Arsenic is a poison that, in high-enough levels, could cause increased cancer risks in people who consume high levels of the element.
But local experts on ground and surface water here and in Live Oak County say there is not much cause for concern.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality reports that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set maximum standards for arsenic content in drinking water at 10 parts per billion.
Ronnie Stewart, manager of the Bee County Groundwater Conservation District, said last week that most water wells tested in Bee and Live Oak counties have arsenic levels far below that.
Most of the wells tested in this part of the state are showing two, three or four parts per billion of arsenic. Even in areas of Live Oak County where uranium solution mining took place in the 1960s and ’70s, arsenic levels rarely got above nine parts per billion.
“Arsenic is in the half life of uranium,” Stewart said.
The water district manager said he has heard of only one person who reported a health problem from arsenic in the groundwater. A woman got sick from well water but it was determined later that she was highly allergic to the element.
Hector Salinas, superintendent of the George P. Morrill Water Treatment Plant at Swinney Switch, said there is no problem with arsenic in the city’s surface water. That water is pumped out of the Nueces River at the headwaters of Lake Corpus Christi, treated in the plant and pumped to Beeville.
So far, the only place where arsenic levels have concerned the TCEQ is the Blueberry Hills residential area west of the Beeville city limits.
Linda Unger, owner of the Blueberry Hills Waterworks, said she has been aware of the situation for some time and she has been negotiating with the City of Beeville to have residents there connected to the city’s treated water system.
The 18-mile pipeline between the Morrill treatment plant and the city’s water storage facilities runs right by Blueberry Hills.
“I’m trying to work out an agreement with the city,” Unger said. The one big snag in working out that agreement lies in the fact that the city is trying to get Blueberry Hills to pay for grant funds the city is getting from other government sources.
Unger said an interlocal agreement exists between the city and Bee County Commissioners Court to authorize the city to provide that water.
Improvements underway on the west side of the city, at Veterans Memorial Park, are designed not only to improve water pressure problems on the far west side of the city but also to provide enough water for the Blueberry Hills Water Works so it can start using surface water and quit using its wells.
Meanwhile, Unger continues to work with an engineer in Austin on other ways to correct the water situation.
“He’s (engineer’s) still looking at arsenic filtration,” Unger said, “but that’s experimental and not approved by the state.”
Unger said some European technology is also being studied and that may allow the waterworks to solve the problem.
The water works at Blueberry Hills has more than 100 customers connected to its system and more than 1,000 residents depend on the water there.
“There’s no cheap way to do this,” Unger commented. “We’re not really a bad offender,” she added.
Unger encouraged all residents outside the city who depend on wells for their drinking water to take samples of their water to a certified laboratory for testing.
Studies show a small but potential risk for bladder cancers in people who drink water with exactly 10 parts per billion of arsenic in their water.
Out of about 80 million people around the world who drink water with between 10 and 50 parts per billion of arsenic, about 2,000 of them could come down with bladder cancer.
That does not include the number of people who also face an increased risk of lung or skin cancers.
“Everybody should get their groundwater tested,” Unger said.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.