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On October 31, 2001 the Environmental Protection Agency announced that the arsenic standard in drinking water will be 10 parts per billion.

Perhaps, this will quiet, at least for a short time, what had been a sometimes loud discussion concerning the amount of arsenic that should be allowed in the water that we drink.

You might think that no arsenic is allowed -- but that is not correct. Some is allowed, and right now that level is 10 parts per billion. Before this announcement, the allowable level had been five times greater. The EPA Administrator proclaimed that this lower standard will "improve the safety of drinking water for millions or Americans, and better protect against the risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes."

Perhaps you recall that President Bush vetoed proposed regulations concerning allowable levels of arsenic in drinking water when he first took office . This gave the President a bad reputation, environmentally speaking, among those who follow these kinds of issues.

Well, it seems as if someone in Washington may have had a change of heart.

This new announcement is clearly good news for all of us who are in the habit of consuming water, even if only occasionally.

However, there are real questions that still relate to arsenic in drinking water. And you should take measures to ensure that your water is safe and will not make you ill. Many people have some level of arsenic in the water that they consume.

The problem is everywhere. Recently, tests on 50,000 wells in Bangladesh indicated that about 40% are so heavily contaminated with arsenic that the water from them cannot be consumed. The World Bank has provided information that supports these claims. Reports from a United Nations program suggest that thousands of persons who live in Bangladesh may become ill as a result of arsenic poisoning.

While some of the arsenic had been introduced as a result of human intervention, it is believed that naturally occurring arsenic is also a problem. Arsenic, at sufficiently high quantities, can also cause skin illnesses, tumors, as well as breathing difficulties. People can die as a result of arsenic contamination at certain prolonged exposures.

Arsenic contamination is a problem that must be of concern to individuals who drink water from wells. Arsenic exists naturally and has also used as a pesticide. Many apple orchards have relied on arsenic over the years. And once in the ground, arsenic can find its way into your drinking water.

Arsenic enters the water in various ways. According to a 1999 report from the American Waterworks Association, drinking water levels in the United States may have arsenic levels that are high enough in certain instances to pose a risk of contracting cancer.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, ingestion of arsenic can result in both cancer and non-cancer health effects. When inhaled, arsenic can cause lung cancer and studies have linked consuming arsenic with contracting cancer.

Arsenic exposure has also been reported to result in other health effects such as the thickening of skin, nervous system ailments, and effects on the gastrointestinal systems and liver.

What should you do about this? If you have well water, you should be having your water checked on a regular basis. And make sure to test for arsenic in addition to the regular tests that are taken. Unless you test for arsenic and other poisons, you will not know if you have a problem.

If your water is from a water company, read the federally required "Confidence" reports. This should reveal any arsenic issues. You want to look for two things: is arsenic being detected. If so, how much arsenic are you consuming.

If arsenic is in your water and you know the identity of the responsible party, you should first consider an amicable resolution. You want arsenic levels eliminated or at least reduced, and you might be entitled to financial compensation.

If an amicable resolution is not possible, you should consider retaining qualified legal counsel -- in other words, a lawyer familiar with contaminated drinking water issues.

Remember, you may have a short statute of limitations and if you allow that time to pass without filing suit, you may lose your right to do so forever.

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