Arsenic Contamination

Read about the causes and effects of arsenic contamination of drinking water. If your water is from a private well, you should be particularly wary.

Water is an essential part of the existence of organic matter on planet earth. It plays a very important role in the survival activities of any organism. However, not all water is safe for drinking or consumption of human beings. This includes water that is not micro-biologically safe or water that has been contaminated by foreign and harmful substances. One of these substances is arsenic, whose effects and causes are discussed below.


Facts About Arsenic

  • Symbol: As; atomic weight: 74.92; atomic number: 33.
  • Can be found naturally occurring in soil.
  • It has been used as a poison since the middle ages.
  • Used to make insecticides and weed killers.
  • The element abundance of arsenic in the Earth’s crust is 1.8 parts per million by weight. Approximately a third of the arsenic found in the atmosphere comes from natural sources, such as volcanoes, but most of element comes from human activities, such as smelting, mining (especially copper mining), and release from coal-burning power plants. Deep water wells are commonly contaminated with arsenic. Source


How Does Arsenic Get Into Our Water Supply?

The contamination of drinking water by the arsenic compound can happen when it comes into the presence of a foreign water source. This could be ground water that has this compound in a high percentage. Parts of America actually have high levels of arsenic which occurs naturally in the soil. Contamination in this way is not unusual in well water supplies.  Contamination can also be achieved through exposure to air that has the arsenic compound present. This can dissolve into the water thus contaminating it.

These causes can happen in a variety of ways. Here are some of the most common ways:

  1. Pipes bursting

Ground water which is located near the pipes can enter them and mix with the drinking water causing arsenic contamination.

  1. Porous Pipes

Much of the United States’ water pipes are ageing. These old pipes are particularly prone to allowing the surrounding environment to influence their contents. The ground water may seep into the pipes and contaminate the drinking water with arsenic.

  1. Contaminated Tanks

This may be due to the dissolving of arsenic particles that are found in the air into the water. These tanks can either be those of the authorities or the public. Tanks should be regularly inspected to detect any leaks and also well covered to prevent arsenic poisoning.


Effects of Arsenic Poisoning


There are various types of effects that are brought about by arsenic poisoning. They include diarrhea, abdominal pain muscle cramping and at times vomiting. Arsenic poisoning can have serious effects such as cancers of the bladder and lungs, heart attacks, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, pulmonary infections, developmental effects to new born babies and pregnant mothers, neurotoxicity and  gangrene diseases which involve rotting away of body organs. Arsenic compounds can be highly poisonous when  ingested. Contact should be avoided at all costs.


Preventive Measures

As arsenic usually enters the water supply by leeching through soil, it is more common in well water supplies. By sourcing your water elsewhere you can minimize your risk of arsenic poisoning. Though you should completely remove yourself from water that is polluted with arsenic, washing and bathing in it is less hazardous than drinking it (but by no means safe).

A method of preventing arsenic poisoning would be the treatment using chemicals and machines to eliminate this compound from water. It should be noted that heating or boiling water will have absolutely no effect. If anything the arsenic levels may actually increase. Similarly, bleaching water with chlorine will not solve the problem. Water treatment methods like reverse osmosis, ultra-filtration, distillation, and ion exchange are the most effective weapons. Source

It is extremely important to have your water tested regularly, especially if it is from a well. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulations and rules regarding drinking water do not apply to private wells, so it’s imperative that you monitor your water source


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Further Sources

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Hi I'm Jamie, teacher and owner/chief contributor at We strive to bring you the most informative water filter reviews in the most intuitive and user friendly way. Besides offering advice on the water filter to suit your needs, we also post topical articles on water pollution and the environment. Stay connected and follow us on, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and more!

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