Arsenic levels in Tombstone’s tap water have increased because the town’s supply of mountain water has been reduced and well usage increased, but residents continue to drink from the faucet.
“I’ve lived here for 17 years, and I’ve always drank right from the tap,” said Kari Lord, manager of Tombstone General Store. “Everyone I know still drinks from the tap, too.”
The store is one of the few local sellers of bottled water, but Lord said she has not seen an increase in the demand for their imported water.
“I don’t think it’s a big deal,” she said. “And I think the rest of the town feels the same way.”
Susan Addison, an owner of Ike’s Mini Market, agreed. Her gas station/mini-mart also has free tap water for patrons, and she said people still come in to get that over bottled water.
“I still drink it,” she said. “The water’s been passed by the state. I think it’s still safe. It’s just higher levels of arsenic.”
Tombstone normally mixes its arsenic-rich well water with water pumped from three springs in the Huachuca Mountains. The pipes transporting that water to Tombstone, however, were damaged after this summer’s Monument Fire and subsequent floods in the mountain.
Addison said she was concerned about the town’s water situation but more over the amount of water available than its quality. If a large fire broke out in town, for example, officials may not have enough water to put it out and provide enough drinking water for the residents.
She said she hopes the $50,000 state grant the city received to pay the town’s new public works project manager to repair pipelines from the springs will help.
“One pipe [from the springs] is flowing already,” she said.
Addison said there are stories circulating around town about people and dogs getting sick from the water, but “I still haven’t seen anybody glowing in the dark.”
With the tourist season picking up again, the issue of the visitors’ safety comes into play.
Ron Arko, owner of the Tombstone Motel, said he was unaware of the heightened levels.
“If it were a big deal, we’d all be dead,” he said, laughing.
Arko said he’ll continue to drink water from the tap.
One local beverage seller has turned the arsenic news into a new business venture.
Johnny Fields said he had the idea to sell bottled water for some time, but did not get started until the pipes from the Huachuca Mountains were damaged.
His sarsaparilla business has now expanded to include bottled water adorned with a skull and crossbones.
Though the label on his “Tombstone Tolerable Water” says is from local wells and advises to “drink at your own risk,” the liquid is not from an old Tombstone mine.
“It’s from Phoenix,” Fields said through a grin. “I’m not selling water full of arsenic.” He added that the mine on the bottle does not even exist.
Business started slowly two months ago when he started selling the water, but it is beginning to pick up, he said.
“People pick this up and chuckle,” he added. “If everything I sell makes people smile or laugh, I’m happy.”
Another version of this story appeared in the Tombstone Epitaph.