Any residents relying on well water should consider having their water tested.
Municipal water systems are required to meet all federal safe levels of chemicals like arsenic, however, residents using a well to provide water for their home are responsible for their own water safety.
Locally, there tends to be higher than safe levels of arsenic in residential well water.
The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) suggests testing for this chemical. Arsenic is a naturally occurring chemical element that dissolves in groundwater and cannot be seen or tasted in water.
There are two types of arsenic — organic and inorganic. Organic arsenic exists in the food we eat. It’s much less harmful than inorganic arsenic.
Inorganic arsenic is more harmful and tends to come from groundwater. It’s safe to bathe in this water, but harmful effects can come from drinking it. Whether there is harm from arsenic depends on the amount and length of exposure and individual sensitivity to it.
EGLE reports that the way arsenic affects human bodies is not fully understood. However, long-term exposure to low levels
of inorganic arsenic could cause cancer, thickening and discoloration of the skin, high blood pressure, heart disease, nerve effects such as numbness or pain and “interference with important cell functions.”
The Oakland County Health Division reports additional symptoms such as headaches, weakness, abnormal heart rhythm and stomach pain.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set a maximum arsenic level of .010 parts per million or 10 parts per billion.
If your water tests higher than this, EGLE suggests not drinking or cooking with it.
The intersection of Genesee, Livingston and Oakland counties, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), tends to have higher arsenic content.
To have your water tested, call (517) 335-8184 for any county. You can also call the Genesee County Health Department at (810) 257-3603 for suggestions.
Livingston County residents are referred to local labs for testing, such as Water Tech located in Howell, which can be reached at (517) 548-2505.
Local water quality businesses such as Douglas Water Conditioning or Beauchamp Water Treatment and Supply also will test for water quality at no charge.
Test kits are also available from local retailers for approximately $30.
To rid your drinking water of arsenic, a reverse osmosis system is used. These can be bought from retailers for approximately $200 and more. Suppliers will sell or rent systems, but these systems tend to be closer to $900. Sometimes payment or rental options are available.
The problem with “off the shelf” systems is they cannot remove arsenic 3 from drinking water. Other systems oxidize arsenic 3 into arsenic 5 so it can then be removed. According to mass.gov, a certain lab test is required to discern which type one has. Most tests just quantify arsenic content overall.
According to the Genesee County Health Department (GCHD), anyone who recently drilled a new well should also test for coliform, a naturally occurring, but possibly harmful bacteria.
GCHD Director Jim Henry said it’s also important to make sure the well cap is on and intact to keep the water safe from chemicals and insects.
Other items to test for include nitrates, fluoride and lead.
Douglas Water Conditioning co-owners Ron Steward and Jason Tiefenback suggest that anyone, even residents on municipal water, get their water tested for lead due to lead solder or supply lines.