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High levels of arsenic found in Elkhart County water, plan on its way

GOSHEN, Ind. - Its not a pretty picture: a map created by a Michiana lab, depicts the areas in Elkhart County that failed water tests that checked bacteria, E.Coli and arsenic levels in 2016.

"What's alarming about it, is there's no requirement for water testing in Elkhart County. Yet, we find twice as much arsenic in the drinking water there," says Dawn Coffee, the owner of Yes Your Environmental lab in Mishawaka.

She says awareness is low, except for word of mouth.

"If someone tests high in their house, they'll tell their neighbors and say 'Hey, I had a high arsenic level. You may want to test your levels," she adds.

Coffee says she began collecting her data and mapping out the major problem areas in the county.

The lab also goes around and educates local real estate offices, encouraging them to get their listings tested.

One house that was brought to her attention had shocking statistics.

"The arsenic level had come out at 220, which is way over the limit of 10 parts per billion," Coffee explains. 

The Elkhart County Health Department knows there's a problem.

It's working on a solution to help with some of the contamination. It's a second shot at a well ordinance that would regulate wells and where they are drilled.

The county attempted to create one in the mid-1990s, but it didn't pass.

"It's a portion of environmental health that hasn't been scrutinized very effectively," says Bill Hartsuff, the On-site Program Supervisor at the Elkhart County Health Department. 

He says the ordinance would mandate testing of bacteria and nitrates. They would also test for arsenic in areas that are known to be contaminated by arsenic as well.

But the testing would only be completed if someone wanted to abandon their current well, or get a new one. 

Hartsuff says it's up to the homeowner to make sure their water is consistently tested .

"The health department, or any other agency, is not going to stand in the middle and be a referee," he explains. "If you want to buy a house, you're going to investigate how the water is, where the well is, where the septic system is. You're going to do it on your own because it's your property."

Still, he adds he's cautiously optimistic that this time the ordinance will pass, especially because there has been an expansion of areas that have concerning contamination. 

The health department is working with local drillers and officials to make sure the ordinance is a team effort. Once they are done with the draft, they will send their recommendation to the Board of Health, who will pass it along to the County Commissioners.

There is no timeline on when this will be completed.

The Goshen Water Department released a statement regarding the levels of arsenic. It states their latest required test of arsenic levels, in April 2015, returned results that were under detectable levels.

Full press release:

Recent local news reports have brought up concerns about the level of arsenic in drinking water. Arsenic is a naturally occurring element found in rocks, water and plants in many areas of the U.S., including Indiana, according to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM). It may be more prevalent in well water before it’s treated. Arsenic is a known human carcinogen, and studies have shown that ingesting high levels of arsenic can increase the risk of skin cancer and cancer in the liver, bladder and lungs.
While arsenic, along with other contaminants, are always of concern to, and monitored by, the Goshen Water and Sewer Department, residents can be assured that Goshen’s drinking water is safe.
IDEM requires municipalities to test for arsenic every three years. The maximum contaminant level for arsenic in drinking water is .010 ppm (parts per million). The lowest level that labs can detect is .001 ppm. The last series of sampling in Goshen, performed in April 2015, returned results that were under detectable levels (< .001 ppm). Any arsenic that does come from the City wells is removed through the Water Department’s treatment process.
The City’s next required test for arsenic will be performed in 2018.



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