Water chlorination produces chemical compounds called trihalomethanes, which are the most common organic compounds found in drinking water. These compounds, which include chloroform and bromohalomethane, are associated with a high incidence of gastrointestinal cancers and urinary bladder cancers. (26,27) In fact, a study involving 3,000 people from the U.S. National Cancer Institute suggests that chlorine may double the risk for developing urinary bladder cancer. The EPA's safety limit of chlorine and its harmful associated carcinogens is based on the consumption of two liters a day, and this does not take into account increased consumption in summer, for example, or the fact that these compounds can be absorbed during bathing.
Fewer organic chemicals are found in drinking water that comes from ground water sources than from surface water sources. (28) Chlorinated drinking water from surface sources is linked with gastrointestinal cancers as well as urinary bladder cancers. (29-31)
The second group of water contaminants consists of inorganic chemicals. These are needed for normal biological processes and are found in all natural waters. Some, however, are carcinogenic. Arsenic, chromium, and nickel, each a known carcinogen to man, are found in our drinking water; these can either increase or decrease in concentration during water treatment. (32 )Nitrate ions are found in surface or ground waters, and their concentration is not affected by water treatment. Nitrates can be converted to nitrosamines, which are powerful carcinogens. Nitrates are used for fertilizers, and in the early summer, the Corn Belt states' water supply sometimes has a 50 percent higher nitrate content than what is acceptable.
Lead also is a big problem. Lead can impair a child's IQ and attention span. One in six people in the United States drink water with higher than acceptable levels of lead. Chicago has one of the worst lead water pollution problems in the United States. Suppliers were still using lead pipes there until 1986. Lead pipes were used in antiquity in Pompeii; those people later realized that large numbers died up until their lead pipes became calcified with calcium from the water.
The amount of calcium and magnesium in water determines water "hardness." It appears that soft water, that is, water containing lesser amounts of calcium and particularly magnesium, is correlated with a higher incidence of all cardiovascular diseases. (33,34) Low calcium levels are also linked to osteoporosis, hypertension, (35) and even colon cancer. (36,37) No definite conclusions can be made yet as to whether all drinking water should be made "hard" with the addition of more magnesium and/or calcium to modify the risk for cardiovascular diseases and cancer, as well as other illnesses.
Radioactive materials constitute the third group of drinking water contaminants. Their concentration varies with geography, geology, industrial wastes, pharmaceutical use, and nuclear power generation. (38) So far there are no reported cases of human cancer related to different radioactive compounds in drinking water. (39) However, radon gets into ground water, especially in New Jersey, the New England states, and the Rocky Mountain states. Excessive levels of radon are seen in water supplies used for drinking and bathing by more than 17 million people.
Living organisms make up the fourth group. They include bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. Water purification has been effective in removing them from our drinking water. Microorganisms are not believed to be waterborne carcinogens; however, certain viruses cause human cancers. Some microbes resist current water purification, and these are responsible for 33 percent of all gastrointestinal infections in the United States.
The last group of water contaminants is solid particulates. Clays, asbestos particles, and organic particulates comprise this group. Clays absorb and bind carcinogenic agents and hence protect them from water treatment. Asbestos fibers are found naturally in water in many regions of Canada and some parts of the United States. In addition, some asbestos fibers are found where cement and other construction products are made, since asbestos is used in their production. Asbestos fibers can also get into the water supply by release from cement pipes and by processes associated with mining of iron ore. Many studies of the association between waterborne asbestos and human cancer are inconclusive because so many other variables may be interacting. However, one study by M.S. Kanarek has shown that measured concentrations of asbestos in drinking water are associated with lung cancer, gallbladder cancer, pancreatic cancer, and several other cancers. (40)
Our drinking water contains a number of carcinogens, including asbestos, metals, and synthetic organic compounds. Asbestos and nitrates are associated with gastrointestinal cancers; arsenic is associated with skin cancer; and synthetic organic chemicals, especially trihalomethanes, are associated with cancers of the gastrointestinal tract and the urinary bladder.
Who is to blame for the shambles of the water supply? Probably everyone. The standards issued by the EPA in the late seventies double in 1992. James Elder, commissioner of the EPA, says that forty-eight to forty-nine states do not comply with existing standards, or comply by way of loopholes. For example, a loophole permits water suppliers to flush lead-filled water out of plumbing before testing tap water. This loophole will be closed, but the EPA will allow twenty years more for compliance. On the other hand, the EPA has been lax. Studies show that radon increases cancer risk, and more to the point, drinking water with radon increases the risk for certain kinds of cancers. However, the EPA just recently imposed restrictions starting in 1996 for radon in the drinking water. To monitor and remove radon is simple and inexpensive to do, but still no action will be taken until 1996.
Eighty percent of the top 1,000 superfund sites, that is, those designated as containing toxic waste and chemical contaminants, are leaching these toxic substances into the ground water. In many geographic sites in the United States, well water has been contaminated. About 10 percent of all underground tanks, which store gasoline or other hazardous chemicals, leak. Too many pesticides and fertilizers are used by farmers and homeowners. Industries dump chemicals and other harmful pollutants into our water supply, and homeowners dump chemicals into household drains.
What Can Be Done?
One of the major obstacles to our cleaning up America's underground toxic wastes is the unrealistic requirements that have been set by state and county authorities throughout the nation. Although the intentions may often be laudable, the effect of these laws has been to create such enormous costs, for most projects, that the clean-up effort is moving at a snail's pace. For example, a toxic site in Houston has a concentration of, say, 2,000 parts per billion. The local rules require a reduction of 99.99 percent. The problem is that there is no technology available at the present time that can accomplish this without digging up an enormous area of the earth and either processing it on the surface or moving it by rail to some remote location. These are expensive and disruptive operations which are invariably fought by the agencies that are supposed to pay for them. The result is that litigation goes on for years while the people who live in the area are left to their toxic diet. The project, even if completed, will absorb excessive funds that might otherwise be available for many other projects.
The problem is that the objectives are simply too difficult to be accomplished by existing technologies. If the requirement had been to reduce the contaminants from 2,000 parts per billion to, say, 10 parts, it is possible that an in-ground vacuuming technology could have been used, reducing the health hazard by 99.5 percent and leaving limited funds available for twenty or thirty more of the same type of clean-up projects. The trick here is to promote the use of low-cost, in-ground technologies and increase the clean-up rate by 2,000-5,000 percent of the current rate without having to wait for the seemingly impossible dream of getting more funds from government and industry. The most promising development in this area is a new patented vacuuming technology that can "clean" far greater areas than the existing vacuuming technologies for the same cost. This device will be an advance if it can reduce the toxic chemicals to 0.6 parts per billion or less. If it cannot, then we must re-examine the standards set. It is better to clean up all the toxic sites by a significant factor like 99.5 percent than only a few sites by a factor of 99.99 percent and thereby propagate endless litigation.
A number of cities refuse to build costly processing plants and instead choose to pay less expensive fines. The EPA observes that small utilities tend to violate regulations the most, to falsify documents, and even to wash away evidence because of a thirty-day window given them by the state.
Bottled Versus Tap Water
Many people want to know if bottled water is safer than tap water. Recent findings indicate that many bottled waters derived from domestic or international springs or from other water sources contain microorganisms, and/or have contaminants. If you prefer bottled water, look for water derived from such processes as reverse osmosis, distillation, or a combination of reverse osmosis and deionization, which yields the purest form of water. This combined process gets rid of everything in water except H20, therefore you should supplement your diet with appropriate nutrients.
There are documented airborne and waterborne carcinogens. As with many carcinogens, the time between exposure to the carcinogen and actual development of cancer may be quite long, and as such, the cause of a cancer initiated by trace amounts of either airborne or waterborne carcinogens years before may be attributed to an unrelated or unknown cause at time of diagnosis. This is the main reason that we must detect and clean our environment of as many carcinogens as possible.
Non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation has become very important and is generated largely through electrical and magnetic fields that surround us: household wiring, appliances, high-tension wires, radio transmitters, television screens, video display terminals, electric blankets, and even the Earth, which has its own magnetic field. This kind of radiation includes infrared rays, microwaves, radiowaves, and alternating electrical currents. All of these penetrate the body readily except for infrared rays. Beside the vague symptoms of fatigue, nausea, headache, and loss of libido associated with electromagnetism, (41) there is now great concern over whether it can cause cancer.
Many countries like the United States use alternating electric currents that flow back and forth at a frequency of 60 cycles per second. This is within the extremely low frequency range of the electromagnetic spectrum.
An electromagnetic field is created along wires when electricity flows. The strength of the electromagnetic field is measured in gauss. The electromagnetic field is made of two components: the electric field made from the strength of the charge that starts the flow, and the magnetic field that results from the motion of the alternating currents.
The energy needed to make electricity flow is called voltage. More voltage is needed to make electricity go farther. Depending on where electricity is needed to be delivered, voltage is either stepped-up or stepped-down along transmission lines by transformers at substations or on utility poles near homes. Most studies concerning the effects of electromagnetic fields on humans focus on the strength of the field.
The Earth itself has an electromagnetic field covering the largest area. In fact, this electromagnetic field is responsible for making a compass needle point in the direction of north. However, the Earth's electromagnetic fields do a flip flop, the North and South Pole fields trading places at intervals of hundreds of thousands of years. All electrically driven products have electromagnetic fields. The closer you are to a given appliance or other source, the higher is the strength of the electromagnetic field. See Table 15.1 for the strength of the electromagnetic fields of common appliances. This table lists electromagnetic field strength from least to greatest.