Drinking water criteria for arsenic in high-income, low-dose countries: The Effect of Legislation on Public Health

Loren Ramsay, Mette M. Petersen, Birgitte Hansen, Jörg Schullehner, Patrick Van Der Wens, Denitza Voutchkova, Søren M. Kristiansen

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    20 Citations (Scopus)


    Due to the potential health risks at very low concentrations, the criterion for arsenic in drinking water has been debated. High-income, low-dose countries are uniquely positioned to follow WHO's recommendation of keeping concentrations "as low as reasonably possible."In this policy analysis, 47646 arsenic analyses from Denmark are used to follow the effect of lowering the national criterion from 50 to 5 μg/L. The first 3 years (2002-2004) following the criterion change, 106 waterworks were identified as noncompliant. An additional 64 waterworks were identified as noncompliant in the next 12 years (2005-2016). Of the 106 waterworks initially (2002-2004) aware of the violation, an average concentration drop from 6 to 3 μg/L was observed during a 6 year period following a lag time of 1 year. After this point, no further improvements were observed. Thirteen years after regulation was imposed, 25 of 170 waterworks were still in violation. The results suggest that legislation alone is insufficient to ensure better drinking water quality at some waterworks and that stakeholders' drivers and barriers to change also play an important role. In an exploration of five legislation scenarios, this study showed that a criterion of 1 μg/L would require action by more than 500 Danish waterworks, with treatment costs from 0.06 to 0.70 €/m3. These scenarios illustrate that it can be technically feasible and affordable to lower the arsenic criterion below 5 μg/L in low-dose, high-income countries. However, more information is needed to apply a cost-benefit model, and comparative studies from other counties are warranted.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)3483-3493
    Number of pages11
    JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2021

    Programme Area

    • Programme Area 2: Water Resources


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