Arsenic in Water, Consumer Products, and Pressure Treated Wood

People routinely take in very small amounts of arsenic from the air, from water, and from food. Of these, food is usually the largest contributor. This is generally due to the levels found in seafood and fish, but this form of arsenic is different than the arsenic stored in rocks and soil and is far less harmful.

Arsenic is a natural element found in some rocks and soil in Vermont. Drinking water wells located in these areas may produce water that contains arsenic. Arsenic is also used in some consumer products. Arsenic has no taste or smell. Water must be tested in order to know if arsenic present in your drinking water.

Both smelting and the burning of fossil fuels can release arsenic into the air, where it can be inhaled. Pressure treated wood can be a source of arsenic during sawing or sanding. Pesticides formerly used in orchards contained arsenic, and it still may be present in those soils.

Health Effects from Exposure to Arsenic

Drinking Water

Health effects from drinking water with arsenic depend on two things:
1) How much arsenic is in the water
2) How many years the water has been used for drinking

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.

Pressure Treated Wood

Chromated Copper Arsenate (CCA) is a chemical preservative comprised of arsenic, chromium, and copper. Health effects from exposure to the arsenic in CCA-treated wood depend on the concentration of arsenic present on the wood surface, the amount of time spent on the wood structure and any hand-to-mouth behavior during exposure.

Potential effects include stomach irritation, blood vessel damage, skin changes, and reduced nerve function. Long-term exposure to elevated levels of arsenic has been linked to skin, bladder, and lung cancer. Ongoing research is being conducted on other health effects.

For questions about disposal, call the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, Waste Management and Prevention Division at 802-828-1138.

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