Last week a couple of news stories made me look at my drinking water a little differently:
- The U.S. Department of Health and Public Services proposed that utilities sharply reduce the amount of fluoride being added to municipal water supplies, because many children are being exposed to levels that exceed recommendations. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the risks of ingesting excess fluoride include dental fluorosis (pitted and mottled teeth), bone fractures and skeletal fluorosis, and possibly osteosarcoma (bone cancer), neurotoxicity, and disruption of thyroid function. Seventy-two percent of Americans currently drink fluoridated water.
- The EWG conducted a sample of hexavalent chromium – the carcinogenic chemical Erin Brockovich made famous – in 35 different community water supplies. They found the chemical in levels higher than California has declared “safe” in 25 of the communities. The National Institute of Health deems hexavalent chromium a “probable carcinogen”, because it causes cancer in laboratory animals. The chemical seeps into our water supply from steel and pulp mills and metal-plating and leather-tanning facilities, and through erosion of soil and rock.
Should we worry?
Are excess fluoride, hexavalent chromium, or the multiple other contaminants the EWG warns are in our water, including petroleum distillates, pharmaceuticals, and perchlorate a health threat worth worrying about?
“The United States enjoys one of the cleanest and safest supplies of drinking water in the world. Municipal utilities provide water that comply with existing state and federal standards in more than 92% of cases,” the EWG states. “At the same time, we also know that there are many unregulated contaminants in our nation’s drinking water.”
Many Americans are concerned. In a 2009 Gallup poll, 84% of people said they worry a “great deal” or a “fair amount’ about pollutants in their drinking water.
Can we protect ourselves?
The EWG recommends taking the following steps if you’re concerned:
- Learn about your water. You can find out what’s in your drinking water at the EWG’s tap water database, or by contacting your water company.
- Avoid bottled water. Bottled water often comes from municipal water supplies, and the glut of plastic bottles – we throw away 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour in the U.S. — further pollutes the environment.
- Buy a filter. The EWG recommends that Americans (especially pregnant women or parents mixing infant formula with tap water) consider buying a water filter. They give a rundown of different filters here. An inexpensive carbon filter will reduce many water contaminants, including lead and byproducts of the disinfection process, but it does not filter out fluoride or hexavalent chromium. A more expensive reverse osmosis filtration system reduces levels of most water contaminants. The EWG warns that we also absorb water into our bodies through bathing and showering, so you may want to consider filtering your bath water.
- Contact your public utility. If you’re concerned about contaminants or excess fluoride in your water, speak up.
If you want to limit the amount of fluoride you or your young children ingest, you can also:
- Reduce other sources of fluoride. Tap water is the largest, but not the only source of fluoride many of us ingest. You can reduce your children’s intake of fluoride in toothpaste, supplements, rinses, and food sources.
We don’t have fluoridated water in Eugene, or in most of Oregon, so I’m not worried about that. But the news about hexavalent chromium has made me wonder about the other untested and unregulated chemicals that could be in our drinking water. We don’t filter our water, but I’m starting to wonder if it’s a good idea. Of course, the real solution is for us to put pressure industries to find greener ways to do business and keep toxic chemicals out of our environment.
If you liked this post, check out more of my popular posts about health:
- Becoming Carcinogen Abolitionists
- The Healing Power of Trees
- Dandelions are Superfoods
- Simple Herbal Tonics: Brews for Beginners
What do you think? Do you worry about the safety of your tap water? Have you installed a water filter or a filtration system? I’d love to hear about it.