Last updated: October 25, 2017
In 2006, the Anne Arundel County Department of Health collected water samples from 71 residential wells in Mayo’s Saunders Point community after private laboratory tests identified elevated arsenic levels in several community wells. Through State laboratory tests, the Department of Health confirmed that 35 of the sampled wells had levels of arsenic above the safe drinking water standard. The test results showed that approximately half of the shallow wells (150 feet deep or less) in the Saunders Point community contained arsenic above the safe drinking water standard. The results were reported to the Maryland Department of the Environment, and the Department of Health sent a letter notifying Saunders Point residents of the findings and of long-term health risks.
In 2008, the Department of Health expanded its groundwater investigation in the area surrounding Mayo and Shoreham Beach Roads (see map), based on the presence of arsenic above the safe drinking water standard in 38 wells outside the Saunders Point community. Property owners in the expanded test area were notified by the Department of Health. Property owners in Saunders Point and the expanded test area are encouraged to have their wells tested for Arsenic by a Certified Private Laboratory.
Arsenic in drinking water does not pose an immediate health risk and it can be readily removed through water treatment or installing a deeper well. However, prolonged ingestion of arsenic above the safe drinking water standard can pose certain health risks. There are no regulations that require existing private well owners to install water treatment, construct a replacement well or meet the drinking water standard for arsenic. Where arsenic levels exceed the safe drinking water standard, a deeper replacement well or water treatment system is recommended.
New and replacement wells installed in the Saunders Point community must meet a minimum well depth of 300 feet and must meet the drinking water standard for arsenic (see information about the drinking water standard for arsenic below.) This regulation became effective January 1, 2008. The minimum well depth is based on acceptable arsenic levels in wells deeper than 300 feet in this area. Low interest loans and grants are available to income eligible applicants for the cost to install a replacement well or a water treatment unit used to reduce arsenic in drinking water. See Application.
What is arsenic?
Inorganic arsenic is an element that occurs naturally in rocks and soils and can enter drinking water supplies when rocks and soils dissolve into groundwater over time. Inorganic arsenic is also used in commercial products such as wood preservatives, pesticides, paints, dyes, metals, drugs, soaps and semi-conductors. Inorganic arsenic was found in the wells in Saunders Pont and the expanded area.
How is arsenic measured?
A laboratory test for heavy metals measures arsenic in well water. The laboratory equipment is capable of measuring arsenic at extremely low levels or in parts per billion (ppb). The measurement of one part per billion of arsenic in groundwater is equivalent to one minute in 2,000 years.
What is the drinking water standard for arsenic?
A drinking water standard, or maximum contaminant level (MCL), is the maximum level of a contaminant that is allowed in drinking water. This level is based on protection of human health, but also considers feasible treatment technologies and monitoring capabilities. A value above the MCL does not indicate that harmful effects will occur, but that a risk exists that should be evaluated. The drinking water standard or MCL for arsenic is 10 parts per billion (ppb).
How can arsenic affect my health?
Drinking water that contains too much arsenic over a long period of time can cause nerve and blood vessel damage and skin changes. The most typical symptoms include dark patches on the skin, unusual sensations in the hands and feet (burning and pins and needles) and a thickening of the skin of the palms and soles. Chronic arsenic exposure can sometimes cause symptoms similar to other medical conditions. Talk to your doctor if you think you have been exposed.
If elevated arsenic levels are found in my drinking water, what can I do?
The Anne Arundel County Department of Health Well Water Program staff is available at 410-222-7398 to consult with you on your water testing, water treatment and well replacement options.
The well water test results will report your drinking water’s total arsenic level. Where arsenic levels test high, well replacement or a water treatment unit is recommended. A replacement well must be installed to a depth where acceptable arsenic concentrations have been found. If well replacement is too costly, a water treatment unit is recommended. Reverse osmosis and anion exchange are the most common types of water treatment; however, activated alumina adsorption and special iron oxide adsorptive media are equally effective in reducing elevated levels of arsenic in drinking water. Before choosing a water treatment system, contact a water treatment company under Water Filtration and Purification Equipment in the phone book or contact the Department of Health. The Department does not endorse any particular brand or company, but can advise on which type of water treatment is likely to work. Homeowners using water treatment units to reduce elevated levels of arsenic must maintain the unit according to manufacturer’s instructions. After installing a water treatment system, a second test is recommended to make sure the unit is removing arsenic effectively. The follow-up test will be provided at no charge to residents in the Saunders Point community and the expanded test area.
Where can I get more information?
The Department of Health’s Well Water Program can provide you with information on water testing, water treatment and well replacement options. Contact the:
Well Water Program
Anne Arundel County Department of Health
3 Harry S. Truman Parkway
Annapolis, Maryland 21401