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HEDLEY, BC: HEADS UP ON ARSENIC IN DRINKING WATER
The water runs clear as crystal from deep underground at Hedley, BC. The water is so clean in this former gold mining town that it needs no chlorination, yet there is something else in the water, odourless and tasteless, yet serious enough that at least one resident is looking for a solution, or a new place to call home.
Arsenic is found naturally all over the world, including the pyrite mineral deposits of interior British Columbia. According to information posted by BC Interior Health, natural minerals are the most common sources of arsenic in drinking water in British Columbia. Levels in the ground water sources are usually higher than measured levels in surface water. Hedley draws its water supply from the ground, and it does contain arsenic, albeit within target concentrations.
Trace amounts of arsenic transport into drinking water all over the British Columbia interior, and so, arsenic levels are carefully monitored. The maximum concentration of arsenic allowed in drinking water is 10 micrograms per litre, however, this level was established as a practical target for treatment, although health risks are real even at this level.
WaterToday spoke with a long-term local resident who did not wish to disclose his identity.
“After the first biological problems with the water were announced last year [do not consume order July 2018], I started buying bottled water”, said our source. The source claimed to have lived in Hedley for decades and had been drinking the town water over a lifetime. The source told WaterToday that he had developed a skin condition resembling psoriasis, affecting the lower portion of the legs. “I had this skin issue for months, then it cleared a week after I stopped drinking the [town] water.”
BC Interior Health advised WaterToday that the Do Not Consume order from July 2018 had been lifted. We noted water quality reports from Hedley Improvement District published online demonstrating the suitability of the water for public consumption.
Interior Health provided an emailed statement confirming that Hedley water is meeting the acceptable levels for consumption:
“There are no public notifications in place right now for Hedley Improvement District. Interior Health and Hedley Improvement District continue to monitor water potability. Safe tap water is vital to community health and wellbeing. If changes occur in the water potability, Hedley Improvement District will consult with Interior Health and inform water users immediately.”
Despite the lifting of the Do Not Consume order in Hedley, and Hedley water meeting all requirements, there remains the matter of arsenic, which even at levels considered safe, can still have health impacts over time.
Information on the BC Interior Health web site advises that drinking water containing arsenic can have serious short-term and long-term health effects.
Short to medium term (days to weeks) exposure to very high levels of arsenic in drinking water can lead to arsenic poisoning, the symptoms of which include stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea and impaired nerve function felt as burning, tingling, numbness in the extremities.
Arsenic can cause skin flushing and rashes, darkening of the skin, and wart-like or corn-like lesions most commonly appearing on palms of hands and soles of feet.
Directly quoting from Interior Health online: “Children are more susceptible to adverse reactions to arsenic in the drinking water, as they tend to drink more water for their body weight than adults. Caution should be exercised with children, when arsenic is detected in the water.”
Going on, “Long-term (years to decades) exposure to even relatively low amounts of arsenic in drinking water can increase your risk of developing certain cancers, including skin, lung, kidney, bladder, and liver.
The risk of cancer is the reason for developing the Canadian guideline for arsenic in drinking water. For more information on The Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality see, www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/publications/healthy-living/guidelines-canadian-drinking-water-quality-guideline-technical-document-arsenic.html.
Health Canada has set a Maximum Acceptable Concentration (MAC) of 10 micrograms per litre for arsenic in drinking water.
This level was set based on the practicality of treatment, in that it is possible to treat water to achieve this concentration, yet this amount is still linked with a health risk. The health department encourages people to “consider taking precautions with their drinking water even if the arsenic levels are slightly below the guideline.”
Responsibility lies with the owner of a water well, for testing arsenic levels. For more information, see HealthLinkBC File #05b Should I Get My Well Water Tested?
“Water with arsenic is only a concern if it is being used for drinking or preparing food. Exposure through breathing and skin contact is not harmful. For example, there are no known health effects from hand washing, bathing or washing clothing in water with arsenic.
If an initial test detects arsenic, even at levels below the guideline, it is important to have a second test done to confirm the results. If your water tests positive for arsenic above the recommended level, you should use another source for drinking water or treat the current source.
There are several treatment devices and options including reverse osmosis filters and distillation. Chlorination and mechanical filters do not remove arsenic from water. Boiling water may increase the concentration of arsenic.
There is no regulatory control over treatment devices for private homes, therefore the well owner must be careful and select an appropriate treatment device that has been certified for the removal of arsenic.
When purchasing a treatment device, you should consider one that has been certified by an organization accredited by the Standards Council of Canada (SCC). The treatment device should meet the following standards:
Certification assures that a device works as the manufacturer or distributor claims. Find an up-to-date list of accredited organizations by visiting Standards Council of Canada at www.scc.ca/en/accreditation/product-process-and-service-certification/directory-of-accredited-clients.
For more information on drinking water and treatment options, contact your local environmental health officer.”
- NSF/ANSI Standard 62 on drinking water distillation and adsorption systems; or
- Standard 58 on reverse osmosis drinking water treatment systems; or
- Standards 53 on drinking water treatment units – with specific designation for the water quality parameters you are trying to remove (arsenic).
For more information about arsenic and drinking water, visit:
B.C. Ministry of Environment - Arsenic in Groundwater
Health Canada - Arsenic in Drinking Water
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