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Is Your Drinking Water Safe?

In the 1800's and the centuries before, cholera and other outbreaks of water borne illness were common. Epidemics often killed the weakest members of society first, children, the elderly, and those already suffering illness.

Even before it was understood that microorganisms in water could cause illness, associations had been made between epidemics and the public water supply.

In one famous case a cholera epidemic was halted in London, England by a physician removing the handle to the Broad Street Pump, a public watering hole and compelling source of cholera disease.

When compared to acute and often fatal epidemics of water borne illness, chlorination seems at first to to be a totally safe, and completely attractive alternative.

But is chlorination a perfect solution ? Cryptosporidium and giardia cysts can survive chlorination and cause fatal illness in persons who have weakened immune systems. This is not theory.

In 1993 more than 400,000 people developed gastrointestinal illness when a water treatment plant in Milwaukee, Wisconsin failed to control turbidity at a critical time when the water source was rich with cryptosporidium cysts.

The list of concerns over drinking water goes on. Metals can contaminate people's water from both the source and the distribution system. Contamination can enter at any point, all the way down to the pipes in a person's very own home.

Once water leaves the treatment plant it can travel many miles, and move through various storage systems and pipes before reaching your cup and pot. Along the way it can pick up lead, mercury, and other metals. Water at the tap can have higher levels of unwanted and unhealthy metals than the same water inspected at the treatment plant.

Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOC) can reach the water supply from agriculture, industry, lawns and gardens. Two of many examples being the herbicide atrazine and the pesticide lindane.

Public water system treatments are generally ineffective for these VOC chemicals. These kinds of compounds can be both carcinogenic and estrogenic, contributing to cancer and hormone malfunctions.

What about the chlorine itself ? One has to wonder how a water treatment that is intended to kill bacteria can be completely harmless to humans and animals.

Large organisms like humans are actually large collections of cooperating cells, each of which on its own is not radically different from a bacteria. One of the benefits of being a large organism is of course having collective means for cells to survive assaults that kill single-cells living on their own.

But can a bacteria killer be a good thing to drink when we count on friendly bacteria to colonize our bowels ?, to help us digest our foods ? and metabolize essential vitamins ?

There is a worry about the chlorination of water that has scientific investigation to substantiate a specific concern - chlorination byproducts.

Trihalomethanes: chloroform, bromodichloromethane, dibromochloromethane, bromoform, and haloacetic acids form in water when both chlorine and organic carbons are present.

Organic carbons come from plant materials that are impossible to eliminate from public water systems. Chloroform is found in nearly every public water system in the United States.

Epidemiological studies have found that risk for bladder cancer, colon cancer, and rectal cancer increases with the length of life time one drinks chlorinated waters.

Bladder and rectal cancer risk correlates with trihalomethane levels and length of lifetime one drinks chlorinated water.

Colon cancer risk correlates with length of lifetime drinking of chlorinated water, but not with trihalomethane levels - some other chlorination byproduct seems to be at work with colon cancer.

In the report Drinking Water Source and Chlorination Byproducts I. Risk of Bladder Cancer; Epidemiology, Jan 1998, Vol 9:1; pp. 21-28; KP Cantor, CF Lynch, ME Hildesheim, M Dosemeci, J Lubin, M Alaanja, G Craun.

The authors write in discussion:

"Chlorination byproducts were discovered in drinking water in 1974, and numerous evaluations since have identified much higher levels in chlorinated surface water than in chlorinated ground water, owing to higher levels of precursor chemicals in the former.

A large body of evidence from laboratory studies shows that the byproduct mixture, and many component chemicals identified to date, are mutagenic and/or carcinogenic."

"...many people are unaware of the source of their community drinking water, and most are unaware of the hypothesis of a link between water source and cancer risk."

In the report Drinking Water Source and Chlorination Byproducts II. Risk of Colon and Rectal Cancers; Epidemiology, Jan 1998, Vol 9:1; pp. 21-28; ME Hildesheim, KP Cantor, CF Lynch, M Dosemeci, J Lubin, M Alaanja, G Craun.

The authors write in introduction:

"Chlorination byproducts result from the disinfection of drinking water with chlorine.

The practice of adding chlorine to raw water supplies became widespread at the turn of the twentieth century, but it was not until the mid-1970s that Rook and Bellar et. al. independently observed that chlorine reacts with naturally occurring organic matter to form trihalogenated methanes (THMs).

Subsequently, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency survey reported that chloroform, the most ubiquitous of the THMs, could be found in almost every treated drinking water supply."

In reference to the differences in correlation between colon and rectal cancers, the authors write:

"Our findings of differences in risk patterns for colon and rectal cancers associated with chlorination byproducts is consistent with suggestions of different etiologies for these tumors."

In conclusion to this paper the authors remark:

"Recent evidence indicates that certain classes of byproducts, such as brominated compounds, halogenated acetic acids, and chlorinated hydroxyfuranones may be more harmful than the THMs."

So where does this leave all of us ?

In the view at CFS Nutrition, all of those people drinking bottled water are not just following the most recent health fad. There is a very real, long term hazard to drinking and cooking with chlorinated water. The "fad" is something we need to be incorporating in our daily lives if we want to live long and healthy.

Given the big picture of public water safety - drinking chlorinated water is with little doubt the lesser of two evils in the short term - but nonetheless remains a long term health hazard to be recognized and removed.

We suggest people yearning for a long and healthy life take steps to avoid drinking and cooking with chlorinated water. There are easy, economical, and effective measures to take:

  • drink bottled water when you are out and traveling
  • install an under sink carbon block water filter on a special tap in your kitchen - for cooking and drinking
  • add an activated carbon filter to your refrigerator/ice maker
  • add an activated carbon filter to your shower - the skin also absorbs water and its contaminants

These steps will reduce your inadvertent exposure to water borne parasite cysts, undesirable metals, asbestos, volatile organic chemicals, chlorination, and chlorination byproducts.

CFS Nutrition now offers a line of high quality, economical carbon water filters that you can install yourself or with the help of a handyman.

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