Arsenic Toxicity and Occurrence in Water Supplies

by Jay | Updated on April 21st, 2023

An element that has caused significant harm to humankind throughout history is arsenic—a dangerous metalloid found in many forms across the Earth’s surface. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore what arsenic is, its common forms, health effects, and practical steps you can take to prevent arsenic exposure.

Arsenic: What Is It and Where Is It Found?

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element found in the Earth’s crust. It exists in various forms, including inorganic and organic arsenic. Inorganic arsenic, commonly found as oxides and sulfides, is considered more harmful to human health than organic arsenic.

tilt shift focus photography of brown faucet
  • Common Natural Forms of Arsenic:
    • Arsenic trioxide (As2O3)
    • Realgar (As4S4)
    • Orpiment (As2S3)
    • Arsenopyrite (FeAsS)

Arsenic can also be released into the environment through human activities, such as mining, agriculture, and industrial processes. Areas rich in volcanic or hydrothermal activity are especially susceptible to arsenic contamination, posing risks to people who rely on well water for drinking.

The Impact of Arsenic on Human Health

Acute Arsenic Poisoning

Acute arsenic poisoning is often caused by a single or short-term exposure to high levels of arsenic. Symptoms of acute arsenic poisoning include:

  • Severe headaches
  • Hair loss
  • Stomach pain
  • Convulsions

Immediate medical attention is essential to treat acute arsenic poisoning and prevent life-threatening outcomes.

Long-Term Arsenic Exposure

Long-term exposure to low levels of arsenic is more concerning and can lead to chronic health conditions. Arsenic is thought to play a role in developing:

  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Respiratory ailments

For example, chronic exposure to arsenic in drinking water has been linked to an increased risk of skin diseases, including melanoma.

Practical Steps for Preventing Arsenic Exposure

Testing Your Water Supply

It’s essential to regularly test your water supply for arsenic, especially if you rely on well water. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets the maximum allowable level of arsenic in public water supplies at 0.01 mg/L. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Test your water supply at least once a year.
  • Use certified laboratories for testing.
  • Consider more frequent testing if you live in areas with known arsenic contamination.

Filtration Systems for Removing Arsenic

Many filtration systems can effectively remove arsenic from drinking water. Here are some common methods:

  • Iron Oxide Cartridge Filters: These filters use an iron oxide cartridge to “absorb” arsenic through ion exchange.
  • Reverse Osmosis: This process uses a semi-permeable membrane to remove arsenic and other contaminants.
  • Distillation: Distillation involves boiling water and collecting the vapor, leaving contaminants behind.

While reverse osmosis and distillation are more effective, they can also be more expensive. It’s important to weigh the benefits against the costs when choosing a filtration system.

Global Impact and Efforts to Address Arsenic Contamination

Arsenic contamination is a global issue affecting many countries, particularly those with limited access to clean drinking water. For example, Bangladesh has faced significant challenges with arsenic contamination in groundwater. The government instituted shallow well drilling programs to provide bacteriologically safe water, but arsenic exposure remained a challenge.

Efforts to address arsenic contamination include:

  • Educating communities about the risks of arsenic exposure
  • Promoting safe water sources and treatment methods
  • Implementing stricter regulations on industrial activities that contribute to arsenic release
  • Promoting research and innovation in arsenic removal technologies

Key Takeaways and Action Items

Arsenic contamination in water supplies is a matter of serious concern, but with awareness and the right steps, you can protect yourself and your family. Here are some key takeaways and practical action items:

  • Stay Informed: Educate yourself about arsenic, its sources, and its health effects. Understand the risks and how to mitigate them.
  • Test Your Water: If you rely on a private well or live in an area with potential arsenic contamination, test your water supply regularly. Use certified laboratories and take action if arsenic levels exceed safe limits.
  • Choose the Right Filtration System: Consider installing a water filtration system that effectively removes arsenic. Evaluate the available options, including iron oxide cartridge filters, reverse osmosis, and distillation.
  • Advocate for Clean Water: Advocate for clean water initiatives in your community, support regulations that limit industrial arsenic release, and encourage research on safe water solutions.

Through these practical steps, you can contribute to the global effort to reduce arsenic contamination and ensure safe drinking water for all.


Arsenic toxicity and its occurrence in water supplies are issues that cannot be ignored. By staying informed and taking proactive measures, we can make a positive impact on our health and the well-being of our communities. Let’s work together to make access to clean, safe water a reality for everyone.

The information in this article is intended for educational purposes and should not be construed as medical advice. If you suspect arsenic poisoning or have concerns about your water supply, consult a healthcare professional or water quality expert.


Jay is a health and wellness enthusiast with expertise in water quality and nutrition. As a knowledgeable advocate for holistic well-being, Jay successfully manages Type 2 Diabetes through informed lifestyle choices. Committed to sharing reliable and authoritative insights, Jay combines firsthand experience with a passion for enhancing health."