Quantcast

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.

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
AleksandarNakic / Getty Images

By Kate Murphy

No matter the time of year, there's always a point in each season when my skin decides to cause me issues. While these skin issues can vary, I find the most common issues to be dryness, acne and redness.

Read More Show Less

David Woodfall / The Image Bank / Getty Images

By Sam Nickerson

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in April 2018 proposed relaxing standards related to how it assesses the effects of exposure to low levels of toxic chemicals on public health.

Now, correspondence obtained by the LA Times revealed just how deeply involved industry lobbyists and a controversial, industry-funded toxicologist were in drafting the federal agency's proposal to scrap its current, protective approach to regulating toxin exposure.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Steve Irwin poses with a three foot long alligator at the San Francisco Zoo on June 26, 2002. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

February 22 is the birthday of conservationist and beloved TV personality "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin, who would have been 57 years old today.

Irwin's life was tragically cut short when the barb from a stingray went through his chest while he was filming in 2006, but his legacy of loving and protecting wildlife lives on, most recently in a Google Doodle today honoring his birthday.

Read More Show Less
Left: Youtube / Screenshot, Right: alle12 / Getty Images

By Dan Nosowitz

That video showed the extrusion of a bubblegum-pink substance oozing into a coiled pile, something between Play-Doh, sausage and soft-serve strawberry ice cream. Branded "pink slime"—the name came from an email sent by a USDA microbiologist in 2002—this stuff was actually beef, destined for supermarkets and fast-food burgers.

Read More Show Less
Climate activist Greta Thunberg addresses the European Commission on Feb. 21 in Brussels, Belgium. Sylvain Lefevre / Getty Images

By Julia Conley

Sixteen-year-old climate action leader Greta Thunberg stood alongside European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker Thursday in Brussels as he indicated—after weeks of climate strikes around the world inspired by the Swedish teenager—that the European Union has heard the demands of young people and pledged a quarter of $1 trillion budget over the next seven years to address the crisis of a rapidly heating planet.

In the financial period beginning in 2021, Juncker said, the EU will devote a quarter of its budget to solving the crisis.

Read More Show Less