Dr. Megan Rockafellow-Baldoni, Rutgers School of Public Health alum and Center for Public Health Workforce Development program coordinator, has found a reduction in the risk of cancer due to arsenic exposure in Hopewell Township (Mercer County), New Jersey with use of arsenic treatment systems. Arsenic exists in varying levels in all parts of New Jersey; chronic exposure can increase rates of bladder, lung, liver, kidney, and skin cancers. However, acceptable levels of arsenic are achievable through various types of treatment. Unique regulations for water treatment in Hopewell Township provide a rare opportunity to study how effectively cancer risk due to arsenic exposure can be reduced.
[Photo: Dr. Mark Robson and Dr. Megan Rockafellow-Baldoni]
Hopewell Township requires homes to have a water system in compliance with the NJ Safe Drinking Water Act and the Private Well Testing Act; a home whose well water is not compliant with the arsenic drinking water standard is required to have a whole-house point-of-entry treatment system and dual treatment tanks. Measurements collected at 65 homes confirmed the treatment’s effectiveness: such systems brought most homes well water arsenic level below New Jersey’s maximum contaminant level of 5 μg/L.
Exposure to arsenic results in a relatively high cancer risk, but dramatic reduction is both attainable and realistic. Left untreated, incidence of lung and bladder cancer due to arsenic in Hopewell Township would be one in 143; Hopewell Township’s requirement of two arsenic treatment tanks has the potential to prevent up to 121 cancer cases over the course of 70 years. Current levels of treatment bring the risk down to one in 1,111, and one in 33,333 is easily achievable with today’s technology.
Admittedly, one in 33,333 is well above the generally acceptable risk of one in 1,000,000. However, the dramatic reductions in arsenic content seen in Hopewell Township suggest that this type of ordinance can reduce overall cancer deaths and should be seriously considered by towns in New Jersey, other states, and countries that wish to reduce their cancer rates.
Dr. Rockafellow-Baldoni conducted this research with Rutgers School of Public Health alum, Dr. Steven Spayd, a research scientist at the New Jersey Geological and Water Survey, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and under the direction of Dr. Mark Robson, professor of plant biology and also professor of environmental and occupational health at the Rutgers School of Public Health.
“Arsenic exposure and cancer risk reduction with local ordinance requiring whole-house dual-tank water treatment systems” was recently published in Human and Ecological Risk Assessment.