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Superfund Video Offers Plain Talk on Arsenic

By Eddy Ball
March 2010

Title screen of Superfund Research Program video - 'In Small Doses: Arsenic'
The video( Exit NIEHS speaks to the general public with tips for homeowners using water from wells and recommendations for getting water tested regularly.

Courtney Kozul, Ph.D.
Kozul, shown above in her lab at Dartmouth, received four awards at last year's Society of Toxicology meeting (see story( for her work with arsenic. (Photo courtesy of Dartmouth SRP)

Joshua Hamilton, Ph.D.
Hamilton, shown above in his office at Dartmouth (see story( when he was Kozul's advisor, is now chief academic and scientific officer at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. (Photo courtesy of Joseph Mehling, Dartmouth College)

NIEHS-funded researchers at Dartmouth Toxic Metals Research Program( Exit NIEHS premiered their new short film, "In Small Doses: Arsenic," Feb. 11 in Concord, N.H., before an audience of legislators, representatives of regulatory agencies, and members of the regional media (watch video( Exit NIEHS).

Created for the general public, the ten-minute video brings home findings of research on arsenic in well water by identifying high-concentration areas in New England and offering pointers for residents relying on wells for their drinking water. The film is part of a research translation and outreach program funded by the NIEHS Superfund Research Program (SRP) to raise public awareness of the need to test well water on a regular basis.

Many residents with wells could be exposed

According to scientists appearing in the film, up to one-quarter of the 2.3 million people who routinely consume water from wells in New England may be exposed to potentially harmful levels of arsenic. Although public water sources undergo regular testing, it is not a requirement for most private water systems.

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element found in bedrock and moves through groundwater. Because the geography of the exposures doesn't necessarily follow a set pattern, "there's no predictive power, and the bottom line is that everybody needs to test their well water," said Joshua Hamilton, Ph.D., former director of the Center for Environmental Health Sciences at Dartmouth.

Compelling reasons to test well water

In the film, Hamilton and Dartmouth toxicology graduate student Courtney Kozul, Ph.D., discuss their recent research on low-dose arsenic exposure in laboratory animals at and below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) threshold of 10 parts per billion (10 ppb). "We've certainly seen effects at 10 ppb and even lower," and researchers have yet to determine a no-effects or "safe" level of exposure, Kozel explained. Hamilton said his experiments have shown endocrine-disrupting effects at levels below 1ppb.

In an effort to educate residents about the problem and what they can do to protect themselves, Dartmouth provides links( Exit NIEHS to further information from the EPA and U.S. Geological Survey as well as to state agencies that offer well-water testing for as little as $10. According to a homeowner who appears in the video, commercially available point-of-use filtration systems are "pretty affordable" and easily installed under the sink by a plumber or handy homeowner.

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