Arsenic as a naturally-occuring environmental hazard?

I have it on good authority from the Mass. DEP that certain areas of Massachusetts have high levels of naturally-occuring arsenic in the soil. If it’s in the soil, it’s in the water.

I’ll be able to find out more tomorrow, but does anyone know anything about this in other areas of the country? Is it something that some of us need to be recommending testing for?

I am sure most of us have seen the Lath and horse hair plaster on old Homes.
I have been told the presertive in the hair is Arsenic .

Cookie A happy NACHI member

Arsenic in drinking water

ToxFAQs™ for Arsenic
September 2005

In those identified areas, it would be prudent to recommend that owners drinking from private wells have their water sampled and tested at least annually and the home inspection may include a visible inspection of the integrity of the well, itself.

Caoimhín P. Connell is a Forensic Industrial Hygienist here in Colorado with extensive credentials. He has posted on the NACHI board a number of times over the last year and a half or so, usually in threads related to mould, but his expertise cuts a wide swath.

Here’s what he has to say about aresenic…

Many toxic elements occur naturally in soils surrounding houses including copper, lead, cadmium, mercury and arsenic. Several of these elements are the so-called “heavy metals” (lead, cadmium, mercury, etc). Some of the toxic metals are not what most people would consider to be a problem (such as silver) and yet, silver is what is known as a “D-Listed” waste (indicating that it appears on the “D List” for RCRA wastes). As such, a Department of Health, such as the Mass. Department of Health will express concern for these elements in the surrounding soils.

We definitely have elevated levels of many toxic elements in many, many places in Colorado. Indeed, in Jefferson, Boulder, Park, Teller and Lake Counties in Colorado we can find native mercury and a mineral called “Coloradoite” (which is a Hg/Te amalgam). Pause for a moment and think of the California State Rock: It’s serpentine! (an asbestiform mineral - i.e. asbestos!). We also can find arsenic in homes that have been placed there on purpose such as in old yellow and red wallpapers, and wood treatments.

I was the Industrial Hygienist on a mercury clean-up project in Golden, Colo, wherein the State mandated that the remediator was required to clean-up a mercury spill to a specified level. However, the level they specific was lower than the naturally occurring mercury concentrations for the soils in the area, and I successfully challenged the Colo Dept of Health and told them we were going to ignore their clean-up level and require them to sue my client if they wanted to enforce their clean-up level. The CDOPHE backed off.

As a geochemist, we used to use a variety of indicators to look for gold- one of those indicators was the presence of arsenic-tolerant plants which would indicate the presence of high levels of arsenic in the soils; which in turn would indicate the presence of gold! In some cases, one may find extremely elevated concentrations of naturally occurring arsenic in surrounding soils. I was one of the researchers on the famous “Globeville” site in Denver - my job was to calculate the toxicity and human risk to arsenic due to the concentrations of arsenic in the soil and in local vegetables that the residents of Globeville grew in their gardens and consumed. What I found was that significant bioaccumulation of arsenic can certainly occur, and can certainly result in toxic levels in the vegetables (and soils), but can be well below those found in nature anyway.

Should an homeowner be concerned? Ever hear of Love Canal? For the most part, today’s large commercial residential communities have been required to perform environmental impact studies, which usually identify many of the potential problems. However, we have seen in Colorado entire communities that were built on massive radium and uranium deposits. Is it the Home Inspector’s responsibility to find these things? I would not want to make it so!

As far as testing goes, all the mumbo-jumbo about data quality objective and uncertainty and error, that I spew out regarding sampling for indoor moulds applies equally to testing the soils for arsenic. Sampling theory doesn’t change just because the item of interest changes; and the exact same sampling errors and decision DQOs apply to sampling a soil for arsenic as for sampling the air for moulds (of surfaces for PCBs, or pesticides, or anything else). Additionally, with regard to naturally occuring toxic elements, we get into the discussion of “total” vs. “bioavailable” (i.e., just because it is present at high concentrations (total) doesn’t mean it is in a form that the human body will adversely respond (bioavailable)).

Arsenic, like mould, occurs EVERYWHERE in virtually EVERY cubic foot of soil and in virtually EVERY cubic meter of air on the planet. So unless an Homer Inspector is willing and technically able to take the stand during litigation and make a statement such as: “My samples indicate that, within reasonable professional limits, there is less than a 3% probability that toxicologically significant arsenic exists in the native overburden, and less than a 5% chance it exists in toxicologically significant concentrations in the artificial fill; but only less than a 25% chance of toxicologically significant concentrations greater than the EPA MCL in vadose zone water….etc….” and then go one to explain what they mean by “toxicologically significant”… and how deep the vadose zone is…they probably don’t want to get into environmental sampling. (But that’s just me).

Sorry I haven’t been posting to the board for a while… I’ve been slammed. However, feel free to share this info with the board, and let me know if there are any questions, and I promise I will respond directly.


Caoimhín P. Connell
Forensic Industrial Hygienist

That wouldn’t Homer Simpson doing inspections I hope. #-o:smiley:

A couple of times now I’ve e-mailed my girlfried and called her “Homey”.

This bothers me to think we where fortunate to have a very learned man who has the knowledge and has put much of it on our BB, in a language that most of us can understand.
I can see some one disagreeing with him but to have this happen is unfortunate when I feel he has for sure not been deserving of this .
I do hope some day he does come back as his out look and reports most certainly make us all look at some things much more close .

Thank you so much Caoimin for your previous post’s .
Roy Cooke

Gee I looked at your letter and just thought the r was just a little close to the n.
Sorry just could not resist . Thanks for Posting the letter from the scientist . Roy

Caoimhín’s opinions often differ with those in the business of selling mold testing. I have found them to be less commercial and more fact based. Some of the most informative posts on this board have come from Caomhin and I hope they will continue in spite of those who will disagree.

I believe he has also been pretty outspoken regarding radon, challenging the conventional wisdom - which I have found VERY interesting.

Also, Roy, I may be incorrect in my reading of this, but I believe that Caoimhin used “slammed” in the sense of being very, very busy. It is possible that he may mean someone had vehemently argued with him, or verbally attacked him, but I think he may just be busy…

Testing for Arsenic in water I think is very important. The EPA has set guidelines on acceptable levels. Check out the EPA’s website. They have a lot of good info. They even have a page where you can see zoomed all the way to street level where water has been tested and at what levels were in the results.

Regular water filters will not remove it. Also don’t think boiling water will reduce the Arsenic levels… it just makes it more concentrated. The greatest problem is with consuming the Arsenic not the bathing with water, your skin helps to reduce the harm it causes.

There is much more to it then what I have just written, but you should get the gist of it.

Joe I would really like to think you are correct but he did say ( Sorry I haven’t been posting to the board for a while… I’ve been slammed. However, feel free to share this info with the board, and let me know if there are any questions, and I promise I will respond directly.)
If you have any questions ( I will respond directly ) . That could be what led me to thing other wise.
Time will tell, Thanks for your thoughts Roy Cooke

I Oops’

The DEQ website may have the maps of tested locations & tested Levels of Arsenic in ground water.

Here is Michigan’s

You can then check each county and zoom in all the way to street level.

Arsenic in ground water of the United States

USGS map links

I guess we will see, but I took the reply directly to mean that he did not have time to post online here, but was willing to answer any specific questions and remain helpful. Take care!

He just meant that he’s been very busy…

Good to know!

Thanks for clearing that up . He is great in my openion . Roy Cooke

Hello Gents!

And thanks to Kent for his email concerning arsenic. Somewhere in some government archive are the Globeville arsenic studies done by Dr. Larson, Dr. Rasmuson and me.

“I’ve been slammed” means “I’ve been busy.” Which sometimes translates into being in a hurry and typing faster than the brain permits (thus “Homer”). I never mind someone who disagrees with me - in my business 50% of those who I contact don’t agree with me - that is what forensics is all about.

Also, recent tragic events in our high school in our sleepy little town of Bailey has placed a temporary strain on me an my law enforcement brothers (and sisters) in addition to my consulting activities.

And at the moment, I’m on the verge of being late. I am an instructor for the State of Colorado, Division of Criminal Justice and I am supposed to be teaching all day today. (Now, if I can just find my noters….)

Caoimhín P. Connell

P.s. Practice Random Acts of Kindness for Emily

(The opinions expressed here are exclusively my personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect my professional opinion, opinion of my employer, agency, peers, or professional affiliates. The above post is for information only and does not reflect professional advice and is not intended to supercede the professional advice of others.)