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50,000 N.H. Wells At Risk Of High Arsenic, Negative Health Impacts

Jun 24, 2014   |   by Sam Evans-Brown   |   NHPR


... While there are plenty of possible contaminants in the state – notably radon – there’s a big push underway in New Hampshire to make more homeowners aware of arsenic, which is colorless, odorless and tasteless in drinking water.

Dartmouth just received a $13 million dollar grant to support its research into the health impacts of the chemical, and a US Geological Survey study released this week estimates nearly 50,000 people in Southeastern New Hampshire could be drinking elevated levels of arsenic.

But there’s plenty work yet to do in order to get the word out about the chemical to private well-owners.

The state lab does about 2,600 well water tests a year, but only around 38 percent of homeowners ask for the arsenic test. That’s only part of the picture: there are also numerous private labs offering similar services, which don’t have to report their figures.

So the question is: how many homes are getting tested?

Researchers at Dartmouth are trying to figure out just that.

“There’s no visual cue in their water, there’s no immediate health impact. So people may have lived with arsenic in their water for years and years and not had any problem,” says Mark Borsuk, who’s heading up the Dartmouth survey looking to determine how many people have tested their well for arsenic.

The last time this question was looked at was in 2003, when the USGS estimated that less than 14 percent of homes in Southeastern New Hampshire had had arsenic tests.

Compare that to Maine, where in 2004 26 percent had tested their wells, but after significant outreach by the state, that number was up to 42 percent in 2009.

Borsuk says there are basically three reasons people don’t test their wells: because they don’t know they should, because it’s annoying or impractical to do it, or – and this one is more insidious – because in the back of their minds, they don’t really want to know.

“If they’ve lived in a house for 30 or 40 years and have drunk water that may have had arsenic in it, they may be resistant to having the water tested because if they were to find it there may be a kind of guilt associated with having had that past exposure,” he explains...

...The Dartmouth study seeking to determine how many people are testing and why others aren’t is due out in the fall.

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