Arsenic in Drinking Water

Arsenic comes in different forms. It is a natural element found in rocks and soil. It can also come from human activities and is used in some consumer products. Every day you take in very small amounts of arsenic from air, water and food. Food, particularly seafood and fish, is usually the main source. But this form of arsenic is different than the arsenic in rocks and soil, and is not as harmful to your health.

Health Concerns: Is arsenic harmful to my health?

Health effects from drinking water with arsenic depend on two things:

  1. How much arsenic is in the water
  2. How many years you've been drinking the water

Drinking water with arsenic over a long period of time may cause an increased lifetime risk of bladder, lung or skin cancer. There also may be links to skin and cardiovascular diseases, diabetes or other cancers.

Source: How does arsenic get into my water?

Arsenic is a natural element found in some rocks and soils in Vermont and may get into groundwater. It can get into your drinking water if your well is drilled into or near bedrock containing arsenic.

Testing: How do I know if arsenic is in my water?

You cannot see, smell or taste arsenic. Testing is the only way to know if arsenic is in your drinking water. The Health Department recommends testing your private water source for arsenic every five years.

Levels of arsenic in drinking water are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the State of Vermont. The drinking water standard for arsenic is 0.010 mg/L (milligrams per liter). Public water systems in Vermont that provide water to cities, towns, communities, schools and workplaces must test on a set schedule and make sure the arsenic level is below this standard. 

Order a test kit for arsenic

Private well owners with arsenic levels at or above 0.010 mg/L should stop drinking the water and consider installing a treatment system to remove arsenic, drink bottled water instead, or get water from a known safe location.

Treatment Options: Can I remove or lower the levels of arsenic in my water?

Arsenic levels can be lowered in drinking water with treatment. Arsenic in water comes in two forms. Adsorptive filters and countertop distillation units remove both types. Re-test for arsenic after any treatment system is installed to make sure levels are below the drinking water standard.

Adsorptive Filters
As the water flows through the filter, arsenic sticks to the filter, which contains a type of granular iron oxide.

Countertop (plug-in) Distillation Units
These units boil water and then recondense the steam. The arsenic is left behind during this process, along with hardness and other minerals. These units can produce several gallons of arsenic-free water per day.

Some treatments require the water to go through an “oxidation” process first in order to change arsenic into a form that can be removed. Treatment system options for the second step are anion exchange, reverse osmosis and carbon block.

Anion Exchange Treatment
Anion exchange is a treatment like water softening, but uses a different media that exchanges the arsenic for chloride. This is installed as a whole house system (point-of-entry or POE).

Reverse Osmosis
This system uses a synthetic membrane that allows water to go through but leaves arsenic behind. The membrane is continually rinsed. This system is typically installed under a kitchen sink (point-of-use), but can also be installed POE system. Install a system with a National Sanitation Foundation (NSF/ANSI) Standard 58 Certification. Search for an NSF/ANSI-certified reverse osmosis treatment system

Carbon Block
This technology lowers total arsenic as the water passes through a solid carbon block. Install a carbon filtration system with an NSF/ANSI Standard 53 Certification. Search for an NSF/ANSI-certified carbon filtration system

Financial Assistance: Is there funding available to help me pay for my water system or treatment?

Vermont Wastewater and Potable Water Revolving Loan Fund
This program, also known as the On-site Loan Program, is available to certain Vermont residents for the repair or replacement of failed water supply and on-site wastewater systems. The On-site Loan Program is funded and administered by the Agency of Natural Resources, Department of Environmental Conservation with loan underwriting and servicing provided by the Opportunities Credit Union in Winooski. Your drinking water supply has to be a failed system and you must be living in the residence on a year-round basis to be eligible. The family income cannot exceed 200% of the state median household income. For more information about eligibility and how to apply, call 802-461-6051 or visit the website.

The NeighborWorks Alliance of Vermont
The NeighborWorks Alliance is made up of five local organizations offering full affordable housing services for income-eligible individuals. You may qualify for help from this program if you need money to install a water treatment system, drill a well, or repair or replace your septic system. For more information on eligibility, contact the local NeighborWorks HomeOwnership Center in your region.

Single Family Housing Repair Loans and Grants
This program offers loans and grants to existing homeowners for well construction, repair and sealing. It's administered by the Rural Development office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The program is for low-income families who live in a rural area or a community with a population of 25,000 or less. The family income cannot exceed 50% of the median county income. Individuals who are 62 years of age or older may qualify for a grant or a combination of a loan and grant. Younger applicants are eligible only for loans.

Burlington, South Burlington, Essex Junction, Winooski and parts of Colchester are ineligible for the program. Even if your property is in an eligible area, your eligibility is still subject to income limits. For more information or to find out if your property is in an eligible area, call 802-828-6022 or visit the website.