Common Chemicals

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What are the common chemicals found in water and how do they impact my health?

Chlorine can cause eye, skin, airway irritation, sore throat and cough as well as corrosive tissue damage of the gastrointestinal tract.  Chlorine creates byproducts such as trihalomethane (THM) that’s been linked to increased incidences of colon and bladder cancer. THM is routinely found to be well over the Maximum Contamination Level (MCL) when water companies are performing tests. However, water companies don’t have to report a violation because they’re only required to report it if their average findings are above the MCL.  A great example of these results can be found here.  The report shows the MCL for THM is 80 ppb. The score that was reported was 77.8 ppb (very close to the MCL).  The issue is the range of detection being 6.74-147 ppb (which is well above the MCL) with no information on individual test results. How many tests can you fail and still not have to report a violation? Simple math will tell you that you can fail the majority of the tests as long as you have one low number to bring down the average. The same can be said for a number of other byproducts of chlorination such as Haloacetic Acids (HAA) and Chlorites.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) include a variety of chemicals emitted as gases. Many of the products and industrial chemicals used today contain harsh VOCs so it’s no surprise that there are increasing levels showing up in our drinking water. When water is heated and vaporized, such as shower and bath water, your body will absorb these contaminants. Health effects include eye, nose and throat irritation, damage to the liver, kidney and central nervous system.

Pharmaceuticals regularly make it into the water system from poorly controlled manufacturing facilities and improper disposal.  This can result in resistance to antibiotics and a number of side effects depending on exposure levels.

Herbicides and Pesticides most commonly enter our water system from rainfall and irrigation.  This then washes the herbicides away from the farmlands and into our lakes and rivers. They also can reach the aquifers below ground from seepage of contaminated surface water. This can interfere with one’s hormonal activity and reproductive organs.

Ammonia creates chloramine when added to water that contains chlorine. Chloramine is added as a secondary disinfectant. Chlorine and chloramine form disinfectant byproducts that have been shown to cause cancer.

Lead can cause damage to health, even at low doses. Many times it’s caused by the corrosion of household plumbing systems, or from erosion of natural deposits. Lead in drinking water can cause a variety of adverse health effects such as renal failure, gout, hypertension and cancer.