Arsenic Poisoning and Wells

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Lately I've noticed more news article written on Arsenic poisoning, this time as a result of Arsenic contaminated water wells in the Fraser Valley. It seems every few years this subject hits the news, we then hear nothing further for awhile.

I'm certainly not a specialist in Arsenic poisoning but I do know a little bit about water wells and Arsenic contamination. Many people are quite surprised when I explain Arsenic can be detected in groundwater but generally not at excessive levels that could cause health concerns from what we are told. I'm not here to question the experts on the subject of arsenic poisoning but making the assumption that your well water is safe based on expert opinion alone is probably rather foolish... all wells need to be tested from time to time. I'll add a few links where you'll find plenty of expert information on Arsenic poisoning and contamination.

Arsenic in water wells is a very important subject so I'll try to keep it short in hopes that you read this entire article. Arsenic (As) is a chemical element, most often it's naturally occurring in bedrock... Arsenic is also known to leach into water wells from other sources such as mining, agriculture, etc but my knowledge is limited in these known secondary sources of groundwater contamination. Arsenic is widely distributed all over the world, it's found in the crust of the earth. Seldom would we think of the possibility of Arsenic consumption by means of the water that we are ingesting from our own well water. Instead Arsenic's notoriety as a intoxicant is seemingly best exemplified by the fact that for centuries it had been the poison of choice for many homicidal and suicidal deaths.

How can Arsenic affect my health?

Inorganic Arsenic is a known human poison and has been since ancient times. Chronic Arsenic poisoning may occur after long-term exposure to lower levels of Arsenic or short-term exposure to very high levels of Arsenic, either which may cause symptoms of Arsenic poisoning. Exposure to Arsenic via drinking water as been shown to cause severe disease. Arsenic is a known carcinogen and can enter the body when ingesting Arsenic contaminated water. Harvard University has conducted an extensive study on Arsenic contamination, Arsenic poisoning including the known symptoms of Arsenic poisoning. It seems that much of the study has taken place in Bangladesh. Be prepared, The Harvard University Website is very graphic and quite disturbing.

Arsenic in Well Water

On November 18, 2007, the Surrey Leader from the Fraser Valley indicated that Arsenic levels in local private wells have risen, prompting the Regional Health Authority to issue a warning to homeowners using private water wells.

There was an extremely interesting Arsenic contamination discovery on Salt Spring Island in August 2000, the sudden discovery was quite devastating for some of the residents involved. For a short time I was involved in the Salt Spring Island situation, but continued to follow the case for 5 years. By experience over the years I've come to realize that all wells really need to be tested for Arsenic prior to use for human consumption. While acute Arsenic Poisoning may not be all that common in Canada, low dose exposure may be much more common than anyone realizes. Over the past few years the Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines "Maximum Acceptable Limit" have substantially decreased for acceptable Arsenic levels. Arsenic is one of the many chemicals for which Health Canada has set guidelines. A new Arsenic guideline has been established at 0.010 milligrams per liter.

The Problem as I See It ....

It seems we are far too focused on what is known as a "Potability Report" in the Real Estate Industry. A Potability Report (if just micro) is a basic report that really isn't very informative at all... in fact it's a joke, it can easily be tampered with to manipulate results. Sometimes all this report provides to the general public is a false sense of security...and it does so quite successfully.

No one can know if Arsenic contamination is an issue with their well or the well on a property that they are about to purchase unless they are properly informed. Without running proper tests, they'll likely have no idea if their family is being exposed to the risk of potential Arsenic poisoning with possible exposure to low or high levels of Arsenic for perhaps a period of many years.

Yes,it does appear that Arsenic issues occur in concentrated areas... which is suggested in studies that have been conducted by experts. I don't feel that I can comfortably agree with this point of view, it can also be random... I've seen it. I also believe that wells may cross contaminate!

Perhaps our professional opinions on this matter may sometimes breed ignorance as not all areas or wells have been studied or tested, and people accept these opinions as the gospel. In fact from my experience I've found that most wells have never had comprehensive tests done for most elements including Arsenic. Wells can be randomly contaminated, I've read metal scan report indicating excessive Arsenic levels without any history of contamination in the area of where the well is located.

Most wells won't have an excessive Arsenic problem but there will be some that do. Also as the maximum acceptable levels of Arsenic in Canada and the USA have decreased over the years therefore there will definitely be more wells that are not meeting the Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines. The only time you should not be concerned is if you've had your water well tested for Arsenic, even if your well water test results look great at this time you might still consider periodic testing... perhaps annually if you'd really like to be diligent about this. I think that it's also good to stagger the time of the year that you do test, the results may differ as well.

Let's Take The Lid Off The Well!

Sometimes I notice a less information is better attitude in the Real Estate Industry, it's frustrating. We could give so much more information than what's currently being offered regarding the water systems that people are purchasing. I know that some purchaser's really don't care and that's just the way it is. I also know that some sellers don't care and would rather that the truth not be known when it comes to certain aspects of their property.

Generally though, most purchasers simply don't realize that they're missing a bunch of data and would certainly be concerned if they knew they should be. People simply don't know to question what the state of their health may be after long term ingestion of contaminated water. Many of us have friends and relatives dealing with cancer and it's never occurred to me that their cancer could be the result of long term Arsenic poisoning. We just generally accept that it's cancer... possibly we need to think more about our drinking water and cancer. It's time to start asking questions about the bill of goods that we are being sold. Perhaps we could make a difference for one just person by being a bit more aware, that's enough for me.

Purchasers are often lacking vital information, important and easily accessible data which could possibly make all difference in another person's life somewhere down the road. What the Salt Spring Island families went through was criminal in my opinion.

Some Realtors insist that only a basic potability report is required for "their deal"... but sometimes all I'm hearing loud and clear when I'm called on to do an inspection is "Don't Rock The Boat, We Don't Want to Find Any Problems."

It seems to me that that there may be times when information is controlled or manipulated for obvious reasons. Purchasers are supplied the basic required data but often no more than what's often absolutely necessary to get the deal through, this could perhaps be construed as a bit of a fine line ethically.

In fact back in August 2000, I had one developer/Realtor inform me that "A little Arsenic will never hurt anyone." After I had discovered that there had been quite a number of lots sold, which were laced with high concentrations of Arsenic. That was was the response I received when I confronted the person, I think you can well imagine where I felt like running a pipeline of Arsenic laced water at that moment, at about 100lbs PSI! In this case, there were obviously no ethics in tact what-so-ever. Sadly this appeared to be a shocking case of fraudulent misrepresentation that indeed created great financial and emotional hardship for the plaintiffs involved.

Even after several years involving class action litigation and plenty of media attention on a relatively small island this person somehow managed to keep their shingle on the wall and is still in business today... more on The Arsenic Stories later.

Please allow me to clearly state that the defendant who was involved in the Arsenic Contamination case on Salt Spring Island, is not a reflection of the Real Estate industry as a whole, most Realtors are very up to speed with this information and will generally go beyond the call of duty to advise their clients accordingly.

I've located Arsenic contaminated private wells both on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, I'm sure there's a few more of them out there but homeowners and purchasers may never know if they don't start testing their wells. It doesn't matter where you live, if you're drinking well water you should know what's in it. Reselling a property with an Arsenic contaminated well may be a bit of an issue, would you knowingly purchase real estate with an Arsenic Contaminated well?.... Exactly, that's my point! Not too many people would, so don't be signing up to be the future vendor of one of these puppies without knowing what you are getting into.

There's much information available on Arsenic poisoning, research has also pointed out significantly higher standardized mortality ratios and cumulative mortality rates for various cancers.

It is not my intent to frighten anyone and perhaps Arsenic Poisoning may not be common but please don't be passive on this subject, everyone should consider testing their water.

If you have any questions please feel free to Email Colleen

Harvard University / Arsenic Poisoning / Health Effects

CBC News Article

USGS National Analysis of Trace Elements

BC Water Stewardship Information Series

Health Canada Arsenic Guidelines

Colleen's Dehydration Tip:

Digestive Disorders - Dehydration reduces the secretion of digestive fluids. This can be the root cause of heartburn, gastritis, and ulcers.

Dr. Dave Carpenter

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