Drinking Water

Published 2014

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element present in rocks and soil. Arsenic is the 20th most abundant element in the earth's crust and often forms compounds by combining with oxygen, chlorine and sulfur. As water passes through and over soil and rock formations, it dissolves many compounds and minerals including arsenic. The result is that varying amounts of soluble arsenic are present in some water sources. Arsenic chemistry is complex, because it has many forms.

Arsenic contamination of a drinking water source most often results from natural sources; however, it can result from human activities. Arsenic solutions were used to treat a variety of health disorders in the past. While the medical use of arsenic has declined, an arsenic solution received Food and Drug Administration approval for leukemia treatment in 2000. Arsenic has been used in mining and manufacturing and was a component of some pesticides used in the past. Chromated copper arsenate was used to pressure-treat wood for preservation and to prevent insect damage; this wood commonly is known as CCA-treated lumber.

Although arsenic use as described above has the potential to result in arsenic contamination of groundwater, primarily as a result of industrial activity, the arsenic in most Nebraska water supplies is naturally occurring and comes from the aquifer from which the water is pumped.

Ingestion of drinking water containing arsenic can cause adverse health effects. Most notably, arsenic is a known carcinogen, and long-term ingestion may increase the risk of cancer. Public water supplies must comply with the EPA standard of 10 ppb which became effective in January 2006 or must have obtained an extension. Management of a private drinking water well for arsenic is a decision made by the well owner and/or water user. Research is being conducted to identify effective, economical methods for arsenic removal and residual disposal. The treatment system or combination of systems that will be best for a given situation will depend on several factors. Each individual private well owner/user needs to determine willingness to accept risk,and work with professionals to manage the risk.

Publication Details


Bruce I. Dvorak

Sharon O. Skipton

Wayne E Woldt

Andy Kahle


Natural Resources

Water Management

Publication Date November 01, 2004
Last Revision Date August 19, 2014
Language English


Series NebGuide