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.
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 1 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 1 in 1,111, and 1 in 33,333 is easily achievable with today's technology.
Admittedly, 1 in 33,333 is well above the generally acceptable risk of 1 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.