On January 23, 2006, public and private water agencies all over the United States will have to meet tough new standards from the Environmental Protection Agency that drastically reduce the levels of arsenic allowed in America's drinking water.

But those protections will not apply to the millions of suburban homeowners and residents of rural areas who depend on their own well for their drinking water. In response, the American Ground Water Trust (AGWT) has published a guide to answer homeowners' questions about arsenic and ground water. AGWT is a non-profit public service agency that provides educational programs throughout the United States on ground water and its role in meeting America's need for safe drinking water.

"We are hopeful this effort will help to fill a critical need because the responsibility for checking the quality of water obtained from private wells lies exclusively with the property owner," says Andrew Stone, executive director of AGWT. "There are no regulatory agencies or community organizations that have any authority over private wells under the new rules."

The 24-page guide entitled “Arsenic and Ground Water: Questions, Answers and Solutions” explains the geologic origins of arsenic, its occurrence in ground water, arsenic-related health issues and methods to remove or reduce arsenic levels. Although many regions in the United States have natural occurrences of arsenic, drinking water contamination also can be caused by human activities such as mining, metal smelting and pesticide usage or from man-made products such as wood preservatives, paints, drugs, dyes and soaps.

The EPA's new arsenic standards change the allowable amount of arsenic in water supplies from 50 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion. Ground water is the source of approximately half of America's drinking water supplies, but the EPA standards do not cover individually owned wells and water systems that have fewer than 15 service connections or serve fewer than 25 people.

Arsenic is considered an accumulative enabler because it makes people more likely to become ill from various cancers, diabetes and high blood pressure. If consumed in high amounts, arsenic may cause diseases related to the cardiovascular, pulmonary, immunological, neurological and endocrine systems in the body. Many of these health issues can be avoided if water is properly tested and treated for arsenic contamination.

The Trust is distributing the new arsenic guide at educational conferences around the country. Copies are available for purchase through the Trust's Web site at www.awgt.org. Agencies and water well professionals interested in distributing copies of the guide to their customers can purchase them in bulk at a reduced price on AGWT's Web site or can call 603-228-5444.