News Feature | December 9, 2013

Arsenic-Laced Drinking Water In California Schools

By Sara Jerome


Thousands of students in California lack access to safe drinking water at school. The problem is arsenic, and it has been causing illness, according to the New York Times

"The baby with the runny nose, the infant with a stubborn cough — respiratory infections in small children, are a familiar family travail. Now scientists suspect that these ailments — and many others far more severe — may be linked in part to a toxic element common in drinking water," the report said, naming arsenic as the culprit.

The problem affects thousands of students, according to CaliforniaHealthline. New efforts are under way to filter water at schools. Groups including Community Water Center, which works on clean water issues, teamed up with water-filter companies to get new equipment into the schools. 

The EPA rule on arsenic in drinking water is set at ".010 parts per million (10 parts per billion) to protect consumers served by public water systems from the effects of long-term, chronic exposure to arsenic."

Some see the EPA's arsenic regulations as insufficient. "While municipal water suppliers are required to meet the [standard], no such regulations exist for private wells," the Times said. 

Arsenic in water is a fertile area of research. 

"At the request of the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Academy of Sciences has begun an intensive review of arsenic risks. The academy study group is chaired by Joseph Graziano, a professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University who researches the link between arsenic in drinking water and cognitive deficits in children," the New York Times report said. Here is a link to that research.

Much of the problem with getting rid of arsenic is cost. "It’s expensive to treat arsenic," the California Report said. Costs sometimes "spiral beyond what the community could manage."

Arsenic contamination has not always been on the radar in the U.S. "Researchers first became aware of these problems in so-called hot spot countries like Bangladesh, where arsenic levels in water can top 1 part per million," the Times said. "Only later did geological surveys reveal significant aquifer contamination from bedrock arsenic [in the states]"

For state-by-state data on arsenic in groundwater, check out the U.S. Geological Survey. 

For Arsenic 101, check out previous coverage on Water Online. 

Image credit: "no para beber (it's no fun to be in charge of the infrastructure)," © 2008 woodleywonderworks, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:

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