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found in drinking water from more than one-third of U.S. water utilities in a nationwide sampling, according to new, unpublished research by federal scientists.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.
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With more than 1.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States and more than 100,000 deaths from the virus, physicians face unprecedented challenges in their efforts to keep Americans safe.
They also encounter what some call an "infodemic," an outbreak of misinformation that's making it more difficult to treat patients.
When Leaders and Doctors Spread Misinformation<p>When people in charge of towns, cities, states, and countries spread misinformation, the potential for belief in misinformation to result in policies can have harmful effects.</p><p><a href="https://www.northwell.edu/find-care/find-a-doctor?q=Bruce+E.+Hirsch%2C+MD&insurance=&location=&query_type=provider&physician_partners=false&default_view=list&gender=&language=&sort=relevancy" target="_blank">Dr. Bruce E. Hirsch</a>, attending physician and assistant professor in the infectious disease division of Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York, says an example of this is when President Trump informed the public he was taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure.</p><p>"To approach this enormous challenge, we need some intellectual honesty and clarity, and to disregard expertise and to make decisions and model decisions based on hunches is inviting us to handle challenges on the basis of rumor and uninformed opinion. The magnitude of that error is epic," Hirsch told Healthline.</p><p>Stukus agrees, noting that the harm of this proclamation is documented.</p><p>"Early on when the president touted the benefits of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, people started to hoard this medicine, and state boards had to shut it down because they were getting so many prescriptions for this unproven therapy that it was not available for those who truly needed it, such as those who have lupus and autoimmune conditions," Stukus said.</p><p>He adds that calls to poison control centers increased after the president suggested using disinfectant to prevent contracting the new coronavirus.</p>
Listen to Science, Even When it Changes<p>When recommendations change or evidence flip-flops, skepticism may arise. However, Stukus says change is the beauty of science.</p><p>"That shows us that we can evolve, and if the evidence shows that our prior thoughts were incorrect, we need to be able to change our recommendations and advice based upon the best quality of evidence at the time," he said.</p><p>Pierre agrees.</p><p>"Science is an iterative process, whereby we arrive at facts and truth through repeated and controlled observations. That means that it's inherently self-correcting as we revise conclusions based on ongoing research. Scientific facts aren't immutable dogma chiseled on a tablet. They change based on the best available evidence we have at a given point in time," he said.</p><p>Because research of COVID-19 has only been underway for 6 months, information is evolving rapidly, and new information may contradict old.</p><p>"There's still much we don't know about exactly how [COVID-19] spreads, what effects it has on the body, or how to best treat it. That means that the best available evidence is preliminary, but that doesn't mean that we should ignore it or turn to other sources of information or opinion as if they're just as valid," Pierre said.</p><p>He explains that conspiracy theories based on mistrust lead to vulnerability to misinformation.</p><p>If people mistrust science because it sometimes "changes its mind," Pierre said, "that shouldn't be used to embrace other opinions based on no evidence at all, which are typically selected based on confirmation bias: what we want to believe rather than what the objective evidence supports."</p>
Where to Find the Best Information<p>Stukus says to start with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html" target="_blank">CDC</a> and <a href="https://www.nih.gov/health-information/coronavirus" target="_blank">NIH</a>. Then check with your local health officials, because COVID-19 guidelines may vary depending on where you live.</p><p>If you can't find information you need or have questions specifically related to you, call your primary care doctor.</p><p>"Your personal doctor should always be a resource for individual specific questions because they know best how to apply all the nuances retaining to your health, and how to incorporate all the other general [COVID-19] recommendations," Stukus said.</p><p><a href="https://www.eehealth.org/find-a-doctor/b/boyd-laura-b/" target="_blank">Dr. Laura Boyd</a>, primary care physician at Edward-Elmhurst Health Center in Elmhurst, Illinois, says her clinic receives a lot of calls about COVID-19.</p><p>"Most doctors' offices are receiving calls and answering questions, and doing phone or video visits to help clarify and/or order testing over the phone based on patients' symptoms. It is always best to call your doctor's office first instead of worrying about symptoms and waiting too long to seek treatment," she told Healthline.</p><p>If your primary care doctor has limited testing, she suggests looking on your state's public health website for available testing sites.</p><p>With a lot of unknowns related to this virus and disease, Boyd says many patients are feeling overwhelmed and anxious for a treatment.</p><p>"Unfortunately, there is no specific medication recommended for COVID for outpatient. There are a lot of ongoing studies with various drugs going on within the hospital setting. Patients should always contact their doctors about their specific symptoms as they can treat the symptoms that go along with COVID, but there is no cure," Boyd said.</p><p>While we wait for treatment and a vaccine, Hirsch, who treats patients hospitalized for COVID-19 complications on a daily basis, says everyone can do their part by washing hands, wearing a mask, and staying 6 feet apart.</p><p>"As an infectious disease doctor working in the hospital, I see the damage of the pandemic and the worst cases of what's happening. We are trying to get the best possible outcome and confronting this overwhelming biologic reality of this terrible epidemic the best we can," Hirsch said.</p><p>Everyone at home can help in the fight too, he adds.</p><p>"Follow information that is science- and evidence-based, and avoid that which is not," he said.</p>
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