Stateside
5:16 pm
Mon June 30, 2014

Interview: High levels of arsenic could be in your well water

Arsenic is a deadly poison, and there are people in Michigan getting arsenic at levels high above federal standards every time they drink the water coming from their taps.

Michigan Radio's "The Environment Report" is presenting a five-part series this week called "Michigan's Silent Poison," in partnership with The Center for Public Integrity and the public radio show "Reveal."

The Environment Report’s Rebecca Williams spoke on Stateside today, along with David Heath from the Center for Public Integrity.

“No organ system goes untouched by arsenic,” Williams said.

Extremely high doses of arsenic can kill you. Smaller doses have been linked to lung, bladder, skin, prostate, and liver cancers. You can also get arsenic poisoning with symptoms such as nausea, headaches, gastrointestinal pains, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Arsenic can be found in rice, apple juice, beer and wine, and drinking water. The levels are exceptionally high in private wells at people's homes, mostly in the thumb region of Michigan.

The reason for this is a formation called Marshall Sandstone that underlays a good portion of this region and beyond in Michigan.

Williams said the thumb region has the highest levels of arsenic, above 50 parts per billion – five times the federal standard. There are also areas with almost 20 times that amount. Arsenic can also be found in Washtenaw, Livingston, Oakland, and Ingham counties.

Arsenic mostly affects well water, but low levels that are accepted in municipals systems can also be harmful.

Columbia University did a study that showed children in Maine who have low levels of arsenic in their drinking water are scoring six points lower on IQ tests than those who do not have arsenic in their water.

Not every county in Michigan has the same regulations when it comes to testing well water for arsenic. Washtenaw and Livingston counties require homeowners to test the water when selling their homes. Lapeer and Genesee counties don’t have any requirements.

“There is a very different sense of importance based on who you talk to in which county,” Williams said.

*Listen to full interview above.