South Windsor participates in testing for arsenic, uranium in well water

By Brenda Sullivan - ReminderNews
South Windsor - posted Thu., Dec. 12, 2013
Contributed
The South Windsor Health Department recently put out a call to residents to participate in a statewide study coordinated by the Connecticut Department of Public Health to investigate reports of elevated levels of arsenic and uranium in well water. Courtesy photo. - Contributed Photo

Last month, the South Windsor Health Department put out a call to residents to participate in a statewide study being coordinated by the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) to investigate reports of elevated levels of arsenic and uranium in well water.
South Windsor’s Health Department was looking for 20 participants from a good cross-section of town, according to South Windsor Environmental Health Officer Sherry McGann.

Most South Windsor residents get their water supply via the MDC or Connecticut water, she said. About 1,000 residents have well water.

Town-supplied water is tested extensively, according to state requirements, including tests for arsenic and uranium, McGann said. However, the standard tests for residential wells don’t test for these potential contaminants, she said.

The town received a flood of calls after the request for participants was publicized, McGann said. As of last week, there were so many calls, the department upped its sample from 20 to 40 residents and still had to turn others away.

"Our goal is to collect phone numbers and property addresses and then map this information to make sure the testing represents a broad sample of the town geographically… we now have more than enough participants," McGann said.

The Connecticut DPH is conducting the statewide study because it has received a number of reports of elevated levels of arsenic and uranium, "from citizens and town health departments from across the state," said DPH supervising epidemiologist Brian Toal. The study will help map where the problems are occurring, he said.

Arsenic is a chemical element present in many minerals. "Arsenic and uranium are naturally present in the earth’s crust," Toal said. Sometimes, "if the water chemistry is correct, these materials can leach into the well water," from the bedrock, he said.

Both arsenic and uranium at elevated levels are considered toxic and can have a variety of adverse health effects.

According to federal standards, an acceptable level for arsenic in drinking water is 10 parts per billion (ppb) and for uranium, 30 ppb. The DPH has received reports of some water testing at 100 ppb for arsenic and 1,000 ppb for uranium, Toal said. (One "ppb" represents one microgram of a material per liter of water.)

Exposure to high levels of arsenic is linked to skin, lung and bladder cancer and organ damage and for children, delayed learning similar to that linked to lead poisoning, Toal said.

As for uranium, it’s not about radioactivity – as many people might think – but high levels are linked to kidney damage and other health hazards.

In South Windsor, town staff will collect water samples to ensure they comply with certain protocol. The state isn’t funding the town’s part of the study, but the bulk of the cost will be analyzing the samples, and that’s being done by the state, McGann said.

When the state completes its analyses, the results will be sent to the South Windsor Health Department and then forwarded to the participants, McGann said.

Anyone who called McGann about the test, even if they weren’t chosen to participate, was sent fact sheets about arsenic and uranium and certified labs that can test for these metals.

If samples from study participants indicate a problem, the property owner will be responsible for installing equipment to filter the contaminants. "There are a variety of fairly reasonably priced systems you can install for mitigation," McGann said.

Toal said it could take more than a year to analyze and map all samples, but towns may choose to release their results as soon as they’re received.

Fact sheets about well water testing are available on the South Windsor town website at http://www.southwindsor.org/pages/swindsorct_health/facts_page.

A public statement on the DPH website also contains links about arsenic and uranium contamination at http://www.ct.gov/dph/cwp/view.asp?Q=520840&A=4386. Or call the DPH line for questions about well water contamination, 860-509-7740.


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