Arsenic in Well Water

Arsenic, a known human carcinogen, is tasteless, odorless and invisible. However, arsenic exposure can be easily prevented by simple water tests. Dr. Molly Kile, Assistant Professor in the College of Public Health, has been studying the health effects of chronic arsenic exposure for over ten years. Her studies began in Bangladesh, where arsenic contaminated drinking water is very common, and the devastating effects of chronic arsenic poisoning are evident (watch her video here).  In 2011, while speaking about the health effects associated with chronic arsenic exposure at the annual Oregon Epidemiology Conference, she presented evidence that Harney County in Oregon had elevated concentrations of arsenic in the groundwater. Also attending the conference was Barbara Rothgeb, R.N. BScN, the director of the Harney County Health Department. From this meeting Molly and Barbara began a collaboration to increase awareness about testing private well water for arsenic in Harney County. 
This collaboration aims to interact directly with the community and educate them about the potential health effects caused by arsenic exposure and to provide information and resources for prevention mechanisms. In March 2013 over 40 Harney County residents participated in an outreach event, purchasing simple arsenic kits and testing water sources on their land. Afterwards a community meeting was held to discuss and interpret the results, which have been collated into a representative arsenic map (below). This outreach event was so successful that we repeated in it September 2013. 
To date, this collaborative effort has led to multiple achievements. 
  • 2014 - Harney County Health Dept receives an Oregon Health Authority Domestic Well Safety Program grant
  • 54 Harney County residents have tested their wells for arsenic
  • Group discounts on arsenic testing kits from a private Oregon laboratory
  • Community meetings to increase information about arsenic and the changes to Federal and State arsenic regulations
  • Partnership with the Oregon Health Authority to offer free radon kits to Harney County residents
  • Demonstrates community outreach efforts by OSU NIEHS investigator Dr. Molly Kile

Map of Arsenic in Harney County

Arsenic concentrations in Harney County
Image courtesy of Harney County Health Department


Interested in bringing Arsenic Outreach to your community? Contact Diana Rohlman ([email protected]) for educational materials and more information.

Harney County Community Meeting
March 2013
EHSC members will be at the Harney County Health Department Booth, selling arsenic test kits to collect more data about arsenic groundwater concentrations in Harney County. Kits will be discounted to $30.00
September 5-8, 2013
Harney County Community Meeting
EHSC Investigator Dr. Molly Kile will help interpret the results from the arsenic test kits.
September 26, 2013