Arsenic in Drinking Water and Private Wells

What is arsenic?

Arsenic is a semi-metal, a member of the nitrogen family. It occurs naturally in the earth and in the seas. It is odorless and tasteless. Arsenic is an element (As) that occurs in the earth’s crust-rock, soil, all natural sources of exposure, or can be traced to deep water brines used to produce oil and natural gas.    Consumption of food and water are the major sources of arsenic exposure for the majority of US citizens.  People may also be exposed from industrial sources, as arsenic is used in semiconductor manufacturing, petroleum refining, wood preservatives, animal feed additives, and herbicides.

Arsenic can combine with other elements to form inorganic and organic arsenicals. In general, inorganic derivatives are regarded as more toxic than the organic forms. While food contains both inorganic and organic arsenicals, primarily inorganic forms are present in water. Exposure to arsenic at high levels poses serious health effects as it is a known human carcinogen. In addition, it has been reported to affect the vascular system in humans and has been associated with the development of diabetes.

As compared to the Western part of the United States,  it is relatively rare  contaminant in Pennsylvania groundwater supplies.  A recent survey by the U.S Geological Survey (USGS) found that arsenic exceeded 5 ppb in 8% of wells in Pennsylvania.  Recent work in Northeastern Pennsylvania – Indicates that it that the occurrence may be slightly higher.

What are the symptoms of arsenic poisoning?

Observable symptoms of arsenic poisoning are: thickening and discoloration of the skin, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, numbness in hands and feet, partial paralysis, and blindness.

How does arsenic enter my private water system?

It is widely thought that naturally occurring arsenic dissolves out of certain rock formations when ground water levels drop significantly. Surface arsenic-related pollutants enter the ground water system by gradually moving with the flow of ground water from rains, melting of snow, etc. Either way, ongoing testing for arsenic is an important strategy by the private water system owner to safeguard the health and well being of their family.

Is my private well at risk?

Like many contaminants in drinking water, the element is potentially hazardous at levels or concentrations that do not impart a noticeable taste, odor, or appearance to the water.  Your best course of action is to get you water tested and compile as much information as possible about your water supply source, well construction, surrounding land-use, and local geology. If you do have an arsenic problem, there are water treatment technologies available now that can reduce or even remove arsenic from your drinking water.  Note: Do not just test your water for Arsenic because there may be other primary and secondary drinking water standards that are elevated or that may interfere with the proposed remediation system.

Learn More and Get the Water Tested


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Well Water Testing Common Well Water Problems – Based on over 20 Years Experience First Step Water Testing

Common Water Well Owners Problems- The Need for Well Water Testing

This website was development to provide a quick summary and reference related to some of the most common well water problems that are encountered or reported.

Problem 1 – I tested my water and it is Total Coliform Positive and I was told the water is not potable.  What do I do?  What treatment system do I need?  Is my family safe?

Have a professional or licensed well driller inspect the well and conduct a shock disinfection of the well and distribution system (add a high dose of chlorine to the water, recirculate, and then flush it out – but not into an on-site sewage treatment system. After the well and system have been flushed, the water should be immediately tested for total coliform bacteria.
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Problem 2 – My water is black and sometimes red or orange.  What toxic chemical causes this ?  Should I be buying bottled water??

Get the water tested – it is most likely iron and manganese. If you have never had the water tested, we would recommend a relatively comprehensive screening water test.   The color of the water will depend on the pH and form of the iron and manganese.  If the water enters the house clear and becomes discolored with time, the metals are dissolved in the water in a reduced form.  If the water enters the home slightly discolored and the color gets darker or deeper, it is probably a combination of reduced (dissolved) and oxidized (particle) form.   The solution will depend on the water testing results, but if you have an odor to the water or slime coatings the problem may also be caused by a slime or iron bacteria. Learn More at Iron/Manganese or Slime Bacteria.

Problem 3: My well water gets dirty after it rains and I get intermittent bacterial positive tests.

This could be a problem with the well casing, well construction, pitless adapter, or well cap.  The first action may be to inspect the well, change the well cap to a sanitary well cap, and conduct a shock disinfection.  If this does not correct the problem, you may need to inspect the well.  This would be a camera survey of the wellbore and you would want to check for problems related to the pitless adapter, welds on the casing, integrity of the steel casing, and the presence of cascading or intermittent water bearing zones just below the casing or driveshoe. 

Most Significant Problem
Improperly sited and constructed wells create a significant risk.  These wells short-circuit the natural flow of freshwater and in many cases can facilitate groundwater contamination.  The state of Pennsylvania and others need to create a program to fix private wells that make our Waters vulnerable to contamiantion. For PA – this was not caused by the wellowner, but caused by the lack of vision and proper regulations related to the siting and construction of private wells and permitting private wells to be installed in areas where available data suggested or indicated elevated levels of arsenic, iron, manganese, barium, and even saline water.  We need to act as a community to fix this problem and use funding to Fix Poorly Constructed Private Wells – Remember We ALL Live Downstream – Be Part of the Solution – Help Fix and Protect OUR Waters. (Oram, 2013)

Content of this webpage is copyrighted by B.F. Environmental Consultants Inc – Permission was granted to use this information to create this webpage.  The source of the information is the Private Well Owner Guide – Well Water Testing.


Website Provided for Educational Purpose.

Carbon County Groundwater Guardians is a 501(c)(3) IRS approved nonprofit, volunteer organization and your donation is tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.  We are trying to keep Well Water in Pennsylvania the Keystone State Clean, Healthy, and Safe.

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