Skip to main content

Arsenic in domestic well water and health in central appalachia, USA


Two hundred seventeen tap water samples, from homes in 26 counties of eastern Kentucky, western West Virginia, southeastern Ohio, and northeastern Tennessee, USA, were analyzed for arsenic (As) by Hydride Generation AAS. Nearly half of the 179 samples from private wells had detectable arsenic, and, of these, 43% had 0.5–1.0 ppb, 34%, 1.1–3.0 ppb, 6%, 3.1–5.0 ppb, 11%, 5.1–10.0 ppb, and 6% had As far exceeding the new Maximum Contamination Level (MCL) of 10 ppb recently set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). Based on the National Research Council’s 2001 report to the USEPA, the lifetime risk of bladder and lung cancer from water arsenic exposure at 10 ppb is about one in 333 individuals, which is much higher than the standard of one in 10,000 individuals set for other carcinogens. Even at 5 ppb, the risk is 1 in 667, at 3 ppb, 1 in 1000, and at 1 ppb, 1 in 3100. The incidence of arsenic-related cancers and other diseases in this coal-mining region is high, and 57% of the well water samples tested in this study had levels over 1 ppb As. Since Central Appalachian families rely heavily on private wells, and the U.S. Federal 2006 compliance edict does not apply to private water sources, more extensive sampling and analysis of well water in the region, using the most sensitive methodology available, is recommended. A public awareness campaign and routine health screening for arsenic exposure is also recommended.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  • American Cancer Society: 2003, Cancer Facts and Figures 2003, American Cancer Society Inc., Atlanta, GA, USA, 52 pp.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bates, M. N., Smith, A. H. and Cantor, K. P.: 1995, ‘Case–control study of bladder cancer and arsenic in drinking water’, Am. J. Epidemiol. 141, 523–530.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Bae, M., Watanabe, C., Inaoka, T., Sekiyama, M., Sudo, N., Bokul, M. H. and Ohtsuka, R.: 2002, ‘Arsenic in cooked rice in Bangladesh’, Lancet 360, 1839–1840.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Blanset, J.: 2000, ‘Ground water and drinking water quality in Kentucky: Arsenic’ (Draft Report), Kentucky Division of Water, Groundwater Branch, Frankfort, KY, USA, 6 pp.

  • Blanset, J. M. and Goodmann, P. T.: 2002, ‘Arsenic in Kentucky’s groundwater and public water supplies’, Geological Society of America Joint Annual Meeting, Section #46: Geology and Public Health, Geological Society of America, Lexington, KY, USA, 3–5 April 2002, vol. 34, p. A-108 (Abstract).

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: 2004, ‘Interactive maps of Cardiovascular disease mortality’, as retrieved from, February 4, 2004.

  • Chen, C. J., Chiou, H. Y., Chiang, M. H., Lin, L. J. and Tai, T. Y.: 1996, ‘Dose–response relationship between ischemic heart disease mortality and long-term arsenic exposure’, Arterioscler. Thromb. Vasc. Biol. 16, 504–510.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Clesceri, L. S., Greenberg, A. E. and Eaton, A. D. (eds): 1998, Standard Methods for the Examination of Water and Wastewater, 20th edn., American Public Health Association, Washington, DC, USA, 1220 pp., 3.32–3.35.

    Google Scholar 

  • Engel, R. R. and Smith, A. H.: 1994, ‘Arsenic in drinking water and mortality from vascular disease: An ecologic analysis in 30 U.S. counties‘, Arch. Environ. Health. 49, 418–427.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Ferreccio, C., Gonzalez, C., Milosavjlevic, U., Marshall, G., Sancha, A. M. and Smith, A. H.: 2000, ‘Lung cancer and arsenic in drinking water in Chile‘, Epidemiol. 11, 673–679.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fisher, R. S.: 2002, ‘Groundwater quality in Kentucky: Arsenic’, Kentucky Geological Survey Information Circular 5, Series XII, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, USA, 4 pp.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gray, S. and Houlihan, J.: 2002, All Hands On Deck, A Report of the Environmental Working Group, Washington, DC, USA, 29 August 2002, 18 pp.

  • Hopenhayn-Rich, C., Browning, S. R., Hertz-Picciotto, I., Peralta, C. and Gibb, H.: 2000, ‘Chronic arsenic exposure and risk of infant mortality in two areas of Chile’, Environ. Health Perspect. 108, 667–673.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Kaltreider, R. C., Davis, A. M., Lariviere and Hamilton, J.: 2001, ‘Arsenic alters the function of the glutocorticoid receptor as a transcription factor’, Environ. Health Perspect. 109, 245–251.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kentucky Cancer Registry: 2002, ‘Cancer incidence in Kentucky‘, University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Control Program, Lexington, KY, USA, as retrieved from, February 5, 2004.

  • Kentucky Division of Water: 2002, An Overview of Kentucky’s Waters 2002: Water Resources, Report (305b) to Congress on Water Quality, Kentucky Natural Resources and Environmental Cabinet, Frankfurt, KY, USA, 108 pp.

  • Knobeloch, L.: 2002, Health Effects of Arsenic-Contaminated Drinking Water, A Report Submitted to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Madison, WI, USA, 25 pp.

  • Kurttio, P., Pukkala, E., Kahelin, H., Auvinen, A. and Pekkanen, J.: 1999, ‘Arsenic concentrations in well water and risk of bladder and kidney cancer in Finland’, Environ. Health Perspect. 107, 705–710.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Mushak, P.: 2000, Arsenic and Old Laws: A Scientific and Public Health Analysis of Arsenic Occurrence in Drinking Water, Its Health Effects and EPA’s Outdated Arsenic Tap Water Standard, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), New York, NY, USA, 35 pp.

    Google Scholar 

  • National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: 2003, ‘Diabetes Surveillance System Report’, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA, USA, as retrieved from, February 4, 2004.

  • National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: 2002, Morbidity and Mortality 2002 Chart Book on Cardiovascular, Lung, and Blood Diseases, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA, 104 pp.

  • National Research Council: 2001, Arsenic In Drinking Water: 2001 Update, A Report of the Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology, National Academy Press, Washington, DC, USA, 244 pp.

  • Ohio EPA Division of Drinking and Ground Water: 2000, 2000 305(b) Report: Ohio’s Ground Water Quality, State of Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Columbus, OH, USA, 38 pp.

  • Rahman, M., Tondel, M., Ahmad, S. A., Chowdhury, I. A., Faruquee, M. H. and Axelson, O. L.: 1999, ‘Hypertension and arsenic exposure in Bangladesh‘, Hypertension 33, 74–78.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Reder, S.: 2002, ‘The state of literacy in America’, National Institute For Literacy, Washington, DC, USA, as retrieved from, July 19, 2004.

  • Ryker, S. J.: 2001, ‘Mapping arsenic in groundwater’, Geotimes 46, 34–36.

    Google Scholar 

  • Shiber, J. G.: 2002, ‘Trace elements in tap water and stream water of eastern Kentucky’, Abstract of a paper presented at the Joint Meeting of the Kentucky Academy of Science and the Tennessee Academy of Science, Murfreesboro, TN, USA, November 2001, J. K. Acady. Sci. 63, 70.

  • Slattery, M. and Kenah, C.: 2002, ‘Occurrence and release of ground water arsenic in public water supply wells in Ohio’, U.S. Geological Survey Workshop on Arsenic in the Environment, February 2001, Denver, CO, USA (Extended Abstract), as retrieved from

  • Smith, A. H., Lopipero, P. A., Bates, M. N. and Steinmaus, C. M.: 2002, ‘Arsenic epidemiology and drinking water standards’, Science 296, 2145–2146.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Tseng, C. H., Tai, T. Y., Chong, C. K., Tseng, C. P., Lai, M. S., Lin, B. J., Chiou, H. Y., Hsueh, Y. M., Hsu, K. Y. and Chen, C. J.: 2000, ‘Long-term arsenic exposure and incidence of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus: A cohort study in arseniasis-hyperendemic villages in Taiwan’, Environ. Health Perspect. 108, 847–851.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Wang, C. H., Jeng, J. S., Yip, P. K., Chen, C. L., Hsu, L. I., Hsueh, Y. M., Chiou, H. Y., Wu, M. M. and Chen, C. J.: 2002, ‘Biological gradient between long-term arsenic exposure and carotid atherosclerosis, Circulation 105, 1804.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Welch, A. H., Westjohn, D. B., Helsel, D. R. and Wanty, R. B.: 2000, ‘Arsenic in groundwater of the U.S.: occurrence and geochemistry’, Groundwater 38, 589–604.

    Google Scholar 

  • West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey: 2002, Trace Elements in West Virginia Coals, Online publication of the State of West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey, Charleston, WV, USA, as retrieved from http//, February 4, 2004.

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to John G. Shiber.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Shiber, J.G. Arsenic in domestic well water and health in central appalachia, USA. Water Air Soil Pollut 160, 327–341 (2005).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: