A fifth of the United States is drinking contaminated water. There are contaminants in municipal drinking water such as heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, and other impurities that can affect your health. Some of these contaminants can lead to serious health problems including cancer, autoimmunity, and birth defects. In addition, many of these contaminants are not removed by standard filtration methods. As a result, it is important to be aware of the potential risks associated with drinking municipal water. There are a number of ways to reduce your exposure to these contaminants, including using a water filter or drinking bottled water. By taking simple steps to protect yourself, you can help reduce your risk of exposure to harmful contaminants.
What could be in your water? The Safe Drinking Water Act defines “contaminant” as any physical, chemical, biological, or radiological substance or matter in water.
Radiological contaminants include chemicals that can emit radiation:
Pharmaceutical medications, including antibiotics, are prescribed by doctors to treat a variety of conditions and symptoms, but traces of these medications are actually detected in municipal water sources. This happens in a number of ways. One route these medications take is, of course, through people. Humans excrete the medications or flush them down the toilet, and wastewater treatments do not remove them before releasing the water back into the environment. From there, water taken from environmental sources is treated and converted to municipal drinking water.
This graphic made by EPA Research Biologist Mitch Kostich illustrates this cycle well, also including the impact this cycle of prescribed pharmaceuticals has on wildlife:
Pharmaceuticals also enter the water supply via discharge from pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities (PMFs). One US Geological Survey (USGS) study found that wastewater from treatment plants that receive discharge from PMFs had 10 to 1,000 times higher concentrations of pharmaceuticals than wastewater from other treatment plants. The treated water from the wastewater plants near the PMFs was released into streams and the pharmaceuticals were still detected 30 kilometers downstream of the plant.
A third and very impactful method that pharmaceuticals enter the water supply is through livestock. Animals are routinely prescribed antibiotics and other medications, which they excrete. The runoff from animal-feeding operations enters waterways directly. With almost 100 million cows in the US, you can imagine the scale of this impact!
These are the main reasons why more than 4000 pharmaceutical medications are detected in the environment.
The EPA and CDC both agree that there is no level of lead that is safe for a child to ingest. This heavy metal imposes a significant health risk, yet it was used in pipes and fixtures in homes regularly prior to 1986. When these pipes and fixtures corrode, the lead enters wastewater.
As with all heavy metals, lead cannot be excreted. Therefore, even if you are exposed to it at low levels over a period of time, it will accumulate in your body. Lead is especially dangerous for children and fetuses, since it will affect development. A dose of lead that may not have a significant effect on an adult will be much more harmful to a child. Low levels of lead exposure have been linked to damage to the nervous system, learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing, and impaired formation and function of blood cells in children. Heavy metal toxicity of any kind can trigger autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, Sjögren’s syndrome, and lupus.
In Boulder City’s 2022 Water Quality Consumer Confidence Report, the lead levels of municipal drinking water was measured at an average of 2 ppb, and the EPA “action level” (the level at which the city must take action) is 15 ppb. However, given the fact that there is no safe level of lead to ingest, the EPA’s goal is 0 ppb. You can check your city’s water quality by requesting or searching for their Water Quality Consumer Confidence Report, which they are required to submit by July 1st each year.
The first step is to test your water. It is recommended that you test at least once per year, with more frequent testing if someone in your household is pregnant, if there are unexplained illnesses in the family, or if you notice a change in your water’s taste, odor, color, or clarity. Make sure you test with a state certified lab; we like National Testing Laboratories, which is certified in most US states.
These tests will identify contaminants such as heavy metals, inorganic and organic compounds, physical factors, and disinfectants. However, it is difficult to find commercial water tests for pharmaceuticals.
The safest drinking water option is spring water, because it will not include wastewater and is generally not close enough to animal feed operations to be contaminated by runoff. An alternative option is to get a water filtration system that removes most contaminants.
Beyond testing your water, if you are having unexplained symptoms or have reason to believe you have been exposed to such toxins, it is important to get your blood tested. At Dr. Autoimmune, we use a range of high quality testing methods to get to the bottom of unexplained symptoms or complex conditions. If you are ready to take the first step toward finding your optimal health, click the “Start Your Journey” button at the bottom of this page.
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