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Too much arsenic in the water

Five Yukon communities have excess levels of arsenic in their drinking water supply.Haines Junction, Teslin, Ross River, Carcross/Tagish First…

Five Yukon communities have excess levels of arsenic in their drinking water supply.

Haines Junction, Teslin, Ross River, Carcross/Tagish First Nation and the Takhini River subdivision are affected.

The arsenic levels in these communities exceed the new national standard, which was recently lowered from 0.025mg/L to 0.010 mg/L, said medical health officer Bryce Larke on Tuesday.

“But they are not that much over,” he said, citing some levels that are at 0.0154mg/L.

Excess arsenic in drinking water can cause cancer, usually of the bladder, liver, lungs or kidneys, said Larke.

But the risk is minimal.

In a community of 385,000 that has been drinking water with 0.010 mg/L of arsenic in it for 70 years, there will only be one additional case of cancer attributed to the arsenic, he said.

“So compared with other risks, like lighting up a cigarette, or getting into an automobile, it’s a low risk.”

Too much arsenic can also cause the skin to get thick, rough and change colour.

But this isn’t dangerous, said Larke.

Arsenic in water can be caused by any number of factors, said Environmental Health officer Pat Brooke, citing Ph levels and the Yukon’s mineral-rich soil.

Because it could take time to remedy the problem, the Yukon government is giving affected communities until 2011 to clean up their water supplies.

“We are giving them a five-year plan because the exceedences are slight and the health impacts are minimal,” said Brooke.

Boiling water will not eliminate arsenic, nor will filtration systems, like Brita, she added.

Yukoners with private wells, who want have them tested, must send the water out to labs in Alberta or BC, said Brooke.

The Yukon government will pay the shipping and provide the containers, but residents must pay for the tests.

Testing for just arsenic should cost just over $40, while full testing costs about $180.