Mention arsenic and most of us think of poison. Arsenic is actually a naturally occurring metal found in soil and bedrock. It is also used extensively as a wood preservative and is in some paints, dyes, drugs, soaps, and even agricultural products. Because of its versatility, arsenic ends up in industrial discharges and agricultural runoff into streams, rivers, and groundwater around the world. 1
Like other “heavy metals” that share similar properties – including lead, mercury, thallium, cadmium, and, in some instances, copper, zinc, and chromium – arsenic can pose a serious health hazard when found in drinking water at levels above one part per billion. To give you some idea of just how small that is it equates to one drop of water in an Olympic-size pool. 2 Undetected, that small amount can cause a long list of illnesses ranging from cancer and neurological disorders to heart disease and birth defects. 3
What are the chances arsenic could be a problem for you? Higher than you think, considering that a third of the world’s countries – including the U.S. – have chronically high levels of arsenic in drinking water. 4 Earlier this year, for example, a U.S. coal ash dump leaked arsenic and other toxic compounds into the Dan River, which flows through Virginia and North Carolina. River water was deemed unusable for fishing, drinking, recreational, and agricultural purposes, costing the region untold millions in lost revenue and clean-up charges. The full medical impact of that arsenic exposure incident, however, may not be known for decades. 5
One thing is certain: over 100 million people are exposed to potentially toxic levels of arsenic and other heavy metals around the world every day. To prevent a potential health disaster public water supplies and private wells need to be monitored regularly. That process relies on the expertise of companies like PerkinElmer. As an undisputed leader in environmental and human health science, PerkinElmer provides a full range of scientific instrumentation – including the NexION ICP-MS, Optima ICP-OES, and PinAAcle AA – that are part of the gold standard in testing for trace metals and much more in drinking water.
Basic Information about Arsenic in Drinking Water, United States Environmental Protection Agency.
Adverse Health Effects of Heavy Metals in Children, World Health Organization. See also, FAQs: Arsenic in Private Well Water, Massachusetts Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
Remediation of heavy metals in drinking water and wastewater treatment systems: Processes and applications, Academia.edu
Arsenic Poisoning in Bangladesh, Oman Medical Journal.
Arsenic levels in Dan River exceeded safe standards, N.C. says, Los Angeles Times.