Arsenic — Is This Colorless, Tasteless Toxin in Your Water? : Guest Author Jim McMahon

Tuesday Sep 11 | BY |
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Could that water your drinking be poisoning you?

Recently, I’ve received a large number of calls from people with symptoms of arsenic poisoning.

One fellow is suffering a loss in mental agility, a fancy way of saying he’s having trouble focusing and thinking, and has newly developed dark spots on his skin along with warts on his chest—all since moving to a new home.

Two women are suffering from hair loss. One says all her female coworkers are experiencing the same thing. The other feels sick and has been seeing doctors for 8 months with no diagnosis.

These are all symptoms of arsenic poisoning. All three of these people have arsenic in their water, at levels below the maximum allowed by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Two are on private wells where water tests revealed the presence of arsenic and one is on public water. Water tests revealed the presence of arsenic in each case.

Arsenic is colorless and tasteless. It’s most often present when groundwater is the water source. It is naturally occurring in rock formations throughout the U.S. Locations and estimated concentrations are shown on this map by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS):

Standards Don’t Mean Safe
Arsenic can exist in private wells or in public water supplies. The most likely public water systems to contain arsenic will use springs or groundwater (wells) as their primary water source. The arsenic is naturally occurring in the rock and dissolves into the water while the water resides in the ground. Another potential source in private well water is the treated lumber used to build fences or corrals. Treated lumber that you buy today no longer contains arsenic.

The current maximum level of arsenic allowed by EPA regulations in public water supplies is 10 parts per billion (ppb or ug/L). It is my opinion that eventually, this standard will be lowered to 3 ppb. When using EPA maximums as a guideline, you have to be aware that these numbers are heavily influenced by politics. The level the EPA proposes is balanced against the cost to local governments of complying with the new standard. Therefore, you should not assume that an EPA standard means the water is safe.

How Can You Tell?
If you’d like to know if there is arsenic in your water, you can find out by reviewing a water test. If you’re on public water, you can usually find your local water report by googling the words “your city, state water quality report.” If that doesn’t work, you can call the city, agency, or private utility that you pay for water. They are required by law to provide you with a water report.

If arsenic is present, it most likely will have been tested for and will therefore show up in the report. This isn’t always the case, however. I have uranium in my local spring, and the local water company has never tested for it and doesn’t know it’s there.

If you have a private well, you’ll have to pay for a water test, which is a good idea regardless. A comprehensive water test will provide you with the physical characteristics of your water as well as contaminants.

When You May Have Arsenic Poisoning
Symptoms of arsenic poisoning can include hair loss, tingling in your extremities, loss of mental acuity, and nausea. Prolonged exposure to arsenic, even at low levels, can lead to cancer or diabetes. Arsenic affects enzyme reactions in the body and can therefore create a variety of symptoms in different individuals. Most common are changes in the skin, such as brown pigmentation, warts, or lesions. Arsenic has been associated with heart disease, skin and bladder cancer, and even gangrene.

Arsenic can be removed by a filter system that employs alumina oxide as one of the stages. This is the same treatment used for fluoride removal. Effectiveness will depend on water chemistry, competing ions, and flow rate. Arsenic removal can be assured through the use of a custom reverse osmosis system that oxidizes the arsenic before it reaches the RO membrane.

It has been my experience with a variety of contaminants that individuals who start drinking appropriately filtered water will start to detox naturally. Of course, it’s best to see your doctor or naturopath to seek medical advice on a diagnosis and corrective course of treatment.

Jim McMahon

Jim McMahon

Jim McMahon is an ecologist and owner of Sweetwater LLC. Jim sells water tests and water purification systems to people throughout the country who wish to experience healthy water in their homes. Jim’s unique approach to healthy water is to speak to every potential customer, review their water report with them, discuss their needs and recommend a water filter or water purification system that will achieve their goals. Jim will review your local water report with you or sell you a well water test and then make a recommendation on how to best treat your water to achieve optimal health.

For articles on a variety of topics related to water, visit Jim’s blog at Best Water Purification.


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  1. Jules says:

    I can only afford a carbon water filter. Is this at least reducing arsenic?

  2. Hi Jules – First you have to know if there is arsenic in your water in the first place but I would say no. While a carbon filter might incidentally reduce arsenic it is the wrong type of filter to remove arsenic.

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