When water flows out of the faucet and into a glass, it usually appears clean and healthful. A report released Wednesday, though, 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, or 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 Illinois, EWG tracked contaminants across the state’s water supply, finding a total 0f 94 contaminants statewide. The following 10 contaminants have been detected above health limits:
- Arsenic which is linked to cancer
- Chromium (hexavalent) which is linked to cancer, liver damage and productive system damages
- Total trihalomethanes (TTHMs) which are linked to bladder cancer, skin cancer and fetal development issues
- Bromodichloromethane which is linked to cancer, harm to child and fetuses, as well as reproductive difficulties
- Dibromochloromethane which is linked to cancer and harm to fetuses
- Chloroform which is linked to cancer and fetal development issues
- Dichloroacetic acid which is linked to cancer, as well as reproductive difficulties
- Trichloroacetic acid which is linked to cancer an potential problems during pregnancy
- Radium-228 which is linked to cancer
- Radium-226 which is linked to cancer
These seven contaminants were detected above legal guidelines in Illinois:
- Nitrate and nitrite which is linked to cancer and fetal development issues
- Total trihalomethanes (TTHMs) which is linked to cancer and fetal development issues
- Arsenic which is linked to cancer
- Nitrate which increases cancer risk and can oxygen deprivation in infants
- Radium, combined (-226 & -228), which are linked to cancer
- Haloacetic acids (HAA5), which are linked to cancer and harm to fetal growth and development
- Barium, which is linked to harm to the kidneys, heart and blood vessels, as well as high blood pressure
“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 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 question becomes 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,” she continued. “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.
One step if you wanted to upgrade from a basic water filter is to buy an Alkaline machine HERE.