Arsenic in your drinking water can be very dangerous to your health if consumed at high levels. However as Arsenic can dissolve from natural rock found at water wells it is widely found throughout Australia’s tap water supplies. In this article we look at why this happens, the potential impact upon our health that arsenic contaminated water poses and what you should do if you're concerned and want to remove Arsenic from your drinking water.
Arsenic, unlike artificially added chemicals within our water, such as fluoride and chlorine, is naturally occurring at a water well as it dissolves from rocks. Whilst arsenic is understandably an alarming chemical to discover within water supplies as, it must be noted that at low levels, arsenic is a perfectly safe chemical to consume.
In fact, Australians typically consume 0.04 milligrams of arsenic each day through diet alone; most of which comes from concentrated organic sources such as fish, poultry and vegetables . These forms of arsenic are quickly processed and eliminated from the human body typically within 3 days.
What you find in public drinking supplies is often the inorganic form of the chemical. The source of this sometimes occurs from windblown dust, but most often is caused whilst water sits in resovours or surface water supplues through leaching or runoff from soil, rocks and sediment.
The officially recommended highest levels of arsenic to water concentration is 0.01 milligrams per litre. This is a extremely small amount, in contrast, fluoride has a recommended level of 1.5mg per litre and chlorine a recommended level of 5mg per litre.
Arsenic becomes dangerous when consumed in high quantities over prolonged periods (over 5 years). That said, the health implications for this level of consumption are serious and the managing of inorganic arsenic within water supplies has long since served as a focus for Australian governments throughout each territory.
Common impacts to health in the event of prolonged exposure include: pigmented skin lesions, skin cancer, vascular disease, damage to the nervous system and organ cancer. These conditions come about as a direct result of the damage that arsenic causes blood vessels and nerves within the human body.
It's important to also understand that the effects of arsenic can be potentially more serious for those who are young, old, in ill-health or who are pregnant.
Similarly to other contaminants such as fluoride and chlorine, it's impossible to see, taste or smell arsenic within water. Because of this you can only be certain that there is arsenic within your water following a professional grade test.
It’s therefore advisable that you regularly request your supplier carry out the required tests to ensure drinking water is of the highest standard - not only for arsenic, but for other chemicals. This course of action is in fact officially advised by the Northern Territory Department of Health. If you're not happy with how your current water supplier is handling their quality testings you should contact the relevant authorities, as listed below.
The Western Australian Government have produced a guide to Arsenic in Drinking Water supplies, which can be found here.
The Western Australian Health Department can be contacted on 08 9388 4999.
Northern Australia is a territory with a wide array of public bodies that serve individual regions; visit the contact page for the Department of Health for the Northern Territory Government.
If you have health concerns they provide these two direct contact numbers:
You should also read their guide to arsenic in water supplies, as they provide a laboratory testing service for collected samples of water.
Queensland have produced a public Environmental Health Guidance Note about Arsenic in 2002, which may be viewed here.
For contact details for The Queensland Government Department of Energy and Water Supply, follow this link.
South Australia emphasise their commitment to safe drinking water (you can read their policy on this here); detailed information about their water quality monitoring efforts can also be found in their 2013-2014 Drinking Water Quality Report. South Australia’s water entities are publicly owned and known as the business entity SA Water, you can contact them via the SA Water contact page.
South Wales adopt a robust approach to the monitoring of all water chemicals, more information on this can be found on the NSW Drinking Water Monitoring Program; you may also contact the NSW Ministry of Health via their contact page.
Victoria has recently revised their Safe Drinking Water Regulations – you can read more about this here. Victoria also undertake an annual report of the water quality throughout the state, download the 2014-2015 report here.
Should you have concerns about your water supply in Victoria, you can contact the government’s dedicated department for their water program on: 1300 761 874 (during business hours); on pager: 1300 790 733 (which is a 24-hour pager service for public health emergencies) or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.