California farmworkers and other rural poor are at risk of arsenic poisoning, as the state’s continuing, crippling drought increases the concentration of the toxic substance in their daily drinking water.
“For many Californians, the state’s long drought has meant small inconveniences such as shorter showers and restrictions on watering lawns,” the Washington Post reports. “But in two rural valleys, the Coachella southeast of Los Angeles and the San Joaquin to the north, farmworkers and other poor residents are feeling its impact in a far more serious and personal way.”
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In the community well at the St. Anthony Trailer Park, just 40 miles south of the opulent resort town of Palm Springs, “the concentration of naturally occurring arsenic is [normally] low, and the water safe to drink,” the Post notes. But as the drought drives municipalities to pump more groundwater, “a recent laboratory test found that water in St. Anthony’s shallow well has twice the concentration of arsenic considered safe.” The article refers to eight- and 10-year-olds drinking the water, and a four-year-old who showed symptoms of arsenic exposure after being bathed in it.
“Arsenic, natural or not, can be frightening,” Fears writes. “It has been linked to various cancers of the bladder, lungs and skin when consumed in high doses. It is also known to cause birth defects and attack the nervous system.”