NASA made headlines last week after finding a type of bacteria that can live on arsenic, but discovering the poisonous chemical element in your groundwater can be dangerous. Iowa has several pockets of arsenic in the soil and officials in the Mason City area plan to start testing water wells for it next year.
Brian Hanft, the health service manager with the Cerro Gordo County Health Department, says they’ve already found areas where arsenic is an issue. He says they’ve pinpointed some “hot spots” for arsenic in the areas south of Clear Lake and in Bowers Acres south of Mason City, but they want to see if there are other zones throughout the county that could have high levels.
The water testing project is part of a $433,000 grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Arsenic is believed to be a contributor to numerous health issues including cancer, diabetes and skin damage. Hanft says he hopes they can take what they find from the study and allow other governmental entities across Iowa and nationwide to tackle their own arsenic problems.
“There’s a lot of areas in the country that are going to be watching what we do,” he says. “My goal is, we can publish our research so that other municipalities, other states, can use that information to fix or research their own problem based on what we’ve done.” Hanft says Cerro Gordo County has the highest-recorded arsenic concentration in a public water supply in Iowa, but he fears the problem is much wider than we’ve realized.
“We’re not just looking at the arsenic zone,” he says. “We’ve already figured out that we have a problem with it. I have a feeling that it’s countywide and not only is it countywide, it’s pretty much all Iowa-wide.” Unlike public drinking water supplies that are currently required to meet a certain standard, private wells are unregulated and the owner is responsible for regulating arsenic content. Cerro Gordo County requires arsenic testing for all new wells within the county.
By Bob Fisher, KRIB, Mason City