By Susan Bromley
– Arsenic levels that exceeded acceptable standards for drinking water required action at Harvey Swanson Elementary last month and serve as a reminder to area residents to have their water checked.
The Oakland County Health Division tests water samples taken quarterly at sites that have previously tested high for contaminants. In the Brandon School District, this includes Harvey Swanson. The samples are averaged, and the most recent sample showed water at the elementary school has an annual running average arsenic concentration of 10.7 parts per billion, exceeding the maximum contaminant level of 10 ppb, set forth by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
“Today and until this situation is resolved, water jugs and cups will be stationed in our cafeteria to supply our students and staff with safe drinking water,” wrote Harvey Swanson Principal Bill Renner in a note to parents dated March 1, the day after receiving notification from OCHD.
“I am sorry for any inconvenience this may cause you or your child. We will keep you informed of any concerns and updates to the situation as we work diligently to resolve this issue.”
The district was not required to provide bottled water, said Tony Drautz, OCHD administrator.
“Out of an abundance of caution they elected to offer bottled water,” he said. “This (the elevated arsenic levels in the water) isn’t acute, it’s chronic. You have to consume the water for a long period of time before there are health effects. This is something that I would anticipate that since their arsenic treatment system has been serviced as required, they should get satisfactory arsenic samples soon and be cleared.”
Harvey Swanson officials received the all clear and drinking water from school fountains resumed on March 29.
Arsenic occurs naturally in the environment and poses more of a problem in certain geographic locations in Michigan, particularly the thumb area, as well as northern Oakland County where wells proliferate opposed to municipal water sources in the south.
Long-term exposure to arsenic can lead to discoloration of the skin, stomach pain, nausea and vomiting.
“I encourage every homeowner with a private drinking water well to test their water routinely,” said Kathy Forzley, health officer for Oakland County. “Homeowners with private wells may not be aware of the risks that can occur. Testing well water regularly is the only way to ensure safe drinking water.”
The Health Division recommends testing private wells for bacteria (total coliform), nitrate, and nitrite annually. Well testing is also recommended if:
• There are known problems with well water in the area
• There have been problems near the well (i.e., flooding, land disturbances, and nearby waste disposal sites)
• Any part of the well system has been repaired or replaced
• The well has a history of bacterial contamination
• The septic system has recently malfunctioned
• Family members or house guests have recurrent incidents of gastrointestinal illness
• An infant is living in the home
More information on arsenic can be found at https://www.oakgov.com/health/information/Pages/Arsenic.aspx
Water sample bottles can be purchased at Health Division offices for detection of bacteria for $6 and partial chemical (i.e., nitrate, nitrite, chloride, fluoride, and sulfate) for $5.
Health Division offices are open 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. They are located at:
• North Oakland Health Center, 1200 N. Telegraph Road, Building 34 East, Pontiac or South Oakland Health Center, 27725 Greenfield Road, Southfield
Other tests or testing frequency may be recommended based on geographic location or specific drinking water concerns. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Drinking Water Lab has additional tests available, including arsenic and lead, to ensure private water supply safety.
For more information, visit www.michigan.gov/deq.