Couple blame arsenic in their water for illnesses

A Stagecoach couple who drank a lot of water from their tap from 2002 to 2007 say arsenic in the water has made them and their dogs ill.

Lisa Staats said she and her husband, David, were told by the Stagecoach General Improvement District that the water was safe to drink " so long as a customer didn't drink too much.

The water from the Churchill Ranchos well was found to have 28 parts per billion of arsenic in it, which at the time the couple moved to their home, was under acceptable levels.

But, she said, she and her husband did a lot of yard work and outdoor activities and drank between one and two gallons a day during those years. Now they are paying the price, they say.

"We were drinking the water out of the tap because they told us the water was fine, there was nothing wrong with it," she said.

They bought the lot in the Churchill Ranchos subdivision in Stagecoach and put a mobile home on it in 2002.

"Before all this happened, we researched it," she said. "We researched the water, talked to the water district and they told us they had some of the best water in the country " no poison, no cyanide. Everything seemed to be OK for awhile, then a couple years went by and we both started getting really sick."

David has developed back, gastrointestinal and gall bladder problems, joint pain and has aged considerably, Lisa Staats said.

"His hair turned gray. He's 48 but he looks like he was 70, where he used to look about 34," she said. "I'm 34 and always looked like I was about 15 years younger. Now I look like I'm older."

Since moving to their home in Stagecoach, Lisa Staats has had two bouts with cervical cancer, suffered two miscarriages, and was told her immune system was compromised, though she has tested negative for HIV as well as autoimmune diseases such as lupus.

"I have Graves disease now and everything went out of whack," she said. "I've seen all these specialists and no one can tell me what's wrong."

In addition, she said, the whole episode has left them both with severe depression and emotional stress.

She said her husband was tested at Lahontan Medical Center, where test results showed that he had 71 parts per billion of arsenic in his urine, indicating possible arsenic poisoning. She added that the doctor she went to told her the water could be the cause, but also said eating seafood could cause it. Lisa said they didn't eat seafood.

Before last year, the federal Environmental Protection Agency listed the acceptable level of arsenic, which occurs naturally in water, at 50 parts per billion, but in 2007 changed that to 10 parts per billion. However, utilities were given two years to bring their systems into compliance.

When the Staats bought their home, the water system was part of the Churchill Ranchos development, but administered by the GID, according to manager Lynn Arndell. Later, in order to solve the arsenic problem, the two systems were consolidated and the GID closed the Ranchos wells and piped water in from another well at a cost of $2 million.

"We were running it, but it was its own separate system. It had its own wells," Arndell said. "We built a pipeline from our well over to their wells and that feeds their tank now, and we don't use those wells."

She said she explained the situation to the Staats at the time, and gave the couple a full water-quality report.

The Churchill Ranchos wells were running at 28 ppb, and that although that was lower than the 50 ppb, it was higher than the 10 ppb allowed by 2007.

According to Dante Pistone, Nevada Department of Environmental Protection public information officer, the problem was partially corrected when the water system was transferred to the new general-improvement district in 2007.

Once the new pipes were installed, arsenic levels dropped to below the 10 parts-per-billion EPA standard.

"They are well within the standard," he said. "It shouldn't be a problem for the residents there."

Several companies make devices that can filter out arsenic.

Chris Bruch, owner of Water Unlimited of Reno since 1986, said a reverse osmosis system takes 90 percent or more of the arsenic out.

"There are other simple arsenic filters you can use," he said. "We can usually get the water down to a nondetectable level."

Reverse osmosis unit run from $600 to $1,500 installed, and there are less-expensive options.

"You can go through a simple arsenic cartridge and it depends on the amount of water and what the other constituents in the water on whether it will work," he said.

The information and system repairs came too late for the Staats, who have put their home on the market and plan to move to Oregon, where she said she knows the water is drinkable.

"Really, we're both disabled now," Lisa said.

- Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at or call 881-7351.


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