What is Arsenic?
Arsenic is a naturally occurring element. It is found in combination with either inorganic or organic substances to form many different compounds. Inorganic arsenic compounds are found in soils, sediments, and groundwater. (CDC)
How Are People Exposed to Arsenic?
People are most likely to be exposed to inorganic arsenic through drinking water. Secondly, to a lesser extent, through various foods. Other sources of inorganic arsenic exposure include contact with contaminated soil or in wood preserved with arsenic. (CDC)
Water sources in some areas of the United States have higher levels of arsenic than others.
Fun Fact: Even if the water in your area is below the EPA recommended 0.010 mg/L MCL of arsenic, your plumbing system may also play a role in the amount of arsenic you drink.
If you have iron pipes or iron components in your water distribution system, they may have arsenic-rich buildup (or “scales”) attached to them. As long as these scales are not disturbed, they will remain attached to the pipes. But, certain conditions (such as flushing of mains or fire flow conditions) may dislodge these scales, releasing the arsenic buildup into your water. Other conditions, such as changes in water chemistry, may result in some of the arsenic dissolving back into the water. Both of these situations could cause high arsenic levels at consumers’ taps. (EPA)
Health Effects of Arsenic Exposure
The ill effects of human exposure to arsenic have recently been reevaluated by government agencies around the world. This has led to a lowering of arsenic guidelines in drinking water.
Canada decreased the maximum allowable level from 50 to 25 μg/L and the U.S. from 50 to 10 μg/L (Kapaj).
- Skin, internal organ, and lung cancers
- Skin lesions
- Cardiovascular disease and neuropathy
- Hormone regulation suppression
- Miscarriages and low birth weight
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Arsenic Factsheet.” CDC. 7 Apr. 2017. https://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/pdf/Arsenic_FactSheet.pdf Accessed 14 Nov. 2019.
Environmental Protection Agency. “Arsenic and Your Distribution System.” Office of Water. EPA 816-F-07-005. Apr. 2007. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-09/documents/fs_arsenic_dist_sys_factsheet_final.pdf Accessed 14 Nov. 2019.
Kapaj, Simon, Hans Peterson, Karsten Liber and Prosun Bhattacharya. “Human Health Effects from Chronic Arsenic Poisoning – A Review.” Taylor and Francis Online, Journal of Environmental Science and Health, Part A, 41:10, p 2399-2428, 6 Feb. 2007. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10934520600873571 Accessed 15 Nov. 2019.