It is important to understand that Water, in its purest form, is the most important clarifying and healing tonic available. We can even think of drinking water as essentially the same for the inside of the body as a shower is for the outside of the body. It cleans and maintains all 100 trillion cells in our body—so it makes perfect sense the water we consume should be as clean and pure as possible.
The only problem is healthy water isn’t found now days simply by turning on the tap or buying bottled water.
In the following article, I’ll discuss the many chemical hazards found in our drinking water. I’ll also share my well-researched opinions on municipal and bottled water regulations, Water Quality Reports, filtration systems and toxic vs. non-toxic storage systems.
Before the modern chemical era, a person had a one in six chance of developing some form of cancer in his or her lifetime. Today, coming into contact with well over 100,000 additional chemicals (new ones every day) in water, food, cleaning and personal products, the risk of developing cancer has increased to one in three. This means the likelihood of getting cancer has doubled in less than a century, making it highly likely that a century from now most people will develop some form of cancer if they live long enough. As consumers we should be aware that our environment has been so overwhelmed by man-made chemicals that varying amounts can be detected in ALL plants, animals, aqua creatures and human beings. In fact, chemicals can even be detected in a newborn baby’s blood, and much higher levels can be detected accumulating in the fat cells, hair, and nervous tissues of ALL older children and adults. Varying amounts of chemicals are now also found in ALL soil, air, and waters. But by far the greatest concern is contamination of our drinking water, which is where most chemicals from industrial, agricultural, and environmental pollution end up! Sadly, however, legally mandated chemicals being added to our water supply have led to an even greater problem, as chlorine and chlorine-like chemicals used for disinfection react easily with pollutants in our water; the consequence being, too many toxic chemicals for scientist to name them all.
190 Cancer promoting chemicals in Tap Water! One study reported by the Clean Water Action Project in 2002, found that in the United States alone there are over 2,100 chemicals in our drinking water thus far that have been studied and are known to cause various adverse health effects! Of these, 97 are known carcinogens, 82 are mutagens (cancer contributors), 23 are tumor promoters, and 28 are acute and/or chronic poisons… That’s 190 chemicals in our tap water known to cause cancer at varying concentrations! Facts being as they are, the only way we can protect ourselves from these contaminants is to be well informed about them, and, more importantly, to be well informed about how to protect ourselves and our families from ingesting them. Which brings us to two very important topics: Water Quality Reporting and By-products of Disinfection
What do those annual Water Quality Reports mailed to our homes really mean? Every year, water facilities are required to inform consumers in detail about chemical hazards in municipal water sources. However, these reports are overwhelming and confusing for most people, and they distract us mostly with announcements that no violations have occurred.
However, as consumers, we should ask ourselves: What does ‘no violations’ really mean?
No violations of EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) standards usually mean either one or both of the following:
1) The water was cleared of hazards to the extent possible by average water processing technology. That is, the water is as clean as most water plants can get it using today’s methods;
2) contamination’s have been excused by using N/A (not applicable), because they have not been studied yet, and so they do not have a number value corresponding to allowable concentrations of chemical based on EPA accepted limits.
As far as a rating system goes, these arbitrary limits are difficult to understand and misleading, because they are essentially a fair tradeoff between dangers of consuming and the best we (the water treatment facilities) can clean the water using today’s average filtering technologies. To illustrate, consider the typical look and feel of an annual Water Quality Report mailed to the residents of Luckyville, for example:
Luckyville Again Meets or Exceeds All Federal and State Drinking Water Standards in 2007! This will invariably be followed by several paragraphs of good news verbiage, a diagram of the filtering and purification methods used, and a detailed description of all the chemicals added to drinking water (namely, chlorine and fluoride) for your family’s protection and benefit. Two or three pages into the report (if one reads in that far), a fairly complicated looking water table will be presented with columns along the top border and abbreviations like: MCLG (Maximum Contaminate Level Goal), MCL(Maximum Contaminate Level), AL (Action Level), Range of Detection, Level Found, and Violations.
Usually vertically, all measured contaminants are listed with so-called “unregulated contaminants” and “byproducts of disinfection” found toward the end of the table.
Please note the definitions of MCL, MCLG, and AL and how these numbers lend themselves to adjustment based on current technology and emerging information regarding health risk.
*MCLG: The level of contaminant in drinking water below which there is no known or expected risk to health.
*MCL: The highest level of a contaminant that is allowed in drinking water set as close to the MCLGs as feasible using the best available treatment technology.
*AL: The concentration of a contaminant, which, if exceeded, triggers treatment or other requirements, which a water system must follow [if any such requirements have been developed].
Note that in each city’s Water Quality Report, the ratings in the MCL, MCLG, or both columns will inevitably post N/A (not applicable) for the following contaminants, generally grouped together as by-products of disinfection:
- Total Haloacetic Acids (HAAS), Total Trihalomethanes (TTHMs), Bromodichloromethane, Dibromochloromethane, Monobromoacetic Acid, Haloacetonitriles, Chloroform, Chloral Hydrate, Haloketones, Dechloroacetic Acid, Dibromoacetic Acid
“Other unregulated contaminants’’ - Radioactive contaminants, Arsenic, Mercury [natural and industrial waste products (for example, mining)], Boron [natural and used in pesticides], Bromoform [discharge from manufacturing plants], DDT [runoff from use as a contact insecticide], Acetochlor [runoff from use as a herbicide], Total Organic Halides [present due to the reactions between chlorine, organic material, and bromide], Methyl Tert-Butyl Ether (MTBE) [used as an octane booster in gasoline], Fluoride [water additive, which the ADA says promotes strong teeth] (Specifically discussed in The Fluoride Controversy)
So again, what does it mean when MCLG = 50ppb and MCL = 50 ppb? Or, when MCLG = N/A and MCL = 50 ppb or vice versa? Or when MCLG and MCL both = N/A?
Also note, if you look hard enough, embedded somewhere in the scientific jargon and toward the end of the report, you’ll see a warning statement that looks something like this: ”Some people who drink water containing excess amounts of Trihalomethanes over many years are known to experience problems with their liver, kidneys or central nervous system and may have increased risk of getting cancer. Children who are developing are especially susceptible to contaminants in water, such as lead and by-products of chlorination.” As indicated above, it is important to realize that “N/A” in conjunction with a short paragraph about the potential dangers of by-products of disinfection, is the full extent to which consumers are currently being warned about these modern-day chemicals in the public water supply.
Well it’s not enough! And in this context, the use of N/A does not bode well in my opinion for future ill implications associated with ingesting these chemicals. It rather reminds me of how lead was once thought of as a menace rather than the true health hazard it turned out to be. Decades past, warnings went unheeded, and countless millions of children exposed to paint dust and gas fumes suffered from learning disabilities, brain damage and bone diseases before the lead issue was finally addressed… Yet ultimately, despite all attempts to refute concerns raised early on by just a handful of researchers, lead testing is standard practice today in pediatric medicine.
Need I say more?
Search for the online version of your city’s Water Quality Report using U.S. EPA across America webpage Or from any search engine, type in your city (or nearest largest city) and “Water Quality Report,” which is the best way we found to search for a PDF copy of your city’s annual report.
Also see NRDC’s 2003 drinking water report card by city: What’s on Tap? Grading Drinking Water in U.S. Cities
So now that we have learned how to find and read Water Quality Reports, let’s learn more about By-Products of Disinfection, where they come from, and why we should avoid ingesting them.
What are these ominous chemicals, where do they come from, and why should we avoid ingesting them?
Put simply, by-products of disinfection are the natural outcome when powerful free-radical disinfectants (namely chlorine) meet generally accepted pollutants (namely pesticides, herbicides and gasoline additives).
You see, we in the western world believe our water is far safer to drink and bathe in than places like Mexico, China and India because it does not harbor bacteria. And in the short run, we are safer. However, the reason we do not have a problem with bacteria is we use chlorine in our water. Yet, unfortunately that little Cl molecule is not particularly interested in killing just bacteria; it wants an electron and will stop at nothing to get it. The reason it does not kill us as it does bacteria, is because we are much more complex and made up of trillions of cells as opposed to just one (like bacteria). Nevertheless, do not be fooled, it does kill our cells and absorbs rapidly into our blood from mucous membranes in our mouth when we brush our teeth and digestive tract when we drink it. For the most part, however, we can sustain any amount of injury chlorine can dish out without noticing much damage.
What’s worse, however, is chlorine also has a tendency to steal electrons from other chemicals now found in public water supply like:
pesticides, herbicides, industrial pollution, gasoline additives and other water purification chemicals
These chemicals, stemming from technological advancements and modern-day carelessness, turn quite violent when chlorine steals their electrons, and what results are “By-products of disinfection,” which are radical hybrids now being linked to cancer and central nervous system injuries. Some, are volatile enough to be inhaled in the shower, others are easily absorbed into our bodies when we ingest them. This new class of chemicals literally wreaks havoc on cells and genetic material within cells. However, these facts aren’t mere conjecture nor are they breaking news. The EPA has been releasing preliminary reports indicating the truth about such hazards and has focused its investigation on one chemical in particular—Methyl Tertiary-Butyl Ether (MTBE)
**(See: EPA Drinking Water Advisory: Consumer Acceptability Advice and Health Effects Analysis on MTBE)
Perhaps you’ll remember how the EPA openly discussed the dangers of MTBE in 2000 during an episode of 20/20, and the next day President Clinton wrote an executive order to stop adding it to gasoline. One problem arose, however:
There was far too much MTBE stockpiled to dispose of quickly and inexpensively. So, an addendum was added to the original executive order stating, “after all current stockpiles of MTBE are exhausted,” which would have occurred by the end of 2005. However, the Bush administration was not supportive, thus MTBE was not banned, but merely reduced.
Of course, it needs to be said that I’m not saying we are all going to get cancer from drinking and bathing in chlorinated water, but in light of all that is being discovered, I hope you agree it IS worth taking precautions. Especially since there is a growing body of evidence demonstrating that long-term exposure to chlorinated water does increase the risk of developing certain types of cancer (**see reports by University of Toronto and the Medical College of Wisconsin).
Even more concerning, however, for expectant mothers, studies have shown a link between Tri-halomethane exposure in excess of 80 parts per billion and increased incidence of miscarriage and birth defects like Spina Bifida (**see reports by The California Department of Health and the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry).
Plus, researchers at the New Jersey Department of Health point out that mothers who drink water with a high level of Trihalomethanes are more likely to give birth to low birth weight babies with various birth defects (American Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 141, No. 9, May 1, 1995, p. 850-62). And researchers at the University of Arizona report that children whose parents had been exposed to drinking water contaminated with trichloroethylene were three times more likely to be born with congenital heart disease (Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Vol. 16, No. 1, July 1990, pp. 155-64).
Thus it’s easy to see that it’s best for everyone, especially pregnant women, to avoid drinking and bathing in unfiltered chlorinated water if possible.
Though consumers these days are becoming more aware of the dangers associated with drinking municipal water, few realize the even greater risks associated with showering in it. While the reality is filtering drinking water is important, it’s not enough! In fact, it’s now estimated that of all the chemical hazards in municipal water (some 2,100 altogether), the three chemical exposures from 10 minutes of inhaling “shower steam,” namely Chloroform, DCA (Dichloro acedic acid) and MX (another chlorinated acid gas) are equal to, if not worse, than an entire day’s worth of drinking all the others combined.
Why so Toxic?
Chloroform, DCA and MX are concentrated in steam up to 100 times more than drinking water because their chemical properties allow them to evaporate at relatively low temperatures. This means each time we shower in unfiltered water we are, in a sense, turning our bathrooms into a Chloroform, DCA and MX gas chamber, revaporizing these by-products, inhaling them into our lungs and transferring them directly into our blood compartment. If you combine this with the fact that heat and steam cause the largest organ of the body (our skin) to open its pores wide and absorb these chemicals like a sponge, it becomes clear why if we bathe and shower in unfiltered tap water we’re inhaling and absorbing an alarming amount of chlorine by-products. What’s more, once we’ve finished gassing ourselves, when we open the bathroom door, we gas the rest of the family too. Thus, by the time everyone finishes showering in the morning, the entire house is full of these subtle poisons, which is kind of scary, especially when one learns that…
Chloroform, for example, was once used as an anesthetic, until the FDA banned it in 1976, when it was found to cause cancer. It is also known to cause excessive free-radical damage and oxidation of cholesterol, which accelerates the aging process, hardens arteries, and slowly destroys your body’s tissues and organs.
DCA causes excessive free radical damage and alters cholesterol metabolism as well, and it attacks cellular DNA, predisposing to the development of cancers.
MX is considered by the EPA to be the “single-largest” contributing mutagen (chemical that causes genetic mutations) in today’s municipal water. Harmful as it is, it’s been found in every municipal water source ever tested for it.
But wait there’s more!
Chlorine and its by-products destroy proteins too, and they are suspected to be linked to fibro-muscular diseases—like fibromyalgia; also chronic fatigue, eye problems, and worsening of allergic/autoimmune diseases. They also cause hair to become dry and brittle, and skin to flake, itch, and develop rashes (especially true with infants and children). Inhaling them also aggravates respiratory conditions like asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis. But again, none of this is breaking news, nor is it mere conjecture. Evidence of chlorine by-products collecting in steam has been mounting since the early 1980s, and many respected authorities are now coming forward to warn the public about health hazards associated with inhaling them…
“We conclude that skin absorption of contaminants in drinking water has been underestimated and that ingestion may not constitute the sole or even primary route of exposure.” American Journal of Public Health, May, 1984, Vol. 74, No. 5
“Taking showers is a health risk, according to research presented last week in a meeting of the American Chemical Society. Showers – and to a lesser extent baths – lead to a greater exposure to toxic chemicals contained in water supplies than does drinking water. The chemicals evaporate out of the water and are inhaled. They can also spread through the house and be inhaled by others.” New Scientist -18 September 1986, Ian Anderson
“A long, hot shower can be dangerous. The toxic chemicals are inhaled in high concentrations.” Bottom Line – August 1987, J Andelman, Ph. D.
“Ironically, even the chlorine widely used to disinfect water produces carcinogenic traces. Studies indicate the suspect chemicals can also be inhaled and absorbed through the skin during showering and bathing.” U. S. News & World Report – 29 July 1991, Is your Water Safe – The Dangerous State of Your Water
“Studies have documented the presence in the drinking water of many potentially toxic volatile o
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