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Research Articles

The purpose of these articles is to inform the reader on a variety of subjects and help give an understanding.

Arsenic can be found in drinking water throughout the globe.

Arsenic can be found in drinking water throughout the globe. Photo provided by Pixabay.

Mysteries, like “Arsenic and Old Lace” and various Agatha Christy books, have used arsenic as a silent killer for generations, but what is arsenic? Arsenic is a naturally occurring mineral on all continents of the Earth.  It can be found in both organic and inorganic forms, and therefore permeates all environments. Arsenic contamination can be airborne, in food, or in water. The hazards of arsenic, even in small quantities, are sizeable and dangerous to human health.

Arsenic is normally only found in small quantities, only a few parts per billion (ppb), however, it is found in a multitude of minerals such as pyrite, nickel, silver, iron, lead and sulfur. Arsenic is widely spread throughout all continents and environments – in water, air, and soil/minerals. Its attributes are subsistent of those of metals and solid nonmetals, therefore it is considered a metalloid which acts uniquely depending on the element or compound to which it is bonded. Arsenic can be found in both inorganic and organic substances as well as combinations of both which create many different compounds in which arsenic is present. It is present naturally as an inorganic compound, normally combined with oxygen, chlorine, or sulfur, and frequently in ore containing copper or lead.  Inorganic forms of arsenic, such as that found in water, are highly poisonous to humans; whereas organic forms, such as found in fish and shellfish, are benign.

Arsenic combined with carbon and hydrogen is referred to as organic arsenic. For the most part, when found in its organic form, arsenic is known as arsenobetaine. Organic arsenic are carbon-based compounds that are covalently bonded to arsenic atoms, whereas inorganic arsenic can be the pure form of the element or arsenic combined with any other non-organic/non-carbon based elements; Organic arsenic, does not need to be monitored at this time, since it is not considered harmful.

Arsenic has detrimental effects on all organ systems in the human body since it directly targets enzyme reactions. Arsenic acts as a carcinogen, affecting the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney, nasal passages, colon, liver, and prostate. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a part of the World Health Organization (WHO), deemed inorganic arsenic “carcinogenic to humans” and the EPA deemed inorganic arsenic as a “human carcinogen” causing cancer in the above-mentioned organs. However, the International Agency for Research on Cancer identified organic forms of arsenic as “not classifiable as to their carcinogenicity in humans,” (Mello 167).  Non-cancerous effects of short-term arsenic exposure include thickening and discoloration of the skin, bruising, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, numbness in hands and feet or a “pins and needles” feeling, partial paralysis, and blindness. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR), an organization with ties to the CDC, “Other effects you might experience from swallowing inorganic arsenic include decreased production of red and white blood cells, which may cause fatigue, abnormal heart rhythm, blood-vessel damage resulting in bruising, and impaired nerve function causing a “pins and needles” sensation in your hands and feet.”  Because of differing effects on different ethnic groups, it is difficult for organizations to discover the extent that arsenic contamination damages human health. Countries like Bangladesh have severely neglected health protection; upwards of 43,000 people die from arsenic-related exposure a year (“Bangladesh: 20 Million Drink Arsenic-Laced Water”).  In the United States, however, where most people are on municipal water systems, water quality is monitored, minimizing deaths from arsenic poisoning. However, safe levels in the United States need to be reduced significantly, to reduce health hazards from arsenic.

Established in 1942, the MCL (Maximum Contamination Limit) of 50 parts per billion (ppb) arsenic in water was the US standard until 2001 when the Clinton administration enacted the new drinking water standard of 10 ppb. In North America, ppb is used to describe the weight ratio between a concentration of a contaminant and a substance. For measuring the contamination in sediment or soil 1ppb=1µg; when measured in water or a liquid 1 ppb= 1µg/L. 1 µg/L means 1 microgram per liter which equals 1 ppb. ppb is the number of units of a contaminant per thousand million units of the substance (See Figure 2).   The new standard of 10 ppb was researched by the EPA throughout the 1980s and 90s. The new regulation took effect in January of 2006, however, water purification facilities were given up to 10 years (until 2016) to obtain the equipment needed to implement purification. Called Chemical Contaminant Rules, the rules regulate over 65 contaminants, including arsenic (“Drinking Water Requirements for States and Public Water Systems”). However, new research is showing arsenic levels over 5 ppb are harmful to humans, especially more feeble populations, including elderly and children.

Most arsenic compounds have no smell, and most have no special taste. Therefore, it is hard to tell if arsenic is present in food, water, or air. Because of the lack of smell or taste, arsenic contamination is easily dismissed or ignored. It can be present because of man-made operations such as mining, ore smelting, and industrial use of arsenic, primarily wood preservation.  Smelting of ores, to separate the ore from the rock, produces both solid and gaseous forms of arsenic.  Because arsenic has no smell or taste, gaseous forms may contaminate water sources through the water cycle.  Therefore, if a processing plant contaminates the air, the water shed in the area can also be affected, contaminating drinking water

Arsenic enters the environment through volcanic eruptions, the burning of coal by power plants, mining, smelting and other natural and man-made processes.  It is never destroyed – it can only change forms.  These airborne particles are washed into water sources and may be ingested by animals or drunk by humans.  Therefore, we are constantly eating, breathing and drinking some arsenic, but some things increase the amount of arsenic we are exposed to.  Arsenic is often found naturally in some wells and, when it bonds with iron, may build up in the scale in water pipes.  The natural geology of the well as well as man-made processes near the well affect the arsenic content.  Some areas of the country have higher contents of arsenic naturally than others.  Waste sites will often contain higher levels of arsenic.  Also, contact with insect/rodent poison or older “pressure treated” wood will increase the levels of arsenic exposure.

Over 100,000 tons of arsenic are produced annually worldwide; much of this is a bi-product of smelting ores which contain arsenic, such as copper, lead, cobalt, and gold. The ores can contain as low as 2% arsenic, in the case of copper and lead, and as high as 11%, in the case of gold.  Though we cannot always avoid arsenic contamination caused naturally, we can work to eliminate man-made arsenic contamination.  This would leave us with less contamination to clean from our water.

By Liam J. Smith

Why Things Are Bad: Common Water Contaminants

We had a summer intern a few years ago that was assigned to create a table of common industrial water contaminants and he labeled the list Why Things Are Bad.

Compound MCL (mg/L)
Health Concerns Treatment Methods EPA Test Method
Aluminum 0.2 long-term exposure to aluminum may be associated with adult degenerative neurological disorders MetalClear 200.5, Rev. 4.2
Antimony 0.006  increase in blood cholesterol, decrease in blood sugar, potential carcinogen, and causing irritation to eyes and skin. MetalClear 200.5, Rev. 4.2
Arsenic 0.01 can result in the formation of malignant tumors on skin and lungs and may cause nervous system disorders. MetalClear 200.5, Rev. 4.2
Barium 2 can cause an increase in blood pressure and affects the nervous and circulatory system MetalClear 200.5, Rev. 4.2
Beryllium 0.004 associated with intestinal lesions, may affect skin and lung tissue, and is classified as a carcinogen MetalClear 200.5, Rev. 4.2
Cadmium 0.005 linked to kidney disorders, bronchitis, and anemia MetalClear 200.5, Rev. 4.2
Calcium N/A Causes calcium build-up in water systems MetalClear 200.5, Rev. 4.2
Chloride 250 potential aesthetic problems associated with the taste of water, and the elevated levels can cause corrosion in piping and fixtures MetalClear 300.0, Rev. 2.1
Chromium 0.1 is associated with liver and kidney disorders and it affects the skin and digestive system. MetalClear 200.5, Rev. 4.2
Copper 1.3
(1.0 for bottled water)
 associated with liver and kidney damage and short-term exposure is associated with gastrointestinal disorders MetalClear 200.5, Rev. 4.2
Cyanide 0.2 been shown to cause nerve damage, thyroid problems, and affect the endocrine system MetalClear 335.4, Rev. 1.0
Fluoride 2 Elevated levels of fluoride have been shown to cause bone disease. MetalClear 300.1, Rev. 1.0
Iron 0.3 can be associated with a bitter/ metallic taste, formation of sediment and yellow, red, and orange films, and discolored clothing during washing MetalClear 200.5, Rev. 4.2
Lead 0.015 (0.005 directly from source to tap) can result in delayed physical and mental development, attention deficits, kidney disorders, and high blood pressure. MetalClear 200.5, Rev. 4.2
Magnesium N/A No known health consequences. MetalClear 200.5, Rev. 4.2
Manganese 0.05 associated with a bitter/ metallic taste, formation of sediment and brown to black films, and discolored clothing. MetalClear 200.5, Rev. 4.2
Mercury 0.002 can affect the kidneys and the nervous system MetalClear 200.8, Rev. 5.4
Nickel N/A Exposure to high levels will result in damage to lungs and kidneys.  Rashes may break out. MetalClear 200.5, Rev. 4.2
Nitrate 10 primary concern is that infants less than 6 months are susceptible to blue-baby syndrome, which is potentially  fatal if not treated MetalClear 300.1, Rev. 1.0
Nitrite 1 primary concern is that infants less than 6 months are susceptible to blue-baby syndrome, which is potentially  fatal if not treated MetalClear 300.1, Rev. 1.0
Potassium N/A No known health consequences.   120.1
Selenium 0.5 been associated with hair and fingernail loss, numbness in fingers and toes, and circulatory disorders MetalClear 200.5, Rev. 4.2
Silver 0.1 elevated levels of silver may cause skin discoloration, i.e., argyria, or graying of the white part of the eye MetalClear 200.5, Rev. 4.2
Sulfate 250 At a level of 250 mg/L, sulfate can impart a bitter to salty taste to the water, but at a level of over 500 mg/L the sulfate can have a laxative effect SulfurClear 375.2, Rev. 2.0
Thallium 0.002 can result in hair loss and can cause changes in blood chemistry and problems with the kidney, intestine, and liver. MetalClear 200.8, Rev. 5.4
Zinc 5 water can have a metallic taste and the water could be corrosive. MetalClear 200.5, Rev. 4.2
Volatile Organics
Benzene 0.005 is a carcinogen, i.e., cause cancer, and a common organic chemical associated with gasoline contamination.  It is clear, colorless, and highly flammable. In addition to being carcinogenic, benzene exposure has been associated with anemia. OrganiClear 502.2, Rev. 2.1
Carbon Tetrachloride 0.005 has been shown to adversely affect the nervous and reproductive systems, liver and kidneys, and cause leukemia and anemia. OrganiClear 502.2, Rev. 2.1
Chloroform or Trichloromethan 0.08 a suspected human carcinogen and has shown to produce tumors in the kidney and liver of animals OrganiClear 502.2, Rev. 2.1
o-Dichlorobenzene (1,2-Dichlorobenzene) 0.6 Increased blood cholesterol, protein, and glucose levels OrganiClear 502.2, Rev. 2.1
para-Dichlorobenzene (1,4-Dichlorobenzene) 0.075 Benign liver tumors and adrenal gland tumors (classified as a probable carcinogen) OrganiClear 502.2, Rev. 2.1
1,2-Dichloroethane 0.005 Cancer of the mammary gland (classified as a probable carcinogen) OrganiClear 502.2, Rev. 2.1
1,1-Dichloroethylene 0.007 Liver effects (fatty changes) OrganiClear 502.2, Rev. 2.1
cis-1,2-Dichloroethylene 0.07 Acute (short-term) exposure cause central nervous system depression; chronic (long-term) exposure will cause damage to the liver and the circulatory and nervous systems. OrganiClear 502.2, Rev. 2.1
trans-1,2-Dichloroethylene 0.1 Acute (short-term) exposure cause central nervous system depression; chronic (long-term) exposure will cause damage to the liver and the circulatory and nervous systems. OrganiClear 502.2, Rev. 2.1
Dichloromethane 0.005 Liver effects, classified as a probable carcinogen. OrganiClear 502.2, Rev. 2.1
1,2-Dichloropropane 0.005 Increased risk of cancer. OrganiClear 502.2, Rev. 2.1
Ethylbenzene 0.7 been associated with damage or problems associated with the liver and kidneys OrganiClear 502.2, Rev. 2.1
Monochlorobenzene 0.1 Reduced survival and body weight gain OrganiClear 502.2, Rev. 2.1
Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (MTBE) 0.04 has been identified as a possible carcinogen OrganiClear 8015C
Styrene 0.1 Acute (short-term) exposure to styrene in humans results in mucous membrane and eye irritation, and gastrointestinal effects.  Chronic (long-term) exposure to styrene in humans results in effects on the central nervous system (CNS), such as headache, fatigue, weakness, and depression, CSN dysfunction, hearing loss, and peripheral neuropathy OrganiClear 502.2, Rev. 2.1
Tetrachloroethylene (TCE) 0.005 Long-term exposure has been linked to damage to the liver and increased risk to cancer. OrganiClear 502.2, Rev. 2.1
Toluene 1  linked to problems with the nervous system, kidneys or liver OrganiClear 502.2, Rev. 2.1
Trichloroethylene 0.005 Long-term exposure has been linked to damage to the liver and increased risk to cancer. OrganiClear 502.2, Rev. 2.1
1,2,4-Trichloroethylene 0.07 Long-term exposure has been linked to damage to the liver and increased risk to cancer. OrganiClear 502.2, Rev. 2.1
1,1,1-Trichloroethane (Methyl Chloroform) 0.2 Effects reported in humans due to acute (short-term) inhalation exposure to methyl chloroform include hypotension, mild hepatic effects, and central nervous system (CNS) depression.  Cardiac arrhythmia and respiratory arrest may result from the depression of the CNS.  Symptoms of acute inhalation exposure include dizziness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of consciousness, and decreased blood pressure in humans.  After chronic (long-term) inhalation exposure to methyl chloroform, some liver damage was observed in mice and ventricular arrhythmias in humans OrganiClear 502.2, Rev. 2.1
1,1,2-Trichloroethane 0.005 The only effect that has been noted in humans is stinging and burning sensations of the skin upon dermal exposure to the chemical.  Acute animal studies have reported effects on the liver, kidney, and central nervous system (CNS) from inhalation and oral exposure OrganiClear 502.2, Rev. 2.1
Vinyl Chloride 0.002 Liver cancer (classified as a human carcinogen); Raynaud’s disease, effects on the bone, circulatory system, thyroid, spleen, and central nervous system. OrganiClear 502.2, Rev. 2.1
Xylenes 10 Long-term exposure has been linked to problems with the nervous system OrganiClear 502.2, Rev. 2.1
Total Coliform <1 colony /100mL used to indicate changes in water quality   9221A
e.coli <1 colony /100mL The presence of E. coii indicates recent fecal contamination and the potential presence of microorganisms capable of causing gastrointestinal illnesses; pathogens in human and animal feces pose the most immediate danger to public health. All IX Water Reactors are biocidic 9222G
Gross Alpha 15pCi/L An increased risk of cancer, most notably lung cancer. NORMClear (1) 7110C
Combined Radium (226+228) 5pCi/L Cancer of the lung, breast, thyroid, bone, digestive organs, and skin; leukemia NORMClear 903.0, 904.0
Beta Particle & Photon Activity 4mrem/yr Chronic exposure may cause an increased risk of cancer. NORMClear 900.0
Uranium 30μg/L Kidney effects (various lesions); maybe rapidly reversible after exposure ceases NORMClear or MetalClear 908.0
Hard Water Classifications
Hardwater Classifications
Classification Total Hardness (mg CaCO3/L) Treatment Method
Soft 0-17  
Slightly Hard 17-60 MetalClear++
Moderately Hard 60-120 MetalClear++
Hard 120-180 MetalClear++
Very Hard >180 MetalClear++
Salt Water Classifications
Saline Water Classifications
Classification Total Dissolved Solids (mg/L) (2) Treatment Method
Freshwater 0-1,000 SaltClear
Slightly Saline 1,000-3,000 SaltClear
Moderately Saline 3,000-10,000 SaltClear
Very Saline 10,000-35,000 SaltClear
Briny >35,000 SaltClear (3)

Hydroelectric Power: Jack Boardman

Electricity is important to power our homes, towns, and cities. It is produced in many ways, however, some of the most common ways often have a large environmental impact. Fossil fuels amount to 60% of US power and produced 1,542 metric tons of CO2 in 2022. There have...

Lake Michigan: The Majestic Gem of the Great Lakes

TLDR Version: Lake Michigan (USA): Lake Michigan is one of the Great Lakes of North America and has played a significant role in the region's history, from early Native American settlements to the development of major cities like Chicago. Lake Michigan: The Majestic...

The Dead Sea: Nature’s Saltwater Sanctuary

TLDR Version: Dead Sea (Jordan/Israel): The Dead Sea is famous for its extremely high salt concentration, which allows people to float effortlessly on its surface. It also has a rich history, mentioned in various ancient texts. The Dead Sea: Nature's Saltwater...

Lake Tanganyika: Africa’s Ancient, Enigmatic, and Biodiverse Gem

TLDR Version: Lake Tanganyika (Africa): It is one of the African Great Lakes and stands out for its incredible biodiversity. It is home to hundreds of unique fish species, some of which can't be found anywhere else in the world. Lake Tanganyika: Africa's Ancient,...

Acid Mine Drainage

Acid mine drainage poses a major problem to the environment and drinking water resources in the surrounding area. We will explore remediation techniques, mitigation techniques, and the environmental and economic hazards which stem from acid mine drainage. Examples of...

IX Water Working In Landfill Leachate

TLDR: Landfill leachate is a liquid waste product that forms as water interacts with waste materials in landfills. It contains a mixture of pollutants and must be carefully collected, treated, and managed to prevent environmental contamination and safeguard human...

IX Water Working In Steel Mills

A Rolling mill. You can see the steel being cooled with a continuous water spray. Steel mills use tens of millions of gallons of water each day. Steel production takes a lot of water. Water is a crucial component in industrial steelmaking processes, primarily used for...

Great Salt Lake: America’s Inland Sea

TLDR Version: Great Salt Lake (USA): Located in Utah, the Great Salt Lake is the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere. It's saltier than the ocean and has an interesting history of resource extraction and conservation efforts. Great Salt Lake: America's...

Lake Nyos: The Silent Killer and Scientific Mystery

TLDR Version: Lake Nyos (Cameroon): This African lake is known for a tragic event in 1986 when a sudden release of carbon dioxide from its depths suffocated nearby villagers, resulting in the deaths of nearly 1,800 people and countless livestock. Lake Nyos: The Silent...

Lake Titicaca: The Enigmatic Jewel of the Andes

TLDR Version: Lake Titicaca (Peru/Bolivia): Lake Titicaca is not only the largest lake in South America but also the highest navigable lake in the world. It has a rich history, with several ancient cultures, including the Incas, considering it sacred. Lake Titicaca:...
Of most concern in produced water is the family of organic compounds known as BTEX. This acronym stands for Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene, and Xylenes, which are closely related. These compounds are soluble in water, so produced water from the extraction of crude oil is always contaminated with these compounds.

Benzene is carcinogenic, while Toluene, Ethylbenzene, and Xylenes have harmful effects on the central nervous system of humans and animals. Frequently found together, the BTEX compounds are proven to cause cancer and other diseases, birth defects, eventual death and even immediate death with exposure to high concentrations.



The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established in December 1970 by an executive order of President Richard Nixon. It is an agency of the United States federal government whose mission is to protect human and environmental health. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the EPA is responsible for creating standards and laws promoting the health of individuals and the environment.

It was formed in response to widespread public environmental concerns that gained momentum in the 1950s and 1960s. From the EPA’s creation it has sought to protect and conserve the natural environmentand improve the health of humans by researching the effects of and mandating limits on the use of pollutants.

The EPA regulates the manufacturing, processing, distribution, and use of chemicals and other pollutants. In addition, the EPA is charged with determining safe tolerance levels for chemicals and other pollutants in food, animal feed, and water.

The EPA enforces its findings through fines, sanctions, and other procedures. Under the Trump administration, the EPA’s regulations of carbon emissions from power plants, automobiles, and other contributors to climate change, instituted by President Obama, are largely being rolled back. The EPA’s size and influence were also diminished, and criminal prosecutions for those who aren’t following regulations are at a 30-year low. The Biden administration is expected to change those policies back toward the more traditional role of the EPA.

website for the EPA

'Frack Flowback

‘Frack flowback is that water then flowing back up to the surface. About 80% of the ‘facking fluid used to complete a well will come back in the first 30 days of production. After that, the water that comes up along with oil and gas is natural produced water


FracFocus is a chemical disclosure registry.  It is a publicly accessible website managed by GWPC and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC) where oil and gas production well operations can disclose information about ingredients used in hydraulic fracturing fluids at individual wells.

FracFocus website


"Fracking Water

‘Fracking water is fresh water that is trucked onto a site, and then mixed with additives. This water is then injected into the earth at high pressure to fracture the rock formation to allow the oil or gas trapped within the formation, to be accessed.


OSPAR is the mechanism by which 15 Governments & the EU cooperate to protect the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic. OSPAR started in 1972 with the Oslo Convention against dumping and was broadened to cover land-based sources of marine pollution and the offshore industry by the Paris Convention of 1974.

Website for OSPAR

Produced Water

The term “produced water,” in a generic industry sense, is used to describe water that is extracted from the earth during oil and gas operations, and often in mining operations.

Produced water is also frequently referred to as “brine,” “saltwater,” or “formation water.”

However, used specifically, the term “produced water” is not the same thing as ‘fracking water, or ‘frack flowback.



STRONGER, is an acronym for State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations. STRONGER was formed in 1999 to reinvigorate and carry forward the state review process begun cooperatively in 1988 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC).

STRONGER is a non-profit, multi-stakeholder organization whose purpose is to assist states in documenting the environmental regulations associated with the exploration, development and production of crude oil and natural gas. STRONGER shares innovative techniques and environmental protection strategies and identifies opportunities for program improvement. The state review process is a non-regulatory program and relies on states to volunteer for reviews.

U.S. EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy have provided grant funding to STRONGER to support its activities. The American Petroleum Institute has also provided no-strings attached funding to support the state review process. STRONGER invites participation in the state review process. They seek volunteers from both states and interested citizens. They also invite inquiries about the process and the concepts of direct evaluation of environmental regulatory performance. www.strongerinc.org

Unconventional Oil & Gas

Crude oil and natural gas produced by a well drilled into a shale and/or tight formation (including, but not limited to, shale gas, shale oil, tight gas, tight oil).”  Source: EPA definition 40 CFR 435.33(a)(2)(i)



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