Arsenic in Drinking Water: Problems and Solutions

Arsenic in drinking water can be dangerous to your health, but there are several ways that can protect your home's water from this common water contaminant.
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arsenic in drinking water
Arsenic in drinking water can be dangerous to our health, but there are several ways to protect your home's water from this common water contaminant.
So what is arsenic and how does it get into our drinking water?
Let's dive in.

What is arsenic?

Arsenic is an element that exists in various forms. There is elemental (metallic) arsenic, which is when arsenic combines with oxygen, chlorine, sulfur (inorganic arsenic); or when it combines with carbon and hydrogen (organic arsenic). Generally, inorganic arsenic is more toxic than organic forms of arsenic.
This element is a natural component of the earth's crust. It can also be found throughout the environment in the air, water and land. In addition to existing naturally, arsenic is used for a variety of purposes within industry and agriculture.
Arsenic can be a byproduct of copper smelting, mining and coal burning. It can also be combined with other elements to make chemicals used to preserve wood and to kill insects on cotton and other agricultural crops.
And while arsenic can exist multiple places in our environment, most people know arsenic as the "king of poisons" because of its murderous past. It gained the name "king of poisons" in 18th century Europe.
And because you can't see, taste or smell this contaminant, it has a rather dangerous history. From the Roman Empire to the Renaissance, arsenic was the weapon of choice for aristocrats.
In fact, arsenic-contaminated beer resulted in over 6,000 poisonings and 71 deaths in northern England in 1900 alone.
While this age-old poison exists naturally and as an industrial and agricultural byproduct, arsenic is also one of the most common drinking water contaminants.

What are the potential problems with arsenic in drinking water?

Now that we've learned more about arsenic's murderous past, let's discuss the harmful effects arsenic in drinking water can have on our health.
Exposure to this harmful contaminant may cause:
  • Cancer in the skin, lungs and kidney
  • Skin changes, such as thickening and pigmentation
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms
  • Disturbances of cardiovascular and nervous system functions
  • Blackfoot disease (found in Taiwan)
  • Death
Additionally, consumption of arsenic is negatively associated with childhood cognitive development.
However, unlike in the 18th century, it's not singular, large doses that scientists worry about. It's consumption at low levels over long periods of time causing concern.
And while the EPA limits arsenic in drinking water to 0.01 parts per million (ppm), it doesn't ban it completely. On the other hand, scientists warn that even trace levels of arsenic can increase the risk of cancer and other disorders.
So now that we know about the potentially dangerous health effects of arsenic, where are you most likely to find arsenic in drinking water?

Where can you find arsenic in drinking water?

According to the World Health Organization, the greatest threat to public health from arsenic originates from contaminated groundwater.
Inorganic arsenic is naturally present at high levels in the groundwater of a number of countries. Such as Argentina, Bangladesh, Chile, China, India, Mexico and the United States.
So which states have the highest concentrations of arsenic in drinking water?
Essentially, there are high-arsenic wells in all 48 contiguous states. But it is more prevalent in some states than others.
Arsenic occurs naturally in water, soil and rocks in certain regions of the U.S. But activities like mining, industrial work, energy production and farming can also cause high levels of arsenic in nearby areas.
In the U.S., high concentrations of naturally occurring arsenic are more common in the West, Midwest, parts of Texas, and Northeast. However, arsenic in drinking water can be found almost anywhere.
And according to the CDC, over 15 million U.S. households rely on private, household wells for drinking water. Of those households, the U.S. Geological Survey and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 2.1 million people in the U.S. may be getting their drinking water from private domestic wells with high concentrations of arsenic.
But unlike public groundwater supplies regulated by the EPA, the Safe Drinking Water Act does not regulate these wells.
So if you're worried about your home's water supply, what can you do to ensure your home's water is safe?

How can you find out if you have arsenic in your water?

In order to find out if there's arsenic in your drinking water supply, the best place to start is water test.
At a minimum, your private well water should be tested annually. Both at the tap and source.
And shallow wells require more frequent testing. Because they are more susceptible to contamination.
But owning a private well does not mean that you are on your own. Your local health department can help in selecting the right tests for assessing your drinking water quality.
In addition to contacting your local health department, your local Culligan dealership is always happy to help.
Regardless of your drinking water source, it's important to remain informed about your home's water quality. Your local water expert is equipped to collect a water sample and send it to our EPA-certified lab for analysis.

How can you remove arsenic from drinking water?

As mentioned above, arsenic cannot be seen, smelled or tasted. The only way to detect this harmful contaminant in your water through testing.
In order to significantly reduce arsenic in drinking water, the best option is reverse osmosis.

Reverse Osmosis

So what does a Culligan® reverse osmosis system with a Total Defense Filter do? And how does it reduce harmful contaminants, like arsenic, in drinking water?
When thinking about the RO filtration process, it's helpful to break it down into four specific steps.
For the most part, all reverse osmosis systems have pre-filtration, reverse osmosis, drainage and storage stages.
First, pressurized water moves through a particle filter. This removes impurities like salt, sand and sediment.
Next, the water passes through an activated carbon filter. Which traps and removes minerals and contaminants such as chlorine, mercury, copper and pesticides. This is the pre-filtration stage.
After that, pressurized water forces its way through the semipermeable membrane. So that the smallest impurities become trapped and only water passes through. This is the reverse osmosis stage.
Finally, the discharge stage. In this stage, removed contaminants get flushed away. While the treated water moves to a storage tank.
And before the treated water reaches a faucet, it undergoes a final activated-carbon filtration. Therefore ensuring safer, better water for household use.

What contaminants does a Culligan Reverse Osmosis System with Total Defense reduce?

Most noteworthy, reverse osmosis significantly reduces the presence of lead in water. But a reverse osmosis system also reduces arsenic, mercury, chromium-6, turbidity, chlorine, cysts and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
In addition, Culligan's reverse osmosis drinking water system is certified to reduce every EPA-regulated contaminant. Which is more than 100 in total.
And out of the 27 most common water problems and contaminants, a Culligan reverse osmosis system with Total Defense Filter removes 26.
Which includes arsenic, chlorine, chloramines, bad taste/odor, barium, cadmium, calcium, copper, cryptosporidium, fluoride, giardia, hexavalent chromium, iron, lead, magnesium, mercury, MTBE (gas), nitrate, nitrite, radium 226/228, sediment, sodium, TDS (Total Dissolved Solids), TTHM (trihalomethanes), trivalent chromium, turbidity and VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds).


To summarize, there could be arsenic in your home's drinking water. However, your local Culligan water expert can test your water to find the best solution for your unique needs.