Tag Archives: Arsenic Contamination

10/25/2011 Indian Country Today: Arsenic in Indian Water Tables Can Cause Diabetes, Other Illnesses

10/25/2011 Indian Country Today: Arsenic in Indian Water Tables Can Cause Diabetes, Other Illnesses By Terri Hansen: Arsenic, even for a poison, is one nasty brew. Long-term ingestion of the metallic substance can result in thickening and discoloration of the skin, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, numbness in hands and feet, partial paralysis and blindness. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies inorganic arsenic as a Group A agent, a human carcinogen and, since the 1990s, exposure to it has been linked to an increased risk of diabetes mellitus.

New findings by a group of scientists add support for the theory that there is a link between arsenic and diabetes. Two coauthors of those studies are on an expert panel of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Toxicology Program investigating the link between environmental chemicals and diabetes and obesity. “Our panel of experts, who met last January, concluded there is sufficient evidence to link high arsenic exposure in drinking water to diabetes,” says the study’s principal investigator, Miroslav Stýblo, a biochemist and an associate professor in the department of nutrition, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “With low levels, there is significant uncertainty. Our data also suggests that if you have a certain genetic makeup you are at higher risk.” Stýblo says typical exposure rates in the U.S. are lower than those in most studies that found an association with diabetes.

Arsenic occurs naturally in bedrock and soil, and is released through natural activities like volcanic action. Ninety percent of industrial arsenic in the U.S. is used as a wood preservative. Mining, smelting and agriculture also contribute to arsenic releases. To protect consumers of public water systems from the effects of long-term, chronic exposure to arsenic the EPA lowered the arsenic standard for drinking water from 50 parts per billion to 10 ppb in 2001.

Stýblo and eight other scientists studied populations in the Zimapán and Lagunera regions in Mexico to determine whether exposure to arsenic in drinking water is correlated with an increased prevalence of diabetes. Their research was published in the August issue of the journal Environmental Health, and is “very relevant” for the Native American population, says study coauthor Dana Loomis, Associate Director, Cancer Prevention & Control at the Eppley Cancer Institute, University of Nebraska Medical Center, in Omaha. “Most American Indians are living in the western U.S. It’s in that part of the country that elevated areas of arsenic exposures are found. It’s incorporated into the bedrock geology. Because of the way desert water systems work, the concentrations can be enhanced, especially in arid parts of the West.”

Arizona, Utah, Nevada and California in particular are worrisome areas for arsenic contamination. Another report adds Washington and Alaska to the list.

The Navajo Nation has more than 250,000 federally recognized members living on its sprawling 27,000-square-mile reservation on parts of northeastern Arizona, southeastern Utah and northwestern New Mexico. Water supplies that do not meet U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act standards, particularly in the rural and remote areas of the reservation are of heightened concern. “There are some high contents of arsenic known on the Navajo Nation,” says George Breit, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Denver, and one of the world’s leading experts on arsenic contamination in groundwater. He cites a study of the area of Hopi Buttes (Tsezhin Bii) that reported several rock samples with more than 100 parts per million.

Breit says all earth materials contain some arsenic; whether it can be transferred to water depends on the reactivity of its binding phase when placed in a different environment. “There are four general environments in which arsenic is present in sufficient concentrations in groundwater to be of concern,” he says. “The Navajo Nation has environments in which all four of these mechanisms may exist.”

The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) is the only provider of drinking water for the reservation that meets the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act. Although the utility is extending its system, unregulated water is still the only water source for one quarter of the homes on the reservation. When the Diné Environmental Institute of the Diné College and the University of Nevada, Reno tested unregulated water supplies in 2008, they found that levels of arsenic and other contaminants including uranium exceeded the EPA Maximum Contaminant Levels. For the past four summers the Diné Environmental Institute has tested water supplies in the eastern region of the Navajo Nation. “We typically test water in the livestock wells because a lot of people are still not hooked up to water supplies,” says Diné College science department faculty chair Barbara Klein. “Even though the wells might not be potable, [people] end up drinking from [them].”

The teachers and students choose an area and test livestock wells, artesian wells and springs. “We typically test for bacteria,” Klein says. “Samples are sent for testing for heavy metals. We pay most attention to arsenic and uranium.” She says they’ve found dangerously high levels of uranium in areas where there are a lot of reclaimed and unreclaimed uranium mines.

When the EPA, Indian Health Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), NTUA and Navajo representatives formed the Navajo Access Workgroup to undertake a 2010 project to map the water infrastructure, their results indicated a funding need for a “Shiprock to Sweetwater” project that would address the problem of high arsenic levels in the source water of 1,001 homes.

Water safety is the focus of Forgotten People, a community development corporation on the Navajo Nation. Program director Marsha Monestersky says their advocacy resulted in the Navajo Nation issuing a Declaration of Public Health State of Emergency in the Black Falls/Box Springs (Arizona) region in the southern portion of the western agency of the Navajo Nation in January of 2010. “We have the EPA test results and the data that show all the water sources in [that region] exceed EPA standards for arsenic and uranium,” she says. Their organization received an Environmental Excellence award from the Navajo Nation EPA in 2009, and a $20,000 environmental justice grant from the U.S. EPA that same year. “Our job is really hard because a lot of people we’re working with have cancer, and there’s a lot of diabetes,” Monestersky says. “Every time they build a dialysis center it can’t accommodate all the patients [because] the need is so great.”

Arsenic is a concern elsewhere. The Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation in Arizona objected to the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Program two years ago in part because the subsequent new mining would expose the tribal community to “abundant deposits of…poisonous arsenic.”

Arsenic got top billing on the Tohono O’odham Nation’s (TON) list of environmental health threats in their Comprehensive Cancer Prevention and Control Plan: 2010-2015 sponsored by the CDC. “All Americans,” said TON’s Environment and Cancer Committee in the report, “including the O’odham are entitled to clean water under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Whether arsenic is linked to illness or cancer is not as critical as the fact that low-level chronic exposure to the human body is not a healthy thing.”

At the time of the report arsenic concentrations in their water ranged from trace amounts to 1,000 ppb. At least 23 of their communities have water with elevated levels of arsenic, and 17 of their 35 public water systems have arsenic levels from 10 ppb up to 32 ppb, above the EPA standard for arsenic but considered low compared to other areas in Arizona. Their report also cites an earlier study linking arsenic exposure through drinking water with a higher prevalence of type 2 diabetes.

TON’s pilot arsenic treatment using iron-oxide adsorption reduced arsenic at a public water system from 33 ppb to less than 1 ppb. TON’s report recommends the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the CDC use their public health authority to ensure funding. They claim that since their report was issued they’ve resolved much of the problem.

In Alaska, some of their high arsenic levels occur naturally, and some are produced by military and mining operations, says Pamela Miller, executive director for the Alaska Community Action on Toxics. “At Kivalina’s Red Dog Mine, there is concern that emissions from the mining operations are transmitted atmospherically,” Miller says. “Fish have elevated levels of arsenic in their muscle and liver. A study found that levels found in fish were higher in Alaska than in California. We’re concerned about the levels of arsenic in groundwater, but we also recognize arsenic can be transported in the air, and deposited in waters and taken in by sea creatures important to tribal subsistence.”

Regardless of the arsenic link to diabetes, Stýblo says that the number-one reason for the diabetes epidemic is U.S. is obesity. “I think it’s fair to say exposures in the U.S. are lower than most studies found to be associated with diabetes. If arsenic contributes, it’s relatively minor. It is possible that arsenic may work with obesogens, but obesity remains the number-one explanation.” Obesogens are environmental contaminants that promote obesity. Diabetogens promote diabetes. Arsenic does not seem to promote obesity, but acts as a direct diabetogen, Stýblo says. Other organic and inorganic compounds are also thought to cause diabetes. “Most of them seem to promote obesity first; diabetes is a secondary effect, i.e. resulting from obesity.”

Although the arsenic levels are low for many people in the U.S., Stýblo says it is still a significant issue, “because we have tens of millions people worldwide who are exposed to high arsenic levels, so it’s still affecting a very large number of people. Arsenic is known as a carcinogen; it’s only recently that people like us became interested in its toxicology.”

Loomis agrees, “Even a minor cause is important when large numbers of people are exposed to it.”

10/5/2011 Gallup Independent: Hopi, Navajo discuss water contamination

10/5/2011 Hopi, Navajo discuss water contamination By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau, Gallup Independent: KYKOTSMOVI – Navajos living on Hopi Partitioned Land who signed the 75-year Accommodation Agreement met recently with Hopi tribal officials, members of the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to discuss contaminated water issues and the need for windmill repairs on HPL. In response to water contamination, the Hopi Tribe’s Office of Range Management capped several water wells and fenced off windmills as a public safety measure, including some used by trespassing Navajos who have not signed the agreements to reside on HPL, Louella Nahsonhoya, public information officer for the Hopi Tribe, said.

“The safety of anyone on Hopi land, not just Navajo and Hopi people, is of utmost importance to us,” Clayton Honyumptewa, director of Hopi Department of Natural Resources, said. “The capping of water wells on the HPL was due to the fact that they were contaminated with uranium and arsenic, an obvious threat to anyone who was to drink it.”

Honyumptewa said Hopi’s windmill crew will actively work to repair broken or malfunctioning windmills on HPL. “We continue to work in keeping the lands, water wells and windmills as originally intended and urge those whose lands are being infringed upon to notify us of any wrongdoings and repairs needed.”

Navajo families who signed the Accommodation Agreement legally reside on HPL with grazing permits recognized by the Hopi Tribe.

“Many of the issues they’re having on not only HPL, but the Navajo Partitioned Lands, are because Navajos who have not signed the Accommodation Agreement are illegally trespassing, cutting fences and bringing in their own livestock in the middle of the night,” Hopi Tribal Councilman Cedric Kuwaninvaya said.

“One would expect this to be a problem of Navajos against the Hopi, but it’s not; it’s Navajos against Navajos,” he said.

Kuwaninvaya of Sipaulovi, chairman of the Hopi Land Team, attended the HPL meeting and asked whether there were any delegates from the Navajo Nation present. There were none.

“Only one representative from the Navajo grazing committee from the area was present and no one representing the Navajo Nation Council. I would have liked to have seen one of their representatives, as we have issues on both the HPL and NPL sides that we need to address as tribal governments,” he said.

Raymond Maxx, executive director of the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission, was a participant in the HPL meeting.

“A lot of these issues have been ongoing for decades. It’s probably going to take some federal action to resolve them. It’s just a matter of getting the two tribes to find a solution and then getting that addressed at the national level,” he said.

Navajos who did not sign the Accommodation Agreement are regarded as resisters and are not recognized by Hopi as officials residents, Maxx said.

“Even if the resisters wanted to come back now and sign an Accommodation Agreement, “according to the law and the cutoff date, it’s too late for them,” he said. “That’s one example of going back to Congress to get language amended to where they are allowed to get those signed. But some people, just out of principal, they don’t want to sign the document.”

The U.S. Congress partitioned the disputed 1882 Executive Order Hopi Reservation in a 1974 Congressional Act and gave parcels to both tribes, which resulting in the forced relocation of both Hopi and Navajo families.

According to Hopi, initially there were 128 Navajo families who signed the Accommodation Agreement leases in March 1997. Since then, a majority have voluntarily relocated. Upon final approval by the federal government, 80 leases officially were approved.

The Accommodation Agreement gave the families three years after March 31, 1997, to decide whether to take their relocation benefits and move off HPL. At the end of March 31, 2000, there were 103 Navajo individuals who had accepted their relocation benefits, relinquished their leases and voluntarily relocated. There are now 49 leases in place and seven resister home sites with 22 Navajo individuals residing at those.

Maxx said the group wants to continue discussion of the issues that were brought up. After holding several work sessions to bring new members of the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission up to date, they would like to sit down with members of the Hopi Tribal Council and representatives from both tribes present, he said.

“We’re starting to have good relationships, and a lot of these hard feelings are starting to taper off. It’s good for the people. They get caught up between political and governmental politics,” he said.

10/3/2011 Health Care News: It's elemental: Many private wells across U.S. are contaminated with arsenic and other elements

“An estimated 15 million U.S. households regularly depend on private, unregulated and unmonitored water wells.”10/3/2011 Health Care News: It’s elemental: Many private wells across U.S. are contaminated with arsenic and other elements In Nebraska, along the Platte River, it’s uranium. In Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, it’s arsenic. In California, boron. And in the Texas Panhandle, lithium. Throughout the nation, metals and other elements are tainting private drinking water wells at concentrations that pose a health concern. For one element – manganese – contamination is so widespread that water wells with excessive levels are found in all but just a few states. Arsenic, too, is a national problem, scattered in every region.

In the first national effort to monitor well water for two dozen trace elements, geologists have discovered that 13 percent of untreated drinking water contains at least one element at a concentration that exceeds federal health regulations or guidelines. That rate far outpaces other contaminants, including industrial chemicals and pesticides. The most troubling finding involves the widespread contamination of private wells, which are unmonitored and unregulated.

By Marla Cone, Editor in Chief: In Nebraska, along the Platte River, it’s uranium. In Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, it’s arsenic. In California, boron. And in the Texas Panhandle, lithium.

Throughout the nation, metals and other elements are tainting private drinking water wells at concentrations that pose a health concern.

For one element – manganese – contamination is so widespread that water wells with excessive levels are found in all but just a few states. Arsenic, too, is a national problem, scattered in every region.

In the first national effort to monitor wells for two dozen trace elements, geologists have discovered that 13 percent of untreated drinking water contains at least one element at a concentration that exceeds federal health regulations or guidelines. That rate far outpaces other contaminants in well water, including industrial chemicals and pesticides.

For public wells, the discovery is less of a concern, since water suppliers regularly test for contaminants and remove them to comply with federal standards. The most troubling finding involves the widespread contamination of private wells, which are unmonitored and unregulated.

“It was a bit surprising how many of these trace elements had exceedances of human health benchmarks, especially compared to other contaminants we are often concerned about,” said Joseph Ayotte, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, which conducted the research. “The findings certainly underscore the message we hear from the public health agencies, that everyone should test their wells for a suite of trace elements.”

Long abandoned gold processing vats leave a legacy of cyanide and arsenic contamination near Genola, Utah.

An estimated 15 million U.S. households – about 60 million people – regularly depend on private water wells, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most private well owners occasionally test for bacteria, but rarely, if ever, test for anything else.

“The findings certainly underscore the message we hear from the public health agencies, that everyone should test their wells for a suite of trace elements.” – Joseph Aotte, USGS

Nearly half of all drinking water in the country comes from ground water, and usage is increasing worldwide as freshwater supplies from rivers are running low and encumbered by bitter feuds.

“Ground water is very important. It’s the invisible link to our water supply that people don’t really think about,” said David Wunsch, director of science and technology at the National Ground Water Assn. “It’s underground – out of sight, out of mind – and that’s exactly why we’ve come across the pollution problems we have.”

The geologists tested more than 5,000 wells in 40 aquifers for 23 elements – all metals and metal-like substances – plus radon.

Drier regions of the country, mostly in the West, had more wells with excessive trace elements than humid regions, and urban areas had more than agricultural areas.

“Wells with human health benchmark exceedances were widespread across the United States; they occurred in all aquifer groups and in both humid and dry regions,” the report says.

People usually test their well water only when it tastes funny or smells bad, says one scientist.

Arsenic, uranium and manganese most frequently exceeded either health standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency or health-based guidelines developed by the USGS and the EPA. Arsenic, radon and chromium are carcinogens, uranium and cadmium can damage kidneys and manganese might have neurological effects. Boron might lead to smaller fetuses and damage to male reproductive organs, while barium can cause high blood pressure and lithium can suppress the thyroid.

“Trace elements are a widespread chronic health problem,” Wunsch said. “It’s not like something that’s really dramatic where people will get sick right away, but the public needs to be informed more. Some of the things listed here – arsenic, barium, lead, cadmium, for example – can be toxic in small quantities.”

Wunsch said people usually test their well water only when it tastes funny or smells bad. “Private well water is not regulated like the public water supply is. So it’s up to the homeowner to take care of it himself,” he said.

Drier regions of the country, mostly in the West, had more wells with excessive trace elements than humid regions, and urban areas had more than agricultural areas.Mary McClintock has been drinking well water since she bought her home in Conway, Mass., 27 years ago. “I remember having the well tested before buying the house, and perhaps at one other time early on,” she said.

McClintock said she has no health concerns about her water, although a friend who lives in Leverett 15 miles away discovered his well water had excessive arsenic after he tested it at the recommendation of state officials. He and his family now drink bottled water.

“Why haven’t I tested my well? No particular reason except assuming it is a deep well and not in danger of contamination,” she said.

The USGS maps show that arsenic is mostly a problem in parts of New England east of where McClintock lives. But geologists say that it’s a misconception to believe that deeper wells are safer. Elements can be found at any depth, and some, like arsenic, are even worse in deeper wells.

“We actually anticipate that deeper wells should have more arsenic than shallow ones based on the geochemistry of mobilization of arsenic. But high concentrations can occur at any depth if the geochemical conditions are right,” Ayotte said. Sand and gravel soils are most conducive to contamination, which also depends on factors such as pH and climate.

Overall, 19 percent of the 5,183 untreated public, private and monitoring wells exceeded the health-based levels. When private drinking water wells were separated from the pack, 13 percent exceeded the health standards or guidelines.

But that national average is a bit deceptive, since some regions have a far greater frequency of problems. Hot spots for elements are congregated in clusters.

Geologists say it’s a misconception to believe that deeper wells are safer. Elements can be found at any depth, and some, like arsenic, are even worse in deeper wells.Eastern New England, for example, has a cluster of high arsenic concentrations. “What we did not know was how to connect the dots in New England states,” Ayotte said. “It became apparent [in the new study] that the high arsenic values formed a contiguous belt between three states, Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.”

They also found that manganese is “widespread but more prevalent in the East. It’s similar with arsenic, you can find it almost anywhere at high levels,” said Ayotte, lead author of the USGS study, also authored by Jo Ann Gronberg and Lori Apodaca.

Other arsenic hot spots include the Sacramento and Los Angeles regions of California, western Nevada, the Phoenix area, the Texas Panhandle and New Mexico along the Rio Grande, according to the new study’s maps. Others are found in Illinois, Ohio, south Florida and New Jersey.

“Arsenic is definitely a national problem with a local flavor,” Ayotte said.

Officials recommend that homeowners have their wells tested not just for bacteria, but for trace elements and other contaminants.

Most elements found in ground water are derived from natural sources, since they are part of the Earth’s crust. But even though the source is overwhelmingly natural, “the conditions that make it go into the water are not always natural,” Ayotte said. Elements can contaminate water from farms, urban runoff, mining and factories, either directly or by altering aquifer conditions to mobilize them in rocks and soil.

The EPA has set enforceable drinking water standards for 11 trace elements, what Wunsch called “the really nasty ones.” But others, including manganese, have only USGS guidelines based on a small number of health studies.

Private wells are not subject to federal standards because there are tens of millions of them, which would make it unenforceable.

Instead, EPA officials said in response to the new findings that people should test their private wells “if they suspect possible contamination.” The new USGS maps are useful for well owners who want to check the hot spots.

Testing a well for arsenic costs as little as $15 to $30, while treatment systems for removing arsenic cost $1,200 to $3,000, according to the Massachusetts Dept. of Environmental Protection.

The report notes that elements “far outpace” other pollutants, many of which get far more public attention. The 19 percent compares with 7 percent for nitrates and 1 to 2 percent for pesticides and volatile organic compounds, based on previous USGS research.

“We often get more upset about these anthropogenic contaminants but we have to remember that these naturally occurring elements are oftentimes more of a widespread problem,” Ayotte said. “Not to diminish the importance of the others, but trace elements are also hugely important and arguably more so.”