Arsenic in Well Water
Many Minnesotans are surprised to learn that they have arsenic in their drinking water. Despite its reputation as a deadly poison, arsenic is like any toxic substance: its effects depend on how much and how long people are exposed to it.
How does arsenic get into drinking water?
Arsenic is a part of the earth’s crust and occurs naturally in some soil and rock. Arsenic from soil and rock can leach into groundwater. Groundwater is the primary source of drinking water for much of Minnesota. Almost all arsenic in drinking water is from these underground deposits of naturally occurring arsenic. Human activities can contribute to arsenic levels in drinking water, as well as in soil and air. Mining and manufacturing can displace arsenic from its original location; however, these sources are not considered a concern in Minnesota.
How can arsenic affect health?
The health effects of arsenic depend on its chemical form, how much is in the water, how much water people drink, and for how long. In nature, pure arsenic is rare. It is usually combined with other elements to form “compounds.” Arsenic combined with compounds containing carbon is called “organic arsenic.” When arsenic combines with other elements, such as oxygen, chlorine, or sulfur, it is called “inorganic arsenic.” Arsenic in soil, rock, and water is often inorganic. Usually, organic forms of arsenic are less harmful than inorganic forms.
Should I test my private well for arsenic?
Yes. Arsenic over the recommended safe level has been detected in groundwater in some private wells in Shorewood. Arsenic in water has no taste or odor, so the only way to know if drinking water contains arsenic is to have it tested. While private well owners are not required to test for arsenic, the MDH recommends that every well should be tested for arsenic at least once or twice. If arsenic is detected at levels in excess of 10 µg/L in water from a well used for drinking and cooking, and if repeat sampling confirms the results, the MDH recommends that you use an alternate source of drinking water or install a treatment system to reduce arsenic levels in the water. MDH has a list of recommendations to keep your well water safe.
Private well owners must arrange and pay for testing their well water for arsenic, which typically costs about $35. Contact Minnesota Department of Health for a list of MDH certified Environmental Contract Laboratories.
What if there is arsenic?
There are several options if your well tests over the recommended limit for arsenic. You can install a reverse osmosis filtration system, dig a new well; connect to City water where available; or use bottled water. For more information on these options, go to www.health.state.mn.us and type well water in the search engine.
Where can I get more information or help?
If you have any questions about wells or well water quality, contact your the Well Management Section Central Office or by telephone at 651.201.4600.
Minnesota Department of Health