Now that the Flint, MI lead in water crisis has seemed to pass, or at least dropped out of the news, a new water crisis has surfaced-
chromium-6 or hexavalent chromium has been found in the drinking water of 75% of 60,000 water samples tested by the Environmental Protection Agency from around the United States. This is the very same carcinogenic substance that was featured in the movie Erin Brockovich and resulted in a settlement with Pacific Gas and Electric Company, or PG&E in 1996 for a record $333 million to compensate the citizens of Hinkley, California, for deaths, increased cancer rates, and birth defects.
Meanwhile, according to Environmental Working Group (EWG), nearly 200 million Americans are currently being exposed to this toxicant through their drinking water. Among major cities, Phoenix had by far the highest average levels at almost 400 times the California public health goal as specified by California scientists. Unfortunately, the California safe exposure limit was overrun by other corporate interests and the Maxamium Contaminant Level (MCL) was actually set at 500 times the proposed health goal, so presumably California did not learn from the Erin Brockovich tale. A health goal is the level of a chemical contaminant in drinking water that does not pose a significant risk to health as determined by scientists. However, it is not legally enforceable and rather serves as an aspirational goal.
A couple of years ago, California courts overturned the MCL (Maximum Contaminant Level which IS legally enforceable) on hexavalent chromium, citing that the cost to achieve it was never factored into the ruling. The new MCL for hexavalent chromium has not yet been determined. By the way, California is the only state to even test their water for hexavalent chromium. According to my most recent water report for Newport Beach, my tap water levels for hexavalent chromium are about 400% higher than the health goals. Fortunately, I haven’t used tap water for drinking water for decades, nor did I allow my children to drink it.
According to one exhaustive report, over 2100 contaminants have been detected in U. S. drinking water since 1974 with 190 known or suspected to cause adverse health effects at certain concentration levels. In total, 97 carcinogens and suspected carcinogens, 82 mutagens and suspected mutagens, 28 acute and chronic toxic contaminants and 23 tumor promoters have been detected in U. S. drinking water since 1974 including:
- perchlorate (rocket fuel),
- pharmaceuticals including hormones and anti-depressants
- lead (excessive lead levels found in almost 2,000 water systems across all 50 states)
- arsenic and other heavy metals
- perfluorinated chemicals
- bisphenol A (BPA)
- and many more
Our current regulations for toxicological risk are based on the false assumption that only one chemical is being consumed or exposed to at a time. In a 1995 Science Advisory Report to the EPA it was clearly said that “when two or more of these contaminants combine in our water the potency may be increased by as much as 1000 times.”
Additionally, children and babies consume much more water by body weight than adults, and their systems are more sensitive and still developing. This means they are getting an even bigger hit of toxicants found in drinking water.
Another issue in water is fluoridation, which is added to protect our children’s teeth from dental cavities. However, as the graph below shows, dental cavities have fallen over the last few decades in BOTH fluoridated and unfluoridated countries.
Recent studies suggest that fluoride is neurotoxic and decreases IQ scores in children. Due to the high rates of fluorosis in children (mottling of dental enamel that is irreversible), recently levels of fluoride in water have been decreased, but not eliminated.
Beware of false claims for any water filters you might be considering. As part of my research into water filters for my talk, I discovered that it was difficult and expensive to filter out fluoride, so I had our office water filter, the Berkey, tested for fluoride (we bought the extra fluoride filter and properly primed the unit). Much to our surprise and dismay, fluoride was indeed found.
Also you can do much better than the Britta filter as it barely filters out any of the contaminants- it does filter out chlorine and improves taste and smell, but it is a small step above tap water. I mention the Britta here because it is the only water filter I have ever seen in anyone else’s home.
Water Disinfection Byproducts- Chloroform
You know that warm, fuzzy feeling you get after taking a nice, hot shower? The chlorine that is commonly used as a water treatment combines with organic matter to form compounds called trihalomethanes, which are disinfectant byproducts. One of the most common ones is chloroform, which is a known carcinogen. Chloroform also notoriously replaced ether as an inhaled anesthetic in the early 20th century, but was quickly abandoned once its toxicity was noted. Inhaled and dermal absorption of chloroform in a typical 10 minute shower typically exceeds the amount of chlorine in water consumed in a day. No wonder you feel so relaxed after a hot shower or bath- you are being anesthesized!
Find out what is in your water supply by clicking on this link: EWG.ORG/tapwater
You will be asked to put in your zip code and then a report will be generated that tells you the contaminants that are in your water supply.
My advice is to filter, filter, filter. Everyone needs to have a water filter. Most of the chemicals found in water supplies are not even regulated by the EPA, meaning no one is tracking them.
For now, I recommend a Reverse Osmosis (RO) water filter system for the water you drink (although I am investigating other water filters). The cheapest way to get RO water is to take your own glass gallon containers (to avoid BPA and other plasticizers) to a RO water store where commercial RO filters are used. Be sure to add back minerals as the RO filter takes them out. This can be done at the RO water stores. Or you can invest in an RO system for your home. These can be purchased at a hardware store, Costco, or elsewhere and installed under the sink. Be sure to read the instructions that tell you when you change out the filters. Also, you must test your RO water with a TDS (total dissolved solids) meter monthly. This lets you know when it’s time to change your filters. All filters require maintenance.
Shower filters that you can install yourself are also widely available to help get the chlorine out. These filters are pretty limited in what they can do because the media does not have much time to contact the water, but it is a case of some filtering is better than none. The best solution is a whole house water filter which takes out not just the chlorine, but also the chloramine (ammonia is now commonly added to chlorine because our water supply has gotten dirtier and the chlorine alone is not able to disinfect it without raising the disinfection byproducts over the legal limits.) and many other contaminants. Remember, some of the contaminants in shower water volatilize into the air that you breathe and contribute to the fact that our indoor air is much more polluted than our outdoor air.
To learn more about a custom whole house filter that takes out chloramines and provides clean water to the whole house, click HERE. I refer my patients to this company. Alternately get spring water bottled in glass containers. Go to www.findaspring.com to find the nearest spring in your area. In California, the nearest spring to me is Carlsbad Mineral Spa, where fresh, spring (not tap water put through a Reverse Osmosis filter), non-chlorinated, non-fluoridated water with a pH of 8.7 (due to the naturally occurring minerals) water is available for 0.50 gallon. Yes, real spring water is still available!
Don’t fall for bottled water- sometimes it is merely tap water put into a bottle. Or tap water filtered somewhat and put into a plastic bottle- which means you are drinking BPA, an endocrine disruptor with your water.
Take matters into your own hands. Filtering your drinking and showering water is now a must, and will serve you well in avoiding toxicants in your home environment. Remember, if you avoid the toxicants in the first place, you will never have to detoxify them out of your body. Practice preventive detoxification!