Fairfield well users urged to test for arsenic, uranium

Fairfield residents who use well water are being advised by the state Department of Public Health to test their well for arsenic and uranium. These metals are found in groundwater in sporadic locations across the state and can lead to adverse health effects, the department said.

“Recent well testing in various towns around Connecticut has found arsenic and uranium,” health department epidemiologist Brian Toal said in a press release. “While the distribution of contaminated wells has been sporadic, there have been enough findings statewide to prompt recommended testing for both metals in all Connecticut towns.”

A number of wells in Weston have been reported to contain higher than the amount suggested by the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA set the acceptable level of arsenic in water to 10 parts per billion, which is also the World Health Organization’s recommendation.

Two Weston women, Jessica Penna and Elle Wilson, suffered numerous health symptoms for years before learning that arsenic may have been the culprit. Their water contained more than double the EPA limit.

As of 2007, the United States has remained the world’s largest consumer of arsenic-based products, mostly for the production of pressure treated lumber, according to a report by the U.S. Geological Survey. Chromated copper arsenate, or CCA, is still used to treat this type of wood, which is used mostly for decks and other outdoors applications.

Approximately one metric ton of an arsenic-based compound is used annually as an additive to chicken feed, according to the geological survey. The toxic metal can also be found in discarded electronics, or “e-waste”, which includes used computers, televisions, circuit boards, relays and switches, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Such electronics were exported from the U.S. and may have become part of an uncontrolled hazardous waste stream in other countries and many of the people who disassemble these electronics for recycling may be exposed to arsenic or other toxic metals, according to a 2005 report in The Washington Post.

Wells should be tested at the time of sale of the home and also when a new well is drilled, the department stated. Wells should be tested again every five years. If levels are found to be higher than state or federal criteria, homeowners have a number of treatment options to lower levels of the metals. The cost for testing for both metals can range between $65 and $100, the department said.

“The only way to know if these metals are present in your private well is to have your well tested,” Toal said. “Since tests for arsenic and uranium are not usually part of a standard well analysis, homeowners will need to specifically ask labs to analyze for these metals.”

Arsenic and uranium are metals that occur naturally in bedrock. When groundwater comes in contact with the bedrock, the metals may leach out and contaminate private wells. Both metals are considered toxic and can have a variety of adverse health effects if people are exposed at high enough levels and for a long period of time.

Arsenic is classified as a human carcinogen, having been proved to lead to cancer, according to the EPA. It has been associated with increased risk of lung, bladder and skin cancers. The type of uranium found in groundwater is not considered a radioactive risk and is therefore not a major cancer concern, the health department said. However, the toxicity of the uranium metal has been associated with adverse effects on kidney function.

For more information, including specifics on testing and treatment recommendations, the health department recommends visiting the following sites (PDF files):

Arsenic in Private Drinking Water Wells
What You Need to Know About Uranium in Private Well Water
List of certified environmental laboratories

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