Environment Follow Up Health Lifestyle Local Opinion Say What!

“As” below, so in our body?

Written by Drew Heskin

Arsenic (element #33) is a documented human carcinogen; there is no cure for any disease caused by arsenic. Symptoms of arsenic poisoning appear to differ between individuals, population groups and geographic areas. Thus, there is no universal definition of the disease caused by arsenic.


Inorganic arsenic is the most significant chemical contaminant in drinking-water globally._ For that reason, arsenic is measured in parts per billion (ppb) rather than parts per million (ppm) like other cancer causing substances. 1 ppb =  1000 ppm.


Arsenic enters the human body through three principal routes: through the inhalation of contaminated dust particles in the air, through the ingestion of tainted food and water (90% absorption rate), and via dermal absorption (estimates range for negligible to 30% absorption rate).


Arsenic is widely distributed in surface water, especially geothermal waters.  Hot springs often have large numbers of minerals in high concentrations  – arsenic being one of them.


“It’s well-established knowledge there’s arsenic in the underground in the Fairbanks area.” Sandrine Deglin, AK health educator.


Fairbanks area water tests for arsenic from 2006, the ADEC reported test levels for public water sources.  Raw water samples from wells which supply Golden Heart Utilities, a “Class A” water source, tested as follows:

  • Well 2A – Non-Detect, Arsenic
  • Well 3A – 6 ppb, Arsenic
  • Well 1A – 9 ppb, Arsenic
  • Well 1 – 6 ppb. Arsenic


Fairbanks treated municipal water is “non-detect” for arsenic.  However, their description of “non-detect” is any measurement less than 5 ppb.  The ADEC stated that water from different sources (like one well at 15 ppb and one well at 5 ppb) could be mixed in ratios to the extent that the final mixture meets federal guidelines of less than 10 ppb arsenic.


Required frequency of measurement for “Class A” wells is only once every three years.  If a measurement is missing, they have three years more to get a measurement before action is taken.  If a water source has a long history of “non-detect” for certain contaminants, required measurements for those rarely found may be waived indefinitely.


Fox Spring has been non-detect for arsenic for the last 25 years.  In 1987, however, 14 ppb were measured.  State crews are currently examining where the water for Fox Spring flows from and where it drains.  Fox Spring is a “Class A” water source; tests for contaminants like arsenic are public record.  It is a different story for “Class B” wells.


“Class B” ascribes water sources for permanent populations with 25 or less persons.

However, many more can use the water if they are “transitory.”  Chena Hot Springs Resort has a “Class B” water license for their water.  They do not have to check for arsenic, for example.


I called Chena Hot Springs (2006) and management reported that there was no report for arsenic levels in their water. He stated, “In fact, we have never checked for arsenic.”


Pioneer Wells reports only 2 ppb for the Fox reservoir. Raw water supplied to Pioneer Wells from within the city of Fairbanks is Non-detect. Raw water from the University of Fairbanks well measured at 44 ppb arsenic, the highest contamination for any “Class A” well I could find in our region.


The Ester Community Well, (now closed),  measured 3 ppb  over the federal maximum limit for arsenic of 10 ppb.


One Ester’s resident’s well tested at 270 ppb, 27 times the federal limit.  Even after distillation and reverse osmosis, the treated water tested over the federal MCL.


Fast forward to May 17, 2016, from the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner by Robin Wood. Regarding a study performed by Alaska Department Health and Social Services well water tested off of Chena Hot Springs Rd. From the article,


“Test finds elevated levels of arsenic in Fairbanks-area wells.”_


“…19 percent, had elevated arsenic levels ranging from 190 parts per billion to 1,140 ppb, according to the department’s Section of Epidemiology.”

Remember, the MCL, or Maximum Contaminant Level is 10 ppb.


I have not been able to locate statistics regarding the effects of arsenic in the well water on people’s health in Fairbanks, however, a study has shown increased levels of skin cancer have been associated with arsenic exposure in Wisconsin, even at levels below the federal 10 ppb drinking water standard._


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Drew Heskin

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