A glass of water from your tap can contain any of 2,100 contaminants, including known and probable carcinogens, toxins that affect your endocrine and nervous systems, and chemicals that are known risks to babies in the womb.
Where does all the junk come from? How does it get into the water? How big are the risks it poses? And most important, what steps can you take to protect yourself and those you love? Let’s take a look. . .
Continued below. . .
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Tap water contamination can come from many sources — pesticides, fertilizer, factory farms and regular factories, metals and chemicals leaching from pipes and storage tanks. And more…
Water treatment plants in the path of Superstorm Sandy are still struggling to recover from the torrential rains that washed tens of millions of gallons of raw or partially treated sewage into the area’s waterways.
The “disinfectant” that creates risky toxins
And then there’s the stuff they deliberately add to the water to “protect our health.” You probably know that waterworks across the nation add chlorine as a disinfectant to fight disease-causing pathogens in dirty source water.
But chlorine reacts with rotting organic sewage, manure, dead animals and fallen leaves to form potentially harmful chemicals.
This unintended side effect of chlorinating water creates chemicals called trihalomethanes (THM). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nicknames them “disinfection byproducts”. But let’s call them what they really are — toxic trash.
Scientists believe that THMs in your drinking water may be responsible for thousands of bladder cancer cases every year — and they are also implicated in colon and rectal cancer, birth defects, low birth weight and miscarried babies. (NHDES2006).
The best known of the four-member THM family is chloroform. Years ago it was used as an anesthetic to render people unconscious during surgery. Now the U.S. government calls it a “probable” human carcinogen. California calls it a “known” carcinogen.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently reviewed the latest water quality tests from 201 large water utilities, serving 100 million Americans. Their investigation found that all 201 water utilities were polluted with THMs.
The mounting evidence against trihalomethanes
Growing evidence links THMs to cancer and other health problems including these:
- Men exposed to more than 50 ppb had significantly increased risk of bladder cancer (Costet 2011).
- People faced twice the risk of bladder cancer death if trihalomethanes were above 21 ppb. (2011 National Report on Carcinogens, a report of the National Toxicology Program). Of the water systems studied by EWG, 85 percent reported average THM contamination above 21 ppb.
- The National Cancer Institute notes that 25% of people may have a genetic susceptibility toward increased bladder cancer risk from THMs (Cantor 2010).
- In 2005, the EPA considered lowering the legal trihalomethane limit to 40 ppb — saying it could prevent 1,300 bladder cancer cases annually. But then it didn’t take action.
- Fourteen studies now link THM exposure to small birth weight infants, neural tube defects, and miscarriage. (The neural tube is the structure that develops into the brain and spinal cord.)
I don’t want to worry you unnecessarily. Bladder cancer is not up there with breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer and other big killers. It’s a relatively small risk. The American Cancer Society estimates there will be about 72,000 new cases diagnosed in 2013 and about 15,000 deaths from bladder cancer.
Having said that, I don’t take the threat lightly myself. I don’t drink chlorinated water. I also take the view that we’re probably just seeing the tip of the iceberg. Most likely chlorine and its THM byproducts have other health effects that haven’t been identified yet.
A few more thoughts about that iceberg. . .
A report by the Ralph Nader Study Group‚ confirmed after sifting through 10‚000 documents acquired through the Freedom Of Information Act that, “U.S. drinking water contains more than 2,100 toxic chemicals that can cause cancer.”
Some are created by the interaction of water treatment disinfectants and pollutants in source water. Most have never been studied in any depth and several are suspected carcinogens.
But the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act only addresses 79 contaminants1.
Municipal water treatment facilities do not remove SOCs (synthetic organic chemicals).
And for the most part, water treatment facilities are similar to what they were in the early 1900’s. The norm was and is… filter out the visible particles, then add bleach! Euww!
As far as that goes, many of the water treatment plants (and most certainly the underground piping) was laid a hundred years ago or more in older communities. The way we guarantee safe drinking water is old, out-dated, broken and needs to be fixed.
Water authority Dr. David Ozonoff of the Boston University of Public Health warned, “The risk of disease associated with public drinking water has passed from the theoretical to the real.”
Illnesses that in the past couldn’t be linked to any probable cause have now been linked to toxins in drinking water. “While levels of these carcinogens (synthetic organic chemicals) in drinking water are low, it is precisely these low levels that carcinogen specialists believe to be responsible for the majority of human cancers in the U.S.,” the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality states.
In 1994 during EWG’s first ever tap water study, 27 out of 29 major cities had traces of at least two weed killers in the drinking water. However, in Fort Wayne, Indiana the group found a shocking nine different pesticides in a single glass of tap water!
As an alarming side note, they reported that in these 29 cities, 45,000 infants drank formula mixed with tap water containing weed killers and that “over half of these infants were swallowing 4 to 9 chemicals in every bottle.”
And yet our water quality standards are set based on what is assumed safe for a 175-pound adult, drinking just one single chemical in their water…. Not two or more (let alone hundreds).
In 1995 the Science Advisory Report to the EPA stated that “…when two or more of these contaminants combine in our water, the potency may be increased by as much as 1000 times.”
You should assume that there’s NO acceptable SAFE level for pesticides, weed killers, chlorine, MTBE (a fuel additive), and so on, in your drinking water.
This controversial toxin is deliberately
added to your water
Chemist and microbiologist Albert Schatz, Ph.D., declared a certain chemical, “…the greatest fraud that has ever been perpetrated on more people than any other fraud has.”
The Delaney Congressional Investigation Committee, which monitors additives, says, “Fluoridation is mass medication without parallel in the history of medicine.”
Dr. Robert Carton, former EPA scientist, has said, “Fluoride is somewhat less toxic than arsenic and more toxic than lead, and you wouldn’t want either of them in your mouth.”
Fluoride has been named an equivocal carcinogen by the National Cancer Institute Toxicological Program.2 There’s also substantial evidence that it’s a potent neurotoxin.3
Fluoride is actually a by-product of the aluminum industry and is classified as a hazmat (hazardous material) for disposal purposes. That doesn’t sound exactly benign to me.
Yet 70 percent of U.S. water systems force it on you… some of them at extremely high levels.
To learn more about fluoride, go to www.fluoridealert.org.
And well water isn’t problem-free either!
Roughly 15 percent of Americans get their drinking water from private wells, which are not subject to EPA standards (for whatever that’s worth!).
Personally, I like having my own well and being able to exert some degree of control over my water. But having said that, please note that well water is not exempt from contamination. Watch out for these problems…
- Microorganisms — bacteria, viruses, parasites, especially in shallow wells. Runoff after flooding can pose a special risk.
- Radionuclides — radioactive elements such as uranium and radium, from underlying rocks and ground water.
- Radon — is linked to lung cancer and can be inhaled when you run your water. Especially prevalent in New Jersey, New England, New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Arizona — though not limited to these areas.
- Nitrates and nitrites — migrate quickly through soil and into waterways. Especially acute near heavy agricultural areas. Can lead to a serious bleeding condition.
- Heavy Metals — Cadmium, chromium, lead, selenium, arsenic, etc. linked to underground rocks and soils. Chromium and selenium are beneficial in very tiny amounts but toxic in large doses. I recently found out my selenium levels were high enough to be dangerous. Not sure why, but I suspect it’s my well water.
How groundwater contamination affects you
(Whether you live in the city or the country)
The legacy of pollution and lax regulatory enforcement is perhaps unrivaled in our nation’s factory farms, known by the Orwellian acronym CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operations).
Farm runoff affects both city and well water, produces a lot of contaminants, and is a growing problem.
California’s Central Valley is now home to 1.6 million dairy cows that together produce almost five times more waste than the entire human population of Los Angeles.4 And that doesn’t even count calves or replacement stock, just adult cows.
Other states with large numbers of CAFOs include Iowa, Minnesota, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Kansas…
Dairies produce four major contaminants: nitrates, bacteria (E. coli, etc.), antibiotics, and hormones. And unlike cities, dairies don’t use treatment systems to remove them from wastewater.
Worse, manure can (and does) spill from holding structures into nearby waterways when heavy rains lead to flooding. The spillage problem is compounded by poor construction or design.5
How dangerous are these pollutants?
- Nitrates. Manure converts to ammonia and then to nitrate. Exposure can lead to methemoglobinemia — a blood condition that hinders oxygen transport, and can be fatal in infants, where it is called “blue baby syndrome”. Long-term nitrate exposure is also linked to cancer, miscarriage, premature birth, impaired fetal growth, and more.
- Pathogens. Six of the 150 human pathogens in animal manure are responsible for 90 percent of all human food-and-water-borne diseases: Campylobacter, Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli, Cryptosporidium and Giardia.7 At least in theory, municipal water systems eliminate these pathogens before they reach you. Not so with private wells.Bacteria linked to CAFOs can be resistant to antibiotics, increasing risk to those who rely on well water.
- Hormones are routinely injected into livestock to increase productivity. In 2007, over 40 percent of CAFO cows were injected with rBST (also called rBGH), a growth hormone. These physiologically active steroidal hormones find their way into your water.8
Exposure has been linked to an increase in hormone-related cancers and chronic illnesses, disruptions in fetal and child development, and feminization of male fish.
- Antibiotics are used extensively through a cow’s entire life, not to treat or prevent disease but mainly to promote growth and milk output. These drugs can persist more than one year in the environment, imposing a major health threat9…When bacteria are repeatedly exposed to antibiotics, the drug-resistant bacteria survive while the rest die. Then the resistant ones breed and spread. Many doctors consider antibiotic-resistant germs to be one of today’s biggest health challenges.
What to do about this invisible problem
In the next issue you’ll learn the best ways to deal with the problem of contaminated water. I’m not going to opine about what the politicians should do on a national or global level. For one thing, we may be dead before they take action. No, the focus is going to be on what you can do to avoid dirty, dangerous water at a personal and family level.
Lee Euler, Publisher