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Cancer-Causing Contaminants Found in Oregon’s Water, Study Finds

When water flows out of the faucet and into a glass, it usually appears clean and healthful. A report released Wednesday, however, found hundreds of harmful contaminants across the American water supply that can cause cancer, developmental issues in children, problems in pregnancy, and other serious health conditions.

“There are chemicals that have been linked to cancer, for example, that are found above health-based limits, or health guidelines, in the water of more than 250 million Americans,” said Nneka Leiba, director of Healthy Living Science at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an independent nonprofit organization that released a detailed account of the contaminants.

EWG, in conjunction with outside scientists, assessed health-based guidelines for hundreds of chemicals found in our water across the country and compared them to the legal limits. The law often permits utilities to allow these dangerous chemicals to pollute our waters.


In Oregon, EWG tracked 54 contaminants across the state’s water supply.

The following contaminants were detected above health guidelines:

  • Total trihalomethanes (TTHMs), which are linked to bladder cancer, skin cancer, and fetal development issues;
  • Chromium (hexavalent), a carcinogen that commonly contaminates American drinking water — possibly due to industrial pollution or natural occurrences in mineral deposits and groundwater;
  • Arsenic, a potent carcinogen and common contaminant in drinking water that causes thousands of cases of cancer each year in the U.S.;
  • Chlorate, which forms in drinking water as a byproduct of disinfection — typically impairing thyroid function — making chlorate exposure most harmful during pregnancy and childhood;
  • Uranium, a known human carcinogen;
  • Tetrachloroethylene (perchloroethylene), a dry cleaning chemical also used in the automotive and metalworking industries that’s emissions can cause cancer as it pollutes soil and groundwater;
  • Radon, a radioactive gas that comes from soil and groundwater, and causes lung cancer;
  • Bromate, a carcinogenic disinfection byproduct formed when source waters containing bromide are treated with ozonation or sodium hypochlorite, has been shown to damage DNA and cause cancer in studies on lab animals;
  • Nitrate, a fertilizer chemical, frequently contaminates drinking water due to agricultural and urban runoff, and discharges from municipal wastewater treatment plants and septic tanks.; and
  • Vanadium, a metal used in steels and other alloys that be toxic to pregnant women and children.

These contaminants were detected above legal limits:

  • Haloacetic acids, which are linked to cancer and harm to fetuses;
  • Arsenic;
  • Nitrate and nitrite (nitrite is significantly more toxic than nitrate); and
  • Trihalomethanes.

“There are more than 250 contaminants across our nation’s drinking water,” said Leiba. “About 160 of those are unregulated. And that’s a big concern, because if a chemical is unregulated, that means it can be present in our water at any level — and be legal.”

Most of the water in the United States comes from local utilities that measure contaminants in their water supply, but this data can be difficult to obtain.

Contaminants in your water: EWG has released a public database cataloguing contaminants in water systems in every state in the country — the first comprehensive database of its kind that took two years to build. First, select the state (go to hot link below for zip code information) where you live and you’ll see state-level data. For more local information, enter your zip code.

After you enter your zip code, you’ll be directed to a page showing the water utilities in your county. Select your town to see which contaminants put your families at risk.
No single group has collected all this information for all 50 states in an easily searchable database — until now. And it’s incredibly easy to use it to see what contaminants are coming through your faucet.

What You Can Do

Once people know about the high levels of dangerous contaminants lurking in their water, the next step is learning what they can do to protect their health.

“There’s a way to reduce those levels simply by buying a water filter,” said Leiba. “We don’t want to scare the population by saying there are 250 chemicals and just leaving it there … As a consumer you may look at it and get a little overwhelmed.”

For this reason, EWG provides a guide to buying water filters. Its website allows you to search for filters that block particular chemicals and pollutants. If you find that your local water supply has a particularly high level of a dangerous chemical, you can search for a filter that blocks that substance.

There are many types of filters, including carbon filters, deionization filters and distillation filters. Each type has its own strengths and weakness, so sometimes a filter will include multiple filtration methods to eliminate more potential threats.

To find the most effective filter, look for certifications from the Water Quality Association and NSF International. Different filters remove different contaminants.
It’s important to remember, though, that even high-quality filters are not 100 percent effective.

“Filters don’t remove everything,” Scott Meschke, professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at Washington University, told Patch. He emphasized that it’s important to make sure you’re using a filter that is designed to fit your local needs.

He also said that users should change water filters on a regular basis. Old filters that are never replaced can host bacterial, which also pose potential dangers.

People who don’t get their water through a public utility will have different needs.

“If you are on a private well, I would say that you need to be monitoring your water. You should be paying on a regular basis to have it tested,” Meschke said.

Read more about the risks and the government’s role regulating water safety>> More Than 250M Americans Drink Water With Cancer-Linked Pollutants.


Written by Cody Fenwick, Patch National Staff, with additional reporting by Travis Loose, Oregon Patch Editor

Source: https://patch.com/oregon/across-or/cancer-causing-contaminants-found-oregons-water-study-finds

 

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