Solution coming for Arsenic found in Socorro water

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The arsenic levels in Socorro’s water exceed the maximum contaminant level of The United States Environmental Protection Agency standard testing of 10 parts per billion (ppb), said New Mexico Tech professor of environmental engineering Frank Huang.

According to Huang, in previous years the standard level for arsenic testing was 50 ppb and the levels are still in violation since 2001. The Socorro Springs water well in Socorro has 40 to 50 ppb, while the Industrial water well reaches a level of 25ppb.

The arsenic treatment plants were supposed to be up Oct. 22 and they aren’t, said Mayor Ravi Bhasker. He said he is meeting with the engineers for the treatment plants on Nov. 2 to receive a status report. The treatment plant construction should be done by the end of November, he said. Bhasker also said arsenic levels are tested four times a year. Two weeks ago arsenic levels tested to still be over the limit, he said. The wells are now being tested every week.

Bhasker said the delay of the treatment plants could have been caused by anything from new leaks to other problems. The two new arsenic treatment plants cost $4.5 million together and are 90 percent done, he said.

According to water superintendent Lloyd Martinez, the Socorro Springs water well will run 24 hours through the plant. They won’t know the cost of running the plants year round until they start using them.

According to Martinez, water entering the treatment plants combines with ferric chloride, which is an iron salt. The ferric chloride then attaches to the arsenic in the water and passes through a sand filter, eventually taking the arsenic out.

The industrial water well provides water to the hospital, Socorro High School, industrial park and the state highway department, Huang said. The Socorro Springs water well serves as drinking water for Socorro residents and New Mexico Tech. He said the arsenic levels are high in the dorms at tech and are above the standard levels.

According to EPA’s website, higher levels of arsenic can be found in groundwater sources such as lakes and rivers. EPA also says arsenic occurs naturally in rocks, soil, air, plants and animals. It can be released in the environments through natural activities such as volcanic action, erosion of rocks and forest fires or through human actions.

According to the World Health Organization web site, arsenic causes various health issues, including skin problems such as color changes on the skin, hard patches on the palms and soles of the feet and skin cancer. Cancers of the bladder, kidney and lung diseases.

Huang said hopefully when the treatment plants are running, Socorro will be in compliance with EPA standards. He has tested Socorro water for arsenic before, and to be more accurate about arsenic levels, the samples of water collected are sent to Albuquerque labs for testing or tested at Tech’s Bureau of Geology.

“We have done this with the freshman course where they sample water on campus,” Huang said.

In October 2011, his class tested the water in the system at Tech. Students used arsenic kits to perform an analysis of the water and get results. Testing with kits isn’t always accurate. They are rough estimates, he said. He said the arsenic levels at Tech were at 40 to 50 when he tested it himself.

The Socorro Springs water well is located on Spring Street and the industrial water well is located next to Socorro General Hospital.

Bhasker said once the plants are up, arsenic levels will be tested regularly to make sure they are lower.

“We have standards,” Bhasker said. “We have to meet state tests four times a year. We’ll do them (water tests) more or less to make sure they (arsenic treatment plants) are working.”