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Becker residents fear arsenic level in water

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. -- When Dick and Barb Groth moved into their home south of Long Lake near here about a year ago, they didn't think about testing their private well for arsenic.

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. -- When Dick and Barb Groth moved into their home south of Long Lake near here about a year ago, they didn't think about testing their private well for arsenic.

But after neighbors raised concerns about arsenic levels in private wells, the Groths hired RMB Environmental Laboratories to monitor their water.

A test showed the Groths' water contained arsenic at the level of 50 parts per billion.

"Now we are using a filter and boiling our water," Dick Groth said. "We are concerned that people don't know about this."

In January 2001, the Environmental Protection Agency moved to change arsenic standards from 50 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion. The new standard requires all public water systems must be in compliance by January 2006.

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Many people around Long Lake and the Becker County area are rushing to get their water tested for arsenic, a highly poisonous metal.

The Minnesota Department of Health says signs of arsenic poisoning include corns on the soles of feet and palms, and skin, circulation and nervous system problems.

At extremely high levels, arsenic can cause cancer, said Dr. John Leitch, oncologist and executive partner of Fargo's Roger Maris Cancer Center.

The cancers linked to arsenic include skin, lung, bladder and colon cancers, he said.

RMB hired Braun Intertec of Minneapolis to test for metals in 60 to 80 arsenic samples from the Long Lake area. Most shallow wells tested from nondetectable to 10 parts per billion. Deeper wells tested from 20 ppb to the low 40s ppb, with most averaging in the upper 20 ppb to low 30s ppb.

"The arsenic we have in the water here is naturally occurring," said Bob Borash, laboratory director of RMB. "It is not caused by potato field fertilizer, gravel pits or anything else. Minnesota in general has high levels of naturally occurring arsenic."

Naturally occurring arsenic can be found in plumes around the area, including a stretch along County Road 6, Munson and Fox lakes, Dent, Fergus Falls, Perham and Ogema, he said.

The water supply in Detroit Lakes contains 2.5 parts per billion of arsenic, said Mike Jahnke, the city's wastewater treatment system foreman.

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The state Health Department said there are many options to address arsenic levels.

Most residents, including the Groths, choose to install a water treatment system. Reverse osmosis and distillation systems can help remove arsenic. Conventional water softeners and chlorinators won't remove it.

Digging a new well is another option.

"The deeper you go to drill, the more likely you are to get arsenic," says Margaret Krueger of Kreuger Water Wells in Audubon. "We don't test for arsenic when we drill because it is not required.

"There are health officials at almost every drilling. We really don't think arsenic is anything to be worried about."

Johnson is a reporter for The Detroit Lakes Tribune, a Forum Communications newspaper.

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