Health Effects of Drinking Water Contamination

About 14.1 million Americans routinely consume drinking water containing pesticides, including the weed killers, atarzine, alachlor, and simazine. People in 121 Midwestern towns and cities face an elevated risk of cancer as a result of drinking water containing five farm pesticides.

Drinking Water in Midwest Has Pesticides, report says, The New York Times, October 18, 1994. "This study is another in a series of wake-up calls that tells us we can no longer take for granted that our drinking water is safe all the time," says Carol M. Browner, Administrator, USEPA.

Water is the foundation that human survival is built on. Therefore, we must take all threats to our drinking water supply seriously. Farm runoff containing agricultural chemicals and manure may lead to contamination of drinking water supplies with fungicide, insecticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, containing phosphorous and nitrogen.

David Ozonoff, Chairman, Environmental Health Department, Boston University:" I think the problem today is that turning on your tap is an act of faith, and I'm not sure that that act of faith is particularly well- placed." If you drink from the tap, there are several recent studies you should know about because they may change the way you think about your water.

Emerging evidence Indicates that fertilizers in water supplies may cause cancer. Studies in China involving populations exposed to nitrates in their drinking water have suggested links between nitrate contamination and stomach and liver cancer. Further study of this potential carcinogen is strongly indicated. A study in New Jersey found evidence of association between volatile organic compounds in drinking water and leukemia. A national study, found evidence of increased rates of cancer in the vicinity of hazardous waste sites. Another study in Woburn, Massachusetts, associated hazardous waste disposal with increased rates of leukemia.

Effects Drinking Water Distribution Systems on Cancer Rates

The chemicals used in pipes, and joints, may contaminate drinking water after it has been treated. The many different materials used in these delivery systems result in varied contamination sources. Copper, tar, asphalt iron, zinc, coal, polyethylene, concrete, polyvinyl chloride, vinyl, asbestos and lead are all possible sources of post-treatment, contamination. Another recent study showed an association between leukemia and trichlorethylene, which came from plastics used in the drinking water delivery system. A 1979 study of several water systems demonstrated an increase in the cancer causing properties of drinking water after passing through the water delivery system.

A new book, "Our Stolen Future", deals with the disastrous health effects from chemicals present in large numbers in pesticides, plastics, and industrial processes. The book, contains a foreword by Vice President Al Gore. It discusses the various and serious effects these industrial chemicals have on humans and the environment. The book shifts the debate from the chemicals' potential of causing cancer to their effect on the bodies hormone systems. "The evidence is here, and the weight of evidence is powerful. This is enough to wake people up," Theo Colburn, a scientist with the World Wildlife Fund and co-author of the book, told Reuters News Service. Ten scientists from universities and hospitals, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Academy of Science called for an intense research effort on these chemicals that seem to lower sperm counts in men. Evidence shows that men's sperm counts have dropped worldwide since these chemicals were introduced in the late 1930s. These chemicals also seem to disrupt other human reproductive and metabolic functions, "Given the environmental, economic and biological impact of endocrine- disrupting chemicals, difficult decisions regarding the abatement of health hazards are necessary," Christopher DeRosa, director of the Health and Human Services Department's Division of Toxicology.

Another area of current concern is centered on the potential for micropollutants to cause cancer through chemicals that mimic naturally occurring, biologically active compounds. These substances appear to disrupt intercellular communications. For Example: Nonyl-phenol, a common chemical , increases proliferation in breast tumor cell cultures.

Zoologist Theo Colborn of the World Wildlife Fund and her co-workers have compiled a list of 42 chemicals or classes of chemicals that have been reported to affect the reproductive or hormone system.

Studies were performed in the mid-1980's after high levels of a common industrial chemical solvent called tetrachloroethylene, or perc was found in the water supplies of several Massachusetts towns. The studies found the chemical increased the risk of leukemia and bladder cancer by up to 9 times normal. This same chemical has been showing up, at lower levels, in a quarter of the water samples around the country.

Even if a city's water passes muster, residential supplies can be contaminated in houses with lead pipes or plastic pipes that emit volatile compounds or in homes supplied by private well water that is taken near a landfill site.

The contamination of water is directly related to the degree of contamination of our environment. Rainwater flushes airborne pollution from the skies, and then washes over the land before running into the, rivers, aquifers, and lakes that supply our drinking-water. All of the chemicals generated by man will eventually end up in our water supplies.

Under conditions of average temperature, humidity, and activity, the human body loses and, therefore, must replace about 2.3 liters of water each day. Two-thirds of this consumption is in the form of water or some otherbeverage. Concerns about the health risks or taste of drinking water may induce those who consume tap water to shift to bottled water, or other beverages. These beverages may include sweetened soft drinks and alcoholic beverages, which can pose health risks greater than those associated with drinking water. In addition, the production and disposal of containers for alternative beverages, including bottled water, may lead to the release of carcinogens.

According to a report sponsored by Ralph Nader, at least 2,110 contaminants have been identified in the nation's drinking water supplies. The contaminants not regulated may be present in drinking water. Further, contaminants such as Lead, Asbestos, and Trihalomethanes could occur in your water supply after the water leaves the public water treatment plant. For these reasons, millions of people throughout the world are looking for alternatives to drinking tap water.