Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

100 Cancer-Causing Contaminants Found in U.S. Drinking Water

Popular
100 Cancer-Causing Contaminants Found in U.S. Drinking Water
iStock

By Robert Coleman

The Environmental Working Group's (EWG) just-released Tap Water Database shows that a startling number of cancer-causing chemicals contaminate the nation's drinking water. Of 250 different contaminants detected in tests by local utilities, 93 are linked to an increased risk of developing cancer.


We analyzed the tap water data for 48,000 water utilities nationwide for the years 2010 to 2015, and found that more than 80 percent of the utilities detected contaminants linked to cancer in levels exceeding health-protective guidelines. According to a recent study published in the journal Cancer, counties with the highest rates of pollution also have higher cancer rates and contaminated drinking water likely plays a role in this.

Here's a list of the five most pervasive drinking water contaminants linked to cancer nationwide:

1. 1,4-Dioxane

Found in the drinking water supplies for 90 million Americans, this contaminant can come from hazardous waste sites, industrial spills and discharges from municipal wastewater plants. It is linked to liver, gall bladder and respiratory system cancers.

2. Arsenic

Found in the drinking water supplies of 70 million people, this notorious poison is a naturally occurring mineral that causes bladder, lung and skin cancers.

3. Chromium-6

The "Erin Brockovich" chemical contaminates drinking water for 250 million people, and can come from industrial pollution or natural sources. Chromium-6 is linked to stomach cancer.

4. Disinfection byproducts

Detected in the drinking water served to more than 250 million Americans, these contaminants form when disinfectants such as chlorine interact with plant and animal waste in source water. Disinfection byproducts have been linked to bladder, liver, kidney and intestinal cancers, and may harm fetal development.

5. Nitrate

Nitrate is a fertilizer chemical that comes from agricultural and urban runoff, as well as discharges from wastewater treatment plants and septic tanks. High levels of nitrate in drinking water have been linked to colon, kidney, ovarian and bladder cancers. EWG has defined a health guideline for nitrate at 5 parts per million or ppm, based on studies by scientists at the National Cancer Institute and other independent researchers. This health guideline protects against cancer and harm to fetal growth and development. In 2015, 7 million Americans received tap water with levels of nitrate greater than 5 ppm. The federal drinking water regulations allow up to 10 ppm nitrate in drinking water.

Arsenic, chromium-6 and nitrate are also common in private wells. The federal government does not require private well water monitoring, so it falls to individual homeowners to test the water in their wells.

The odds of having one of these contaminants in your water above the established health-protective guidelines are high, but it's not all doom and gloom. For all of these contaminants except 1,4-dioxane, there are water filters certified to remove the chemical from water. Simple countertop filters will reduce but not eliminate many contaminants. In the case of 1,4-dioxane, reverse osmosis will not remove it completely, but can reduce the amount of the chemical. If you have any of these contaminants in your water, check out EWG's Water Filter Buying Guide.

Follow the links below for filters that remove:

No American should have to settle for drinking water that puts them and their loved ones at risk. EWG urges concerned citizens to reach out to their local officials and press for answers to vital questions on water quality.

Until federal and state regulators take action to protect Americans from drinking harmful contaminants in tap water, EWG will be on the front lines, arming people with the information they need to protect themselves and their families from water contamination, and advocating for better safeguards for water quality and human health.

Rise and Resist activist group marched together to demand climate and racial justice. Steve Sanchez / Pacific Press / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Alexandria Villaseñor

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

My journey to becoming an activist began in late 2018. During a trip to California to visit family, the Camp Fire broke out. At the time, it was the most devastating and destructive wildfire in California history. Thousands of acres and structures burned, and many lives were lost. Since then, California's wildfires have accelerated: This past year, we saw the first-ever "gigafire," and by the end of 2020, more than four million acres had burned.

Read More Show Less
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced a pair of climate-related secretarial orders on Friday, April 16. U.S. Department of the Interior

By Jessica Corbett

As the Biden administration reviews the U.S. government's federal fossil fuels program and faces pressure to block any new dirty energy development, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland won praise from environmentalists on Friday for issuing a pair of climate-related secretarial orders.

Read More Show Less
Trending
David Attenborough narrates "The Year Earth Changed," premiering globally April 16 on Apple TV+. Apple

Next week marks the second Earth Day of the coronavirus pandemic. While a year of lockdowns and travel restrictions has limited our ability to explore the natural world and gather with others for its defense, it is still possible to experience the wonder and inspiration from the safety of your home.

Read More Show Less

By Michael Svoboda

For April's bookshelf we take a cue from Earth Day and step back to look at the bigger picture. It wasn't climate change that motivated people to attend the teach-ins and protests that marked that first observance in 1970; it was pollution, the destruction of wild lands and habitats, and the consequent deaths of species.

Read More Show Less
An Amazon.com Inc. worker walks past a row of vans outside a distribution facility on Feb. 2, 2021 in Hawthorne, California. PATRICK T. FALLON / AFP via Getty Images

Over the past year, Amazon has significantly expanded its warehouses in Southern California, employing residents in communities that have suffered from high unemployment rates, The Guardian reports. But a new report shows the negative environmental impacts of the boom, highlighting its impact on low-income communities of color across Southern California.

Read More Show Less