Water Education - Water and Health


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More and more communities are becoming concerned about the potential links between cancer and the chemicals found in their drinking water. Whether you are drinking from municipal water or from a well, additives and contaminates linked to cancer probably exist in your water.


Although federal law requires water providers to follow guidelines that are designed to keep these cancer-causing chemicals at "safe" levels in the water, there is much debate at what actually is "safe." Because of these concerns, water providers are now required by law to publish the results of their water testing every year for public review.

Two of the common chemicals added to water to keep us healthy could actually be contributing to cancer rates: chlorine and fluoride. Studies concerning chlorine and fluoride have determined high levels of these chemicals could cause cancer.

Chlorine, used to disinfect most community water supplies, produce Trihalomethanes (THMs), chemicals formed when chlorine reacts with organic material, like bacteria, in water. The American Journal of Public Health published an article in regard to a 1992 study that linked Trihalomethanes in water to incidences of rectal, bladder and pancreatic cancer. The largest source of human exposure to THMs in the U.S. is from the consumption of chlorinated drinking water. Besides consuming water, other ways of exposure are from breathing in THMs vaporized in the air in the shower or the bath. Inhalation experiments with animals revealed that high levels are toxic to the liver and secondarily to the kidneys. Chronic oral exposure of humans at high doses results in adverse effects on the central nervous system, liver, kidneys, and heart. In studies of human populations using chlorinated drinking water in which chloroform is the predominant THM, small increases in the incidence of rectal, colon and bladder cancer have been consistently observed, with evidence strongest for bladder cancer.

Citizens groups frequently target fluoride, which is added to the water supply of most municipalities to help cut down on tooth decay in children, as a possible carcinogen. The Journal of Epidemiology, in 2001, linked fluoride as the genetic cause of cancer. A 1990 National Toxicology Program study determined fluoride could be the cause of cancers affecting the mouth, pharynx, colon and rectum. Another study, with results published in the Journal of Environmental Pathology, Toxicology and Oncology in 2001, linked osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer, with fluoride.

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