Learn about arsenic in drinking water on Sept. 14

Raritan Headwaters, the region’s watershed watchdog, and Columbia University will hold a free seminar on the health effects of arsenic in drinking water from 3-5 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 14, at the Hunterdon County Library at 314 Route 12.

Local government and health leaders are invited to attend the seminar, which is part of Raritan Headwaters’ ongoing “Watershed Tools for Local Leaders” series. Members of the public may also attend.

According to Dr. Kristi MacDonald, director of science for Raritan Headwaters, the seminar will focus on the importance of informing residents of the health risks of arsenic in drinking water and the need to regularly test and treat private wells.

“Hunterdon County is a hot spot for arsenic in well water,” said Dr. MacDonald. “Eighty percent of county residents get their drinking water from private wells, so it’s crucial that local leaders take an active role in promoting well testing.”

Workshop participants will learn more about the health effects of arsenic, how it enters the water supply and what tools are available to inform residents on how to safeguard their drinking water through testing and treatment. Local leaders and the media play an important role in providing this information to residents.

The seminar will feature speakers from Raritan Headwaters, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, and the Hunterdon County Division of Public Health Services.  In addition, attendees will receive a toolkit consisting of video links, draft press releases, and other resources to help them raise awareness in their communities.

The seminar is free but advance registration is required. To register, email Dr. MacDonald atkmacdonald@raritanheadwaters.org or go to https://goo.gl/msZnDj  to register online.  For more information, call Raritan Headwaters at 908-234-1852 ext. 322.

Raritan Headwaters recently analyzed data from over 30 years of well testing within its 470-square-mile watershed in Hunterdon, Somerset and Morris counties. Among the study’s findings was that the percentage of wells with high levels of arsenic rose significantly from 2003 to 2015, the period for which arsenic testing records were available.  In some areas, over 20 percent of wells exceed the state drinking water standard of 5 parts per billion for arsenic.

Arsenic is a metal that occurs naturally in certain layers of bedrock, especially those found in New Jersey’s Piedmont region. It was once used in pesticides, and traces often linger in soils on current and former farm fields. It also is found in wood preservatives.

Exposure to arsenic is known to cause liver, kidney, colon and bone cancers, as well as gastrointestinal ailments, diabetes and cardiovascular impacts.

“The only way to know if you and your family are being exposed to arsenic and other harmful chemicals such as lead is to test your water,” said Dr. MacDonald. “If contaminants are found, you can effectively treat your drinking water.

To learn more about well testing and treatment, visit www.testmywell.org.

Mara Tippett, well test program manager for Raritan Headwaters, puts it simply: “Much like we schedule annual preventative health screenings, we need an annual well test as part of maintaining good health.”

About Raritan Headwaters

The largest watershed organization in New Jersey, Raritan Headwaters has been working since 1959 to protect, preserve and improve water quality and other natural resources of the Raritan River headwaters region through efforts in science, education, advocacy, land preservation and stewardship. RHA’s 470-square-mile region provides clean drinking water to 400,000 residents of 38 municipalities in Somerset, Hunterdon and Morris counties and beyond to some 1.5 million homes and businesses in New Jersey’s densely populated urban areas. RHA has achieved statewide impact and is a proud recipient of the 2015 and 2016 Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award. To learn more about Raritan Headwaters, please visit www.raritanheadwaters.org or call (908) 234-1852.