By Dr. Mercola
If you care about your health, filtering your household water is more a necessity than an option these days. Water pollution has become a very significant problem that simply cannot be ignored any longer.
It doesn't matter where you live, as many of the most dangerous chemicals find their way into the ecosystem and food chain, spreading from one continent to another, as described in a recent article by Prevent Disease.1
Fish and other wildlife are demonstrating the ramifications of out of control water pollution, and there's cause to believe chemical pollution may be affecting human health as well, even if the effects are not always as directly traceable.
The sources of pollution are many, ranging from agricultural runoff and industrial releases, outworn pipes, firefighting foam and pharmaceutical drugs, and even the chemicals used during water treatment themselves.
As noted by The New York Times:2
"Radon, arsenic and nitrates are common pollutants in drinking water, and trace amounts of drugs including antibiotics and hormones have also been found ...
But water contaminants and water quality vary from one local water utility to another, so you want to purchase a filter that is effective at capturing the right contaminants.
You can request a copy of your water utility's annual water quality report3 — called a right-to-know or consumer confidence report — to find out which contaminants in your local water are of concern ..."
Many Chemicals Found in Municipal Water Are Unregulated
Clean, pure water is essential for health, and I strongly encourage you to filter the water you use both for drinking and bathing.
In fact, immersing yourself in contaminated water may be even more hazardous to your health than drinking it, as the chemicals absorbed through your skin go directly into your blood stream, bypassing your digestive and internal filtration systems.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates tap water in the U.S., but while there are legal limits on many of the contaminants permitted in municipal water supplies, more than half of the 300+ chemicals detected in U.S. drinking water are not regulated at all.4
According to Paul Pestano, a research analyst with the Environmental Working Group (EWG), some of the legal limits may also be too lenient for safety.
For several years, the EWG has argued that the federal government needs to perform a nationwide assessment of drinking water quality, and invest more to protect against water pollution in the first place.
So far, it has done neither, which led the EWG to create its own drinking water quality database,5 covering 48,000 communities in the U.S.
Among the top rated water utilities are Arlington, Texas, Providence, Rhode Island, and Forth Worth, Texas. At the bottom of the list are Pensacola, Florida, Riverside, California, and Las Vegas, Nevada.
Firefighting Foam Has Contaminated U.S. Drinking Water
An in-depth article6 in The Intercept presents the personal story of Lori Cervera, which reveals just how dangerous polluted drinking water can be.
At the age of 46, Cervera was diagnosed with kidney cancer, which she traced back to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) exposure — a chemical used in the production of teflon and firefighting foam and flame retardants, among other things.
As reported by The Intercept:
"Research on people in West Virginia and Ohio who had consumed water contaminated by leaks from a nearby DuPont factory showed probable links between the chemical and six diseases, including kidney cancer.
Cervera soon discovered that the very same chemical, as well as a related one, PFOS, had been found in drinking water in her area. Both were part of a larger class known as perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, 'emerging contaminants' that were still being studied — and had yet to be regulated.
And, according to public notices from the local water and sewer authorities, both had come from foam that was used to put out airplane fires and train soldiers at two nearby military bases ..."
Many Areas Around Military Bases Are Affected by PFC Contamination
PFCs are extremely persistent. They have a half-life in the human body of about four years, provided no more is taken in, and can persist in the environment indefinitely, unless actively removed.
It may seem remarkable that putting out a few airplane fires would severely contaminate local water supplies to the point of threatening human health, considering how rare such events are. But as noted in the featured article, the foam is also used in firefighting training exercises, which are quite common.
Since the 1960s, thousands of firefighting exercises have been conducted at the military bases near Cervera's home.
Each time 75 to 100 liters of firefighting foam is dispensed into a fire pit constructed without barriers to contain the toxic foam. From there, it's simply allowed to sink through the earth into the water table.
The same problem exists around other military bases in the U.S. Testing has revealed PFCs in the drinking water around Willow Grove, Pease; the Eielson base in Alaska; the Air National Guard base in Delaware; the Grissom Air Reserve Base in Indiana; and the Naval Air Station in Fallon, Nevada.
As noted by The Intercept:7
"Indeed, according to a 2013 presentation by the Air Force, PFCs were found at every Air Force base that had been tested, which so far includes Randolph in Texas; Robins in Georgia; Beale and McClellan in California; Eglin in Florida; Ellsworth in South Dakota; and F.E. Warren in Wyoming."
PFC Contamination Likely a Greater Problem Than Anyone Can Fathom
There are also more than 660 non-military fire- and crash-training sites around the U.S. where the PFC-laced foam is used, and it's quite likely that all of these sites are leaching the toxic chemical into local water supplies as well.
When you add in commercial airports, airplane hangars, heliports, oil refineries, and fire departments — all of whom use firefighting foam containing PFCs — contaminated sites likely number in the thousands. According to the featured article:
"There's little doubt that, together, widespread use of firefighting foam has contributed to the exposure of huge numbers of people to PFCs. EPA monitoring begun recently found PFOS in water systems serving almost 10 million Americans, most of whom have no idea they're drinking it.
The number of potentially exposed people climbs to more than 14 million when the other five PFCs now being monitored by the EPA are included. And those six chemicals are only the tip of the iceberg; more than 2,000 PFCs have already been identified on the global market, and scientists expect that number to climb to 4,000."
Toxic Drinking Water Becoming More Common Around the U.S.
Each year, red flags over toxic drinking water are raised across the nation, with reasons varying from location to location. As reported by The Atlantic,8 aging water pipes have become an increasingly common source of toxic exposure. While the article describes the situation in Flint, Michigan, many other areas around the US struggle with similar problems:
"... [A]bnormally high levels of e. coli, trihalomethanes, lead, and copper have been found in the city's water, which comes from the local river (a dead body and an abandoned car were also found in the same river) ... [R]esidents say that the city government endangered their health when it stopped buying water from Detroit last year and instead started selling residents treated water from the Flint River ..."
In December 2015, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder apologized for the state's mishandling of the situation in Flint, and Dan Wynant, head of the state Department of Environmental Quality, resigned.9 The state has now allocated $10 million to water testing and distribution of water filters.
Agriculture Is a Major Threat to Water Quality
In 2014, citizens in Toledo, Ohio were warned not to drink their tap water as it was found to contain significantly elevated levels of microcystins, likely caused by algae blooms in Lake Erie.10 Microsystins are nerve toxins produced by freshwater cyanobacteria that can cause fever, headaches, vomiting, and seizures.
In 2015, Lake Erie was again beset by toxic algae blooms, which feed on phosphorus from manure, sewage, and fertilizer runoff that enters the lake. Other affected lakes in Ohio include Buckeye Lake and Grand Lake St. Marys,11 and residents are warned not to swim in the latter.
Recent research12,13 suggests many of the world's lakes are at risk due to farm fertilizer runoff, which feeds harmful blue-green algae (cyanobacteria). Once this algae is established, it's more difficult to get rid of it than previously thought. The answer, according to the researchers, is better land-use management that addresses fertilizer runoff. Dramatic reductions in fertilizer use is also recommended.
Fortunately, the effects of agricultural runoff on water quality are finally starting to be addressed. In some areas, farmers are trying new conservation methods to ward off toxic runoff and protect water quality.
This includes strategies such as building "artificial wetlands and underground "bioreactors" to capture nutrients in drainage systems," according to a recent article in The Christian Science Monitor.14 Others have started using cover crops and no-till methods to slow fertilizer and pesticide runoff.
All of this costs money. The USDA's Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative alone spends $30 million a year to curb agricultural pollution in its high-priority watersheds. According to one study, it would cost as much as $2.7 billion a year to shrink the dead zone in the Gulf, created by agricultural pollution washing down the Mississippi river.
Wildlife Reveal Health Effects of Water Pollution
In 2009, the EPA created a provisional health advisory on PFCs, limiting PFOA to 0.4 parts per billion (ppb) and PFOS to 0.2 ppb in drinking water. These limits are largely unenforceable however. Both limits also refer to short term exposure only, yet many are drinking PFC-contaminated water for years on end. Cancer is but one potential side effect. More than three dozen peer-reviewed papers15 have linked PFOA to:
- Ulcerative colitis
- High cholesterol
- Pregnancy-induced hypertension
- Thyroid disease
- Testicular and kidney cancer
PFCs accumulate in earthworms, fish, and birds, but they're certainly not the only chemicals wreaking havoc with the ecosystem. For example, smallmouth bass in the Susquehanna River, Pennsylvania are showing signs of exposure to endocrine disrupting compounds and herbicides; signs that include lesions and tumors.16
In the Potomac River, 85 percent of male smallmouth bass are also growing immature eggs in the area of their body where their testes should be — a sign that their sex is being altered by hormone disrupting chemicals.17
Among the most likely culprits are birth control pills and antidepressant drugs, which are regularly flushed down the toilet. Pesticides such as atrazine are also known to cause sex changes in marine animals, and bisphenol-A (BPA) has been shown to reduce fertilization rates in Japanese medaka fish. Even more disturbing, bass are also changing sex even in more pristine national wildlife refuges.
So far, sex changes in male fish have been documented in 37 different species. The effects are also being observed in other animals, including mammals. According to Don Tillitt, a research toxicologist at the USGS Columbia Environmental Research Center in Missouri, "[t]he mechanism occurs in the epi-genome, around the genome. Not the genes, but how those genes are expressed."
At-Home Water Filtration Is a Must for Clean Pure Water
Since most water sources are severely polluted, the issue of water filtration and purification couldn't be more important. If you have well water, it would be prudent to have your water tested for arsenic and other contaminants. If you have public water, you can get local drinking water quality reports from the EPA.18
In general, most water supplies contain a number of potentially hazardous contaminants, from fluoride, to drugs and disinfection byproducts (DBPs), just to name a few.
If your home or community has older water pipes, or if you live near a military base or other sites using PFC-laced firefighting foam, the risk that your water may be contaminated may be further magnified. As a general rule, I recommend using a high quality water filtration system unless you can verify the purity of your water.
To be certain you're getting the purest water you can, filter the water both at the point of entry and at the point of use. This means filtering all the water that comes into the house, and then filtering again at the kitchen sink and shower. Unfiltered water can also expose you to dangerous chlorine vapors and chloroform gas. The FDA and other U.S. government agencies report that most homes in the U.S. have measurable levels of chloroform gas, courtesy of chlorinated tap water.
Unless you have a whole house water filter, chlorine will vaporize from every toilet bowl in your home and every time you wash your clothes, dishes, or take a shower or bath. Chloroform gas, chlorine vapors, and the associated DBPs may increase your risk of asthma, airway inflammation, and respiratory allergies. Chloroform gas alone can cause dizziness, nausea, and general fatigue.
If you get your water from a municipal water supply and don't have a whole house filter, it really is important to open up windows on opposing sides of your home so you get cross ventilation. Keep the windows open for 5 to 10 minutes a day to remove these gases. Ideally, use a whole house filtration system.
One of the best I've found so far is the Pure & Clear Whole House Water Filtration System, which uses a three-stage filtration process — a micron sediment pre-filter, a KDF water filter, and a high-grade carbon water filter19 — to filter out chlorine, DBPs, and other contaminants. Here's a picture of what the setup looks like.
The Importance of Living Water for Optimal Health
Besides purification, I also believe it's important to drink living water. Two years ago, I interviewed Dr. Gerald Pollack about his book, "The Fourth Phase of Water: Beyond Solid, Liquid, and Vapor." This fourth phase of water is referred to as "structured water" and is the type of water found in all of your cells. This water is more energized and can help recharge your mitochondria. Water from a deep spring is one excellent source of structured water.
The deeper the better, as structured water is created under pressure. There's a great website called FindaSpring.com20 where you can find a natural spring in your area. Just be sure to evaluate the site based on surrounding facilities such as conventional farms and various industries that may pollute the spring.
You can also promote structured water through vortexing or cooling it to 39 degrees Fahrenheit. I personally drink vortexed water nearly exclusively as I became a big fan of Viktor Schauberger who did much pioneering work on vortexing about a century ago.
Dr. Pollack found that by creating a vortex in a glass of water, you're putting more energy into it, thereby increasing the structure of the water. According to Dr. Pollack, virtually ANY energy put into the water seems to create or build structured water.