Toxic Chemicals Added To Our Drinking Water
In this era of relatively enlightened health and clean-water awareness, it is astounding that we are purposefully adding to our water other chemicals that have been proven in numerous studies to have severe negative health impacts.
Let’s take a look at two common controversial chemical additives.
Fluorine is one of the most abundant elements on earth. In its elemental form, fluorine is a pale yellow, highly toxic and corrosive gas. In nature, fluorine is found combined with minerals as fluorides.
Not accounting for industrial fluoride pollution and water fluoridation, probably everyone is exposed to some form of fluorine. Most human exposure to fluorides prior to sixty years ago was primarily from sources such as naturally fluoridated drinking water, seafood and fluoride in fruits and vegetables from the soil. However, over the past sixty years, there has been a dramatic expansion of the industrial, domestic, agricultural and medical usage of fluorine-based products and the average person's exposure has increased exponentially.
The industries that contribute to fluoride pollution include general manufacturing, phosphate fertilizer production, aluminum smelting, uranium enrichment facilities, coal-burning and nuclear power plants, incinerators, glass etching, silicon chip manufacturing, plastic manufacturing, and petroleum refining. Fluorine-based agricultural products (insecticides and fungicides) and fluorine-based medications add to the contamination. And up to sixty percent of the population drinks some form of fluorine purposely introduced into the drinking water as a public health measure.
Ingestion of fluorine may lead to a condition called “fluorosis,” also known as “Reservoir Based Disease.” This may occur when a person drinks water with an excess of more than 1-ppm (part per million) fluorine content. In dental fluorosis, the teeth lose their shine as fluorine removes the their enamel coating. They gradually acquire mottled brown and yellow spots, loosen in their sockets and fall out. In skeletal fluorosis, there is abnormal bone growth at the joints, causing the long bones to become bowed and painful. Other symptoms of fluorosis include loss of appetite and sterility.
One Federal agency, the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, lists fluorine compounds and fluorides as one of the top 20 of 275 substances that pose the most significant threat to human health. The agency goes on to enumerate the dangers, including bone cancer, brittle bones, stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, sterility, and possible birth defects.
Yet, in spite of hundreds of studies emphasizing the severity of fluoride pollution, the U.S. Public Health Service states: "There are health and economic benefits from water fluoridation for people of all ages and social and economic groups, especially for children who do not get adequate dental care."
Yes, fluoridation has been shown to prevent dental cavities. However, one of the key issues surrounding fluoridation is that it deprives the individual of the right of freedom of choice in a matter of personal health care. It imposes an inescapable, demonstrably toxic, prophylactic treatment on each person in the community for a non-contagious condition, regardless of his or her desire to be so treated. The water supplier has the responsibility to make the water as safe as possible to drink, not to make it a vehicle to affect the body of the consumer.
Fortunately, for the present, we don’t have to worry about fluorine added to Hawaii public water supplies. In an enlightened move that health-conscious residents and civil libertarians applaud, the Hawaii legislature in February banned the addition of fluoride to our drinking water supply. Stay tuned.
In the United States, chlorine is added to public drinking water supplies as a public health measure to kill harmful bacteria in the water. The added chlorine reacts with naturally occurring organic matter in the raw water creating a host of chlorinated chemicals as by-products. A number of these chlorinated by-products, called trihalomethanes or organochlorides, have been shown in study after study to create a number of serious health problems, including bladder and rectal cancers, immune problems, and fertility and developmental disorders. These chemicals are not easily broken down by the body’s detoxification systems and are generally stored in the fatty tissues of the body (breast, other fatty areas, mother's milk, blood and semen). Organochlorides can cause mutations by altering DNA, suppress immune system function and interfere with the natural controls of cell growth. This has led to several studies linking chlorinated water with serious birth defects, like spina bifida.
Other studies report that chlorinated tap water irritates the skin and can be a primary cause of eczema. Chlorinated water can also destroy polyunsaturated fatty acids and vitamin E in the body while generating toxins capable of free radical damage (oxidation). This might explain why supplementation of the diet with essential fatty acids like flax seed oil, evening primrose oil, borage oil and antioxidants like vitamin E, selenium and others helps so many cases of eczema and dry skin.
Chlorinated water also destroys much of the beneficial intestinal flora, the “friendly bacteria” that aids in the digestion of food and protects the body from harmful pathogens. Beneficial intestinal bacteria are also responsible for the manufacture of several important vitamins like B12 and K. It is not uncommon for chronic skin conditions like acne, psoriasis, seborrhea and eczema to clear up or to be significantly improved by switching to unchlorinated drinking water and supplementing the diet with probiotics like acidophilus and bifidus.
In light of the veritable mountain of evidence showing chlorinated water to be dangerous, why is chlorine still used as the primary bacterial control in our water supply?
It’s all about money. Several years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency had the gumption to suggest that a study be launched to determine how feasible it would be to move away from chlorine water treatment. But even a gradual policy shift from a chlorine-based system to alternative methods was perceived as an assault on the chemical industry which has shown itself to be politically powerful and influential against such thinking. So the Chemical Manufacturers’ Association and the Chlorine Institute turned on the heat and the government backed down. The chemical industry also strongly protects current EPA policy, which involves some minor toxicological testing and population studies to measure the effects of certain pollutants.
But the word on chlorinated water is out and many European cities, and some Canadian cities, such as Ottawa, have long ago turned away from chlorination in favor of ozonation to disinfect their water. In recent years, a few smaller American cities like Emporia, Kansas and Littleton, Massachusetts, have also begun to use ozonation. The huge Santa Clara Valley Water District in California has announced that it is switching to ozonation over the next 5 to 8 years, as has the city of Las Vegas, Nevada.
Still, the vast majority of water supplies in the U.S. remain chlorinated.
A number of filtering and water purification systems can remove chlorine from your water. In a previous column, I discussed the home water purification options. Your health care practitioner can assist you in making an informed choice. Don’t forget to add a shower filter – the chlorine fumes absorbed from a 10-minute shower are equivalent to the chlorine ingested in an eight-ounce glass of water.