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Arsenic Poisoning

Arsenic PoisoningI’ve recently noticed more news articles written about Arsenic poisoning, this time as a result of Arsenic contaminated water wells in the Fraser Valley. Every couple of years the arsenic subject hits the news, then once again it’s quiet.

I’m not a specialist in Arsenic poisoning but I do have experience with water wells and Arsenic contamination. You may be surprised to learn that Arsenic can be detected in groundwater but not always at excessive levels… from what we are told. We won’t question the experts on the subject of arsenic poisoning but making the assumption that your well water is safe based on expert opinion alone is probably rather foolish… all wells need to be tested from time to time. I’ll add a few links where you’ll find plenty of expert information on Arsenic poisoning and contamination.

Arsenic in water wells is a very important subject so I’ll try to keep it short in hopes that you read this entire article. Arsenic (As) is a chemical element, most often it’s naturally occurring in bedrock… Arsenic is also known to leach into water wells from other sources such as mining, agriculture, etc but my knowledge is limited in these known secondary sources of groundwater contamination. Arsenic is widely distributed all over the world, it’s found in the crust of the earth. Seldom would we think of the possibility of Arsenic consumption by means of the water that we are ingesting from our own well water. Instead Arsenic’s notoriety as a intoxicant is seemingly best exemplified by the fact that for centuries it had been the poison of choice for many homicidal and suicidal deaths.

How can Arsenic affect my health?

Inorganic Arsenic is a known human poison and has been since ancient times. Chronic Arsenic poisoning may occur after long-term exposure to lower levels of Arsenic or short-term exposure to very high levels of Arsenic, either which may cause symptoms of Arsenic poisoning. Exposure to Arsenic via drinking water as been shown to cause severe disease. Arsenic is a known carcinogen and can enter the body when ingesting Arsenic contaminated water.  Harvard University has conducted an extensive study on Arsenic contamination, Arsenic poisoning including the known symptoms of Arsenic poisoning. It seems that much of the study has been done in Bangladesh. Be prepared, the Harvard University Website is very graphic and quite disturbing.

Arsenic in Well Water

On November 18, 2007, the Surrey Leader from the Fraser Valley in British Columbia, Canada indicated that Arsenic levels in local private wells have risen, prompting the Regional Health Authority to issue a warning to homeowners using private water wells.

There was an extremely interesting Arsenic contamination discovery on Salt Spring Island in August 2000, the sudden discovery was quite devastating for some of the residents involved. For a short time I was involved in the Salt Spring Island situation, but continued to follow the case for 5 years. By experience over the years I’ve come to realize that all wells really need to be tested for Arsenic prior to use for human consumption. While acute Arsenic Poisoning may not be all that common in North America, low dose exposure may be much more common than anyone realizes. Over the past few years the Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines “Maximum Acceptable Limit” or EPA Drinking Water Standards have substantially decreased for acceptable Arsenic levels over the years. Arsenic is one of the many chemicals for which Health Canada and the EPA has set guidelines. A Maximum Acceptable Level for Arsenic has been established at 0.010 milligrams per liter.

The Problem as I See It ….

It seems that we are mostly focused on what is known as a “Potability Report” in the Real Estate Industry. A Potability Report (if just microbiology) is a basic report that really doesn’t offer much information at all… also it can easily be tampered with to manipulate results. Oftem all this report provides is a false sense of security…and it does so quite successfully.

You can’t possibly know if Arsenic contamination is an issue with a well or the well on a property that you may be about to purchase unless you are provided correct data. Without obtaining a complete water analysis how will you know if you and your family may be exposed to the potential risk of Arsenic poisoning resulting in exposure to low or high levels of Arsenic for perhaps a period of many years?

Yes, it does appear that Arsenic contamination issues do occur concentrated in specific areas… which is generally indicated in studies conducted by experts. I can’t comfortably agree with this, arsenic issues can be random… I’ve seen it a number of times. I also believe that neighbouring wells can cross contaminate!

Sometimes professional opinion on this topic may breed ignorance as not all areas or wells have been studied or tested, please do your homework… test the well! From my experience I’ve found that most wells have never had a comprehensive test done for most elements including Arsenic. Wells can be randomly contaminated, I’ve read many reports indicating excessive Arsenic levels without any history of contamination in the area of where the well is located.

Most wells won’t have excessive Arsenic levels but there will be some that do in some areas. As the maximum acceptable levels of Arsenic in Canada and the USA have been reduced over the years there will definitely be more wells that are not meeting Guidelines, in fact a well that has passed previously may not longer pass. Really important to test all wells, it’s also good to stagger the time of the year that you sample, the results may differ as well. If there is any concern test anually.

Let’s Take The Lid Off The Well!

Over the years I have worked with many excellent real estate agents over the years, many care deeply and are very knowlegeable with strict procedures when it comes to Real Estate and Water Wells. But sometimes we may also notice a less information is better attitude in the Real Estate Industry, it can be frustrating. We could give so much more information than what’s currently being offered regarding the water systems that people are purchasing. Many purchaser’s don’t care and that’s just the way it is, often things work out for them but not always. I am also aware that some vendors don’t care and would rather that the truth not be known when it comes to certain aspects of their property.

Generally though, most purchasers simply don’t realize that they’re missing some very important data and would certainly be concerned if they were more aware.  People simply don’t know to question what the state of their health may be after long term ingestion of contaminated water and there are many things that can lead health issues. Many of us have friends and relatives dealing with cancer and it may not occurred to us that their cancer could possibly be the result of long term Arsenic poisoning, if that is the case. We generally finally accept that it’s cancer… there is much that we do not know, possibly we need to think much more about our drinking water.

Purchasers are often lacking vital information, important and easily accessible data which could possibly make all difference somewhere down the road. What the Salt Spring Island families went through was absolutley criminal in my opinion.

Some Realtors insist that only a basic potability report is required for “their deal”… but sometime the message I am hearing loud and clear when I’m called on to do an inspection is “Don’t Rock The Boat, We Don’t Want to Find Any Problems!”

It seems to me that that there may be times when information is controlled or manipulated for obvious reasons, it was exactly what appeared to be the case on Salt Spring Island. Purchasers are often supplied the basic required data but often no more than what’s often absolutely necessary to get the deal through, I feel this is walking a bit of a fine line ethically.”

In fact back in August 2000, I had one developer also licensed as a Real Estate agent acting for his own company inform me that “A little Arsenic will never hurt anyone.” This was after I had discovered that he had sold quite a number of lots that were contaminated with high concentrations of Arsenic. That was was the response I received when he was confronted, you may be able to well imagine where I felt like running a pipeline of Arsenic laced water at that moment, at about 200 PSI! In this case, there were obviously no ethics in tact what-so-ever… thankfully most will never experience this, the 6:00 News had this guys mug shot all over Canada – NOT a good situation. Most real estate agents are good this painted a poor picture at the time. This simply appeared to be a case of fraudulent misrepresentation that indeed created great financial and emotional hardship for the plaintiffs (purchasers) involved.

Even after several years involving class action litigation and plenty of media attention on a relatively small island this person somehow managed to keep their license on the wall and may still be in business today.

Please allow me to clearly state that the defendant who was involved in the Arsenic Contamination case on Salt Spring Island, is not a reflection of the Real Estate industry as a whole, most Realtors are very up to speed with this information and will generally go beyond the call of duty to advise their clients accordingly.

I’ve located Arsenic contaminated private wells both on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, I’m sure there’s are plenty more of them out there but homeowners and purchasers may never know if they don’t start testing their wells regardless of location. It doesn’t matter where you live, if you’re drinking well water you should at least know the chemistry. Reselling a property with an Arsenic contaminated well may be a bit of an issue, would you knowingly purchase real estate with an Arsenic Contaminated well?…. exactly, that’s my point! Not many people will, so don’t be signing up to be the future vendor of one of these puppies without knowing what you are getting yourself into.

There’s plenty of good information available on Arsenic poisoning, research has also pointed out significantly higher standardized mortality ratios and cumulative mortality rates for various cancers.

It is not my intent to frighten anyone and perhaps Arsenic Poisoning may not be common but please don’t be passive on this subject, everyone really must consider testing their water well.


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