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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

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 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 recent 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 have also been diminished, and criminal prosecutions for those who aren’t following regulations are at a 30-year low.

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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