By James Lomuscio
High levels of naturally occurring arsenic in well waters in Weston today prompted a call from the director of the Westport Weston Health District (WWHD) for Westporters living near the Weston line to have their wells checked too.
Mark A. R. Cooper: urges testing of wells north of Merritt Parkway. File photo
A deadly poison in high doses, arsenic is relatively harmless in minute, acceptable levels as it appears almost everywhere: soil, air, vegetables, rocks and well water.
But in recent months, some wells in Weston tested at 40 times the acceptable level, said Mark A. R. Cooper, WWHD director.
As a result, Cooper said he is urging Westport residents north of the Merritt Parkway to have their wells tested, too.
“We just met with with members of the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) who represent the two districts in upper Westport on Tuesday night to suggest we might want to do some testing,” Cooper said.
The health director said he plans to issue a formal press release on arsenic testing to citizens next week.
“It’s naturally occurring,” said Cooper. “It’s in the rocks, and it’s in the air. And it’s in all those things your mother taught you were good to eat like spinach, greens, carrots and any root crop. They’re all tinged with arsenic.”
Widely known as a lethal poison in high doses, exposure to arsenic in minute doses poses little risk to healthy individuals whose bodies will flush the chemical out, Cooper said.
“For most people who take this stuff in, their bodies are pretty good in eliminating it within 24 hours,” he added. “But with some people, it may cause some issues.”
The standard acceptable level is 10 parts per billion, or .01 mg per liter, which is the average exposure in the United States. Other parts of the world are not as lucky, said Cooper.
“Places like Bangladesh have 350 parts per billion,” he noted.
Cooper said to date 268 wells in Weston have been tested, with costs ranging from $60 to $75 per home, “and the more we test, the closer to the national average we’re getting.”
“Most are okay,” he said, “but we found some that were high, .4 mg per liter.”
Forty times the standard raised concerns, he said. Too high an exposure, especially for one whose kidneys do not flush as well as they should, might manifest itself in dermatitis, Cooper said, or in extreme cases, cause cancer.
“Very high levels are not safe for anyone,” he said.“If it’s above the recommended standard, our recommendation is that you should consider treating it.”
Remediation can involve an oxygenated iron filter, which will remove arsenic from drinking water.
“You can also remove it by reverse osmosis,” Cooper said. “With these you’re talking about spending up to $2,000.”
The amount of arsenic in one’s well, he added, “really depends on the chemistry of your house” and property.
“Unless you test, you don’t know,” Cooper said. “There could be two neighbors with high arsenic levels, and the neighbor in the middle has none, or vice versa.”
Cooper said he is happy that the Weston residents who tested their wells shared their finding with WWHD so the district could map high concentration areas. He hopes Westporters will do the same.
“We more than welcome people to share their information,” he said.