic have been found in drinking wells located in 25 states around the country; this potentially exposes more than two million people to dangerous drinking water.
What Are the Dangers of Consuming Arsenic?
Arsenic is a naturally occurring compound, but when it gets distributed into the environment in high concentrations, it can be highly toxic. Those exposed over a long period of time can even develop arsenic poisoning. Contaminated water can be used to irrigate crops, prepare food, brush teeth, or it can be consumed right out of a glass, bottle, or cup.
Arsenic is used industrially as an alloying agent. It is also used as a wood preservative, in ammunition, and to process paper, glass, textiles, metal adhesives, and pigments. Lesser amounts are used in pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and feed additives. As for smokers, tobacco plants can absorb arsenic that is naturally present in soils.
Data from a U.S. Geological Survey (USGC) study has shown that some communities have higher arsenic levels. When concentration levels were compared, some communities in the Southwestern U.S. had water arsenic levels higher than 10 micrograms per liter. The study concluded that communities who do not have access to other water sources or water filters are more vulnerable to high levels of arsenic.
What Are the Symptoms of Arsenic Poisoning?
Inorganic arsenic is the most prevalent chemical contaminant in drinking water and is a confirmed carcinogen. Organic compounds, such as the ones found in seafood, are also harmful, but they are not as toxic. Immediate symptoms of acute poisoning include severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting, followed by muscle cramping, and numbness and tingling in the extremities.
Some of the initial symptoms of long-term arsenic exposure include hard patches on the soles of the feet and palms of the hands, skin lesions, and pigmentation changes. These can show up after about five years of exposure and can lead to skin cancer. Cancer of the lungs or bladder can also develop from arsenic exposure. Additionally, nursing mothers should be extra-vigilant about arsenic in their drinking water and food.
How Can I Test for Arsenic in Drinking Water?
New Jersey does have the 5-ppb arsenic concentration limit, but many people still worry if contaminated are in their drinking water. If you have concerns, you can get a water testing kit. In most cases, water that is sourced from municipalities is not concerning, but the plumbing and distributions systems can leech contaminants into drinking water supplies. Unlike some contaminants, arsenic is odorless, tasteless, and colorless, so it is undetectable to the naked eye.
It is estimated that 15 percent of U.S. residents get their water from private wells, so contaminants are a possibility. If you have a well, the EPA recommends testing it at least once a year. If you have recently replaced or repaired any parts, conduct additional tests.
Additionally, expectant mothers should test their water for contaminants, especially nitrate. This should be done in the early months of pregnancy, after bringing the baby home, and again during the next six months.
Some water testing kits can be sent to EPA-approved labs and are expensive, but they can test for all contaminants, including trace amounts of metals and toxic chemicals. You can also find home testing kits that offer instant confirmation of contaminants, such as arsenic and lead.
Aside from testing, many well-owners install treatment systems and point-of-use systems at sinks and refrigerators. You can also use water pitcher filters and buy bottled water.
If your water does test positive for unacceptable levels of arsenic or other contaminants, contact your township. If this does not help the situation, you might want to reach out to a lawyer who is well-versed in environmental law. A lawyer will be able to protect your rights and determine if you have legal options.
Warren Environmental Lawyers at Herold Law Understand the Effects of Water Contamination and Will Advocate for You
Everyone is entitled to have safe drinking water, and you should not have to worry about any contaminants. If you believe that your water is unsafe and is causing you harm due to a negligent party, our Warren environmental lawyers at Herold Law, P.A. can help. Complete our online form or call us at 908-679-5011 to schedule an initial consultation. We are located in Warren, New Jersey, and we serve clients throughout the surrounding areas, including Plainfield.