Symptoms of Arsenic Poisoning and Removal of Arsenic from Water

Arsenic poisoning is more common than we think. It can occur as a result of drinking water containing arsenic. In one week recently I had calls from three different people all showing symptoms of arsenic poisoning.

One fellow is suffering a loss in mental agility (ie: he’s having trouble focusing and thinking) and has newly developed dark spots on his skin along with warts on his chest – all since moving to a new home with well water.

Two women are suffering from hair loss. One of these says all her female coworkers are experiencing the same thing. They’re on city water that contains arsenic. The other woman feels sick and has been seeing doctors for 8 months with no diagnosis. She’s on well water that contains arsenic.

All three have arsenic in their water – at levels below the maximum allowed by US EPA. Two are on private wells where water tests revealed the presence of arsenic and one is on public water.

Arsenic is colorless and tasteless. Arsenic is most often present when groundwater is the water source. It is naturally occurring in rock formations throughout the U.S. Locations and estimated concentrations are shown on this map by USGS:

The distribution of naturally ocurring arsenic in the United States

The distribution of naturally ocurring arsenic in the United States

The most likely public water systems to contain arsenic will use springs or groundwater (wells) as their primary water source. The arsenic is naturally occurring in the rock and dissolves into the water while the water resides in the ground. Another potential source in private well water is the treated lumber used to build fences or corrals. Treated lumber that you buy today no longer contains arsenic.

The current maximum level of arsenic allowed by US EPA regulations in public water supplies is 10 parts per billion (ppb or ug/L). Eventually this standard will be lowered to 3 ppb due to the health impacts of arsenic. When using EPA maximums as a guideline you have to be aware that these numbers are heavily influenced by politics. The level that EPA proposes is balanced against the cost to local governments of complying with the new standard. Therefore you should not assume that an EPA standard means the water is safe.

If you’d like to know if there is arsenic in your water you can find out by reviewing your local water report. If you’re on public water then you can usually find your local water report by googling the words ‘your city, state water quality report’. If that doesn’t work you can call the city, agency, or private utility that you pay for water. They are required by law to provide you with a water report. If arsenic is present it most likely will have been tested for and will therefore show up in the report. This isn’t always the case. I have uranium in my local spring and the local water company has never tested for it and doesn’t know it’s there.

If you have a private well you’ll have to pay for a water test, which is a good idea regardless. A comprehensive water test will provide you with the physical characteristics of your water as well as contaminants. A well water test can tell you whether your well water is safe to drink or if you should be treating it for specific contaminants.

Symptoms of arsenic poisoning include changes in the skin such as brown spots on your body or warts or lesions on your chest. Symptoms of arsenic poisoning can also include hair loss, tingling in your extremities, loss of mental acuity, and nausea. Arsenic affects enzyme reactions in the body and can therefore create a variety of symptoms in different individuals. Prolonged exposure to arsenic, even at low levels, can lead to cancer or diabetes.  Arsenic has been associated with heart disease, skin and bladder cancer, and even gangrene.

Arsenic can be reduced or removed by a kitchen filter that employs alumina oxide as one of the stages. This is the same treatment used for fluoride removal. Effectiveness will depend on water chemistry, competing ions, and flow rate. Arsenic removal from drinking water can be assured through the use of a custom reverse osmosis system that oxidizes the arsenic before it reaches the RO membrane. Whole house arsenic removal systems are also available, though quite expensive.

It has been my experience with a variety of contaminants that individuals who begin drinking appropriately filtered water will start to detox naturally. It is advisable of course to see your doctor or naturopath to seek medical advice on a diagnosis and corrective course of treatment. Whether you have arsenic in your drinking water or other contaminants the only way to learn which water filter is the best for your particular situation is to review your local water report or water test and then buy the filter that removes the contaminants in your water.

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About James McMahon

Studied ecology at the University of Illinois, mountain survival at Eastern Washing University, Deep Ecology at Naropa, River Ecology with The Nature Conservancy and Luna Leopold
This entry was posted in Best Water Filter, Exposure to Toxins, Healthy Drinking Water, Reverse Osmosis, Spring Water, Well Water Purification, Whole House Water Filtration and Purification. Bookmark the permalink.

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