(NaturalNews) Private wells nationwide may be contaminated with dangerously high levels of arsenic, according to an analysis conducted by the Center for Public Integrity.
The center used 40 years of data from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), supplemented with extra data collected by the states of Texas and Minnesota, to create a map showing wells that tested above the limit set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The map can be viewed here:PublicIntegrity.org.
Poison targets entire body
Federal laws mandate that municipal water contain arsenic levels no higher than 10 parts per billion (ppb), equivalent to 10 micrograms per liter. No such federal or state protection exists for private wells, however. Instead, well owners are responsible for testing the water and treating it to remove any contaminants if necessary.
Although arsenic may enter surface or municipal water from industrial pollution, even wells deep underground can become contaminated if the rock around them happens to be high in arsenic, which is a naturally occurring element.
Many of the wells that tested high in arsenic were found in Michigan. According to USGS researcher Sheridan Haack, the highest levels were found in the region of the state knows as the Thumb. Some areas had "very high concentrations, greater than 100 micrograms per liter [100 ppb] or so."
Arsenic levels were high in wells across the entire state. Many wells across the Lower Peninsula had levels between 10 and 50 ppb, while the highest level was found in a Huron County well. That well tested at 220 ppb.
According to Michigan State records obtained by Michigan Radio, however, at least one well tested even higher than that.
The findings -- in Michigan and elsewhere -- are of major concern, as arsenic is a systemic poison that can act even at very low levels.
"To some extent, we're learning that no organ system goes untouched," said public health researcher Joseph Graziano of Columbia University. "There's neurotoxicity, there's cardiovascular disease, there's some evidence of diabetes, there's a whole suite of cancers: lung cancer, bladder cancer, skin cancer."
"We're seeing associations with lower and lower exposure levels," he said. "And so are we concerned about the levels that we see in the United States? Absolutely, yes."
Political deals place public at risk
Indeed, evidence continues to emerge that arsenic is dangerous even below the EPA-approved level of 10 ppb. For example, concentrations below 10 ppb have been linked to lower IQs in children.
When the EPA lowered the drinking water arsenic standard from 50 ppb in 2001, the agency originally wanted to set the new threshold at 5 ppb. However, water companies objected that it would cost too much money to reach that standard, so the more conservative level of 10 ppb was adopted instead.
More recently, politics have also interfered with an EPA investigation into the cancer risks of arsenic.
"[T]hey put out their draft and that's where they determined, that based on these new data, that arsenic - inorganic arsenic - is 17 times stronger as a carcinogen than they thought," said Michale Hansen, senior scientist for the Consumers Union.
Although the report was issued in 2008, it was never finalized. According to David Heath of the Center for Public Integrity, an investigation has revealed that a lobbyist for two companies that make arsenic-containing herbicides successfully persuaded Congressman Mike Simpson of Idaho to insert language into an appropriations bill to prevent the EPA from finalizing the report and taking action against those products.
Consumers concerned about the arsenic levels in their water -- whether well or municipal -- can test their water for less than $20. If high arsenic levels are detected, a reverse osmosis filter can remove the contaminant.