Study finds that people in prison and low-income communities have been exposed to unsafe levels of arsenic for years, but there are cost-effective ways to ensure equitable access to safe water
A new study conducted by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, and Virginia Tech that examined exposure to arsenic-contaminated drinking water in a California prison and surrounding communities has found arsenic levels exceeded the federal safety standard over the past 20 years.
The study, recently published in the scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found that in some instances arsenic levels continually exceeded maximum safety limits for months, sometimes years, at all four of the locations monitored: Kern Valley State Prison and the surrounding communities of Allensworth, Delano, and McFarland in California.
Long-term exposure to arsenic in drinking water, even at low levels, is known to pose serious health risks and is associated with various forms of cancer. In 2001, the United States Environmental Protection Agency reduced the safety standard for arsenic in drinking water from 50 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion and started enforcing the stricter standard in early 2006.
Violations Common in Low-Income Communities
Kern Valley State Prison opened in 2005 without any plan to remove arsenic from the drinking water. The study found that arsenic levels averaged around 20 ppb until a $6 million water treatment system was installed in 2013. Occasional spikes in arsenic levels of more than 20 ppb were seen between 2017 and 2019. Consequently, thousands of people in the prison were exposed to arsenic before the water treatment system came online.
Communities living outside the prison walls can filter their drinking water or purchase bottled water to ensure it is free from contaminants. However, lower-income households often cannot afford to do so, and smaller low-income communities typically do not receive the financial support they need to build and maintain an efficient water treatment system.
This can cause glaring disparities regarding access to safe drinking water in communities across the country, even contributing to water crises in some cities, including Flint, Michigan, and Jackson, Mississippi.
The study found that after remediation systems were installed in 2013, arsenic levels in drinking water provided to Delano (population >50,000) remained below 10 ppb, while in McFarland (population 12,000), levels occasionally exceeded 10 ppb but now meet annual average limits. Allensworth (population 600), which does not have an arsenic treatment system, must blend water from two different wells to comply with the 10-ppb safety standard.
Treatment Solutions Can Be Cost-Effective
According to the study’s authors, new cost-effective treatment technologies that can provide safe drinking water on smaller scales could help all communities.
Fluence offers many solutions for removing arsenic from water on small and large scales, including cost-effective technologies such as oxidation filtration, adsorption using granular media, and VSN-33 media.
Fluence’s NIROBOX™ containerized water treatment solutions are packaged in a standard 40-foot shipping container and can be customized to specific water treatment requirements, including for arsenic. The NIROBOX™ plants offer a cost-effective and sustainable water treatment solution for prisons and small communities, allowing them to be self-sufficient by treating water onsite. The plants have a small footprint and low operating costs, and they require little maintenance. They also can be scaled up should water treatment requirements increase.
Contact our water experts to learn more about the arsenic remediation solutions we offer, and which one would best suit your needs.