The Safety of American Drinking Water

We live in a world where we are constantly exposed to environmental toxicities coming from the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. While we cannot live in a bubble, totally sheltered from toxins, we can greatly reduce our exposure by implementing a few lifestyle changes. Contaminants in our tap water has long been an issue of concern. Most American families are unknowingly consuming a chemical cocktail while they drink their tap water. The state of our drinking water is devastating to say the least. We cannot rely on governmental agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate the safety of the water we consume on a daily basis.

 The EPA has very loose standards when it comes to toxins found in our drinking water as well as the maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) deemed fit for each of the contaminants. The Safe Drinking Water Act, established in 1974, was designed to protect our water systems giving the EPA authorization to set minimum standards for tap water safety. This faulty system is severely outdated and does the American people no justice. For example, the latest action taken by the EPA was in 2000 when they adjusted the MCL for uranium standards in community water systems.

There are many common contaminants found in tap water that are completely unregulated by the EPA such as hexavalent chromium.

This toxicant has gained some popularity when environmental activist, Erin Brockovich filed a lawsuit against Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) who was found guilty of contaminating the drinking water of Hinkley, California. PG&E had used hexavalent chromium between 1952 and 1966 in a cooling tower system at the Hinkley compressor station to fight corrosion. The waste water was then subsequently dumped into unlined ponds on the property which contaminated ground water for two square miles from the station.

According to research from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), hexavalent chromium levels exceed safe limits in fifty states with the highest levels detected in Norman, OK. Levels were detected at 39.3 ppb which is 1,967x’s more than the safe limit of 0.02 ppb. Hexavalent chromium is a known carcinogen and is also damaging to the liver and reproductive system. We see its carcinogenic effects in a study done in a Chinese province where they reported higher mortality rates of lung and stomach cancers in villages where the water was contaminated with hexavalent chromium. Another study showed the impact of exposure to hexavalent chromium on the male reproductive system. It was observed that males who were exposed through their occupation experienced hindered sperm health and production

Hexavalent chromium isn’t the only water contaminant of concern. Other items such as heavy metals, parasites, bacteria, pharmaceuticals, and pesticides are commonly found in tap water as well. While there are toxic chemicals and pathogens found in our water supply, there are other things that are voluntarily added to our water systems such as chlorine and fluoride.

Common Contaminants Found in Tap Water

Chlorine

Chlorine is commonly added to water systems across America as a disinfectant, to prevent the growth of algae and bacteria, and to control tastes and odors. Chlorine was first permanently used in Lincoln, England when a contaminated water supply caused an outbreak of typhoid fever in 1905. Alexander Cruickshank Houston fed a solution of chlorinated lime into the water to stop the epidemic. This solution was later used in the United States in 1908 for the water system that supplied Jersey City, New Jersey. Today, liquid chlorine gas has replaced the use of chlorinated lime in our water systems. According to the CDC, chlorine levels up to four milligrams per liter is considered safe and will not likely cause any harm to your health. While most people may think that ingesting a small amount of chlorine each day isn’t going to make a significant impact in your health, there is evidence that shows us that it’s a toxicant that needs to be avoided.

One meta analysis compared six case-control studies and two cohort studies that observed the association between individual consumption of chlorinated water and bladder cancer. This analysis compared immediate as well as long-term risk factors and concluded that long-term exposure to chlorinated drinking water was associated with an increased risk of bladder cancer, particularly in men. Not only is chlorine a problem, but it forms disinfection byproducts (DBPs) when it combines with naturally occurring organic matter in the water. A well know DBP is chloroform which is classified by the EPA as a Group B2, probable human carcinogen. Chloroform is vaporized and released into the air through hot showers, swimming pools, or wastewater. It is a known central nervous system depressant causing liver damage and cardiac arrhythmias.

Fluoride

Dr. Frederick McKay, a dentist, was the first to discover fluoride while in Colorado in 1901. He observed that children living there had much stronger teeth because of the high fluoride content naturally occurring in the ground and well water.

In 1945, studies were done across America comparing fluoridated and unfluoridated communities and concluded that fluoridated communities had 50-75% fewer cavities than other places without a high content of fluoride. This discovery lead to adding fluoride to our drinking water by 1962. However, there are conflicting results from those studies and we have evidence to show that unfluoridated communities have just as much dental decline. Adding fluoride to our water isn’t the answer when it comes to preventing cavities and will only contribute to the toxin load on the body. 

The well known Mullenix study completed in 1995 showed that prenatal and postnatal exposure to fluoride was linked to impaired cognitive abilities such as attention disorders.

Studies done by Harvard University indicated that children who had consistent and large fluoride exposure showed as much as a seven point drop in IQ scores. Fluoride exposure was also shown to increase the risk of kidney damage because of the kidneys being exposed to large amounts of fluoride compared to other organs in the body.

Lead

Heavy metals such as lead, aluminum, arsenic, and mercury can all be found in tap water depending on where you’re located in the country. Before 1930, lead pipes were used in most homes and water lines causing big issues with lead leaching into the water. In addition, lead based solder was used to fuse metal pipes up until 1986. Lead water lines are still in use today in various amounts in each state and are the main source of lead contamination in our water systems.

Toxic lead exposure causes damage to the nervous system affecting the brain and lowering cognitive function. Children are especially vulnerable and sensitive to the harmful affects of lead as it pertains to their developing neurological system. One study showed the long-term effects of low dose lead exposure during childhood and into young adulthood. A group of children were studied with elevated levels of lead in the dentin of their teeth that showed a correlation with impaired neurological function. This same group was studied again eleven years later to find that those with dentin lead levels greater than 20 ppm had higher risks of dropping out of high school and reading disabilities compared with those who had dentin lead levels less than 10 ppm. They concluded that harmful effects of toxic lead exposure in children did indeed persist into young adulthood.

PFAS

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkl substances (PFAS) are a group of chemicals deemed “forever chemicals” that don’t break down once they are released into the environment.

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found the 97% of Americans had PFAS in their blood. PFAS can be found in stain resistant carpets and furniture, stain or water repellent clothes, personal care products, cosmetics, and nonstick cookware such as Teflon. According to reports by the EWG, PFAS have been detected in water samples in thirty-one states across the country with highest levels found in heavily populated areas such as Miami, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and the northern New Jersey suburbs. PFAS are completely unregulated by the EPA and there is no federal legal limit established for water systems. PFAS exposure have been linked to cancer, reproductive problems, weakened childhood immunity, low birth weight, and endocrine disruption. A study that observed women residing in areas with high PFAS contamination showed an increased risk of PCOS which is a common hormone imbalance condition.

Glyphosate

Glyphosate, also known as RoundUp, is a common pesticide and weed killer used on crops. After Monsanto started commercializing its use in 1974, glyphosate is the most used pesticide in the world. Because it is so widely used in agriculture today, glyphosate has contaminated our water systems and is found in tap water in seven different states according to EWG reporting. Those that drink unfiltered water, eat produce that has been sprayed with pesticides, and live near agricultural and farmlands are at greater risk of exposure. Animal studies have shown a correlation between glyphosate exposure and an altered gut microbiome with an increase in anxiety and depression-like behaviors. In 2015 The World Health Organization announced that the International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that glyphosate is a “probable human carcinogen”. Evidence shows a connection between exposure to glyphosate and an increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer that begins in the lymphatic system.

What Water Filter Should I Use?

As you can see, obtaining a quality water filter for your home is absolutely critical for your overall health and wellbeing. I would like to highlight a few of my favorite water filters below that do an incredible job.

Berkey Filters

The Berkey uses gravity-fed carbon filters that utilize three different methods of filtration to remove over 200 different contaminants such as chloroform, heavy metals, VOCs, pesticides, chlorine, and more. The Berkey first filters water by something called microfiltration that traps pathogens such as parasites, bacteria and sediment. Heavy metals are then removed from the water through ion exchange and are bonded to the filter. Lastly, the filters remove small contaminants such as viruses through adsorption which causes the contaminants to be pulled into the filters.

They also offer fluoride filter attachments that can be added onto their units for those who use city water. While the Berkey filter does an amazing job at removing contaminants, it doesn’t remove naturally occurring minerals in the water which are beneficial for our health.

AquaTru

AquaTru purifies water through a patented 4-stage Ultra Reserve Osmosis technology certified by both IAPMO and NSP standards to remove 83 contaminants such as fluoride, chlorine, lead, nitrates, and more. During the filtering process, the water first passes through a pre-filter which removes large particles like sediment and rust and then through the carbon filter to remove chlorine and chloramines. Next, a high-pressure pump pushes the water through the reverse osmosis membrane to filter contaminants such as heavy metals. The last step sends the water through an activated coconut block filter which removes drug residue, PFAS and other organic compounds. Along with removing contaminants, reverse osmosis filters also removes naturally occurring minerals found in the water. Because of this, it’s advised to add mineral drops to your drinking water.

Clearly Filtered

If you’re looking for a pitcher water filter, similar to Brita or PUR, I would consider Clearly Filtered water filters. They use a gravity-fed carbon filter that removes 99.9% of more than 365 contaminants such as fluoride, microplastics, heavy metals, bacteria, and viruses.  Their Affinity Filtration Technology uses both a magnet-like chemical absorption and physical structure to remove contaminants while retaining beneficial minerals.

Crystal Quest Shower and Bath Filters

Crystal Quest offers both bath ball filters and shower head filters that will remove chlorine, chloramines, VOCs, THM’s, pesticides, sulphur, and heavy metals while removing odors and other sediments. 

Installing a shower or bath filter greatly reduces chlorine absorption and vapor inhalation while you bathe. Each filter will filter around 20,000 gallons of water (one year of use) before it needs to be replaced.

How Do I Know What’s In My Tap Water?

The EWG has a wonderful tool that can be used to see what contaminants are found in your local water system. Simply search using your zip code to access all of the information on specific contaminants found in your area. You can visit EWG’s Tap Water Database or click the link here.

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