Why are Millions in the US Drinking Filthy Water – Even in Upscale Suburbs?

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By Dr. Mercola

More than 20 percent of U.S. water treatment systems have violated key provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act over the last five years. Since 2004, the water provided to more than 49 million people has contained illegal concentrations of chemicals like arsenic or radioactive substances like uranium, as well as dangerous bacteria often found in sewage.

In addition, over the last three years alone, more than 9,400 of the nation's 25,000 sewage systems have dumped untreated or partly treated human waste, chemicals and other hazardous materials into rivers and lakes and elsewhere. But fewer than one in five sewage systems that broke the law were ever fined or otherwise sanctioned by state or federal regulators.

Officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have come under fire as members of Congress demanded an explanation into reports that the agency has not enforced Safe Drinking Water Act violations. Just 6 percent of drinking water violations were actually enforced since 2004.

The enforcement chief at the EPA responded by announcing new enforcement protocols designed to determine the most serious and repeating water pollution offenders and established a new mechanism to hold violators responsible. The chairwoman of the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, Senator Barbara Boxer, dismissed the plan as "bureaucratic rhetoric."

In some instances, drinking water violations were one-time events. But for hundreds of other systems, illegal contamination persisted for years. It is unclear precisely how many American illnesses are linked to contaminated drinking water, but as many as 20 million people each year become ill from drinking water containing bacteria and other pathogens that are often spread by untreated waste.

Certain types of cancer, such as breast and prostate cancer, have risen over the past 30 years, and research indicates they are likely tied to pollutants like those found in drinking water.

When you help yourself to a glass of water from your kitchen faucet, the water may look clean and pure … but there's a significant chance it's actually contaminated.

Part of the problem lies with outdated and overwhelmed sewer systems, many of which were built more than a century ago. In 1972, the Clean Water Act was enacted to upgrade many U.S. sewer systems, yet despite updates made in the '70s and '80s, many are still overwhelmed.

As a result, sewage spilling into waterways is a common occurrence. In fact, the New York Times reported that in the last three years more than 9,400 of the 25,000 U.S. sewage systems have violated the law by dumping untreated or partially treated human waste, chemicals and other hazardous materials into rivers, lakes and other waterways.

Further, data on such overflows and spillage are far from complete, which means the problem may actually be much more widespread.

Adding to the problem is the fact that natural, green spaces that once absorbed rainfalls have been paved over in many areas of the United States, contributing to even more spills and sewage backups.

So the outdated and overwhelmed sewer and overflow systems are one aspect of the problem. A second aspect is a complete lack of oversight and consequences for cities that have sub-standard drinking water.

For instance, fewer than one in five of the 9,400 sewage systems that violated the law were fined by state or federal regulators.

Further, a New York Times analysis of federal data found that more than 49 million people in the United States have been exposed to contaminated drinking water since 2004 -- drinking water that contained illegal concentrations of arsenic, bacteria and radioactive substances like uranium. Yet, although more than 20 percent of the nation's water treatment systems have violated the law, fewer than 6 percent of the violations were ever fined or punished!

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What are the Health Risks of Drinking Contaminated Water?

It's estimated that millions of people become ill from drinking unsafe water in the United States every year. However, while some cases may cause an immediate reaction, from bacterial contamination, for instance, many others will not show up for years.

This is because many of the chemicals in drinking water have been linked to cancer and chronic illness that take years or decades to develop. And by the time a person is diagnosed, it is next to impossible to trace the illness back to drinking contaminated water for 10 to 30 years.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J. recently told ABC News there are more than 140 chemicals in U.S. drinking water that are not regulated by the EPA. This includes, gasoline, pesticides, rocket fuel, prescription drugs and more.

As reported in New Scientist, a comprehensive survey of U.S. drinking water revealed the 11 most frequently detected toxic pharmaceuticals were:

  • Atenolol, a beta-blocker used to treat cardiovascular disease
  • Atrazine, an organic herbicide banned in the European Union which has been implicated in the decline of fish stocks and in changes in animal behavior
  • Carbamazepine, a mood-stabilizing drug used to treat bipolar disorder
  • Estrone, an estrogen hormone secreted by the ovaries and blamed for causing gender changes in fish
  • Gemfibrozil, an anti-cholesterol drug
  • Meprobamate, a tranquilizer used in psychiatric treatment
  • Naproxen, a painkiller and anti-inflammatory linked to increases in asthma incidence
  • Phenytoin, an anticonvulsant used to treat epilepsy
  • Sulfamethoxazole, an antibiotic
  • TCEP, a reducing agent used in molecular biology
  • Trimethoprim, another antibiotic

And this is just from the environmental chemicals and pollutants that are washing into the water supply. There are also dangerous toxins that are being intentionally added to the water supply, as well.

The Intentionally Added Contaminants You Need to Watch Out For

The impurities in U.S. tap water are enough to boggle your mind, but it is truly important that you become aware of these substances.

Let's start with fluoride. Fluoride has been added to the U.S. water supply for over 50 years to prevent dental decay. However, swallowing fluoride is not a wise practice. This chemical:

  • Accumulates in your bones, making them brittle and more easily fractured, and in your pineal gland, which may inhibit the production of the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate the onset of puberty
  • Damages tooth enamel (known as dental fluorosis) and may lower fertility rates
  • Has been found to increase the uptake of aluminum into the brain and lead into blood
  • Inhibits antibodies from forming in the blood
  • Confuses the immune system, causing it to attack the body's tissues. This can increase the growth rate of tumors in people prone to cancer

And then there are disinfection byproducts, or DBPs. If you have not heard of DBPs before, you need to pay close attention as it turns out that DBPs, not chlorine, are responsible for nearly all the toxic effects of chlorinated water. Chlorine by itself is relatively harmless, but its side effects, by producing DBPs, is what causes nearly all of the problems.

As it turns out, DBPs are over 1,000 times more toxic than chlorine, and out of all the other toxins and contaminations present in your water, such as fluoride and miscellaneous pharmaceutical drugs, DBPs may be the absolute worst of the bunch.

DBPs have been linked to reproductive problems in both animals and humans, and human studies suggest that lifetime consumption of chlorine-treated water can more than double the risk of bladder and rectal cancers in certain individuals.

As the vast majority of the U.S. population continues to receive and consume disinfected or chlorinated drinking water, we can assume that Americans are consuming disinfection byproducts every single day, and the number of related cancer cases could be substantial.

Please be aware that you are not only exposed to DBPs from drinking chlorinated water, but also from swimming and bathing in it -- and this latter form of exposure is actually the greatest!

Remember, No One is Watching Out for the Safety of Your Water

Many municipalities are allowing their residents to drink contaminated water, and only a tiny fraction of the violations will be caught and enforced. What this means is that you have got to take the safety of your drinking water into your own hands. Do not wait for your local, state or federal government to do it for you, as you may be causing irreparable damage to your health in the meantime.

So how can you secure safe water for yourself and your family?

Your best source of water is having an artesian well in your backyard, as that is some of the finest water in the world. Very few people are fortunate enough to have this, however.

Fortunately, the alternative to having pure water is simple: use a high-quality filter for your home, including for your tap water and your shower.

My personal favorite, and the one I personally use, is a high-quality reverse osmosis (RO) filter. You just need to add a few minerals back to the water, but the water is far superior to distilled water. RO reliably removes virtually every possible contaminant that could be in the water.