Carcinogen present in well water in south Goliad County
What can be done
Well owners who find arsenic in their water can contact a water treatment company, such as Aqua Purification in Victoria, to analyze their well and find how best to treat the arsenic. Reverse osmosis is one of the more common ways to treat arsenic. The process works by pushing water through a membrane with tiny pores. The membrane acts as a filter, allowing water to pass through while blocking larger, inorganic molecules like lead, iron, chromium and arsenic. Reverse osmosis devices can range from $800 to $3,000, said Aqua Purification sales manager Bill Wiley.
A known carcinogen is naturally occurring in south Goliad County drinking water, according to a report recently released by the county's groundwater district.
Presence of the colorless, odorless element is evidence of why private well owners should test their water for heavy metals and other chemicals, groundwater district officials say. The Safe Drinking Water Act, which gives the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to regulate public drinking water, does not extend regulation to private drinking water wells.
Many people don't think to get their water well tested, believing that if they've never been sick, the water must be OK, said Goliad County Groundwater Conservation District President Raulie Irwin.
"Somebody's been drinking that water for centuries before them, and now, they're drinking it, and everybody's still alive - that kind of attitude. We listen to a lot of that, you know? But that doesn't mean the water is good," Irwin said.
The presence of arsenic in the Gulf Coast aquifer system primarily comes from a geological formation that includes volcanic tuff, according to the groundwater report. As the volcanic material wears away, trace elements, such as arsenic, selenium and potassium, are released into groundwater.
Arsenic can cause skin damage, circulatory issues and has been linked to cancer, said Blake Atkins, EPA Region 6 Drinking Water Section chief.
The standard the agency sets for arsenic in public systems is 10 micrograms per liter, the equivalent of one drop of ink in a 14,000-gallon swimming pool. Eight out of 14 private wells tested in the Goliad groundwater study had levels of arsenic exceeding that level.
But naturally occurring arsenic isn't the only substance well owners should look for. And the need to test private well waters may be even more necessary now.
"There's a lot more things going on in our aquifer today than there has ever been in the way of fracking and water well drilling and more water wells and just a lot more activity in our aquifer than there has ever been," Irwin said.
Testing private drinking water can be costly if the well owner doesn't know what to look for, said Kevin Baros, the lab director of B-Environmental, a Victoria business that performs water testing.
"One of the toughest questions I get is, 'I just want to know if it's safe,'" Baros said. "Well, we can't run every test on the planet. It gets expensive."
The EPA suggests getting your water tested annually for total coliform bacteria, nitrates, total dissolved solids and acidity levels. Water also should be tested right after the well is drilled for baseline data, which can help well owners locate the source, if they later find their well contaminated, Baros said.
"During the life of the well, if you have issues with it, such as a funny taste or foul odor, it's a good idea to get it tested again," he said.
Many well owners in the area get a Farm and Ranch Scan, which includes arsenic, nitrate, acidity and about 20 other indicators. The cost of the test is about $200.
For well owners worried about possible contamination from another party, such as agriculture, construction or oil and gas production, a test by a state approved drinking water testing lab is more likely to hold up in court, Baros said. For a tighter case, well owners should also contract an independent consultant to handle collecting the samples and transporting the samples to the drinking water approved lab.
For those who just want to check their well for safety reasons, it's important to talk to the lab that will perform the test to ask the proper way to collect a sample. Well owners should also talk to the lab about what contaminants they are concerned about to make sure the concern is covered by the test.
While labs compare results against EPA standards, it is up to the well owner to decide whether he or she wants to take action to reduce contaminants, such as arsenic, in his or her water. A person with a family history of cancer may take more precautions regarding arsenic while a family with a small child may take more precautions regarding nitrate, Atkins said.
"Private well owners need to make sure that their private well is drilled and completed effectively and is maintained in a fashion that they can keep themselves safe," he said.