How Safe is our Water?
The following is from an article by the Natural Resources Defense Council, “What’s in Your Drinking Water?“:
“Safe drinking water is something we Americans tend to take for granted, until a crisis like lead contamination in Flint, Michigan, makes us wonder what chemicals could be lurking in our own taps. While there have been victories over the years, you should still be aware of—and vigilant about—what might be in your pipes, faucets, or local water supply. Here’s what you should know and how to stay safe.
Lead: Likely the most famous bad guy, this heavy metal can leach from lead pipes and plumbing fixtures, especially when the water flowing through them is highly corrosive. It can cause neurological and behavioral problems in children and adverse health effects in adults. “It’s a more common problem in cities with older water systems,” Olson says, “but what a lot of people don’t realize is that even relatively new brass fixtures and faucets can still contain significant amounts of lead. Just because your home is less than 20 years old doesn’t necessarily mean you’re lead-free.”
Perchlorate: This widespread toxic chemical, used in explosives and road flares, can interfere with thyroid hormone production. Perchlorate has been detected in the water in at least 26 states, yet, there is no federal drinking-water standard for its presence. In 2011, after more than a decade of pressure from environmental and health groups led by NRDC, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that it will set such a standard—but its proposed ruling isn’t projected until 2017. Tired of waiting, NRDC filed a lawsuit against the EPA in February 2016 for its failure to act in the time frame allotted by the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Atrazine: This endocrine-disrupting chemical is the most commonly detected pesticide in U.S. waters. NRDC studies have found its contamination is most common in drinking water across the Midwest and southern United States. The EPA currently monitors a sample of community water systems to determine if atrazine concentrations pose a risk to public health, but NRDC has called on the government to phase out the use of this chemical entirely.
Pathogens: Bacteria, viruses, and parasites that cause illness can find their way into water supplies that are inadequately treated to kill germs. Fortunately, these pathogens are much better controlled today than they once were.
Pharmaceuticals: Prescription drugs enter our water supply when patients release traces in their urine or flat-out flush unused medication down the sink or toilet.
Chlorine treatment by-products: Chemicals used in drinking water’s disinfection process, such as trihalomethane and haloacetic acids, may cause cancer and reproductive problems if present in high quantities.
Arsenic: A 2000 NRDC study found it was likely that as many as 56 million people in 25 states were drinking water with arsenic at levels that posed a high risk of cancer. “The EPA had delayed and delayed updating the arsenic standard that was originally issued in the 1960s, but we finally got them to relent and update the arsenic number based on modern science in the early 2000s,” Olson says. Since then, arsenic levels across the country have declined as a result, he adds, but the contaminant is still worth looking out for.”
In an article by the Environmental Working Group entitled, “Pharmaceuticals Pollute U.S. Tap Water“, it states:
“’Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) studies show that tap water across the U.S. is contaminated with many industrial chemicals, and now we know that millions of Americans are also drinking low-level mixtures of pharmaceuticals with every glass of water,’ said Jane Houlihan, EWG Vice President for Research. ‘The health effect of this cocktail of chemicals and drugs hasn’t been studied, but we are concerned about risks for infants and others who are vulnerable.’ Environmental Working Group analysis shows that of the top 200 drugs in the U.S., 13 percent list serious side effects at levels less than 100 parts-per-billion (ppb) in human blood, with some causing potential health risks in the parts-per-trillion range.”
“Drug residues contaminate drinking water supplies when people take pills. While their bodies absorb some of the medication, the rest of it is flushed down the toilet. Drinking water treatment plants are not designed to remove these residues, and the AP team uncovered data showing these same chemicals in treated tap water and water supplies in 24 major metropolitan areas around the US. EWG’s national tap water atlas shows tap water testing results from 40,000 communities around the country. All of the pharmaceuticals reported in drinking water supplies are unregulated in treated tap water – any level is legal. Not only has the EPA failed to set standards for pharmaceuticals, but also they have failed to require utilities to test for these chemicals. The drug residues in tap water join hundreds of other synthetic chemicals Americans are exposed to daily, as contaminants in food, water, and air, or in common consumer products. EWG found an average of 200 industrial chemicals, pesticides and other pollutants in umbilical cord blood from 10 babies born in the U.S., indicating that our exposures to toxic chemicals begin in the womb, when risks are greatest.”
According to another article by the Environmental Working Group, “Teflon Chemical Unsafe at Smallest Doses“:
“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has spent a decade studying the health hazards of the Teflon chemical, known as PFOA, but may take another four to six years before even deciding whether to set a legally enforceable maximum pollution level for drinking water. Now two leading environmental health scientists have published research with alarming implications: PFOA contamination of drinking water is a much more serious threat to health, both in the mid-Ohio Valley and nationwide, than previously thought. Their research finds that even very tiny concentrations of PFOA – below the reporting limit required by EPA’s tests of public water supplies – are harmful. This means that EPA’s health advisory level is hundreds or thousands of times too weak to fully protect human health with an adequate margin of safety.”
Current Chemical Water Treatment
The following video with Erin Brockovich talks about the water crisis that is spreading across the country:
Here is more information about what Erin Brockovich is talking about in this video:
“Drinking water is disinfected in two stages. First, free chlorine is added to inactivate illness and disease-causing pathogens. As water is pumped away from the treatment plant for distribution to customers served by the water system, a secondary disinfectant is added to protect the water from pathogen re-growth while in transit. Three chemicals are currently approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for secondary disinfection of drinking water: free chlorine, monochloramine, and chlorine dioxide.
Disinfection with chlorine, monochloramine and chlorine dioxide, each produces its own set of regulated and unregulated disinfection byproducts (DBPs). Trihalomethanes (THMs) and haloacetic acids (HAAs) are the most abundant classes of DBPs found in disinfected waters. The THMs and HAAs were observed to produce cancer in animal models and to have other toxic endpoints; epidemiological evidence points to a risk of THM and HAA exposure and bladder cancer and adverse reproductive outcomes. For these reasons, most governments limit the amounts of THMs and HAAs that can be present in drinking water.
Amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1996 required the EPA to provide a balance between microbial pathogens and DBPs in drinking water. Some DBPs, namely THMs and HAAs are carcinogenic in animals, and are thought to pose health risks to humans. The Stage 1 Disinfectants and Disinfection Byproducts Rule (DBPR) was promulgated in December 1998, and set maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for the THMs and HAAs. The Stage 2 DBPR, which took effect in 2013, builds on the Stage 1 rule, and requires that each water system evaluate their distribution system to identify locations with high DBP concentrations. These locations will be used as sampling sites for the Stage 2 DBPR compliance monitoring. Each sampling location must maintain a locational running annual average that is below the EPA’s MCL of 80 micrograms per liter (μg/L) for THMs and 60 μg/L for HAAs. This contrasts with the previous law, which averaged DBP levels from all sampling locations in a water distribution system to obtain the yearly average; the prior method allowed some sampling sites to remain higher than acceptable. A system that was over the MCLs or just under the MCLs is now at risk of becoming non-compliant since the locational running annual average is now instituted. The use of monochloramine as a water disinfectant leads to lower formation of THMs and HAAs compared to chlorination. Thus, (they think) monochloramine is an effective method by which public water systems can lower their THM and HAA levels to comply with the Stage 2 DBPR.” (Public Health Review of Monochloramine – Vermont Dept. of Health)
As mentioned in the video above, because many municipal water treatment facilities across the nation are in violation of the regulations for Total Trihalomethanes set by the EPA, instead of using a carbon activated filtration system in order to remove the organic material that is causing the reaction, they are trying to cheat the system in order to save money by just adding ammonia.
“When chlorine gas is dissolved in water, it reacts with the water to form hypochlorous acid and hydrochloric acid (HOCl). The possible reactions between HOCl and ammonia (NH3) are as follows:
NH3 + HOCl → H2O + NH2Cl (Monochloramine)
NH3 + 2HOCl → 2H2O + NHCl2 (Dichloramine)
NH3 + 3HOCl → 3H2O + NCl3 (Nitrogen Trichloride)
These reactions occur essentially instantaneously and are pH dependent. At pH levels above 8.5 only monochloramine is formed; below this, mixtures of mono and dichloramine result; and below pH 4.2 only nitrogen trichloride exists. For wastewater and drinking water that has been treated with both ammonia and chlorine (if properly regulated), the predominant species is monochloramine. The chloramines, together with some other compounds that can occur are totaled and considered combined available chlorine. These forms of chlorine are much weaker than hypochlorous acid (meaning it is not as strong of a disinfectant).” (Basic Chemistry of Chlorination – Hydro Instruments)
Monochloramine and Lead
“In some very old water systems, lead service lines (LSLs) were used to connect from the street to household plumbing. The Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1986 required that only lead-free pipe, solder and flux could be used in the installation of any facility providing water to the public. Since many water systems were in use before 1986, many systems serve households that have lead solder joining copper pipes together. The use of free chlorine may lead to the formation of Pb4+, which is very insoluble. The introduction of monochloramine may reduce the oxidation reduction potential (ORP) enough to convert Pb4+ to Pb2+, which is soluble. Where LSLs exist, this can lead to leaching of lead from LSLs after switching to monochloramine. Under these conditions where LSLs exist, lead levels in water may reach elevated levels (EPA, 2007).” (Public Health Review of Monochloramine – Vermont Dept. of Health)
Disinfection Byproducts of Monochloramine
“It has been shown that the use of chloramines for disinfection instead of chlorine reduces the formation of THMs in drinking-water supplies, often by as much as 40 – 80%. Compared with chlorine, use of monochloramine resulted in lower levels of total chlorinated by-products, as measured by such parameters as total organic halides, non-purgeable organic halides and non-purgeable organic chlorine. Another study indicated that while chloramination significantly reduces the formation of purgeable organic halides, significant amounts of non-purgeable organic halides are still formed. Although chloramination significantly reduces THM levels, formation of other byproducts, such as haloketones (1), chloropicrin (2), cyanogen chloride (3), haloacetic acids (1), haloacetonitriles (or halogenated acetonitriles) (4), aldehydes (5) and chlorophenols (6), has been reported (more information on each of these below).” (Monochloramine in Drinking-water – WHO)
(1) In a report titled, “Inhalation Exposure to Haloacetic Acids and Haloketones during Showering” (Environ. Sci. Technol. 2003, 37, 569-576), it states:
“Inhalation exposure to water contaminants can be an important exposure route. Showering is predicted to be the major household activity resulting in inhalation exposure to volatile water contaminants. Inhalation exposure from showers occurs when water contaminants are volatilized or aerosolized and subsequently breathed. Epidemiological studies suggest that disinfection byproducts (DBPs) in chlorinated drinking water may be associated with bladder, rectal, and colon cancer. Trihalomethanes, haloacetic acids (HAAs), and haloketones (HKs) are the most prevalent DBPs in drinking water. Although little health information is available for brominated acetic acids, dichloroacetic and trichloroacetic acids have been classified by the U.S. EPA as group C (possible) and group B2 (probable) human carcinogens, respectively. 1,1-Dichloroproanone and 1,1,1-trichloropropanone have been shown to induce primary DNA damage in Escherichia coli and to be mutagenic on Salmonella typhimurium strain TA100. Human exposure to these compounds may cause potential adverse effects.”
(2) “Chloropicrin (PS) is used in agriculture as a soil fumigant. It has also been used as a chemical warfare agent (military designation, PS) and a riot control agent. It was used in large quantities during World War I and was stockpiled during World War II. However, it is no longer authorized for military use. Chloropicrin (PS) is an irritant with characteristics of a tear gas. It has an intensely irritating odor. Inhalation of 1 ppm causes eye irritation and can warn of exposure. Chloropicrin (PS) can be absorbed systemically through inhalation, ingestion, and the skin. It is severely irritating to the lungs, eyes, and skin.” (CDC)
(3) “Cyanogen chloride (CK) is a highly volatile and toxic chemical asphyxiant that interferes with the body’s ability to use oxygen. Exposure to cyanogen chloride (CK) can be rapidly fatal. It has whole-body (systemic) effects, particularly affecting those organ systems most sensitive to low oxygen levels: the central nervous system (brain), the cardiovascular system (heart and blood vessels), and the pulmonary system (lungs). It has strong irritant and choking effects. Its vapors are extremely irritating and corrosive. Cyanogen chloride (CK) is a chemical warfare agent (military designation CK). It is used commercially in chemical synthesis and fumigation. Cyanogen chloride (CK) can affect the body by inhalation, ingestion, skin contact, or eye contact.” (CDC)
(4) In a report by the EPA titled, “Final Report: Development of Biomarkers for haloacetonitriles-induced cell injury in Peripheral Blood”, it states:
“Drinking waters are contaminated with a mixture of halogenated hydrocarbons that are disinfection byproducts. Among those are a number of toxic and carcinogenic halogenated acetonitriles (HANs) that are known to stimulate a variety of acute and chronic adverse effects in man and in laboratory animals. Dichloroacetonitrile (DCAN), chloroacetonitrile (CAN), dibromoacetonitrile (DBAN), and bromoacetonitrile (BAN) are aliphatic nitriles that generally are known as HANs. These byproducts are formed when residual chlorine reacts with natural organic substances, and they also are found in the environment. Animal studies indicate HANs have teratogenic and carcinogenic potential.”
(5) According to a 2005 article in Crit Rev Toxicol. 2005 Aug;35(7):609-62. “Aldehyde sources, metabolism, molecular toxicity mechanisms, and possible effects on human health” by O’Brien PJ, Siraki AG, Shangari N., Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada:
“The toxic effects of aldehydes are many. They can include acting as haptens in allergenic hypersensitivity diseases, respiratory allergies, and idiosyncratic drug toxicity; the potential carcinogenic risks of the carbonyl body burden; and the toxic effects of aldehydes in liver disease, embryo toxicity/teratogenicity, diabetes/hypertension, sclerosing peritonitis, cerebral ischemia/neurodegenerative diseases, and other aging-associated diseases.”
(6) “Chlorophenols are a group of chemicals that are produced by adding chlorines to phenol. Phenol is an aromatic compound derived from benzene. There are 5 basic types of chlorophenols and 19 different chlorophenols. Most chlorophenols are solid at room temperature. They have a strong, medicinal taste and smell. Small amounts can be tasted in water. Some chlorophenols are used as pesticides. Others are used in antiseptics. Small amounts are produced when water is disinfected with chlorine. They are also produced while bleaching wood pulp with chlorine to make paper. Affected Organ Systems: Dermal (Skin), Hepatic (Liver), Immunological (Immune System).” (CDC)
“Since the 1970’s, some of the unregulated DBPs have been known to be carcinogenic and mutagenic in cellular assays, as well as in vivo. Nitrosamines are a class of unregulated DBPs that can be formed by reactions of some naturally-occurring nitrogen precursors with chlorinated or chloraminated waters. Nitrosamines, particularly nitrosodiethylamine (NDMA) are probable human carcinogens.
Pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) are found in some water systems that reuse waste water. In these waters, PPCPs may serve as precursors for the formation of unregulated DBPs. Some amine-containing PPCPs can combine with monochloramine to form NDMA in benchtop studies. Ranitidine (Zantac) can be converted at a high percentage to NDMA in the presence on high concentrations of monochloramine. Quaternary amines are found in many consumer products, and may serve as precursors for nitrosamine formation. Quaternary amines are used extensively in the cosmetics and personal hygiene industry, and are known to cause dermal and respiratory irritation. The most common cause of contact dermatitis is a quaternary amine, Quaternium-15.
One class of DBPs with high genotoxicity (toxicity to genes) and cytotoxicity (toxicity to cells) compared to the regulated THMs and HAAs are the haloacetonitriles (HANs). Haloacetamides (HAMs) also have high cytotoxic and genotoxic potential. For both the HANs, HAMs, and other unregulated halo-DBPs, iodo-containing compounds are most toxic, followed by bromo- and chloro- containing compounds. It is important to note that the HANs, HAMs and other unregulated DBPs are formed in water systems that use chlorine for primary and secondary disinfection, as well as those that use chlorine for primary disinfection and monochloramine for secondary disinfection.” (Public Health Review of Monochloramine – Vermont Dept. of Health)
“Nitrification is a microbiological process during which ammonia is oxidized sequentially to nitrite and nitrate. The addition of ammonia in the production of chloramine may provide the source of nitrogen, which, under certain conditions, can be used to produce nitrites/nitrates. Two groups of bacteria (ammonia- and nitrite-oxidizing bacteria) commonly found in terrestrial and aquatic environments can oxidize ammonia into nitrite and nitrate sequentially. When incomplete nitrification occurs, an accumulation of nitrite may result. Nitrite has been reported in a number of chloramine-containing distribution systems, with levels sometimes reaching 2 mg/litre. The presence of nitrite in a water supply is undesirable because of health concerns (e.g., methaemoglobinaemia in infants).” (Monochloramine in Drinking-water – WHO)
“The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) noted that the presence of nitrite and some types of amines or amides in the acid environment of the stomach may result in the production of some cancer-causing N-nitroso compounds; under these conditions, IARC determined that ingested nitrate and nitrite is probably carcinogenic to humans. The EPA has not classified nitrate or nitrite for carcinogenicity.
Children can experience the same effects as adults from overexposure to nitrate or nitrite. Young infants (
Bottled Water vs. Tap Water
At a hearing entitled: “Quality and Environmental Impacts of Bottled Water“, Mae Wu, J.D., Staff Attorney of the Natural Resources Defense Council gave a testimony. Here are a few of the things she stated:
“The NRDC has also worked extensively on issues pertaining to bottled water, emphasizing that that the long-term solution to our drinking water problems is to improve tap water – not to switch to bottled water. This work includes publishing a 1999 report “Bottled Water: Pure Drink or Pure Hype?” which tested more than 103 brands of bottled water. Among other things, our report found that we cannot assume that all bottled water is more pure and safer than most tap water, because although most bottled water appeared to be of good quality, some contained contaminants exceeding regulatory standards. This finding may not be a significant issue for the average person, but it may be extremely serious for vulnerable sub-populations such as people with a weakened immune system, people with health problems, cancer patients, the very young, and the elderly. Our report also found that the federal regulation of bottled water could be improved in ways that would provide better assurance for the quality of bottled water including stronger health standards for some contaminants, requiring more frequent monitoring, better federal oversight, and mandating public disclosure of key information.
No one should assume that water purchased in a bottle is necessarily any better regulated, any more pure, or any safer than most tap water. In fact, tap water is tested for safety more frequently than bottled water because our municipal water systems must meet strict requirements set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), whereas bottled water falls under less proscriptive regulations promulgated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA). Moreover, while nearly all drinking water systems are covered by EPA standards, only an estimated 40% of bottled water products are regulated by the FDA. And, as it turns out, in many cases – perhaps as much as 25% or more – bottled water is nothing more than tap water in a bottle – sometimes further treated, sometimes not.”
Here are a few excerpts from an article posted on by the NRDC, “The Truth About Tap“:
“Few questions confound health-conscious conservationists more than the first one a waiter might ask at a nice restaurant: bottled or tap? We know which is better for the environment. That’s easy. Not only are millions of tons of plastic bottles clogging our landfills, but it takes 1.63 liters of water to make every liter of Dasani – and the company is doing it in drought-plagued California. But despite those harsh realities, public concerns about tap-water quality (and, let’s face it, slick marketing) have caused bottled water sales to soar over the past couple of decades. Ads and labels drive home the perception of purity, with images of pristine glaciers and crystal-clear mountain springs. We now have “luxury” water bars and “premium” bottled water. Some people are spending 10,000 times more per gallon for bottled water than they typically are for tap. Is it worth the cost—to you and the environment?
If I still want (or need) to buy bottled water, how do I know what I’m buying?
Even though both the federal government and most states have bottled-water safety programs, regulations don’t adequately assure consumers of either purity or safety. A few state bottled-water programs (for example, those in Massachusetts and New York) maintain lists of the sources, but not all do. Carefully check the label and even the cap; if it says “from a municipal source” or “from a community water system,” this means it’s derived from tap. If you don’t find any information on the bottle, you can call the bottler or the bottled-water program in your state or the state where it was packaged and ask about the source.
Could the actual bottle pose a health risk?
Recent research suggests there might be cause for concern. Chemicals called phthalates, which are known to disrupt testosterone and other hormones, can leach into bottled water over time. One study found that water that had been stored for 10 weeks in plastic and in glass bottles contained phthalates, suggesting that the chemicals could be coming from the plastic cap or liner. Although there are regulatory standards limiting phthalates in tap, there are no legal limits in bottled water; the bottled-water industry waged a successful campaign opposing the FDA proposal to set a legal limit for these chemicals.”
The following video gives a little more information about the bottled water industry: