Connecticut health officials are suggesting that homeowners with private wells test their water for arsenic and uranium. Wells across the state have been found to contain dangerously high levels of those chemicals.
Arsenic and uranium are both naturally-occurring chemicals that are common in bedrock. So in rocky New England, they’re pretty common. At acceptable levels, they’re not a problem: that’s 10 parts per billion for arsenic and 30 parts per billion for uranium.
But state epidemiologist Brian Toal says lately he’s seen reports of arsenic at 40 parts per billion in private wells. And in some cases, uranium was found at more than 500 parts per billion. In the past, officials thought they were just isolated cases. Not anymore.
“This was more of a statewide problem than we had previously thought," Toal says.
Arsenic is also in the air and even in our food, especially seafood. But Toal says it’s more likely to be toxic in water.
“Arsenic in drinking water is a carcinogen. It increases risk of skin, lung and bladder cancer.”
Arsenic can also cause lesions on the skin and damage to the nervous and respiratory systems, among other problems. Experts know less about the effects of uranium, but Toal says it could affect kidney function. He says it’s relatively cheap to test for these chemicals in well water – he’s talked to labs who’ll charge less than $100 for both. And if the lab finds contamination at dangerous levels, there are filters available to fix the problem, though they could cost thousands of dollars.
The state estimates that 400,000 people in Connecticut get their water from private wells. Officials recommend testing for arsenic and uranium every five years, or when selling a house or drilling a new well.