Dartmouth video highlights arsenic risks, solutions for wells

Aiming to encourage owners of private wells in northern New England to check the levels of arsenic in their drinking water, the Dartmouth Toxic Metals Research Program premiered a short film on Thursday, February 11. The toxic-metals group screened In Small Doses: Arsenic, at Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H., for officials of local, state, and federal environmental and health agencies, state lawmakers, and members of the regional media. In addition to explaining the science behind arsenic contamination, and identifying areas of New Hampshire,Vermont, and Maine with the highest concentrations of arsenic, the 10-minute video http://www.InSmallDoses.org or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hi5DfRy01vE discusses relatively inexpensive ways for well-owners to test and treat their water.

“We have been working with our state and regional partners on this issue for more than a decade,” says Bruce Stanton, Ph.D., director of the toxic metals program and a professor of physiology at Dartmouth Medical School (DMS). “We are all concerned that it's 2010 and still most private well owners are not testing, in spite of concrete evidence that wells in New Hampshire contain potentially high and harmful levels of arsenic if ingested over long periods of time.”

Current estimates indicate that about 40 percent of New Hampshire's 1.3 million people drink water from private wells. In some parts of the state, about one in five private wells contain high levels of arsenic from naturally-occurring sources in bedrock. Studies have associated long-term, low-dose ingestion of arsenic with cancers of the skin, bladder, and lung, and other chronic maladies. “Our research group is finding new evidence that exposure over time to tiny amounts of arsenic — concentrations that are not uncommon in New Hampshire wells — can make people sick,” says Celia Y. Chen, Ph.D., director of research translation for the Toxic Metals Program and a research associate professor of biological sciences at Dartmouth College. “We wanted to use the movie to get the word out to homeowners: Test your well.”

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences supported the film project with a National Institutes of Health grant to Dartmouth Medical School. The Dartmouth group produced In Small Doses in collaboration with its long-term partners on the public-health issue of arsenic in well water : the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES).

Dartmouth-connected experts appearing in the film include toxic-metals group researcher Courtney Kozul Horvath, Ph.D., an environmental toxicologist in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at (DMS), and then-DMS researcher Joshua Hamilton, Ph.D., now the chief academic and scientific officer at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. In animal studies, Horvath found that mice infected with the H1N1 flu virus who drink water with arsenic contamination suffer worse symptoms and take longer to recover than those drinking arsenic-free water.

Researchers, agency representatives and legislators who attended the screening to discuss the risks and concerns of arsenic in private wells included Jane Downing, chief of the EPA's New England drinking-water branch, and Keith Robinson, director of the USGS's NH/VT Water Science Center. Sarah Pillsbury, administrator of DES's bureau for drinking water and groundwater discussed recent legislative activity surrounding a report from her agency's Private Well Working Group, which encouraged requiring tests of private wells at the time of a home sale or drilling of a new well.

More information about private-well testing is available at http://des.nh.gov/organization/divisions/water/dwgb/well_testing/index.htm

More information on the EPA-New England's work on arsenic in well water is available at www.epa.gov/region1/eco/drinkwater/

More information about the USGS's recent studies of arsenic in groundwater, soils and stream beds can be seen at http://nh.water.usgs.gov/projects/arsenic.htm

More information on the Dartmouth Toxic Metals Research Program, is available at http://www.dartmouth.edu/~toxmetal/