Water: A Clear and Present Danger

Clean drinking water is something that the public has pretty much taken for granted for the past hundred years. The public has little idea--perhaps understandably--just how contaminated our drinking water has become. Our environment is changed, new pathogens are emerging, drinking-water systems are aging, and governments seem more interested in ensuring business in the global marketplace than in ensuring the safety and health of our citizens.

Acid rain corrodes copper, lead, and galvanized pipes. There are hundreds of agricultural pollutants, including pesticides and fertilizer, industrial pollutants including plasticizers, solvents, and propellants; along with chemicals added to aid in the coagulation of water can be of great concern to water pollution.

A National Assessment of Tap Water Quality found 260 contaminants in our nation’s tap water; 141 of these contaminants have no enforceable safety limits. Of the 141 unregulated contaminants utilities detected in water supplies between 1998 and 2003, 52 are linked to cancer, 41 to reproductive toxicity, 36 to developmental toxicity, and 16 to immune system damage, according to chemical listings in seven standard government and industry toxicity references. Despite the potential health risks, any concentration of these chemicals in tap water is legal, no matter how high.

However, the EPA’s own scientists have identified 600 chemicals in tap water formed as by-products of disinfection—they tracked 220 million pounds of 650 industrial chemicals discharged to rivers and streams annually. They also spearheaded research on emerging contaminants after the U.S. Geological Survey found: 82 unregulated pharmaceuticals, hormones, medications, and residues of consumer products in rivers and streams across the country. Intensive use of antibiotics in human and veterinarian medicine and in industrial farming (food additives) has resulted in the transport of significant quantities of the active ingredients to environmental waters. All told, EPA has set safety standards for fewer than 20 percent of the many hundreds of chemicals that it has identified in tap water.

Many of these compounds enter the human body through our skin when we bathe or swim.

By failing to clean up rivers and reservoirs that provide drinking water for hundreds of millions of Americans, EPA and the Congress have forced water utility companies to decontaminate water that is polluted with industrial chemicals, factory farm waste, sewage, pesticides, fertilizer, and sediment. In its most recent national Water Quality Inventory EPA found that 45 percent of lakes and 39 percent of streams and rivers are "impaired"—unsafe for drinking, fishing, or even swimming, in some cases. Even after water suppliers filter and disinfect the water, scores of contaminants remain, with conventional treatment regimes removing less than 20 percent of some contaminants. By failing to set tap water safety standards expeditiously or require and fund comprehensive testing, EPA allows widespread exposures to chemical mixtures posing known risks to human health.

A Fractional Damage Assessment

Acid rain is produced when nitrous oxide, sulphur dioxide, and carbon dioxide gas in the upper atmosphere react with water particles to produce nitric acid, sulphuric acid, and carbonic acid respectively. Unpolluted rainfall normally has an acidic pH of about 6.5 to 6.8, whilst acid rain has a pH that varies from 4.1 to 5.5.

Rainwater was naturally slightly acidic because it contained a small amount of dissolved carbon dioxide gas. This forms a small amount of carbonic acid. Acid rain contains abnormally high levels of carbonic acid (from the excessive amounts of carbon dioxide released in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuel).

The word equation is:

Carbon dioxide + water = carbonic acid

When we burn fossil fuels (especially coal), sulphur dioxide is made and released into the air. When sulphur dioxide dissolves in rainwater, it makes sulphuric acid.

Sulphur dioxide + water = sulfuric acid

Sulphur Dioxide reacts with a wide range of substances found in food, including various essential vitamins, minerals, enzymes and essential fatty acids.

Sulfuric acid is actually a mixture of acids in high concentrations. Sulfuric acid is much stronger than carbonic acid. It is extremely corrosive and it causes damage to rocks, animals, and plants.

Sulfuric acid can cause severe burns to all body tissue and may be fatal if swallowed or contacted with skin. It is harmful if inhaled; it affects teeth; it is a cancer hazard. Strong inorganic acid mists containing sulfuric acid can cause cancer.

Nitrous oxides react with water vapor to form nitric acid. Nitric acid is a highly corrosive and toxic acid that can cause severe burns.

Nitrous oxides + water = nitric acid

Nitric acid is a cancer-causing agent. It is also a powerful dehydrating agent, so powerful that much of the damage it does to the human body is because it pulls water even out of other molecules in chemical reactions.

Apart from emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from the combustion of fossil fuels, there are also other substances that contribute to acid rain formation. These include hydrochloric acid and organic carboxylic acids. These organic acids include acetic acid and formic acid and are formed when volatile organic compounds are oxidized in the air.

Acid rain causes a cascade of effects that harm or kill individual fish, reduce fish population numbers, completely eliminate fish species from a body of water, and decrease biodiversity. Damages also show up in land animals, affecting their behavior and feeding patterns. Acid rain kills trees, crops, and other vegetation; damages buildings and monuments; corrodes copper, galvanized steel, and lead piping; damages such manufactured things as automobiles; and reduces soil fertility. Acid rain can raise the level of heavy metals, many of which are carcinogenic, teratogenic, mutagenic, reproductive toxins, or neurological toxins in drinking water supplies.

Pure acid water extracted from drinking water will burn holes in the outer membranes of microbes like parasites, bacteria, viruses, and microscopic worms. Pure acid water will destroy or kill parasites and their eggs, bacteria, germs, and viruses. Pure acid water has a strong oxidation potential (a shortage of electrons) giving it the ability to oxidize and sterilize. When extracted from drinking water about one third of the water is acid water (and the third part of the waters became wormwood). Think of the effects it has on the human body.

Acid rain raises the level of heavy metals, some of which are poisonous, in drinking water supplies. Polluted acidic waters contain higher than average levels of heavy and toxic metals, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), photochemical oxidants, and a laundry list of other toxins that pose serious health threats.

Some toxins enter the human body through air, water, and/or through our skin (when we bathe or swim many of these toxins are absorbed through our skin). Other poisonous metals and toxins that are dissolved into the rainwater are absorbed by the fruit, vegetables we eat. All of the meat we eat is saturated with toxins that were absorbed through the skin and into the tissue of the animals. In addition, animals eat these plants and other animals, perpetuating the cycle. Many heavy metals are bioaccumulative and toxic. They can accumulate in the soft tissues when the body cannot metabolize them.

Acid rain contains caustic acids that tend to make the pH of the human body more acidic. Drinking acidic water can cause many serious diseases. All of the water we drink (including bottled, purified, reverse osmosis, and distilled waters) contain these acids. It can be difficult to balance the pH of people consuming water loaded with these acids.

Breathing acid fogs (including hot shower or bath water) can damage our respiratory system. Some of these acids are powerful dehydrating agents, so powerful that much of the damage they do to the human body is because they pull water even out of other molecules in chemical reactions.

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are toxic chemicals that adversely affect human health and the environment around the world. Because they can be transported by wind and water, most POPs generated in one country can affect people and wildlife far from where they are used and released. They persist for long periods of time in the environment and can accumulate and pass from one species to the next through the food chain.

Although scientists have more to learn about POPs chemicals, decades of scientific research have greatly increased our knowledge of POPs’ impacts on people and wildlife. For example, laboratory studies have shown that low doses of certain POPs adversely affect some organ systems and aspects of development. Studies also have shown that chronic exposure to low doses of certain POPs can result in reproductive and immune system deficits. Exposure to high levels of certain POPs chemicals--higher than normally encountered by humans and wildlife--can cause serious damage or death.

There are dioxins and dioxin-like compounds in the food supply. Dioxin and dioxin-like compounds, or DLCs, are found throughout the environment, in soil, water, and air. People are exposed to these unintentional environmental contaminants primarily through the food supply, particularly by eating animal fat in meat, dairy products, and fish.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, over 90% of our exposure to dioxins is through food, with major sources including beef, dairy products, milk, chicken, pork, fish, and eggs. Dioxins are also passed from mother to developing infant across the placenta and through breastfeeding. Dioxins, PCBs, DDT and other organochlorines are among the 200 plus chemicals found in human breast milk today.

Dioxins and related compounds are highly persistent in the environment and in living organisms. PCB's can remain in human tissue for decades. It is believed that almost all living beings on earth have dioxin-like compounds in their body tissue.

No amount of dioxin exposure can be considered safe, as very small amounts have been associated with impaired developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune function. Dioxin is one of the most toxic chemicals known to humankind.

The cancer risk from eating animal products contaminated with dioxin is another clear warning that livestock foods have a direct impact on human food quality and safety.

The health risks posed by the levels of dioxins in human foods and animal feeds have yet to be ascertained by government officials. Therefore, conveniently, governments do not recommend regulatory limits on dioxins or dioxin-like compounds in food or feed (even though PCBs and dioxin are known endocrine disruptors).

Nitrate is a chemical that enters water from fertilizer runoff, leaching septic tanks, and erosion of natural deposits. Potential health impacts associated with nitrite include cardiovascular or blood toxicity, kidney toxicity, and reproductive toxicity.

Nitrate is one of the most common groundwater contaminants in rural areas. Fertilizer nitrogen that is not taken up by plants, volatilized, or carried away by surface runoff--leaches to the groundwater in the form of nitrate. Septic systems also can elevate groundwater nitrate concentrations because they remove only half of the nitrogen in wastewater, leaving the remaining half to percolate to groundwater.

An Environmental Working Group analysis of Nitrate tests reported by 32,210 public water suppliers in 41 states shows that between 1998 and 2003, 176 million people in 23,704 communities drank water contaminated with Nitrate. In 657 of these communities, tap water was contaminated at levels above health-based thresholds.

Nitrate occurs in the environment, in air, food (particularly in vegetables and fruits) and water, and is produced endogenously. It is also used as a food additive, mainly as a preservative and anti-microbial agent. It is used in foods such as cheese and cheese products, raw and processed meats, edible casings, processed fish and fish products and spirits and liqueurs.

Since most of our produce is grown with potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorous fertilizers, and irrigated with water that is contaminated with nitrate (and about 600 other contaminates), the produce we eat is contains unnaturally high levels of nitrate, potassium, and phosphorous (to mention a few). Synergistically unbalanced and contaminated food will not sustain our health; it will actually poison us.

What are the health effects? Nitrates can react with hemoglobin to reduce the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. Nitrates may combine with other substances to form nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic, and it may have an atrophying affect on the adrenal gland.

Short-term: Excessive levels of nitrate in drinking water have caused serious illness and sometimes death. In some parts of the country, beets, turnips, carrots, collard greens and spinach contain large amounts of nitrates, a chemical that can cause an unusual type of anemia (low blood count) in young infants, referred to as methemoglobinemia or blue baby syndrome. Symptoms include shortness of breath and blueness of the skin. The serious illness in infants is due to the conversion of nitrate to nitrite by the body, which interferes with the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood; blue baby syndrome can be an acute condition in which health deteriorates rapidly over a period of days.

Long-term: Nitrates and nitrites have the potential to cause the following effects from a lifetime exposure at levels above the Maximum Contaminant Level: excessive discharge of urine, increased starchy deposits and hemorrhaging of the spleen.

Inorganic minerals have never lived; they cannot bring life into our cells. They have a covalent bond, which the body cannot break down. They are metals and the body treats them more as toxins than as nutrients.

Organic minerals once were or are now living and can bring life to and be utilized by cells. They have an ionic bond that the body can break down into usable material for tissue repair and function. It is made of a plant (which draws the inorganic mineral from the soil by way of the roots and converts them into organic minerals), or living organism and the body uses it as food.

Heavy metal and trace element aberrations are directly causative or associative with disease and ill health. A few examples are anemia, cardiac conditions, depression, digestive problems, high blood pressure, hormone imbalance, impaired growth, infertility, insomnia, learning and behavioral problems, osteoporosis, chronic inflammation, and tumor proliferation.

Heavy metal toxins contribute to a variety of adverse health effects. There are more than 65 different heavy metals, trace elements, and toxic organic compounds that impact human health. Accumulation within the body can lead to a decline in the mental, cognitive, and physical health of the individual. Many of these pollutants are carcinogenic, teratogenic, mutagenic, reproductive toxins, or neurological toxins.

Below is a list of heavy metals and other trace elements (solid forms) in fossil fuel:

Aluminum, antimony, arsenic, barium, beryllium, bismuth, boron, bromine, cadmium, calcium, carbon, cesium, ceriurn, chlorine, chromium, cobalt, copper, dysprosium, europium, fluorine, gadolinium, gallium, germanium, hafnium, hydrogen,  iron, lanthanum, lead, lithium, lutetium,  magnesium, manganese, mercury, molybdenum, neodymium, nickel, niobium, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, platinum, potassium, rubidium, scandium, selenium, silicon, silver, sodium, strontium, sulfur, tantalum, tellurium, terbium, thallium, thorium, thulium, tin, titanium, tungsten, uranium, vanadium, ytterbium, zinc, and zirconium pose serious health threats. Ingesting, inhaling, or absorbing (through the skin) metals can be toxic.

The increased acidity of rain also releases many minerals that do not naturally occur or do not belong in water at these disproportionate levels, thus producing what is called hard water.

As a result, these toxins are consumed in drinking water or are ingested by plants, animals, or aquatic life, which are then eaten by humans.

When numerous metals are present in the body, they have a “synergistic toxicity.” Dr. Boyd Haley, professor and chair of the chemistry department at the University of Kentucky, performed a study on rats and found that the mortality rate of rats exposed to a small dose of mercury or aluminum killed only 1 rat in 100. However, when the rats were exposed to both mercury and aluminum at the same time, all 100 rats died—a 100% mortality rate.

Here are a few more ways that acid deposition has altered and continues to alter our soils:

  • Acid deposition depletes calcium, magnesium, and other base cations from the soil—this depletion of base cations fundamentally alters soil processes, compromises the nutrition of crops, and hinders the capacity for sensitive soils to recover.
  • Acid deposition facilitates the mobilization of dissolved inorganic minerals into soil water—the increased acidity of rain releases many minerals that do not naturally occur or do not belong in water at these disproportionate levels, thus producing what is called hard water—as a result, they are consumed in drinking water or are ingested by plants, animals, or aquatic life, which are then eaten by humans.
  • Acid deposition increases the accumulation of sulfur and nitrogen in the soil. 
  • Acid deposition kills alkaline microbes and mutates acidic microbes in our soils.

To some extent all minerals compete for absorption, compete for the same binding sites. Studies have shown that excesses of particular minerals can result in deficiencies in others; likewise, deficiencies of some minerals promote excesses of others. This mutual dependence means not only are minerals required in optimal amounts but also in relative amounts.

Mineral aberrations can cause secondary deficiencies or antagonize mineral absorption. A Few Examples of Secondary Mineral Deficiencies & Mineral Antagonists:

Calcium antagonists: lead, cadmium and other toxic metals displace calcium. Calcium is used therapeutically for lead overload/toxicity. Excess sodium and phosphorus intake promotes urinary loss of calcium. Inadequate vitamin D leads to low calcium status. High calcium intake interferes with absorption of other minerals - i.e., magnesium, iron, zinc, manganese, phosphorous, and copper. Lanthanum and strontium (from coal-fired power) competes with calcium for assimilation.

Chromium antagonists: chromium competes with iron binding on transferrin; phosphates bind with chromium and reduce absorption. A deficiency of chromium can result in elevated glucose, triglycerides, and cholesterol levels.

Copper antagonists: excess intake of zinc, iron, Vitamin C, fructose, and molybdenum reduce copper absorption and/or utilization; potassium deficiency increases demand.

Magnesium antagonists: calcium and iron supplements interfere with absoprtion; calcium deficiency is often associated with hypomagnesia. High intake can suppress calcium and phosphorous.

Manganese antagonists: suppresses iron, pohosphorous, potassium, and magnesium. Excess manganese can reduce copper levels. Excess iron or zinc ingestion (combined with hypochlorhydria) can disturb manganese levels. Elevated calcium and/or phosphorous intake decreases manganese absorption. Manganese is extremely important to help stabilize blood sugar.

Many other factors or medications (certain antibiotics, anesthetics, tricyclic antidepressants, antiviral, antihypertensive, anti-seizure drugs) can result in higher manganese (and some in excessive iron) storage, regardless of actual manganese or iron consumption. Excessive level of manganese can in itself produce Parkinsonian syndrome from a loss of dopamine in the brain cells.

Molybdenum antagonists: tungsten antagonizes molybdenum metabolism; high copper and sulphate intake increases requirements.

Selenium antagonists: heavy metals such as lead and arsenic reduce tissue selenium concentration. Tellurium competes with selenium. Selenium is protective against mercury, cadmium, silver, lead, aluminum, and arsenic by forming inert complexes. Insulin reserves are decreased with selenium deficiency causing glucose intolerance.

Zinc antagonists: zinc competes with calcium and iron for absorption. Excessive copper intake impairs zinc absorption. Copper and lead toxicity increase requirements. Zinc suppresses iron, copper, phosphorous and cadmium. Cadmium competes with zinc.

Vitamin A is synergistic to zinc and can inhibit insulin release in high concentrations. This effect is due to vitamin A's antagonistic effect upon calcium and therefore can contribute to low calcium/potassium and sodium/ potassium ratios

Aluminum antagonists: all minerals including calcium, iron, zinc, silica, fluoride, magnesium, selenium, and phosphorous; deficiencies of these can lead to increased absorption of aluminum.

Aluminum competes with silicon. Aluminum alters iron, zinc, and copper metabolism.

Aluminum uptake/concentration increased by calcium and zinc deficiencies; combined with low magnesium intake may contribute to aluminium-induced neuron disease.

Arsenic antagonists: suppresses iodine and selenium—adequate amounts of each are needed to suppress arsenic; excess arsenic depletes body's stores of phosphate.

Arsenic uptake/concentration increased interacts with lead to diminish cognitive function.

Cadmium antagonists: calcium, iron, selenium, zinc, vitamin C, lipoic acid, quercetin, methionone, and pectin. Cadmium decreases the bioavailability of selenium and acts antagonistically to zinc, a cofactor for the antioxidant superoxide dismutase.

Cadmium uptake/concentration increased deficiencies of copper, iron, calcium, zinc, and Vitamin D.

Lead antagonists: calcium, chromium, copper, iron, selenium, phosphorous, sulphur, vitamins: E, B complex; fiber, cysteine, lipoic acid, lysine, methionone, and quercetin. Lead reduces the bioavailability of zinc from food and the folate uptake is reduced by secondary zinc deficiency.

Lead uptake/concentration increased deficiencies of calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamin D. Lead interacts with calcium in the nervous system, which is detrimental to cognitive development.

Mercury antagonists: selenium binds to mercury and supports general tissue detoxification, protecting against toxicity.

Mercury uptake/concentration increased by cadmium overload and zinc deficiency.

Nickel antagonists: calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and phytates reduce GIT absorption of nickel. Nickel toxicity can lead to magnesium deficiency or excess concentration of iron or zinc.

Nickel uptake/concentration increased by low intake of calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc.

Cesium (from coal-fired power) competes with potassium for assimilation. Cesium a chemical relative of potassium is readily taken up by plants.

Iron antagonists: zinc, calcium, magnesium, tin, and cobalt.

Severe health problems arising from human contact with toxic or hazardous wastes are increasingly common.

The seriousness of this problem cannot be underestimated in light of findings from the World Health Organization (WHO) who revealed that 60-80% of heavy metal toxins found in human bodies in urban industrial areas were the result of consuming contaminated foods and water rather than through air pollution.

The burning of coal releases many contaminants into the atmosphere, among these are mercury, cadmium, arsenic, lead, chromium, barium, and zinc.


Mercury occurs primarily in two forms: organic mercury and inorganic mercury. Inorganic mercury and elemental mercury are both toxins that can produce a wide range of adverse health affects. Inorganic mercury is used in thermometers, barometers, dental fillings, batteries, electrical wiring and switches, fluorescent light bulbs, pesticides, fungicides, vaccines, paint, skin-tightening creams, antiseptic creams, pharmaceutical drugs, and other ointments.

Humans have the ability to convert this inorganic mercury to an organic form once it has become absorbed into the bloodstream. Organic mercury is known to bio-accumulate due they body’s inability to process and eliminate it. Rain is contaminated with mercury from coal-fired electric plants and the burning of fossil fuel. Mercury is one of the heavy metals that cause dangerous inflammation in body tissues. Acidification increases bioconversion of mercury to methylmercury; methylmercury is a neurotoxin, and the form of mercury that is most easily bioaccumulated in organisms.

Methyl mercury compounds, such as dimethyl mercury, are among the most dangerous. Mercury salts released into the environment may frequently be converted by anaerobic bacteria into such compounds, which can then be carried through the food chain to humans. Methylmercury exposure via food most often occurs when seafood-containing mercury is eaten, or when mercury-containing plants, such as rice, are consumed. Organic mercury is often found in produce, farm animals, processed grains, dairy products, and surface water sources.

Potential health impacts associated with mercury include cancer, cardiovascular or blood toxicity, developmental toxicity, endocrine toxicity, gastrointestinal or liver toxicity, immunotoxicity, kidney toxicity, neurotoxicity, reproductive toxicity, respiratory toxicity, and skin sensitivity.

Occupational exposure to mercury containing compounds presents a significant health risk to individuals. Dentists, painters, fishermen, electricians, pharmaceutical/laboratories workers, farmers, factory workers, miners, chemists, and beauticians are just some of the professions chronically exposed to mercury compounds.

An Environmental Working Group analysis of mercury tests reported by 28,299 public water suppliers in 40 states shows that between 1998 and 2003, 18.5 million people in 1,298 communities drank water contaminated with mercury. In 37 of these communities, tap water was contaminated at levels above health-based thresholds.

Environmental Health Perspectives found that 89 percent of their female patients had mercury levels above what most scientists consider safe, and that high mercury levels in adults correlated with memory loss, fatigue, and muscle aches. Another preliminary study this year found that mothers who delivered prematurely were more likely to have high mercury levels.

Unborn babies are at the greatest risk. Babies developing in the womb seem to be most vulnerable to the effects of mercury on their brains and nervous systems. Mercury is poisoning an entire generation of our nation’s children.


Cadmium emissions arise from two major source categories, natural sources and anthropogenic (man-made) sources. Emissions occur to the three major compartments of the environment - air, water, and soil, but there may be considerable transfer between the three compartments after initial deposition.

Man-made cadmium emissions arise either from the manufacture, use and disposal of products intentionally utilizing cadmium, or from the presence of cadmium as a natural but not functional impurity in non-cadmium containing products. Cadmium (for industrial use) is produced in large quantities, over 8 million metric tons in 1999. Cadmium generated by metal smelters/refiners is cemented and buried, stored for future use, or disposed of in landfills as hazardous waste.

Cadmium poses a major concern to food safety because is taken up relatively easily by crops. What makes cadmium unique is that it is not toxic to plants at concentrations of concern to human health. Consumption of crops is the main source of human exposure at approximately 75%. Grains, leafy greens, and root crops are associated with elevated levels of cadmium.

Cadmium accumulates in the body; although a person’s daily intake may be as little as 0.05 milligrams, he or she will have stored, on average, about 50 milligrams. Cadmium is a poison and is known to cause birth defects and cancer. It can stay in one’s body for years and can also change forms within the body.

Cadmium interferes with the metabolism of copper, iron, calcium, zinc, and vitamin D. An Environmental Working Group analysis of cadmium tests reported by 28,944 public water suppliers in 41 states shows that between 1998 and 2003, 9.5 million people in 1,364 communities drank water contaminated with cadmium. In 1,040 of these communities, tap water was contaminated at levels above health-based thresholds.


According to a 1999 study by the National Academy of Sciences, arsenic in drinking water causes bladder, lung, and skin cancer, and may cause kidney and liver cancer. The study also found that arsenic harms the central and peripheral nervous systems, as well as heart and blood vessels, and causes serious skin problems. It can cause birth defects and reproductive problems.

Arsenic is a natural element of the earth's crust. It is used in industry and agriculture, and for other purposes. It also is a byproduct of copper smelting, mining, and coal burning. U.S. industries release thousands of pounds of arsenic into the environment every year.

The use of this toxic element in numerous industrial processes has resulted in its presence in many biological and ecological systems. Ground, surface, and drinking water are susceptible to arsenic poisoning from the use of arsenic in smelting, refining, galvanizing, and power plants; environmental contaminants like pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, desiccants, wood preservatives, and animal feed additives; and human made hazardous waste sites, chemical wastes, and antibiotics.

Arsenic suppresses iodine and selenium. It is a carcinogen that inactivates sulfhydryl groups in enzymes leading to cell death, increases bleeding time, reduces thyroid hormone production by interfering with iodine metabolism, depresses bone marrow involved in methionine metabolism. Low serum arsenic is correlated with central nervous system disorders, vascular disease, and cancer.

Data compiled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on arsenic in drinking water in 25 states found conservative estimates indicate that more than 34 million Americans drink tap water supplied by systems containing average levels of arsenic that pose unacceptable cancer risks. We consider it likely that as many as 56 million people in those 25 states have been drinking water with arsenic at unsafe levels--and that is just the 25 states that reported arsenic information to the EPA.

Some plants are arsenic-resistant or can block arsenic uptake by their root systems. Still other food crops accumulate arsenic at levels that raise human health concerns. Since plants take up arsenic primarily by their roots, the highest level of arsenic accumulation is usually in roots and tubers, such as carrots and potatoes.

Studies have shown close associations between both inhaled and ingested arsenic and cancer rates. Cancers of the skin, liver, respiratory tract, and gastrointestinal tract are well documented in regards to arsenic exposure.


Lead is the 5th most utilized metal in the U.S. Human exposure to lead occurs primarily through drinking water, airborne lead-containing particulates, and lead-based paints. The primary source of lead in drinking water is from lead-based plumbing materials. The corrosion of such materials will continue to increase concentrations of lead in municipal drinking water. The EPA actually allows small amounts of lead to be present in our tap water due to this insurmountable problem. Grounding of household electrical systems to plumbing may also exacerbate corrosion. Corrosion of plumbing is by far the greatest cause for concern. All water is corrosive to metal plumbing materials to some degree.

Lead from water and airborne sources have been shown to accumulate in agricultural areas leading to increased concentrations in agricultural produce and farm animals. Cigarette smoke is also a significant source of lead exposure.

A certain amount of lead is always in our bodies because of the background presence of lead in food, water, and sources in the soil. The EPA estimates that drinking water can make up 20 percent or more of a person's total exposure to lead. Atmospherically derived lead is a widely distributed contaminant that can inhibit a range of essential ecosystem processes in soils. Lead has made its way into food, animals, and humans.

Because of the possibility of permanent impairment, lead poisoning is particularly dangerous during the critical development periods of infants and young children under the age of 7 years. Young children, those 6 years and younger, are at particular risk for lead exposure because they have frequent hand-to-mouth activity and absorb lead more easily than do adults. Children's nervous systems are still undergoing development and are therefore more susceptible to the effects of toxic agents. Lead is also harmful to the developing fetuses of pregnant women.

Lead in drinking water is a significant contributor to overall exposure to lead, particularly for infants whose diet consists of liquids made with water, such as baby food or formula.

Lead is one of the most toxic elements naturally occurring on Earth. High concentrations of lead can cause irreversible brain damage, seizure, coma, and death if not treated immediately. Evidence suggests that lead may cause fatigue, irritability, memory problems, reduction in sensory and motor reaction times, decision making impairment, and lapses in concentration. In adults, lead is very detrimental to the cardiovascular system. Occupationally exposed individuals tend to have higher blood pressure and are at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, myocardial infarction, and stroke. The kidneys are targets of lead toxicity and prone to impairment at moderate to high levels of lead concentrations. Other signs/symptoms of lead toxicity include gastrointestinal disturbances, abdominal pain, cramps, constipation, anorexia and weight loss, immunosuppression, and some liver impairment. Lead can affect almost every organ and system in our body.

No safe blood lead level in children has been determined. Children absorb lead much more efficiently than adults do after exposure and are susceptible to the most damaging effects of lead toxicity. Lead not only appears to affect cognitive development of young children but also other areas of neuropsychological function. Low levels of lead in blood have been associated with reduced IQ and attention span, learning disabilities, poor classroom performance, hyperactivity, behavioral problems, impaired growth, and hearing loss. Very high blood lead levels can cause severe neurological problems such as mental retardation, coma, convulsions, and even death. Lead has been determined by many health experts to be the #1 threat to developing children in our industrial societies.

The most sensitive is the central nervous system (brain), particularly in children. Lead also damages kidneys and the reproductive system. The effects are the same whether it is breathed or swallowed.

An Environmental Working Group analysis of lead tests reported by 21,997 public water suppliers in 35 states shows that between 1998 and 2003, 50.4 million people in 7,942 communities drank water contaminated with lead. In 2,275 of these communities, tap water was contaminated at levels above health-based thresholds.


Inorganic iron is one of the most troublesome elements in water supplies. Making up at least 5 percent of the earth’s crust, iron is one of the earth’s most plentiful resources. Acidic rainwater as it infiltrates the soil and underlying geologic formations excessively dissolves iron, causing it to seep into aquifers that serve as sources of groundwater for wells. This is one reason that there is a high prevalence of increased iron stores in the general population of western countries.

Inorganic iron is almost indigestible. When people suffering from anemia are given supplements of inorganic iron, these supplements are poorly absorbed in the gut and can have many unpleasant side effects.

Iron in the diet comes either from water and plant sources (inorganic iron) or from animal tissues (haem iron). Haem iron is absorbed around five times more efficiently than inorganic iron and this is why red meat is better at preventing anemia than inorganic iron from plant sources.

Excess iron accumulates in the pancreas and causes tissue injury. Iron affects glucose metabolism. Iron stores are associated with insulin sensitivity, insulin secretion, and insulin resistance. High iron causes excessive sodium retention. Tissue iron excess contributes to produce and amplify the injury caused by free radicals as well as to modulate various steps involved in the inflammatory lesion. It should not be ignored that chronic inflammation could contribute, to some extent, to increased ferritin concentration. Cobalt competes effectively with iron for uptake.


Chromium is abundant in the earth’s crust and is widely dispersed in the environment. It is used extensively in refractory materials and chemicals, as a plating to produce hard and smooth surfaces, to prevent corrosion, and in manufacturing stainless and alloy steels. Major atmospheric emissions of chromium arise from metal producing industries, coal-fired plants, municipal incinerators, and cooling towers.

Chromium-6 or Hexavalent chromium is an inorganic chemical that can be toxic. Chromium-6 has been in the news lately because it has been found in groundwater due to industrial contamination. It was the focus of the popular movie Erin Brockovich.

Hexavalent chromium in the workplace is suspected of being carcinogenic. Excessive exposure to dusts or mists of hexavalent chromium compounds produces dermatitis, skin lesions, and ulceration and perforation of the nasal septum, as well as liver and kidney damage. With long-term exposure to hexavalent chromium compounds, incidence of human lung cancer increases.

An Environmental Working Group analysis of hexavalent chromium tests reported by 1,111 public water suppliers in 3 states shows that between 1998 and 2003, 33.4 million people in 519 communities drank water contaminated with hexavalent chromium.


Barium is a heavy metal released into the air by human activities, mainly barium mines, metal production facilities, and industrial boilers that burn coal and oil. When coal and oil are burned to generate electricity, an ash is produced which contains more than 99% of their barium content. Barium released into the soil and water comes from copper smelters and oil drilling waste disposal sites. Industries reporting to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released 159 tons of barium into the environment in 1995. More than half was released to the soil. Some foods, such as Brazil nuts, seaweed, fish, and certain vegetables, may contain high amounts of barium.

Barium and barium compounds are used for many commercial processes. Barium sulfate is mined and used in oil and gas production, medical procedures, and the manufacture of paints, bricks, tiles, glass, and rubber. Other barium compounds are used in the manufacture of ceramics, pesticides, and oil and fuel additives. In addition, physicians often instruct their patients to swallow a barium compound solution as part of certain medical test procedures.

An Environmental Working Group analysis of barium tests reported by 29,280 public water suppliers in 41 states shows that between 1998 and 2003, 147 million people in 20,626 communities drank water contaminated with barium.

Barium interferes with natural immune system functioning. Barium compounds are extremely poisonous. At low doses, barium acts as a muscle stimulant, while higher doses affect the nervous system, causing cardiac irregularities, tremors, weakness, anxiety, dyspnea, and paralysis. This may be due to its ability to block potassium ion channels that are critical to the proper function of the nervous system.

As barium weakens the immune systems of the masses, we should expect to see statistically significant increases in various diseases that might normally be minimally occurring in a population with a fully-activated immune system.


Beryllium is a metal from metal refineries, coal burning, and pollution from electrical, aerospace and defense industries. Potential health impacts associated with beryllium include cancer, cardiovascular or blood toxicity, gastrointestinal or liver toxicity, immunotoxicity, kidney toxicity, reproductive toxicity, respiratory toxicity, and skin sensitivity.

An Environmental Working Group analysis of beryllium tests reported by 29,913 public water suppliers in 41 states shows that between 1998 and 2003, 6.9 million people in 720 communities drank water contaminated with beryllium.


Molybdenum is a by-product of copper and tungsten mining. It is used as an alloy for various metals, and it occurs naturally in soil and rock. Potential health impacts associated with molybdenum include neurotoxicity and reproductive toxicity. Plants can, under certain conditions accumulate large concentrations of molybdenum. Molybdenum uptake by plants increases with increased soil pH. Molybdenum can cause acute clinical disease and subsequent death by interfering with copper metabolism.

An Environmental Working Group analysis of molybdenum tests reported by 1,183 public water suppliers in nine states shows that between 1998 and 2003, 24.6 million people in 134 communities drank water contaminated with molybdenum. In 84 of these communities, tap water was contaminated at levels above health-based thresholds. Molybdenum remains unregulated in tap water, without a maximum legal limit.

Molybdenum is mobile in plants and in soil. It is less available in soils with a lower pH. Acid-leached forest and sandstone soils are generally low in molybdenum. Acid rain causes molybdenum to be released from the soil, which contaminates our water and food supply.


Phosphorus is a component of fertilizer and manure, and a pollutant in municipal wastewater discharges. Potential health impacts associated with phosphorus include cardiovascular or blood toxicity, gastrointestinal or liver toxicity, kidney toxicity, musculoskeletal toxicity, neurotoxicity, reproductive toxicity, respiratory toxicity, and skin sensitivity.

Organic phosphate fertilizers contain radionuclides (such as radium, radon, radioactive lead, polonium, thorium, etc), toxic metals, and fluorine.

Phosphate fertilizers are manufactured from phosphate rocks and, according to their origin, may contain various heavy metal micronutrients (cobalt, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, zinc), fluorine, and heavy metals considered toxic (arsenic, aluminum, beryllium cadmium, lead, mercury, and vanadium) (Camelo et al., 1997 and Mirlean et al., 2001). The build up of toxic heavy metals and fluorine in soils as a result of continuous application of phosphate fertilizers has never been mentioned to the general public. 

The phosphate rocks are also enriched in uranium, thorium and their daughters, deposited as calcium phosphate minerals by isomorphic substitution (Pfister et al., 1976), since the natural uranium can substitute calcium in the phosphate rock structure due to the similarity in ionic size between U4+ and Ca2+ (Guzman, 1992).

Depending on geographic location where the phosphate rock is mined, it can contain from 50 - 200 ppm of uranium. Phosphate rock is the major source of 'yellow cake' (uranium oxide) for nuclear weapons and the nuclear power industry.

Where there is uranium in natural rock formations, there will also be all its carcinogenic decay rate products; such as radium, radon, radioactive lead, polonium, thorium, etc.

The tailings from phosphoric acid production (phosphate fertiliser), phosphorgypsum, are so radioactive that they are not allowed to be used for wall-board or road beds in the US and Canada—because it is considered a radiation hazard. However, organic growers are allowed to treat their fields with the raw, unprocessed product once every six years, with none of the contaminants processed out.

Taking a closer look at this 'natural' phosphate rock mix, we find for example polonium-210:

One particle of polonium-210 gives off 5,000 times more alpha radiation than the same amount of radium. Damage occurs in the body from complete tissue absorption of the energy of the alpha particle. Polonium-210 can be carcinogenic to people exposed to more than 0.03 microcuries (6.8 trillionths of a gram). There are also high levels of Radium and Polonium-210 in granite dust, which is used by organic farmers, is some parts of the world as a soil conditioner.

Polonium is carried throughout the body in the blood. It has been linked to more soft-tissue cancers than bone cancers; typical sites are the liver, spleen, and kidney. The most important pathway for radionuclide contamination of the food is the uptake by plant from the ground through the roots. Once the contaminated foods have been ingested by man or animals, the radionuclides produce an internal radiation dose in the specific organs where they accumulate.

Polonium is found in tobacco grown with phosphate fertilizers. Studies have suggested that radioactive polonium may be the primary cause of smoking-related cancers.

Our water supplies are being flooded with radioactive elements, especially radon. It is important to note that these do not simply dissipate in a few days, months, or years—these radioactive elements will emit radon for many thousands of years.

The long-continued application of phosphate fertilizers and their by-products can redistribute and elevate heavy metal and fluorine concentrations in soil profiles, and, consequently, their availability for plants and subsequent transfer to the human food chain, mainly in acid soils.

Additionally, the long-continued application of phosphate fertilizers can also raise the heavy metal and fluorine concentrations in irrigation runoff/drainage from fertilized lands, and, then, their application in agricultural soils constitute another source for workers and members of the public. One ounce @ 5.0% fluoride (about the amount used to fertilize one organic tomato plant as recommended by some organic growers) contains about 1.4 grams of fluoride, which is enough to kill a small child.

An Environmental Working Group analysis of phosphorus tests reported by 162 public water suppliers in 7 states shows that between 1998 and 2003, 3.3 million people in 113 communities drank water contaminated with phosphorus. In all of these communities, tap water was contaminated at levels above health-based thresholds. Phosphorus remains unregulated in tap water, without a maximum legal limit. Water suppliers reporting tests for Phosphate (1998-2003): 258 of 39,751.


25 APR 2007 | A bill to set national safety standards for toxic rocket fuel perchlorate, found in drinking water supplies in more than 20 states, is moving in Congress. However, perchlorate is currently an unregulated contaminant. Officials found the rocket fuel ingredient perchlorate at up to 1,300 parts per million in the fall--roughly 166 times higher than acceptable limits. Perchlorate is a toxic chemical from military–industrial activities and the use of Chilean nitrate fertilizer.

Production and use estimates of perchlorate are hard to come by: the military considers the numbers secret, and fertilizer producers will not share them, saying they are proprietary information.

Perchlorate can affect thyroid function--because perchlorate is an ion that inhibits the transport of iodide into the thyroid. Scientists have found that a significant number of people are at risk of thyroid hormone depression from perchlorate exposure. Extensive data indicate that thyroid-pituitary disruption is the sole mode of action for the observed thyroid tumors caused by perchlorate in rodents.

A series of critical new studies by scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the EPA's proposed safe exposure level for the contaminant “perchlorate” is not protective of public health. To add insult to injury, the California Environmental Protection Agency recently raised the limit on the amount of perchlorate allowed in drinking water by 50%. Currently there are no enforceable perchlorate safety standards, but Environmental Working Group (EWG) argues that a national safety standard should be no higher than one-tenth the EPA’s currently recommended level.

Preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the amount of perchlorate in urine is too high to be from drinking water alone. Studies have found perchlorate in rainwater and common foods produced in the U.S., such as dairy products and produce. Perchlorate is also found in produce worldwide.

In the first-ever tests of perchlorate in off-the-shelf supermarket produce, EWG found contamination averaging 4 times more than what the EPA says is safe in drinking water. The chemical has also been found in prenatal vitamins and seaweed. Perchlorate can remain in food even after it is cooked.

Blast from the past: billions of kilograms of Chilean nitrate fertilizer contaminated with perchlorate left a lasting impression. Between 1909 and 1929, the U.S. imported an estimated 19 million tons of Chilean nitrate. The United States still uses 75000 short tons of Chilean nitrate annually.

Overall, fresh fruits and vegetables from California and Central and South America had the highest levels of perchlorate. Just one serving of some fruits can contain enough perchlorate to exceed the National Academy of Sciences safe daily dose by 25%, and wines and beers pack a bigger perchlorate punch than waters, according to a new study that measures perchlorate concentrations in fruits, wines, and beers from around the world. The food contribution to daily perchlorate exposure looks to be a horrendous disaster attributed to intensive farming, irresponsible agricultural practices, and military–industrial activities.

Perchlorate's interference with iodide uptake by the thyroid gland can decrease production of thyroid hormones, which are needed for prenatal and postnatal growth and development, as well as for normal metabolism and mental function in the adult.

Perchlorate is present in virtually all milk samples; the average concentration in breast milk is five times higher than in dairy milk. Studies testify that high levels of perchlorate in breast milk put the nation's infants at risk for developmental problems. Thyroid hormones are critical for development of the fetal and neonatal brain, as well as for many other aspects of fetal growth. The high levels of perchlorate in breast milk are cause for serious concern and should lead to immediate government action to protect the public health.

An Environmental Working Group analysis of perchlorate tests reported by 982 public water suppliers in 7 states shows that between 1998 and 2003, 26.2 million people in 86 communities drank water contaminated with perchlorate. In 8 of these communities, tap water was contaminated at levels above health-based thresholds. Perchlorate remains unregulated in tap water, without a maximum legal limit. Perchlorate is a known endocrine disruptor.


Manganese is a element from natural deposits as well as industrial use. Potential health impacts associated with manganese include gastrointestinal or liver toxicity, neurotoxicity, reproductive toxicity, and respiratory toxicity.

An Environmental Working Group analysis of manganese tests reported by 16,939 public water suppliers in 33 states shows that between 1998 and 2003, 60.2 million people in 8,184 communities drank water contaminated with Manganese.


Asbestos is a mineral fiber from decay of asbestos cement in water mains. Potential health impacts associated with asbestos include cancer, immunotoxicity, and respiratory toxicity.

An Environmental Working Group analysis of asbestos tests reported by 2,533 public water suppliers in 26 states shows that between 1998 and 2003, 8.6 million people in 147 communities drank water contaminated with Asbestos. In 2 of these communities, tap water was contaminated at levels above health-based thresholds.

Contaminants Index

Drinking water, including most bottled, ionized, reverse osmosis, and distilled water may reasonably be expected to contain some contaminants. U.S. EPA sets standards for approximately 90 contaminants in drinking water.

The following are common contaminants found in public water, their potential health effects, and the type of water filters that are capable of removing them:

2,4,5TP: This is an herbicide that is used on crops and right-of-way areas. It can cause liver and kidney damage. The maximum contaminant level is 0.05mg/L. A water filter that removes Volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) will remove this compound. NSF standard 53.

2,4-D: This is an herbicide used on wheat, corn, range lands and lawns. The maximum amount allowed in public water is 0.07mg/L. Like the above herbicide it causes liver and kidney damage. A charcoal/carbon filter (Standard 53) that removes VOCs will remove this contaminant.

Alachor: This is an herbicide used on corn, soybeans, and other crops. The maximum amount allowed in public water is 0.002 mg/L. It is a carcinogen (i.e. it causes cancer). A carbon/ charcoal filter Standard 53, that removes VOCs will remove this contaminant

Arsenic: This is a heavy metal. It comes from smelters, glass and electronic wastes as well as from orchards and natural deposits. The maximum contaminant level for arsenic is 0.010 mg/L. Its potential health hazards include skin and nervous system toxicity. Arsenic is found in water in two different forms: pentavalent (also known as Arsenic 5 or arsenate) and Trivalent (Arsenic 3 or Arsenite). Chlorine converts trivalent to pentvalent arsenic. Carbon/charcoal, reverse osmosis filters as well as distillation will remove this contaminant. Distillation will remove trivalent and pentvalent arsenic, while reverse osmosis will remove pentvalent only. Look for Standards 53, 58, or 62.

Asbestos: This contaminant comes from natural deposits and asbestos cement used in water systems. The maximum contaminant level is 7 million fibers per liter. It is a serious carcinogen. Carbon/charcoal and reverse osmosis remove this contaminant.

Atrazine: This is an herbicide used on corn and on non crop land. It can cause mammary gland tumors. Its maximum contaminant level is 0.003 mg/L. Carbon/charcoal standard 53 filters will remove this contaminant. It is part of the VOC category.

Bacteria: Bacteria are not supposed to be found in our public waters. But occasionally they may contaminate the water we drink. Sources are naturally occurring or from human or animal wastes. Most of them cause gastrointestinal disorders. Ultraviolet treatment is usually necessary for removal of these contaminants, or look for NSF standard 55 filters. Class A inactivates or removes microorganisms from contaminated water (not raw sewage) and class B disinfection systems remove naturally occurring organisms found in public waters that are deemed non-pathogenic.

Barium: This is a found in natural deposits, epoxy sealants, pigments and spent coal. Its maximum contaminant level is 2 mg/L. It can potentially affect the circulatory system. Cation exchange softeners, reverse osmosis and distillation will remove barium. Look for standards 44, 58 and 62.

Cadmium: This is found in galvanized pipe corrosion, natural deposits, batteries and paints. It primarily effects the kidneys. Its maximum contaminant level is 0.005 mg/L. Reverse osmosis, distillation remove it. Standards 58 and 62

Carbufuran: This is a soil fumigant used on corn and cotton. It effects the nervous reproductive systems. Its maximum contaminant level is 0.04 mg/L. Carbon/charcoal standard 53 remove this. It is part of the VOC category.

Chloramine: The effects of this contaminant are unknown. It is used as a disinfectant. The maximum recommended usage level is 4 mg/L. Carbon/charcoal filters, standard 42 remove this contaminant. Systems certified for reduction of chlorine will not necessarily be effective against chloramines.

Chlordane: This is used for treating termites. Maximum contaminant level is 0.002. It can cause cancer. Carbon/charcoal filters, Standard 53 will remove this contaminant.

Chlorides: Cause water to taste salty. Maximum contaminant level is 250 mg/L. These come from natural deposits. Reverse osmosis and distillation may remove these.

Chlorine: This is used for disinfection of drinking water. The chlorination by-products (trihalomethanes) have potential health effects. Carbon/charcoal standard 42 filters will remove chlorine. Contact your local water utility to determine if chlorine or chloramines are used to disinfect your water.

Chlorination by-Products (trihalomethanes): These are by-products of chlorination in drinking water and they are carcinogenic. The maximum contaminant level is 0.08 mg/L. Carbon/charcoal standard 53 filters are effective at reducing these contaminants.

Chromium: This is a by-product of mining, electroplating, pigments and from natural deposits. It can be present in water in forms: hexavalent (chromium 6) and trivalent (chromium 3). It can cause liver, kidney and circulatory disorders. Reverse osmosis and distillation Standards 53,58 and 62 remove chromium.

Copper: From natural and industrial deposits, wood preservatives, and plumbing. It may leach from residential plumbing. The maximum contaminant level is 1.3 mg/L. It can cause gastrointestinal irritation. Charcoal/carbon, reverse osmosis, and distillation, Standards 42, 58 and 62 remove this contaminant.

Crytosporidium: This is a parasite that is found in food or water contaminated with human or animal waste. It can cause gastrointestinal illness. Although public water should not have any cryptosporidium in it, it is not uncommon to see people in the Portland area test positive on stool test for it. Standard 53, 58 and 55 water filters should remove it. Look for a filter capable of removing spores < 1 micron

-dichlorobenzene: part of the VOC category. From paints, engine cleaning compounds, dyes, chemical wastes. Causes liver, kidney and blood cell damage. Carbon block standard 53 removes.

Hepatochlor Epoxide: A degradation product of heptachlor which is used in insectides, particularly for termite eradication. It is a carcinogen. Allowable amount is 0.0002 mg/L. Carbon block, standard 53 removes this. This contaminant is part of the VOC category.

Hydrogen sulfide: causes the rotten egg odor in water. It is a naturally occurring chemical in water. Carbon block, standard 42 filters remove it.

Iron: Maximum allowable amount is 0.3mg/L. It can stain laundry, plumbing and appliances. It is from natural deposits in the water. Carbon/charcoal filter, standard 42 will remove it.

MTBE: From gasoline spills, underground gas tank leakages. The potential health effects include cancer, developmental toxicity, gastrointestinal or liver toxicity, kidney toxicity, neurotoxicity, and skin sensitivity. Carbon block, standard 53 will remove it.

Nitrite: Can cause methemoglobulinemia (blue baby syndrome). From animal waste, fertilizer, natural deposits, septic tanks, sewage. Maximum allowable level is 1 mg/L. It rapidly converts to nitrate. Reverse osmosis, standard 53, 58, 62 remove this contaminant.

PCBs: from the coolants used in electrical transformers and plasticizers. PCBs are known carcinogens. Maximum allowable amount is 0.0005 mg/L. Carbon block filters, standard 53 remove this contaminant.

Radium: This is a naturally occurring carcinogen. It can cause bone cancer. Filters that remove it are reverse osmosis and cation exchange softeners, standard 44 and 58.

Radon: Another naturally occurring contaminant, it is also a carcinogen and is a risk factor for lung cancer. Carbon/charcoal and aeration devices remove it. Look for a standard 53.

Selenium: maximum contaminant level is 0.05 mg/L. It is from natural deposits, mining, smelting, coal/oil combustion. Too much selenium can cause liver damage. Standard 58, 62 reverse osmosis filters will reduce selenium.

Sulfates: can cause gastrointestinal irritation. They are naturally occurring. Reverse osmosis or distillation may be effective at removing.

Sulfuric acid and nitric acid: acid rain occurs when sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are emitted into the atmosphere, undergo chemical transformations. Reverse osmosis, distillation, carbon/charcoal filters will not remove them—the water needs to be ionized.

Styrene: Maximum allowable amount 0.10 mg/L. Styrene is from plastic, rubber, resin and drug industries. It also can leach from landfills into the ground water. It causes liver and nervous system damage.

Taste and odor: From natural sources and additives. Carbon/charcoal standard 42.

Total dissolved solids: Come from the erosion of naturally occurring mineral deposits. TDS’s antagonizes the assimilation of other minerals and causes secondary mineral deficiencies. They can also cause gastrointestinal irritation in some people. Maximum level should not exceed 500 mg/L. Standard 42, 58, 62 distillation, reverse osmosis remove these.

Toxaphene: A carcinogenic insecticide that was used on cattle, cotton, and soybeans. Standard 53, carbon/charcoal filter to remove it.

Trichloroethylene: A carcinogen found in textile, metal and adhesive degreasers. Carbon/charcoal standard 53 removes it. This is part of the VOC category.

Turbidity: from soil run off, it can interfere with disinfection and filtration. Charcoal/carbon; reverse osmosis standards 53, 58 can remove.

Uranium: Causes kidney problems, cancer. Maximum allowable amount is 0.03 mg/L. Filtration systems are not currently certified to remove uranium although reverse osmosis, distillation or anion exchange resins may.


Coliform bacteria are common in the environment and are generally not harmful. However, the presence of these bacteria in drinking water is usually a result of a problem with the treatment system or the pipes which distribute water, and indicates that the water may be contaminated with germs that can cause disease.

Fecal Coliform and E coli are bacteria whose presence indicates that the water may be contaminated with human or animal wastes. Microbes in these wastes can cause short-term effects, such as diarrhea, cramps, nausea, headaches, or other symptoms.

Turbidity has no health effects. However, turbidity can interfere with disinfection and provide a medium for microbial growth. Turbidity may indicate the presence of disease causing organisms. These organisms include bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can cause symptoms such as nausea, cramps, diarrhea, and associated headaches.

Cryptosporidium is a parasite that enters lakes and rivers through sewage and animal waste. It causes cryptosporidiosis, a mild gastrointestinal disease. However, the disease can be severe or fatal for people with severely weakened immune systems. EPA and CDC have prepared advice for those with severely compromised immune systems who are concerned about Cryptosporidium.

Giardia lamblia is a parasite that enters lakes and rivers through sewage and animal waste. It causes gastrointestinal illness (e.g. diarrhea, vomiting, cramps).


Alpha emitters.

Certain minerals are radioactive and may emit a form of radiation known as alpha radiation. Some people who drink water containing alpha emitters in excess of  EPA's standard over many years may have an increased risk of getting cancer.

Beta/photon emitters. Certain minerals are radioactive and may emit forms of radiation known as photons and beta radiation. Some people who drink water containing beta and photon emitters in excess of EPA's standard over many years may have an increased risk of getting cancer.

Combined Radium 226/228. Some people who drink water containing radium 226 or 228 in excess of EPA's standard over many years may have an increased risk of getting cancer.

Radon gas can dissolve and accumulate in underground water sources, such as wells, and in the air in your home. Breathing radon can cause lung cancer. Drinking water containing radon presents a risk of developing cancer. Radon in air is more dangerous than radon in water.

A few more inorganic contaminants:

Antimony, Beryllium, Cyanide, and Thallium


Some people who drink water containing arsenic in excess of EPA's standard over many years could experience skin damage or problems with their circulatory system, and may have an increased risk of getting cancer.


Many communities add fluoride to their drinking water to promote dental health. Each community makes its own decision about whether or not to add fluoride. EPA has set an enforceable drinking water standard for fluoride of 4 mg/L (some people who drink water containing fluoride in excess of this level over many years could get bone disease, including pain and tenderness of the bones). EPA has also set a secondary fluoride standard of 2 mg/L to protect against dental fluorosis. Dental fluorosis, in its moderate or severe forms, may result in a brown staining and/or pitting of the permanent teeth. This problem occurs only in developing teeth, before they erupt from the gums. Children under nine should not drink water that has more than 2 mg/L of fluoride.

Lead typically leaches into water from plumbing in older buildings. Lead pipes and plumbing fittings have been banned since August 1998. Children and pregnant women are most susceptible to lead health risks. For advice on avoiding lead, see the how to remove lead in your drinking water fact sheet prepared by EPA.

Volatile Organic Contaminants (VOCs) benzene, carbon tetrachloride, chlorobenzene, o-Dichlorobenzene, p-Dichlorobenzene, 1,1-Dichloroethylene, cis-1,2-Dichloroethylene, trans-1,2-Dicholoroethylene, Dichloromethane, 1,2-Dichloroethane, 1,2-Dichloropropane, Ethylbenzene, Styrene, Tetrachloroethylene, 1,2,4-Trichlorobenzene, 1,1,1,-Trichloroethane, 1,1,2-Trichloroethane, Trichloroethylene, Toluene, Vinyl Chloride, and Xylenes.


Many water suppliers add a disinfectant to drinking water to kill germs such as giardia and e coli. Especially after heavy rainstorms, your water system may add more disinfectant to guarantee that these germs are killed.

Chlorine. Some people who use drinking water containing chlorine well in excess of EPA's standard could experience irritating effects to their eyes and nose.  Some people who drink water containing chlorine well in excess of EPA's standard could experience stomach discomfort.

Chloramine. Some people who use drinking water containing chloramines well in excess of EPA's standard could experience irritating effects to their eyes and nose.  Some people who drink water containing chloramines well in excess of EPA's standard could experience stomach discomfort or anemia.

Chlorine Dioxide. Some infants and young children who drink water containing chlorine dioxide in excess of EPA's standard could experience nervous system effects.  Similar effects may occur in fetuses of pregnant women who drink water containing chlorine dioxide in excess of EPA's standard.  Some people may experience anemia.

Disinfection Byproducts

Disinfection byproducts form when disinfectants added to drinking water to kill germs react with naturally-occuring organic matter in water.

Total Trihalomethanes. Some people who drink water containing trihalomethanes in excess of EPA's standard over many years may experience problems with their liver, kidneys, or central nervous systems, and may have an increased risk of getting cancer.

Haloacetic Acids. Some people who drink water containing haloacetic acids in excess of EPA's standard over many years may have an increased risk of getting cancer.

Bromate. Some people who drink water containing bromate in excess of EPA's standard. Bromate is a disinfection by-product of ozonation. Potential health impacts associated with Bromate include cancer and kidney toxicity.

An Environmental Working Group analysis of Bromate tests reported by 73 public water suppliers in 16 states shows that between 1998 and 2003, 3.9 million people in 20 communities drank water contaminated with Bromate. In 11 of these communities, tap water was contaminated at levels above health-based thresholds. Water suppliers reporting tests for Bromate (1998-2003): 73 of 39,751.

Chlorite. Some infants and young children who drink water containing chlorite in excess of EPA's standard could experience nervous system effects.  Similar effects may occur in fetuses of pregnant women who drink water containing chlorite in excess of EPA's standard.  Some people may experience anemia.


MTBE is a fuel additive, commonly used in the United States to reduce carbon monoxide and ozone levels caused by auto emissions. Due to its widespread use, reports of MTBE detections in the nation's ground and surface water supplies are increasing. The Office of Water and other EPA offices are working with a panel of leading experts to focus on issues posed by the continued use of MTBE and other oxygenates in gasoline. EPA is currently studying the implications of setting a drinking water standard for MTBE.

Potential health impacts associated with MTBE include cancer, developmental toxicity, gastrointestinal or liver toxicity, kidney toxicity, neurotoxicity, and skin sensitivity.

An Environmental Working Group analysis of MTBE tests reported by 16,866 public water suppliers in 30 states shows that between 1998 and 2003, 32.7 million people in 632 communities drank water contaminated with MTBE. MTBE remains unregulated in tap water, without a maximum legal limit. Water suppliers reporting tests for MTBE (1998-2003): 16,866 of 39,751.

As part of the Drinking Water and Health pages, this fact sheet is part of a larger U.S. EPA publication: EPA National Primary Drinking Water Regulations.

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