The U.S. General Accounting Office reports that
there are serious deficiencies in water treatment plants in 75% of the states.
More than 120 million people ( about 50% of the population) may get unsafe water
according to a study conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
U.S. Health Officials
estimate 900,000 people each year become ill - and possibly 900 die - from
The General Accounting Office estimates 66% of Safe Drinking Water Act
violations aren’t reported.
The contamination of water is directly related to
the degree of contamination of our environment. Rainwater flushes airborne
pollution from the skies, and then washes over the land before running into the,
rivers, aquifers, and lakes that supply our drinking water. Any and all
chemicals generated by human activity can and will find their way into water
The chemical element chlorine is a corrosive,
poisonous, greenish-yellow gas that has a suffocating odor and is 2 1/2 times
heavier than air. Chlorine belongs to the group of elements called halogens. The
halogens combine with metals to form compounds called halides. Chlorine is
manufactured commercially by running an electric current through salt water.
This process produces free chlorine, hydrogen, and sodium hydroxide. Chlorine is
changed to its liquid form by compressing the gas, the resulting liquid is then
shipped. Liquid chlorine is mixed into drinking water and swimming pools to
Until recently, concerns about drinking water
focused on eliminating pathogens. The chlorine used to reduce the risk of
infectious disease may account for a substantial portion of the cancer risk
associated with drinking water. Chlorination of drinking water was a major
factor in the reduction in the mortality rates associated with waterborne
pathogen. The use of chlorine was believed to be safe. This view is evident in
an article, which appeared on the back page of the New York Times . The report
stated that with the use of chlorine, "Any municipal water supply can be made as
pure as mountain spring water. Chlorination destroys all animal and microbial
life, leaving no trace of itself afterwards.". This statement reflected opinion
accepted until recent years when halogenated organic compounds, such as
chloroform, were identified in chlorinated drinking water supplies. Recent
surveys show that these compounds are common in water supplies throughout the
These concerns about cancer risks associated with
chemical contamination from chlorination by-products have resulted in numerous
epidemiological studies. These studies generally support the notion that
by-products of chlorination are associated with increased cancer risks.
Chlorine is used to combat microbial
contamination, but it can react with organic matter in the water and form
dangerous, carcinogenic trihalomethanes. According to Dr. Joseph M. Price, MD,
in Moseby's Medical Dictionary, "Chlorine is the
greatest crippler and killer of modern times. It is an insidious poison.".
In a 1992 study that made front-page headlines,
and was reported on in the July issue of the American Journal of Public Health
researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee found that
people who regularly drink tap water containing high levels of chlorine
by-products have a greater risk of developing bladder and rectal cancers than
people who drink unchlorinated water. The study estimates that
about 9 percent of all bladder cancer and 18 percent of all rectal cancer cases
are associated with long-term consumption of these by-products. This amounts to
over 20,000 new cases each year.
Morris, with epidemiologist Thomas C. Chalmers
and his colleagues at Harvard, used a new technique
called meta-analysis to combine the results from the 10 best studies, yielding
the new findings. They report that people drinking
chlorinated water over long periods have a 21% increase in the risk of
contracting bladder cancer and a 38% increase in the risk of rectal cancer.
"I am quite convinced, based on this study, that there is an association between
cancer and chlorinated water.", says Robert D. Morris of the Medical College of
Wisconsin in Milwaukee, who directed the new study.
About 90% of the
population is drinking water which may contain hundreds of these Disinfection
By-products (DBPs), also known as Trihalomethanes. The
Environmental Protection Agency lowered the Maximum Contaminant Level for
Disinfection By-products but it will be years before the new standard goes into
In his book, Coronaries/Cholesterol/Chlorine,
Joseph M. Price, MD presents startling evidence that trihalomethanes, are the
"prime causative agents of atherosclerosis and its inevitable result, the heart
attack or stroke." These trihalomethanes are created when the chlorine that is
added to the municipal water supply reacts with organic matter such as leaves,
twigs, or chemicals from agricultural runoff.
Here's What The Experts Have To
The drinking of chlorinated water has finally
been officially linked to an increased incidence of colon cancer. An
epidemiologist at Oak Ridge Associated Universities completed a study of colon
cancer victims and non-cancer patients and concluded that the drinking of
chlorinated water for 15 years or more was conducive to a high rate of colon
cancer." Health Freedom News, January/February 1987
"Long-term drinking of chlorinated water appears
to increase a person's risk of developing bladder cancer as much as 80%,"
according to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Some 45,000 Americans are diagnosed every year with bladder cancer.
St. Paul Dispatch & Pioneer Press, December 17, 1987
"Although concentrations of these carcinogens are
low...it is precisely these low levels which cancer scientists believe are
responsible for the majority of human cancers in the United States."
Report Issued By The Environmental Defense Fund
"Chlorine itself is not believed to be the
problem. Scientists suspect that the actual cause of the bladder cancers is a
group of chemicals that form as result of reactions between the chlorine and
natural substances and pollutants in the water." (organic matter such as leaves
St. Paul Dispatch & Pioneer Press, December 17, 1987
Greenpeace reports have found chlorine-based
compounds to be the most common toxic and persistent pollutants in the Great
Summary and Prevention Strategies
In its proposal for revamping the Clean Water
Act, the Environmental Protection Agency has recommended examining chlorine's
impact on health and the environment (SN: 1/22/94, p.59). The agency's proposed
$2 million, one-year chlorine study would look at the effects of the use of
chlorine and chlorine compounds in the manufacture of paper, solvents, and
plastics and in disinfecting waste water and drinking water, says EPA' James F.
Contaminants may enter
water supplies at many points before reaching the tap. The carcinogens in
drinking water at the point of use may result from contamination of source
water, arise from the treatment processes, or enter as the water is transported
to the consumer. Varied carcinogens may contaminate the source water, but they
usually exist in drinking water at low concentrations. However, chemicals that
enter drinking water during water treatment are limited in number, but appear in
drinking water supplies with greater frequency than most source water
Under conditions of average temperature,
humidity, and activity, the human body loses and, therefore, must replace about
2.3 liters of water each day. Two-thirds of this consumption is in the form of
water or some other beverage. Concerns about the health risks or taste of
drinking water may cause those who consume tap water to shift to bottled water,
or other beverages. These beverages may include sweetened soft drinks and
alcoholic beverages, which can pose health risks greater than those associated
with drinking water.
To stop chlorination of drinking water to
eliminate the elevated cancer risks from chlorination by-products would be
foolhardy. Nonetheless, the data provide strong evidence to support expanded
efforts in research and development of alternatives to chlorination for the
disinfection of drinking water. Chlorination is particularly effective in
preventing recontamination during distribution. Alternatives must provide a
similar level of protection. Perhaps the most viable alternative is
point of use
water treatment units.
The weight of the evidence suggests that
chlorination by-products pose substantial cancer risks that should be reduced.
Health Effects of Chlorine in Drinking Water
If you feel that this
article has been helpful please consider adding it as a resource link on your
website or blog!