Last month, the Georgia Department of Public Health issued a report on elevated levels of arsenic found in private wells in South Georgia. As a result, the South Health District issued an advisory that those with private wells in a 10-county area, including Tift and Thomas counties, have their well water tested for arsenic.
I have received a couple calls from worried area well owners wondering if this is something they should worry about. The answer is no. Arsenic and the cause of the arsenic in South Georgia is not a problem for us. There is no reason to worry about any arsenic in Thomas County being an indicator for a similar problem in the first two or three tiers of Georgia counties along the coast.
Before I go any further, I feel the need to emphasize that these contaminant levels were from natural sources and not any human-caused contamination. Also, this contamination was found in private wells, not municipal wells.
Municipal water supplies are tested frequently for a wide variety of things. Some testing is done once a day, other testing is performed every 15 minutes. It is common for municipal systems to run as many as 10,000 water tests a month. If you are on a municipal system for your water, you are reading the rest of this column purely for education and entertainment because there is no harmful level of arsenic in any municipal water supply in Georgia.
That is not to say there is no arsenic in water. Our testing equipment and techniques are so good that the old standard of tolerance for 50 parts per billion was dropped to 10 parts per billion in 2006. We can detect arsenic at the one-part-per-billion level, but there is no evidence that consuming water with 10 parts per billion (10 ppb) arsenic over an entire lifetime has ever caused harm to anyone.
It is the dose that makes something a poison, and we generally do not have enough arsenic in this area to provide a dose problem.
In my more than 10 years with UGA extension, I have only had one water sample come back with a confirmed positive test for arsenic above the 10 ppb threshold. Yes, it was from Glynn County.
“Oh my God! He just said our groundwater has arsenic in it!! I’m going to buy bottled water from now on!!” No. Sorry. You don’t get it. That water probably has arsenic in it, too. Even filtering with the appropriate arsenic filters does not remove every last arsenic atom. Filters get most of it out so the water is safe to drink. If you decide to only drink water 100 percent free of arsenic, you will first die of thirst in about three days.
“Overall, Georgia has lower arsenic levels in the groundwater than other regions of the United States” (United States Geological Survey, 2011) from Feb. 11 by Jane M. Perry, Chemical Hazards Program director for the Georgia Department of Public Health.
“Well what if that contaminated water migrates over here?!!!” Not gonna happen. Our groundwater comes mostly (read: any time we have a choice) from the Floridan Aquifer.
The Floridan is about 400 feet deep at Brunswick and ascends as one travels north along the Georgia coast. The tip of the Floridan is exposed to saltwater at the bottom of Port Royal Sound. From Brunswick, the Floridan ascends to the west as well until it is exposed at the surface in Southwest Georgia. Southwest Georgia is the major recharge zone for the water we get from the Floridan.
“But that is just where these wells with arsenic are located.” OK, Chicken Little. The Floridan, which is old limestone shell and reef, is at the surface in Southwest Georgia, and the contamination comes from the Gulf Trough, made up of eroded silicates from the Appalachians and is well below the Floridan strata.
I know, don’t confuse you with the facts. In a world full of important and critical things needing attention, this is not one. There is no reason to surrender any more of your civil liberties to “solve” a problem that does not exist.
All this is making me thirsty. I think I’ll have a nice glass of Floridan water.
Gardner lives in Keller and is the UGA extension agent for Glynn County, serving South Bryan.