WESTON, Conn. – The wooded village of Weston boasts forest walks and brooks, but the pastoral beauty of this wealthy southwestern Connecticut community can be deceiving, as Jessica Penna learned.
“It started with my hair falling out in gigantic clumps,” Penna told News21. “I was losing pigmentation in my skin. My joints were bothering me. I was tired all the time, fatigued. I went to several doctors trying to figure out what was wrong with me, and nobody seemed to have any answers.
“In my gut, I knew something was going on with my water.”
Then Penna’s 9-year-old son AJ developed a halo of hair pigmentation in “a ring that went all the way around his head.”
Penna finally consulted the Environmental Protection Agency’s website for possible well water contaminants using her symptoms as a guide. In 2013, she enlisted the help of a natural pathologist who sent a sample of her well water to a lab in Georgia. It tested positive for arsenic twice the recommended limit of 10 parts per billion amongst other naturally occurring elements such as uranium.
“I was ecstatic when I found out it was arsenic,” Penna said. “I know that sounds insane, but to finally have an answer to what was wrong with me and how to finally treat myself, I was over the moon.”
According to the World Health Organization, the symptoms of long-term arsenic exposure include skin disorders such as pigmentation or lesions, as well as cancer. The organization warns that if a person continues to drink or ingest arsenic over the course of five years, it may result in skin cancer. Penna had been exposed to the toxin for eight years.
“We’re in the United States of America,” she said. “How is that possible?”
WATCH: Jessica Pena discusses the contamination’s effect on her family.
The family of six has since installed a $1,000 reverse osmosis system on the kitchen sink as well as a $4,000 arsenic filtration system, which services the entire house. Penna said they can’t afford the $1,500 to maintain the whole-house system, which needs new filters, cartridges and sand for rebedding.
“If you can’t afford (filters), then what?” she said. “Then you’re buying bottled water, I guess. You’re cooking with bottled water. You’re still showering with it though.”
Penna said she and her 5-year-old daughter Anabella use the the local gym to shower and wash their hair.
A representative from the Connecticut Department of Public Health said local health departments regulate the construction and location of new private wells. Potential home buyers may “may choose to have the private well inspected during the home inspection for a real estate transaction.” Existing well owners are left to their own devices, however.
Penna said officials should do more to raise awareness about potential problems for private well owners.
“I think the government is responsible for making people aware of what’s in it and giving that resident the option to test for it,” she said. “The government should make you aware that those dangers lie in your water.”
Dependant on a well she doesn’t trust, Penna still worries.
“That’s the scary part,” she said. “What other natural contaminants could be there and the government doesn’t warn you about?”
To see the full News21 report on “Troubled Water,” go troubledwater.news21.com on Aug. 14.