Arsenic is a semi-metal element in the periodic table. It is odorless and tasteless. It enters drinking water supplies from natural deposits in the earth or from agricultural and industrial practices. Winnebago County is part of the Arsenic Advisory Area in NE Wisconsin, as identified by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Arsenic is an element that occurs naturally in soil, bedrock, groundwater and ocean water. Ocean fish and seafood naturally have high levels of an organic non-toxic form of arsenic. High levels of inorganic arsenic , the most toxic form, have been found in hundreds of private drinking water wells in Wisconsin. Most of the impacted wells are located in Outagamie, Winnebago, and Brown Counties where bedrock is naturally high in arsenic.
The arsenic found in Wisconsin is naturally occurring, deposited in the bedrock layers millions of years ago. The arsenic from the bedrock is being released into the groundwater and drawn into wells. Experts know that increased water demands have lowered the water table which has allowed oxygen to get into the aquifer, creating chemical reactions that release arsenic into the water.
Long term exposure to high levels of arsenic is know to increase the risk of skin, bladder, lung, liver, colon, and kidney cancer. Other health effects may include blood vessel damage, high blood pressure, nerve damage, anemia, stomach upsets, diabetes, and skin changes. Consult your physician if you have any health problems that you think may be caused by arsenic exposure.
Your health risks are determined by the following factors:
The federal drinking water standard for arsenic in public water supplies was recently lowered from 50 ppb to 10 ppb. It is recommended that people stop using their water for drinking or food preparation if arsenic is found above 10 ppb (parts per billion). Because your well doesn't serve the public, there are no state or federal requirements that you stop using your water, regardless of the arsenic level. Whether or not to continue using your water is a personal decision that you will make based on the health risks and other factors such as cost and convenience.
You cannot smell, taste or see arsenic in your private well water. The only way to know if your drinking water contains arsenic, is to have a water sample from your private well tested by a certified laboratory.
What about bathing/showering or other uses?
Unless your arsenic level is over 50 ppb, showering, bathing, and other household uses are safe. Arsenic is not easily absorbed through intact skin and does not evaporate into the air.
How can I reduce my exposure to arsenic?
There are a number of ways that you can reduce your exposure to arsenic. Each of these methods has advantages and disadvantages, but all are intended to provide your family with a safe water supply.