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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Water test: ‘Horrific’ level of arsenic at town hall

Jodi Summit
Posted 11/17/21

GREENWOOD TWP- Water testing done at the Greenwood Town Hall has highlighted some serious issues with water quality.“The results were quite horrific,” said Supervisor Barb Lofquist, who …

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Water test: ‘Horrific’ level of arsenic at town hall


GREENWOOD TWP- Water testing done at the Greenwood Town Hall has highlighted some serious issues with water quality.
“The results were quite horrific,” said Supervisor Barb Lofquist, who had initiated getting the testing done. “We were concerned about mercury, but it’s the arsenic.”
Arsenic levels tested at 200 times acceptable limits, with a reading of 102 ug/L. The acceptable level in drinking water is under 0.5 ug/L. The “action limit” for arsenic is 10 ug/L. One ug/L is the same as one part per billion.
“This is to the point of toxicity,” said Lofquist. “There are health risks.”
Lofquist had spearheaded the effort to get the water at the town hall tested, mostly, she said, because of the lingering odor of sulfur in the water supply. She was also worried the water might have mercury in it, because of the proximity to Lake Vermilion.
“I thought we should have safe drinking water here, and the town board agreed,” she said.
The board is also acting quickly to get the issue resolved.
The township immediately shut off the water supply in the town hall, and gave the go-ahead at their Nov. 10 meeting to look into what treatment options are available. Lofquist is contacting several water treatment companies, such as Culligan, to get quotes on options for treating the water so it is safe to drink. The board said they would hold a special meeting once the quotes are received to get a filtration system in place as soon as possible.
In the meantime, the board gave Mark Drobac, a retired steamfitter, permission to turn the town hall water back on, while turning off the outside spigot, which is used by many cabin residents to get potable drinking water. Signs will also be posted ,warning that the water is not safe to drink.
Many township residents who have lake water systems have used the town hall as a source for drinking water. While the water has been tested for common contaminants, as required by the state, the township had never tested the water for other minerals.
The town hall spigot is also used by RV’ers to fill their water tanks, and by local bait dealers, who are required to transport their minnows in clean water, not lake water, to curb the introduction of aquatic invasive species.
“All summer long there are people there [at the spigot],” said Lofquist, “sometimes there is a line.”
Health risks from arsenic
The Minnesota Department of Health warns that consuming water even with low levels of arsenic over a long period of time is associated with diabetes and the increased risk of several types of cancer, including bladder, lung, liver, and other organs. Ingesting arsenic can also contribute to cardiovascular and respiratory disease, reduced intelligence in children, and skin problems such as lesions, discoloration, and the development of corns. The health impacts of arsenic may take many years to develop.
Arsenic is found naturally in soils and rocks across our area and can dissolve into the groundwater. Arsenic levels can vary between wells even in a small area, according to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). You cannot taste, see, or smell arsenic in the water.
The water testing showed some good news and some other bad news, too. There was no trace of mercury or nitrates in the water. Copper tested at 10.7 ug/L, over the acceptable level of 1.0, but lower than the action limit of 1300 ug/L, and there are no known health risks from higher copper levels; lead was 0.39 ug/L, over the acceptable level of 0.10, but lower than the action limit of 15 ug/L; and manganese was 266 ug/L, much higher than the acceptable level of 0.50.
High manganese levels are an issue in the public water supply in Tower and Soudan, and a special filtration system is in place to remove the excess manganese. The water out of the wells tests at 255 ug/L, but after treatment it is lowered to 10 ug/L, said wastewater treatment operator Matt Tuchel. The last testing for arsenic showed a level of 2.26 ug/L, below the action limit of 10.
Since 2008, the state has required all newly-drilled wells to be tested for arsenic, and this data can be found on the Minnesota Well Index on the MDH website.
Manganese is the cause of the water’s sulfur-like smell. There are also health impacts from long-term use of water that is high in manganese. The safe level of manganese is under 100 ug/L, and manganese levels should be tested if there is an infant in the household drinking formula mixed with tap water. Otherwise, the state considers the safe level at less than 300 ug/L.
Any of the treatment options to remove arsenic from the water would also remove the manganese, Lofquist said.
Get your well water tested
There are two state-accredited laboratories in our area that can test well water for arsenic.
RMB Environmental Laboratories in Hibbing, 218-440-2043, offers a $25 test kit for arsenic. Test kits can be picked up in Virginia or Hibbing or mailed to a household. Test results take about 5-7 business days.
Pace Analytical Services in Virginia, 218-735-6700, also has testing available, but said the cost for arsenic testing is $250.
More information on arsenic in well water is available at Click on Healthy Communities, Environmental, and Workplaces, and then click on Environment and Your Health.


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