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Arsenic found in drinking water near Round, North Long lakes

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Several homeowners on Round and North Long lakes on Ojibwa Road discovered in January that their drinking water contains high levels of arsenic.

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Arsenic is odorless, tasteless and is known to be harmful to human health, depending on the chemical form, dosage and length of exposure.

AW Research Labs in Brainerd tested the wells of 11 homeowners in the area, and six of these showed levels of arsenic exceeding the federally established health limit of 10 parts per billion (ppb). Three wells tested showed levels of 15-25 ppb, while the other three fell within the 10-15 ppb range.

Laboratory director Sara Ahlers said that although arsenic testing of municipal water is mandated, existing private wells are not required to meet any federal standard, and it is up to individual homeowners to get their water tested and take measures to remove arsenic, if necessary.

State regulations now require arsenic testing for any new drinking water wells installed, and the test results must be presented to the well users before the well is in service.

One measure homeowners can take to remove arsenic from their drinking water is to install a reverse osmosis filtration system. Kelly Oppelt, office manager of Culligan Water Conditioning in Baxter, said customers should expect to pay $1,699 to install such a system. Brook Haas, president of Kinetico of Brainerd, said his company offers filtration system rentals for $30 per month and systems for purchase ranging from $1,000 to $3,000.

Ahlers said most homeowners on Ojibwa Road facing the high arsenic levels have taken steps to install these filtration systems. AW Research Labs is offering discounted testing to anyone living on Round and North Long lakes in light of these recent discoveries.

According to the most recent Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) data, about 10 percent of all wells in Minnesota exceed the federal standard, more than was previously recognized.

“Pretty much every town in our county (Crow Wing) has at least one spot that has high arsenic,” Ahlers said. “It depends on how deep your well is and where you are getting your water from.”

She noted that Merrifield in particular appears to have a high number of issues with arsenic contamination, and she encouraged homeowners in that area to test their wells.

MDH reports that an oral dose of 70,000 to 180,000 micrograms of inorganic arsenic, or about the weight of a few grains of rice, is deadly to most humans. Although this is a tiny amount, it is huge in comparison to the amount of arsenic typically present in groundwater, food, air and water.

On average, a person consumes about 50 micrograms of arsenic per day, mostly the less harmful organic form, from water and foods such as fish and rice. One microgram per liter is the same as one part per billion.

There is evidence that people who’ve consumed arsenic at levels of 100 ppb over an extended period of time can develop diabetes, nervous system problems, several circulatory diseases and high blood pressure. Studies have also linked long-term arsenic exposure to certain types of cancers, particularly of the lungs, bladder and liver. Evidence of health problems at even lower exposures, however, prompted the federal government to change the health limit from 50 ppb to 10 ppb in 2001.

Arsenic is a chemical element that is part of the earth’s crust and naturally occurs in soil and rock. According to MDH, arsenic can dissolve from the soil or rock into groundwater, and almost all sources of arsenic in well water in Minnesota are naturally occuring. Arsenic is present in the environment from human applications as well, including from its use in pesticides and treated wood products, although these uses are in decline because of the health concerns.

CHELSEY PERKINS can be reached at chelsey.perkins@pineandlakes.com. Follow her at facebook.com/PEJChelsey and on Twitter @PEJ_Chelsey.

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