Toxic chemicals in US drinking water may cause over 100,000 cases of cancer, a horrifying new study suggests.
Researchers at the Environmental Working Group discovered 22 carcinogenic substances in water across the country.
Despite the fact that that most of the water systems they tested were within federal limits on each of these toxins, the scientists estimated that their cumulative effects could be dire over the course of Americans’ lifetimes.
Exposure to arsenic, products of disinfectant chemicals and traces of radioactive chemicals like uranium and radium had the most substantial effects on cancer risks.
Even when levels of each fall below federal limits, the collective effects of toxic contaminants in US drinking water may be responsible for over 100,000 cases of cancer a year (file)
Over 1.7 million new cases of cancer are diagnosed in the US each year.
In the same time period, over 600,000 people die of the disease.
Better prevention strategies, earlier detection and better treatments – like the immunotherapies that are revolutionizing the disease’s future – have driven cancer mortality down dramatically.
Yet the disease’s elimination is no where in sight.
In part, this is because its roots are many, and difficult to control.
Rather than being triggered by any one thing, genetics, what you eat, where you live, how you eat and, of course, the water you drink all play roles in raising or lowering cancer risks.
Some chemicals, like arsenic are nearly impossible to keep out of water in certain places.
For example, in some areas of Illinois, the soil is rich in arsenic, a toxic, carcinogenic heavy metal, linked to liver and bladder cancers.
Arsenic seeps into the ground water, and winds up in our bodies.
It also leaks into the water supply from many types of manufacturing plants.
US water systems treat drinking water with chlorine – a non-carcinogenic cleaning chemical – in an attempt to reduce or eliminate the metal.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) limits the permissible level of arsenic in drinking water to 0.01 parts per million.
It’s put similar caps on other toxins like uranium and a slew of disinfectant chemicals, too.
In isolation, on a given given day, these levels are safe.
But we don’t drink those chemicals individually, or in isolated incidences.
‘Drinking water contains complex mixtures of contaminants, yet government agencies currently assess the health hazards of tap water pollutants one by one,’ said Sydney Evans, lead author of the paper and a science analyst at EWG.
‘In the real world, people are exposed to combinations of chemicals, so it is important that we start to assess health impacts by looking at the combined effects of multiple pollutants.’
The EWG used a new model to estimate how much the collective effects of all water pollution would increase cancer risks over a person’s lifetime, estimated to be about 70 years.
By their math, these pollutants are responsible for 100,000 or more cases of cancer in the US.
‘The vast majority of community water systems meet legal standards,’ said Dr Olga Naidenko, EWG’s vice president for science investigations.
‘Yet the latest research shows that contaminants present in the water at those concentrations – perfectly legal – can still harm human health.
“We need to prioritize source water protection, to make sure that these contaminants don’t get into the drinking water supplies to begin with.’