Is there arsenic in your water? Exposure from private wells may be significant
03/08/2019 // David Williams // Views

No matter where you are in the world, drinking water is essential to your survival. But while it has tremendous health benefits, water can also be a source of dangerous poisons. Many people are currently at risk of arsenic exposure with every single glass of water that they drink. But according to new research, there are ways to effectively get around this.

In a recent study that was conducted at the Mailman School of Public Health in Columbia University, researchers found that there was a significant reduction in exposure to arsenic in drinking water after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a new regulation on maximum levels of arsenic in 2006. According to the researchers, there was a decline of 17 percent in levels of urinary arsenic, which equates to a reduction of roughly more than 200 cases of bladder and lung disease every year.

However, the same study also found that there was no reduction in arsenic exposure rates among those who use private wells, which are not considered to be under federal regulation. This means that people who drink from these wells are still at a considerable risk of arsenic exposure, and it shows that federal drinking water regulations have a "critical role" in decreasing exposure and protecting human health, according to a report on the study.

Effects of regulation

According to Anne Nigra, ScM, from the Mailman School's Department of Environmental Health Sciences and the lead author of the study, the aforementioned EPA regulation was linked with a significant decrease in urinary arsenic concentrations. This was true for those who used the public water systems for their drinking water. Meanwhile, an estimated 45.5 million individuals are still "inadequately protected" against arsenic exposure, due to the costs of testing and treating contaminated water from private wells.


The researchers verified their findings by comparing data from more than 14,000 study participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for years 2003-2014. They tested for dimethylarsinate, which is said to be the main metabolite of inorganic arsenic in humans. At the same time, arsenic was also measured in spot urine samples that were collected from a random subsample aged six years and above. After other sources of arsenic such as diet and smoking were adjusted for, the researchers were able to gather and analyze their all data.

Next steps necessary

"The decline was strongest among Mexican-Americans and supports the recent infrastructure investments in many cities in the Southwest that focused on ensuring water arsenic below 10 ?g/L," explains Ana Navas-Acien, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the Mailman School, and co-author of the study. She believes that more state and federal initiatives will help to greatly improve the current situation, especially for residents of lower socioeconomic status.

The authors note that the reason why there was no change in the risk level for arsenic exposure among well-water users, and why an estimated 1.7 million Americans are still at risk of exposure above the maximum containment level, is because efforts to address arsenic levels in private wells actually vary between states. No state government requires homeowners to treat the matter seriously by installing treatment systems, so government initiatives are indeed critical.

Arsenic is a known carcinogenic which naturally occurs in drinking water, which is why the EPA issued a new regulation about its maximum containment level in the first place. There are cases where arsenic has been known to increase susceptibility to certain diseases, and even end up lowering IQ scores in children. So it's in the public's best interest to combat the menace that is arsenic exposure before it's too late.

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