What is arsenic?
Arsenic is an element that occurs naturally in rocks and soil. Arsenic gets into well water through natural erosion. When underground water flows over rocks and soil that contain arsenic, the arsenic slowly dissolves into the water. As a result, some private water wells in Georgia may exceed the federal regulatory standard for arsenic in public water supplies. Arsenic occurs in bedrock and shallow wells and the amount of arsenic in well water will vary greatly from place to place. Naturally-occurring arsenic is known to exist in a region with a geological formation known as the ‘Gulf Trough’, an area of increased clay content and decreased permeability in Coastal Plain sediments. Click here for a map. Testing is the only way to determine if water contains arsenic.
In addition to bacterial testing, it is also recommended that a chemical screening (W33C analysis) of well water is done every 3 years. DPH recognizes the need to keep pace with emerging public health issues around the nation and throughout Georgia. To address widespread public concern regarding drinking water quality, DPH has taken proactive measures to collaborate with our partners at UGA Extension to update the chemical screening profile for well owners in Georgia.\
The W33C, also known as the Private Well Chemical Test (PWCT), is the revised chemical profile for private well owners. It incorporates specific tests for arsenic and lead, in addition to the constituent analysis included in the previously recommended W-33. The recent identification of naturally occurring arsenic in water wells in South Georgia in and near the “Gulf Trough” geologic structure, combined with the heightened awareness of lead in drinking water systems in the wake of Flint River, has motivated the test profile modification. DPH believes it is essential to take steps to safeguard the health of Georgians through early detection and identification in order to reduce the potential for exposure to harmful contaminants. The PWCT (W33C) test is available through local UGA Extension Offices.
**Please be aware that the existing W-33 test is still the required test profile for all MOU wells serving public facilities that are permitted by DPH.
Where can I learn more about arsenic?
Georgia Department of Public Health Fact Sheets:
Resources for Health Care Providers:
- ATSDR - Case Studies in Environmental Medicine: Arsenic
Information on exposure routes, physiological effects and clinical evaluation
- Emory University Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit
Telephone consultation on health risks from environmental exposures in children.
- Medscape Reference
Arsenic toxicity in emergency medicine.
How has the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) responded to known elevated arsenic levels in South GA?
The DPH, Environmental Health Section has worked extensively with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, the University of Georgia (UGA) Cooperative Extension Agency and local officials to investigate arsenic in groundwater and provide outreach and education to counties with the potential for elevated arsenic levels in private drinking wells.
- DPH published a health consultation in February of 2013, discussing arsenic exposure and possible health effects, including cancer.
Health Consultation: Elevated Levels of Arsenic in Thomas County Water Wells
- During 2013, DPH distributed county-specific health effects fact sheets and a health care provider fact sheet to elected officials and other county leaders, UGA Cooperative Extension agents, health care providers, veterinarian facilities and local libraries for eight counties in South GA. This outreach was repeated one year later as follow up, in July of 2014. Since 2012, DPH staff have provided technical assistance to dozens of individual residents and community leaders concerned about arsenic exposure. Over 1,100 fact sheets have been distributed to date.
- DPH staff have also done several interviews and spoken at public meetings to help educate citizens about arsenic and encourage people to have their wells tested.
Here are a few examples:
GA Public Broadcasting: Dr. Chris Rustin, Environmental Health Section Director
WALB News 10: Tad Williams, District Environmental Health Director
Georgia Health News: Chris Kumnick, Environmental Health, Land Use Program Director
Who can I contact for more information?
For more information about health effects of arsenic:
Georgia Department of Public Health
Environmental Health Section, Chemical Hazards Program
For information about water testing and filtration:
Agricultural and Environmental Services Laboratories
University of Georgia, Cooperative Extension
Page last updated 07/13/17