Arsenic, Uranium, & VOCs In Water

There is no doubt that, nowadays, pollution and toxins can contaminate our drinking water, especially in an industrial society.  Most of the time, arsenic, uranium, & volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are the main culprit behind this water contamination. If you look at a recent US Geological Survey study, you’d find that many private wells in the Northeast region contained an elevated level of arsenic, uranium, and VOCs. This is a great concern for anyone whose domestic water supply comes from a private well as it poses a greater risk to our health.

But you don’t have to be worried as, once identified, these contaminants can be removed from your drinking water. In this article, we will address the basics arsenic, uranium, & VOCs in water and how you can get rid of them.

Arsenic in Water

Arsenic is a commonly occurring element in water, and it is highly toxic when it appears in an inorganic form.  People can be exposed to this toxic element in various ways, but contaminated groundwater is the greatest source of arsenic exposure to humans. Exposure can result from drinking contaminated water, using that water in the irrigation of food crops, consuming contaminated food, etc. Arsenic poses a potential health problem as it is highly toxic even at a low level in drinking water supplies.

Although short-term exposure can result in short-term effects, like vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal pain, long-term exposure can cause cancer. This is why the  International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has categorized arsenic and its compounds as carcinogenic.

Health Effects of Arsenic

The immediate or short-term effects of arsenic poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal pain. Fortunately, these health problems can be treated easily with proper medical attention. But the long-term effects of arsenic poisoning are always proven as a greater health concern for us.  Long-term ingestion of inorganic arsenic can cause several adverse effects on our health. These include skin cancer, pigmentation changes, skin lesions, hard patches on soles and palms, etc. Worse yet, it can cause developmental effects along with cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases. It may also contribute to cancers of the lungs and bladder.

What Arsenic Level in Water is Safe?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has clearly set a regulatory standard for arsenic in drinking water. The maximum contaminant level of arsenic in public water is set at 0.010 mg/L. This is equivalent to 10 parts per billion (ppb), 0.010 parts per million (ppm), or 10 micrograms/liter (µg/L). So, if the arsenic in your water exceeds 0.010 mg/L, you should not use that water for drinking or cooking.

How to Test the Arsenic Level in Water at Home?

Previously, testing for arsenic in the water had been considered as difficult as eliminating it. This had to be tested in a laboratory environment with the help of expensive laboratory equipment like atomic absorption spectrometers. These days you can find many test kits on the market to measure the arsenic level in the water. These arsenic test kits are designed based on simple chemistry in which inorganic arsenic compounds present in the water are converted to arsine gas due to the reaction between the acidified water sample and zinc powder.

How to Reduce the Arsenic Level in Water at Home?

The most cost-effective way to remove arsenic from water is to use a water cooler built with reverse osmosis technology. This type of water cooler follows a simple process. It forces water to flow through a semi-permeable membrane under pressure to remove the contaminant present in the water and eventually dispense more and more healthy drinking water.

Uranium in Water

Uranium can be found in groundwater and surface water because of its natural occurrences, and it can be present in certain rocks and soils, especially granites.

You will be surprised to know that two-thirds of the community water systems in our country contain detectable levels of uranium. And this report comes from the U.S. community water system monitoring records.

Undoubtedly, uranium contamination in surface and groundwater poses a greater health risk. Although the majority of uranium elements in drinking water are eliminated from our bodies, a small amount is absorbed and remains in our digestive tract. If we continue to intake that drinking water for an extended time, it can damage our kidneys. So, it is always important to minimize exposure with it as much as possible.

Health Effects of Uranium

Several studies have shown us the adverse health effects of uranium. Most of the time, consuming drinking water containing uranium for a long time can result in kidney damage or Nephritis. However, our kidneys can recover from this damage if the exposure is reduced or eliminated.

What Uranium Level in Water is Safe?

The US Environmental Protection Agency has set a regulatory standard for the maximum contaminant level for uranium, which is 30 micrograms per liter in drinking water.

How to Test the Uranium Level in Water at Home?

The most effective way to determine the uranium level in the drinking is to conduct uranium testing.  However, it is always recommended to contact a state-certified laboratory that conducts a uranium test using ICP-MS. These tests are undoubtedly proven faster and less expensive compared to other alternatives. It is designed based on the direct introduction of the sample with no chemical pre-treatment into an inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer (ICP-MS).

How to Reduce the Uranium Level in Water at Home?

The easiest way to reduce the uranium level in drinking water is to use a reverse osmosis water treatment. It can eliminate up to 99% of uranium elements present in the drinking water, along with other contaminants.

VOCs in Water

Volatile organic compounds aka VOCs are treated as carbon-containing compounds with unique properties that permit them to easily evaporate and move between the soil, air, groundwater, and surface water. Common sources of VOCs include detergents, disinfecting agents, gasoline, fuels, solvents, paints, stains, strippers, and pesticides.

Most of the time, the VOCs found in drinking water is originated from human activities. Private wells near commercial or industrial areas are often at higher risk of VOC contamination.  Industrial dumping, spills, and leaks can be notable sources. VOCs in drinking water can also occur from the use and improper disposal of household products that contain these chemicals.

Testing the well water for VOCs should be done at least every 3 to 5 years. Several VOCs can indeed cause a range of short- and long-term health risks. The Environmental Working Group has identified 12 potentially carcinogenic VOCs in drinking water. These include:

  • 1,1,2-Trichloroethane
  • 1,2,3-Trichloropropane
  • 1,2-Dichloroethane
  • 1,2-Dichloropropane
  • 1,4-Dioxane
  • Benzene
  • Carbon tetrachloride
  • Dichloromethane (methylene chloride)
  • Styrene
  • Tetrachloroethylene (PCE or PERC)
  • Trichloroethylene (TCE)
  • Vinyl chloride

VOCs pose a greater health risk to us with many adverse health effects like damage to the kidneys, liver, and nerve systems. Furthermore, exposure can cause kidney and liver tumors and neurological effects.

What Level of VOCs in Water is Safe?

The US Environmental Protection Agency has set a regulatory standard for the maximum contaminant level for different VOCs. For 1,1-Dichloroethylene, it is set at 0.007 mg/L. For 1,1,1-Trichloroethane and 1,1,2-Trichloroethane, it is set at 0.2 mg/L and 0.005 mg/L respectively.  If you would like to know about the contamination level of other VOCs, you can check out the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations page on EPA’s official website.

How to Test VOCs Level in Water at Home?

The most effective way to test the VOCS levels in water is to take a sample of that water and send it to a state-certified laboratory for testing. They will test the sample with an onsite PID meter so that they can determine the actual level of volatile organic compounds present in the water.

How to Reduce the VOCs Level in Water at Home?

There are  several filtration systems that are truly capable of filtering VOCs out of drinking water. One great example of such a filtration system is the carbon filter system. You can install it at the faucet or in the place where water enters your home to filter out the VOCs from drinking water.

Final Thoughts

Its important to have your water tested to ensure you aren’t being exposed to elevated levels for these contaminants for extended periods of time. If arsenic, uranium, and VOCs are present in your drinking water at an elevated level, it needs to be reduced or eliminated as early as possible. Fortunately, you can find many technologies capable of reducing or eliminating those contaminants.