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What is in Our Drinking Water?

Identification of New Chemical Disinfection By-products (DBPs)

What is a DBP? A drinking water disinfection by-product (DBP) is formed when the chemical used for disinfecting the drinking water reacts with natural organic matter and/or bromide/iodide in the source water. Popular disinfectants include chlorine, ozone, chlorine dioxide, and chloramine. Source waters include rivers, lakes, streams, groundwater, and sometimes seawater. We have only known about DBPs since 1974, when chloroform was identified by Rook as a DBP resulting from the chlorination of tap water. Since then, hundreds of DBPs have been identified in drinking water.

So what? Millions of people in the U.S. are exposed to these drinking water DBPs every day. While it is vitally important to disinfect drinking water, as thousands of people died from waterborne illnesses before we started disinfection practices in the early 1900s, it is also important to minimize the chemical DBPs formed. Several DBPs have been linked to cancer in laboratory animals, and as a result, the U.S. EPA has some of these DBPs regulated. However, there are many more DBPs that have still not been identified and tested for toxicity or cancer effects. Currently, we have only identified 50% of the total organic halide (TOX) that is measured in chlorinated drinking water. There is much less known about DBPs from the newer alternative disinfectants, such as ozone, chlorine dioxide, and chloramine, which are gaining in popularity in the U.S. Are these alternative disinfectants safer than chlorine? What kinds of by-products are formed? And, what about the unidentified chlorine DBPs that people are exposed to through their drinking water--both from drinking and showering/bathing? The objective of our research is to find out what these DBPs are--to thoroughly characterize the chemicals formed in drinking water treatment--and to ultimately minimize any harmful ones that are formed.


How much should you drink every day?
tap water

Your body is mostly water, so it makes sense to keep well hydrated. But how much water you should drink depends on you.

How much water should you drink each day? - a simple question with no easy answer. Just as you are unique, so are your water needs. And how much water you need depends on many factors, including your health status, how active you are and where you live.

Though no single formula fits all people, several guidelines are available to help you estimate how much to drink each day. Delve into your daily fluid needs to learn how your body uses water and what factors may increase - or decrease - your water requirements.


Health Effects of Chlorine in Drinking 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 destroy bacteria.


Health Effects of Lead in Drinking Water

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 waterborne disease. The General Accounting Office estimates 66% of Safe Drinking Water Act violations aren't reported.


Residential water pipes can spread Legionnaire's

CHICAGO - Outbreaks of Legionnaire's disease are often blamed on germs spewing from air conditioning systems in big buildings, but new research shows home hot water pipes can also be a common source, The Associated Press (AP) reported in an article published by Newsday.

The latest work, combined with earlier studies, suggests the Legionella bacteria often grow in the slimy gunk lining residential hot water pipes, and home water may be responsible for about 20 percent of cases, the AP said.

Janet Stout, a microbiologist who heads a special pathogens lab at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Pittsburgh, presented her latest findings Sept. 14 at a conference in Chicago of the American Society for Microbiology.

Stout estimated that between 2 percent and 5 percent of the 600,000 pneumonia cases requiring hospitalization in the US each year are causes by Legionella pneumophilia bacteria.

"The overall perception we have that drinking water in the home is free of bacteria is a misconception," Stout said in the article.


What's in your Bottled Water?
bottle water

"You drink tap water? Are you crazy?" asks a 21-year-old radio producer from the Chicago area. "I only drink bottled water." In a trendy nightclub in New York City, the bartender tells guests they can only be served bottled water, which costs $5 for each tiny pint container. One outraged clubber is stopped by the restroom attendant as she tries to refill the bottle from the tap. "You can't do that," says the attendant. "New York's tap water isn't safe."

Whether a consumer is shopping in a supermarket or a health food store, working out in a fitness center, eating in a restaurant or grabbing some quick refreshment on the go, he or she will likely be tempted to buy bottled water.


Legionella bacteria found in MI water lines

SAGINAW, MI - High levels of the bacteria that causes Legionnaire's disease were detected in some water lines at a rail facility here operated by CSX Transportation, prompting the company to shut down those lines.

The Associated Press (AP) said CSX informed Saginaw County health officials of the finding Monday after doctors detected high levels of the bacteria in a 56-year-old employee last week.

AP said the company plans to bring in bottled water and test other employees.

Legionnaire's disease, a pneumonia-like illness, usually causes high fever, chills and a cough, though some victims also experience muscle aches, headaches and diarrhea. It is spread through direct contact with infected water and can be fatal.

According to the Saginaw News, CSX officials said some Saginaw employees already have undergone testing for the bacteria, and the company is offering free testing to all others.

Two environmental health firms - Novi-based Clayton Group Services and Dallas-based Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health - were handling the job of flushing out CSX's water lines and removing bacteria, said Adam Hollingsworth, the newspaper said, removing water heaters, drinking fountains and low-usage water lines.

An estimated 8,000 to 18,000 people get Legionnaire's disease in the United States each year. Some people have mild symptoms or no illness at all, while about 5 percent to 30 percent of people who have Legionnaire's disease die, said the article.


What's in Your Pipes?

A mysterious TB-like bug called NTM is turning up in shower stalls and hot tubs across the South

By CHRISTINE GORMAN
Jul. 1, 2002

Subscribe below to instantly access this article - and over 30,000 articles in the TIME Archive. Your unlimited access will remain free during your paid subscription to TIME magazine. Fern Leitman, 56, a longtime Florida resident, thought her repeated bouts of pneumonia were just bad luck. Doctors told Suzan King-Carr, 58, of Hobe Sound, Fla., that the spots on her lungs were probably cancer. Ida Mae Williams, 76, of Bogalusa, La., was informed that she had tuberculosis. Three women, three different diagnoses--all of them wrong. After years of ineffectual treatment, each woman learned that she, like thousands of other Americans, had developed a mysterious lung infection that mimics TB, seems to strike thin, white women in particular and can be permanently debilitating. Most unsettling...


A National Assessment of Tap Water Quality

Tap water in 42 states is contaminated with more than 140 unregulated chemicals that lack safety standards, according to the Environmental Working Group's (EWG's) two-and-a-half year investigation of water suppliers' tests of the treated tap water served to communities across the country.

In an analysis of more than 22 million tap water quality tests, most of which were required under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, EWG found that water suppliers across the U.S. detected 260 contaminants in water served to the public. One hundred forty-one (141) of these detected chemicals - more than half - are unregulated; public health officials have not set safety standards for these chemicals, even though millions drink them every day.



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