Arsenic in Our Drinking Water

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.

What are the possible health effects of arsenic in drinking water?

According to a 1999 study by the National Academy of Sciences, arsenic in drinking water causes bladder, lung and skin cancer, and may cause kidney and liver cancer. The study also found that arsenic harms the central and peripheral nervous systems, as well as heart and blood vessels, and causes serious skin problems. It also may cause birth defects and reproductive problems. The EPA states that “Non-cancer effects can include thickening and discoloration of the skin, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting; diarrhea; numbness in hands and feet; partial paralysis; and blindness. Arsenic has been linked to cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney, nasal passages, liver, and prostate”.

Does it occur often?

In a February 2000 report, NRDC (National Resource Defense Council) analyzed data compiled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on arsenic in drinking water in 25 states. Our most conservative estimates based on the data indicated that more than 34 million Americans were drinking tap water supplied by systems containing average levels of arsenic that posed unacceptable cancer risks. We consider it likely that as many as 56 million people in those 25 states were drinking water with arsenic at unsafe levels -- and that's just the 25 states that reported arsenic information to the EPA.

How does arsenic get into water supplies?

Most arsenic enters water supplies either from natural deposits in the earth or from industrial and agricultural pollution. Arsenic is a natural element of the earth's crust. It is used in industry and agriculture, and for other purposes. It also is a byproduct of copper smelting, mining and coal burning. U.S. industries release thousands of pounds of arsenic into the environment every year.

I drink bottled water -- do I have to worry about arsenic?

Bottled water is not necessarily any safer than tap water. Often, it is nothing more than tap water that may or may not have been filtered. For more on bottled water, see the findings of NRDC's 1999 report Bottled Water: Pure Drink or Pure Hype?

Can I buy a filter that will remove arsenic from my water?

Yes. Aqua Innovative Systems has filters certified by NSF International and the WQA Gold Seal of Approval to remove arsenic. It is critically important that all filters be maintained and replaced at least once a year.

Non-cancer effects can include thickening and discoloration of the skin, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting; diarrhea; numbness in hands and feet; partial paralysis; and blindness. Arsenic has been linked to cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney, nasal passages, liver, and prostate.