State: Test your wells for arsenic and uranium

Shelton residents who use well water are being advised by the state Department of Public Health (DPH) to test their well for arsenic and uranium.

These metals are found in groundwater in sporadic locations across the state and can lead to adverse health effects, according to DPH officials.

“Recent well testing in various towns around Connecticut has found arsenic and uranium,” DPH epidemiologist Brian Toal said in a press release. “While the distribution of contaminated wells has been sporadic, there have been enough findings statewide to prompt recommended testing for both metals in all Connecticut towns.”

Problems discovered in Weston

A number of wells in Weston have been reported to contain higher than the amount suggested by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA set the acceptable level of arsenic in water to 10 parts per billion, which is also the World Health Organization’s recommendation.

Two Weston women, Jessica Penna and Elle Wilson, suffered numerous health symptoms for years before learning that arsenic may have been the culprit. Their water contained more than double the EPA limit.

Local perspective

David Rogers, assistant director of the Naugatuck Valley Health District (NVHD), which covers Shelton and five other towns, said he doesn’t believe there are problems with high levels of arsenic and uranium in the agency’s service area.

As with radon, Rogers said, it appears that arsenic and uranium may be issues only in certain parts of the state, perhaps because of geological factors.

Shelton includes homes with private wells as well as homes that are served by public water (Aquarion).

The NVHD suggests that people with wells have bacterial geological tests done annually, but few people follow the recommendation, Rogers said.

He said tests are usually only performed for new construction because a permit is needed, if a house is sold (and then it’s an activity between two private parties, with the results being sent to NVHD), or if a complaint is received (possibly involving health or environmental issues).

Rogers noted that normal bacterial geological testing does not include checks for arsenic or uranium. “They are not part of the normal test,” he said.

The NVHD is the public health agency for Ansonia, Beacon Falls, Derby, Naugatuck, Seymour, and Shelton, serving 126,000 residents.

Causes of arsenic

As of 2007, the United States has remained the world’s largest consumer of arsenic-based products, mostly for the production of pressure-treated lumber, according to a report by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Chromated copper arsenate, or CCA, is still used to treat this type of wood, which is used mostly for commercial outdoor applications.

An arsenic-based compound is used as an additive to chicken feed, and the toxic metal can also be found in discarded electronics, such as used computers, televisions, circuit boards, relays, and switches.

When to test

Wells should be tested at the time of sale of the home, when a new well is drilled, and at least once every five years, according to DPH officials.

If levels are found to be higher than state or federal criteria, homeowners have a number of treatment options to lower levels of the metals. The cost for testing for both metals can range from $65 to $100, said DPH officials.

“The only way to know if these metals are present in your private well is to have your well tested,” Toal said. “Since tests for arsenic and uranium are not usually part of a standard well analysis, homeowners will need to specifically ask labs to analyze for these metals.”

Both metals found in bedrock

Arsenic and uranium are metals that occur naturally in bedrock. When groundwater comes in contact with the bedrock, the metals may leach out and contaminate private wells.

Both metals are considered toxic and can have a variety of adverse health effects if people are exposed at high enough levels and for a long period of time.

Arsenic is classified as a human carcinogen, having been proved to lead to cancer, according to the EPA. It has been associated with increased risk of lung, bladder and skin cancers.

The type of uranium found in groundwater is not considered a radioactive risk and is therefore not a major cancer concern, DPH officials said. However, the toxicity of the uranium metal has been associated with adverse effects on kidney function.