What’s lurking in your drinking water

Bay Area

Did you know that drinking your tap water could increase your risk of cancer?

Contaminants found in California public water systems could be the cause of nearly 16,000 cases of cancer from drinking tap water over the course of a lifetime.

Health expert, Karen Owoc, is here to explain what’s lurking in the water you drink.

The Research

Researchers from the Environmental Working Group, an environmental advocacy group, evaluated nearly 2,800 different public water systems across the state of California. The researchers calculated cancer risk by evaluating the reported contaminant levels from 2011 to 2015.

The Three Key Contaminants Detected

  1. ARSENIC: Drinking water contaminated with arsenic attributed to most of the cancer risk, about 47% of estimated cancer cases.
  2. DISINFECTION BYPRODUCTS: About 33% of estimated cancer diagnoses was attributed to the byproducts of the chemicals used to disinfect the drinking water.
  3. HEXAVALENT CHROMIUM: About 16% of the cancer cases was the result of hexavalent chromium (chromium-6), the carcinogenic chemical that was featured in the 2000 movie “Erin Brockovich”.

Small Water Systems Carry the Highest Risk

The smaller utility systems carried higher risks because they don’t have the resources and economies to improve water quality. Even so, 43% of the larger utilities carried some of the higher cancer risks.

Is Bottled Water Better?

Tap water is often repackaged and sold as bottled water. Some states have stricter thresholds in place for tap than for bottled water.

According to the EWG, bottled water is no less polluted than tap water and several popular brands were found to be contaminated with arsenic above health guidelines.

To name a few: Starkey (owned by Whole Foods), Crystal Geyser, Volvic.

Arsenic consumption over extended periods of time increases cardiovascular disease risk, can lower IQ scores in children, and cause certain cancers and health problems.

A study analyzed 259 bottled water and found:

  • Plastic particles (twice as many in bottled water vs tap water)
  • Microplastic contamination in 93%
  • Industrial lubricants in 4%

Water Filters or Water Purification System

To reduce exposure to these contaminants, take steps to treat your water, but not all filters can reduce all contaminants.

First find out what’s in your water. Once you know what’s in your water, decide what contaminants you want to reduce, then compare options to treat your water, such as:

  • Point-of-Use Filters: e.g., personal water bottles, pitchers, faucet mounts, under-the-sink systems, or refrigerator filters (Pitchers and faucet filters are the least rigorous at filtering out carcinogens and pathogens.)
  • Whole-House Filters: e.g., water softeners, whole-house chlorine filters

The Takeaway: As a home consumer, take steps to filter your water. As a society, we need drive to prioritize how we manage our resources and this problem.

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