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DHS news release

April 29, 2008

General contact: Bonnie Widerburg, 971-673-1282
Technical contact: Sujata Joshi, 971-673-1213

DHS to offer free well tests in Douglas County as part of arsenic study

Oregon public health officials will offer free well testing to 100 residents of the Sutherlin, Oakland and Yoncalla areas in Douglas County this June as part of a study to determine whether naturally-occurring arsenic is in the water.

Arsenic contamination in well water is a problem in several areas of Oregon, as well as throughout the United States. Previous studies in Douglas County have shown the Sutherlin Valley is one such area in the state.

"While public water systems are regularly monitored for arsenic contamination, the state does not require private wells to be tested," said Sujata Joshi, epidemiologist in the Oregon Department of Human Services Public Health Division. "An important first step to preventing exposure to arsenic is to get your well tested. The results of these tests will help us understand whether naturally occurring arsenic in the area poses increased health risks for well owners."

Joshi said that drinking arsenic-contaminated water over a long period of time can affect reproductive, neurological and cardiovascular systems and has been shown to increase the risk of various types of cancer. Infants and children are especially susceptible to arsenic effects because of their smaller size and developing bodies and brains.

Many people in the area may be familiar with the Red Rock Road soil contamination with arsenic. Joshi emphasizes this well testing study is not related to Red Rock Road. "Any arsenic in well waters is most likely coming from natural deposits in the bedrock and soil," she said.

The DHS study is focused on private wells.There will be no charge to well owners. Residents will be provided with any information needed to make decisions about how to protect their health and individual results will be kept confidential.

DHS will publish an announcement in the local newspaper about the free well water tests and send an announcement directly to residents in the area. 

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has been working on a different study on Red Rock Road, which is focused on direct contact with dust from the road or the road itself. DEQ plans to release the findings of its study by the end of May, 2008.