U.S. Water News Online
SANTA FE -- Eight New Mexico water systems have another
year to put long-range plans in place to meet the drinking water
standard for arsenic set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Rio Rancho, Los Lunas, Desert Sands,
Bosque Farms, La Mesa and Espanola water systems now have until the
end of 2008, said Chuck Thomas, senior engineer with the state
Environment Department's Drinking Water Bureau.
Arsenic is linked to a wide range of illnesses, including bladder
and lung cancer and circulatory problems.
The mineral occurs naturally in volcanic soils, which are common
in New Mexico. It leaches from the soil into groundwater, the main
source of drinking water for many towns and rural residents in New
Mexico and other parts of the West.
The EPA requires water agencies to significantly reduce arsenic
levels in drinking water from the old standard of 50 parts per
billion to 10 parts per billion. One part per billion is equivalent
to one drop of water in a 10,000-gallon swimming pool.
The old level had been in effect since 1942. The tougher standard
went into effect in 2006. However, the Environment Department
obtained an extension until the end of 2007 for New Mexico because so
many communities lacked funds to meet the standard. The eight water
systems received a further one-year delay.
Thomas said the highest concentration of arsenic occurred in the
village of San Ysidro near Jemez Springs, with levels of 70 to 110
parts per billion. He said that requires a reverse osmosis filtering
system in every home to remove the arsenic.
"Reverse osmosis is kind of a catchall method," Thomas said.
"Reverse osmosis filters out almost everything, but it is not
necessarily the cheapest and most cost-effective method."
Santa Fe has been temporarily meeting the new standard by diluting
higher-arsenic well water with water that has less arsenic. The
director of Santa Fe's water utility division, Gary Martinez, said
division officials are trying to determine the most effective,
least-expensive way to make sure the city's water meets the arsenic
standard in the decades ahead.
The capital city will strive for arsenic levels 50 percent to 80
percent below the new standard, "but again, the cost is really the
driver," Martinez said.
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