Are Chemicals in Drinking Water Giving People Cancer?
Traces of 18 unregulated chemicals were found in drinking water from more than one-third of U.S. water utilities in a nationwide sampling, according to new, unpublished research by federal scientists.
Included are 11 perfluorinated compounds, an herbicide, two solvents, caffeine, an antibacterial compound, a metal and an antidepressant, reports Environmental Health News.
While studies increasingly report newly emerging contaminants in wastewater, there has been little data on which ones are in drinking water. Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) analyzed single samples of untreated and treated water from 25 U.S. utilities that voluntarily participated in the project.
Twenty-one contaminants were detected—mostly in low concentrations of parts per trillion—in treated drinking water from at least nine of the utilities. Eighteen of the chemicals are not regulated under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act so utilities do not have to meet any limit or even monitor for them.
“The good news is the concentrations are generally pretty low,” said Dana Kolpin, a research hydrologist with the USGS who participated in the study. “But there’s still the unknown. Are there long-term consequences of low-level exposure to these chemicals?”
For many of the contaminants, little is known about potential human health effects of low doses. But one of the perfluorinated compounds, known as PFOA, has been linked to a variety of health problems, including cancer, among people in communities where water is contaminated by a chemical plant in West Virginia.
Of 251 chemicals, bacteria, viruses and microbes the scientists measured, 117 were not detected in any of the treated drinking water. Twenty-one were found in water from more than one-third of the 25 utilities (nine or more) and 113 were found in less than one-third (eight or fewer).
Four of the chemicals found in the samples—the metal strontium, the herbicide metolachlor, PFOS and PFOA—are on the EPA’s list of chemicals under consideration for drinking water standards. The EPA plans to make decisions regarding at least five of the contaminants on its list next year.
“We’re hoping through this work the EPA will do a much more intensive contaminant candidate list and develop new methods and requirements for drinking water plants,” said Edward Furlong, a scientist with the USGS who participated in the study.
Perfluorinated chemicals, which were found most frequently, are widely used in a variety of industrial processes, including manufacture of some nonstick and stain-resistant food packaging, fabrics and cookware.
The two most common perfluorinated compounds, PFOS and PFOA, in the utilities’ water have been detected in the blood of nearly all people in the U.S.
A panel of scientists has concluded there is a “probable link” between PFOA in drinking water and high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer and pregnancy-induced hypertension. The findings were based on people in Mid-Ohio Valley communities whose water was polluted with PFOA from a DuPont plant.
The EPA has classified metolachlor as a possible human carcinogen based on studies of highly exposed rats. Strontium can affect bone growth, according to some animal studies that used doses much higher than those found in drinking water.
The perfluorinated compounds were at similar concentrations in the untreated and treated drinking water, suggesting that treatment techniques are largely unsuccessful. Only one plant was successful at removing them and it used activated carbon treatment.
Activated carbon, ozone and UV treatments are generally better at removal than traditional chlorine treatment, but such techniques are often prohibitively expensive, said EPA research chemist Susan Glassmeyer, who led the project.
“People resent having to pay anything for water,” she said. “There’s the thought that there’s a God-given right to have as much as we want but, if you want the cleanest water, these techniques take money.”
Treatment also can sometimes transform compounds into new ones, said Laurel Schaider, a research associate at the Harvard School of Public Health.
“Chlorination and other treatments technologies will remove some contaminants, but will react with others,” Schaider said. “Some compounds may appear to be removed but may be transformed to a chemical we know even less about.”
Glassmeyer said the utilities, which remain anonymous, represented a mix of large and small and used different water treatment technologies.
Preliminary findings of the study, which is expected to be published next year, were presented by the scientists at a toxicology conference in Nashville last month.
Visit EcoWatch’s HEALTH page for more related news on this topic.
By Gwen Ranniger
Fertility issues are on the rise, and new literature points to ways that your environment may be part of the problem. We've rounded up some changes you can make in your life to promote a healthy reproductive system.
Infertility and Environmental Health: The Facts<ul> <li>Sperm count is declining steeply, significantly, and continuously in Western countries, with no signs of tapering off. Erectile dysfunction is on the rise, and women are facing increasing rates of miscarriage and difficulty conceiving.</li><li>Why? A huge factor is our environmental health. Hormones (particularly testosterone and estrogen) are what make reproductive function possible, and our hormones are increasingly being negatively affected by harmful, endocrine-disrupting chemicals commonplace in the modern world—in our homes, foods, and lifestyles.</li></ul>
What You Can Do About It<p>It should be noted that infertility can be caused by any number of factors, including medical conditions that cannot be solved with a simple change at home.</p><p><em>If you or a loved one are struggling with infertility, our hearts and sympathies are with you. Your pain is validated and we hope you receive answers to your struggles.</em></p><p>Read on to discover our tips to restore or improve reproductive health by removing harmful habits and chemicals from your environment.</p>
Edit Your Health<ul><li>If you smoke, quit! Smoking is toxic, period. If someone in your household smokes, urge them to quit or institute a no-smoking ban in the house. It is just as important to avoid secondhand smoke.</li><li>Maintain a healthy weight. Make sure your caloric intake is right for your body and strive for moderate exercise.</li><li>Eat cleanly! Focus on whole foods and less processed meals and snacks. Studies have found that eating a Mediterranean-style diet is linked to increased fertility.</li><li>Minimize negative/constant stress—or find ways to manage it. Hobbies such as meditation or yoga that encourage practiced breathing are great options to reduce the physical toll of stress.</li></ul>
Edit Your Home<p>We spend a lot of time in our homes—and care that what we bring into them will not harm us. You may not be aware that many commonly found household items are sources of harmful, endocrine-disrupting compounds. Read on to find steps you can take—and replacements you should make—in your home.</p><p><strong>In the Kitchen</strong></p><ul> <li>Buy organic, fresh, unprocessed foods whenever possible. <a href="https://www.ehn.org/clean-grocery-shopping-guide-2648563801.html" target="_blank">Read our grocery shopping guide for more tips about food.</a></li><li>Switch to glass, ceramics, or stainless steel for food storage: plastics often contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals that affect fertility. <a href="https://www.ehn.org/bpa-pollution-2645493129.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Learn more about the dangers of plastic here.</a></li><li>Ban plastic from the microwave. If you have a plastic splatter cover, use paper towel, parchment paper, or an upside-down plate instead.</li><li>Upgrade your cookware: non-stick may make life easier, but it is made with unsafe chemical compounds that seep into your food. Cast-iron and stainless steel are great alternatives.</li><li>Filter tap water. Glass filter pitchers are an inexpensive solution; if you want to invest you may opt for an under-the-sink filter.</li><li>Check your cleaning products—many mainstream products are full of unsafe chemicals. <a href="https://www.ehn.org/how-to-shop-for-cleaning-products-while-avoiding-toxics-2648130273.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Check out our guide to safe cleaning products for more info</a>.</li></ul><p><strong>In the Bathroom </strong></p><ul> <li>Check the labels on your bathroom products: <em>fragrance-free, paraben-free, phthalate-free</em> and organic labels are all great signs. You can also scan the ingredients lists for red-flag chemicals such as: triclosan, parabens, and dibutyl phthalate. Use the <a href="https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/" target="_blank">EWG Skin Deep database</a> to vet your personal products.</li><li>Ditch the vinyl shower curtain—that new shower curtain smell is chemical-off gassing. Choose a cotton or linen based curtain instead.</li><li>Banish air fresheners—use natural fresheners (an open window, baking soda, essential oils) instead.</li></ul><p><strong>Everywhere Else</strong></p><ul><li>Remove wall-to-wall carpet. If you've been considering wood or tile, here's your sign: many synthetic carpets can emit harmful chemicals for years. If you want a rug, choose wool or plant materials such as jute or sisal.</li><li>Prevent dust build-up. Dust can absorb chemicals in the air and keep them lingering in your home. Vacuum rugs and wipe furniture, trim, windowsills, fans, TVs, etc. Make sure to have a window open while you're cleaning!</li><li>Leave shoes at the door! When you wear your shoes throughout the house, you're tracking in all kinds of chemicals. If you like wearing shoes inside, consider a dedicated pair of "indoor shoes" or slippers.</li><li>Clean out your closet—use cedar chips or lavender sachets instead of mothballs, and use "green" dry-cleaning services over traditional methods. If that isn't possible, let the clothes air out outside or in your garage for a day before putting them back in your closet.</li><li>Say no to plastic bags!</li><li>We asked 22 endocrinologists what products they use - and steer clear of—in their homes. <a href="https://www.ehn.org/nontoxic-products-2648564261.html" target="_blank">Check out their responses here</a>.</li></ul>
Learn More<ul><li>For more information and action steps, be sure to check out <em>Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race</em> by EHS adjunct scientist Shanna Swan, PhD: <a href="https://www.shannaswan.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">available for purchase here.</a></li><li><a href="https://www.ehn.org/st/Subscribe_to_Above_The_Fold" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sign up for our Above the Fold Newsletter </a>to stay up to date about impacts on the environment and your health.</li></ul>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The irony hit Katherine Kehrli, the associate dean of Seattle Culinary Academy, when one of the COVID-19 pandemic's successive waves of closures flattened restaurants: Many of her culinary students were themselves food insecure. She saw cooks, bakers, and chefs-in-training lose the often-multiple jobs that they needed simply to eat.
By Tara Lohan
What does a biodiversity crisis sound like? You may need to strain your ears to hear it.
- Is Constant Human Noise Stressing Out Wildlife? - EcoWatch ›
- What We've Lost: The Species Declared Extinct in 2020 - EcoWatch ›
- Traffic Sounds Make It Harder for Birds to Think, Scientists Find ... ›
- Using Sound to Help Imperiled Species and Ecosystems - EcoWatch ›
The Biden administration announced it will use Obama-era calculations of the "social cost" of three greenhouse gas pollutants while an interagency working group calculates a more complete estimate, the White House announced Friday.
By Anne-Sophie Brändlin
Facebook has started tackling dangerous climate change myths and anti-environment propaganda that circulates among the platform's almost 3 billion monthly users.