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Where do chemicals that contaminate drinking water come from?

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A 2009 study conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) shows that tap water in the US is largely contaminated. The study that saw 20 million tests conducted on tap water over a period of 3 years registered 316 contaminants that include weed killers, industrial solvents, perchlorates,, a rocket fuel component, and refrigerants amid others. Among the contaminants found, only 114 are regulated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency through safety standards in terms of maximum legal levels. This leaves some 202 water pollutants unregulated. Combinations of these unregulated pollutants can be toxic enough to cause serious health problems in the long-term.

According to research, the Vice President at Environmental Working Group, Jane Houlihan states;“water supply utilities do a great job in addressing the big problem with the limited resources available. However, more effort is required because it has become common for people to consume tap water that is laced with up to 30 contaminants, a fact that raises serious concerns about our health. Unregulated water contaminants come from different sources, below are the most common sources of such contaminants:

  • 1.Industrial activities

According to EWG findings, more than 241 million people living in 46 states use water that is contaminated by industrial pollutants such as solvents, plasticizers and propellants. 85% of this population receives water that contains a single or multiple industrial pollutants that exceed levels set by the EPA. In total, the EWG found 204 industrial pollutants in drinking water with at least 50% of these pollutants having no set legal limits and hence unregulated. The EPA says it has registered an estimated 83,000 chemicals for usage within the United States. About three thousand of these are either imported or manufactured in quantities that exceed one million pounds each year. Each day, the EPA approves 2 industrial chemicals on average, 80% of chemicals approved are approved within 3 weeks of their industrial application with or without any safety studies.

An EPA study conducted in 1998 found that about 43% of heavily used chemicals did not have any of the 7 basic safety and screening studies or substantive information about their potential to contaminate water sources. Health officials are not certain about industrial pollution’s full extent of drinking water supplies or even health issues that could result from exposure. However, health officials are certain that some of these contaminants do end up in streams, rivers, ground water and water reservoirs from which drinking water is derived, which most likely goes all the way to taps. A release inventory program revealed that in 2007 alone, industries within the U.S discharged about 232 million pounds out of 244 chemicals into streams and rivers. Majority of these chemicals remain unregulated and untested in tap water.

2.Agricultural activities

The EPA says that agricultural activities form the largest source of contaminants that pollute water sources such as streams and rivers in the US. The analysis conducted by EWG showed that there are 97 agricultural contaminants in water. These contaminants include fertilizer and pesticide ingredients supplied to more than 215 million people across 46 states.61% of this population uses water that contains one or multiple agricultural contaminants in levels exceeding those recommended by government agencies. An estimated two thirds of agricultural based contaminants found in tap water are not regulated, which means they lack legal standards.

The Department of Agriculture in the US data shows that agricultural activities spread commercial fertilizer on more than 1/8 of the US continental land mass each year. In 2007 alone, over 100 billion pounds of commercial fertilizer were used on more than 266 million acres and herbicides were applied on more than 1/10 of land mass in the lower 48 states. Further, there are about 238,000 concentrated feed lots for pigs and cattle that produce more than 500 million tons of manure each year in the US. Runoff from both feedlots and farms can be heavy with disease-causing micro-organisms, sediments, fertilizer ingredients and pesticides that pollute water supplies. EPA is yet to set standards for pollution prevention from agricultural activities.

  • 3.Runoff from suburban and urban areas

Pollutants that contaminate rivers and lakes tend to increase as land gets cleared for agricultural and residential use. This results in pollution of tap water. According to the analysis conducted by EWG, there are 86 contaminants in drinking water linked to urban and suburban sources such as lawn pesticides, wastewater and runoff chemicals. An estimated 236 million people living in 46 states use water that is polluted by one or more such contaminants at levels that exceed the set limits. According to EWG analysis outcomes, 56 out of the 86 contaminants from runoff in urban and suburban areas are not regulated and lack legal limits.

As the population in the US grows, water supplies are becoming strained due to the rising load of storm and waste water runoff that is laden with pollutants such as chemicals from road surfaces, automobile emissions, treatment plants, homes and yards. Scientists are increasingly finding traces of anticonvulsive and antidepressant medications, toothpaste chemicals, antimicrobial hand soap and active ingredients of oral contraceptives among others, in streams, rivers and drinking water. At least 108 unregulated chemicals were found in tap water; this number is likely to go up as the population increases.



  • 4.Chemicals from Personal Care Products and Pharmaceuticals

Chemicals from personal care products and pharmaceuticals are excreted through urine or get washed downstream. Most of these chemicals are not removed through standard wastewater treatment processes as revealed by a study conducted in 2008. Current water regulations show a serious deficiency in safety standards with water quality reports provided to customers annually providing a partial picture with no information relating to unregulated chemicals. The reports also give an average level of most pollutants and does not show whether there were periods when the chemicals exceeded legal limits.

  • 5.Water storage, treatment and distribution

Analysis conducted by EWG on tap water found 42 contaminants associated with residues left in water during storage, treatment and distribution. These contaminants include water disinfection byproducts. Water containing contaminants in this nature with levels that exceed the set limits has been distributed to at least 45 states. Out of the 42 contaminants detected, 24 of them are not regulated. While disinfection is seen as a major triumph in public health within the 20th century, tap water still poses health risks to our population as a result of disinfectant byproducts. Disinfectants are added to water to kill microbes that cause infectious diseases. The chemicals in disinfectants increase consumer risks to cancer and other reproductive health risks as well as developmental problems. These chemicals form harmful byproducts after reacting with organic pollution such as that from runoff water and agricultural practices. The EPA does regulate 11 chemicals that are associated to cancer and DNA damage but as of 2009, scientists have identified over 600 chemicals in treated drinking water.

Tests conducted by the EWG between 2004 and 2009 on tap water revealed a total of 19 unregulated byproducts. The clampdown of 9 regulated byproducts, 4 trihalomethanes and 5 halo acetic acids led to changes in chemicals used to disinfest water. Most water utilities have stopped using chlorine and have takenup alternative disinfectants. Also, water pipes and tanks used in the distribution system as well as homes add a significant amount of pollutants to water. Such pollutants include lead from water pipes and asphalt from tar-lined pipes and storage tanks.

Making tap water safe


With Drops of Balance mineral solution, tap water can be cleaned and made safe for consumption. Drops of Balance is a mineral concentrate that uses a sedimentation process to rid tap water of dissolved chemicals, metals and microbes. This water purifying solution works by making invisible metals and toxins dissolved in water visible insoluble particles. This makes the particles heavier than water causing them to sink and collect at the floor of the container so that it is easy to separate heavy metals and toxins from clean water. Drops of Balance does more than just cleaning water; it restores minerals to drinking water. The solution improves the quality of drinking water by replacing minerals that tap water loses during treatment processes or as a result of other factors affecting natural water. It contains crucial ingredients that are healthy to the body including magnesium, potassium and ionic sulfate minerals. 



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