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Doctor says arsenic in water could pose health risk


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Doctor says arsenic in water could pose health risk

By Matt Grant. CREATED Apr 30, 2013

CHARLOTTE COUNTY - The levels of arsenic discovered in a Charlotte County community's well water poses a low-level health risk and could make residents sick, according to a Fort Myers doctor.

"If you lived there would you be comfortable drinking the water?," asked Fox 4 reporter Matt Grant.

"Probably not," said Dr. Amy Wecker, with Internal Medicine Associates. "I would probably see if I could get it filtered." 

Wecker reacted to health department reports showing arsenic has been found in the well water of a Charlotte County resident who lives on Edmund Street in Punta Gorda.

According to environmental protection standards, a safe level of arsenic is 10 micrograms per liter. But officials discovered almost twice that amount, 19 micrograms, in John Scoles' well water - leaving some residents worried the water is making them sick.

"It's not right to have to live like this," said Scoles.

Scoles put up hand-made signs in his yard warning neighbors of arsenic and lead in the water. He says he's been drinking it for 30 years.

The county sent Scoles a letter in January warning him not to drink the water. In the past year, he says he lost 50 pounds which medical records describe as "abnormal." He is now undergoing testing for lead and arsenic poisoning.

"I really want to live longer," said Scoles.

"You feel this is cutting your life short?," asked Grant.

"Yes," said Scoles. "I do."

But Dr. Wecker isn't so sure.

"It depends on how much water is ingested," said Wecker. "And it depends what the levels are over time. I think it's really hard to say at this point." 

Wecker agreed to look at the arsenic concentration numbers the county discovered. While she agrees it's high, she's not sure it's high enough to cause serious damage.

"This level of arsenic is higher than what is considered to be safe," said Wecker. "Although levels much higher than this have been shown not to really correlate with an increased cancer risk." 
Still, she says drinking the contaminated water could pose a health risk.

"Possibly developing some low-level toxicities," said Wecker. "Which could include a metallic taste in the mouth, anorexia, weight loss, malaise (discomfort) and weakness."

She says the contamination is enough to cause "concern" but not panic. She suggests residents filter their water.

The state provided Scoles a water filtration system.

"Are the levels high enough to cause someone to be sick?," asked Grant.

"Yes," said Wecker. "They are definitely high enough to cause someone to be sick. Although, as to how sick, it's really unclear."

But Scoles is clear on one thing - his health has deteriorated. He believes the water is to blame.

"There's no doubt in my mind," said Scoles.

Fox 4 is still trying to get answers for the residents in the community as to why there is arsenic in the water to begin with.

We called a number of the county commissioners but only heard back from one who was too busy. Fox 4 also left a message for the County Administrator - but was told he didn't want to answer questions and referred us to the health department - the same agency that told residents they don't have enough funds to inform all of them about the contamination problem.

Matt Grant