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Study: Drought Puts More Hoosiers With Private Wells At Risk From Arsenic

A map showing people exposed to high arsenic levels in private wells during droughts.

A map showing people exposed to high arsenic levels in private wells during droughts. 10 μg per liter is the maximum amount of arsenic allowed in public water supplies. (Courtesy of the journal Environmental Science & Technology)

Hoosiers are already at greater risk for unsafe levels of arsenic in private drinking water wells than people in some other states — and a new study shows drought can make the problem worse.

Arsenic naturally occurs in the ground, but long-term exposure to the metal in drinking water can increase your risk for all kinds of health problems — including bladder, lung, prostate, and skin cancers.

Melissa Lombard is a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and a co-author of the study. She said drought might cause water to move differently in an aquifer and change its chemistry, resulting in more arsenic than usual.

“If you run out of water, that's a problem. But we're only really starting to think about how that might impact — a drought might impact the water quality and human health," Lombard said.

The Purdue Climate Change Research Center said the Midwest is expected to experience more periods of drought in the future.

Lombard said Indiana, in particular, tends to have high levels of arsenic in the groundwater and more people on private wells.

“So those two in combination result in Indiana being at a higher risk than a lot of other states," she said.

The Indiana Department of Health recommends testing your private well at least once a year.

Find out how to test your well and what to do if you find high levels of arsenic.

Contact reporter Rebecca at rthiele@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.

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