Arsenic in water

The allowable arsenic levels for drinking water in New Hampshire have been cut in half, and researchers say everyone should be paying attention to what's in their tap water since arsenic exposure can be dangerous.

NEWMARKET — Now that New Hampshire has become the second state in the nation to drop allowable arsenic levels in public drinking water, communities are working to make sure they can comply with the new standards.

Last month, Gov. Chris Sununu signed a bill requiring that public water systems have less than 5 parts per billion of arsenic. Only New Jersey has the same standard.

Researchers say long-term arsenic exposure can cause cancer of the lungs, bladder and skin.

Officials at the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services have a list of 118 public water providers that tested above the new 5 ppb standard during their last quarterly test.

Of those listed, Newmarket Water Works has the most users at 5,030. They are currently at 5.6 ppb.

Sean Greig is Newmarket’s water and wastewater superintendent. He said on Monday that Newmarket Water Works provides roughly 400,000 gallons of water a day for 2,000 account holders.

Greig explained that a few years ago Newmarket Water Works brought a third well online that tested at about 10 ppb, the old state standard, so it was blended with water from the other two wells to reduce the arsenic levels.

Now, Newmarket Water Works is bringing a fourth well online that tests above the standard, and so is going to spend $4 million to prepare a facility on Durrell Drive to filter the water from the two newer wells.

This is all part of a 20-year plan, Greig said. Two years ago, a new $14 million wastewater facility was completed in Newmarket.

“This town has made some major investments in their water structures,” Greig said. “The community has really put it right at the forefront.”

Not all water suppliers have the same resources as Newmarket, which has access to low interest loans and grants from the federal and state government.

Chisholm Farm Homeowners Association in Stratham is a community of 42 single-family executive housing condominiums. They have 168 water users.

Their latest arsenic sample was at 8 ppb.

Gene St. Pierre is the president of the homeowners’ association. He said the association is considering a wide array of options, but a solution to the arsenic issue could cost up to $500,000.

“We haven’t figured out what we are going to do yet,” St. Pierre said. “It’s going to be a huge expense for our community.”

St. Pierre says the association is number 55 on a list for financial assistance from the state.

St. Pierre has been attending workshops and looking at all different types of technology to reduce the arsenic levels before the group falls out of compliance with the state standards, but it is hard because not many people in his community have been engaged in finding a solution.

“It’s really hard to get people’s attention,” St. Pierre said.

Brian Jackson, who is a research professor of Earth Sciences at Dartmouth College in Hanover, says all Granite Staters should be paying attention to the arsenic levels in their water. For two decades, scientists at Dartmouth have been collecting data about the dangers of long-term exposure to arsenic, providing that data to lawmakers and regulators.

“There’s always been a push from the scientific side,” Jackson said. “There’s always been a push that levels should be lower.”

Dartmouth’s researchers have found that long-term exposure to low levels of arsenic increases cancer risks and may also be linked to heart disease and diabetes.

Infants and small children who consume arsenic in their water or food may not grow and develop properly, according to an online fact sheet provided by the college.

Arsenic is odorless and tasteless, so Dartmouth recommends that homeowners test their water’s level, especially if they are on a private well. It is estimated that half of New Hampshire residents use private wells instead of public water systems, which have to be tested.

All public water systems in New Hampshire must comply with the 5 ppb standard by July of 2021, according to state DES officials.