The Blessing and Curse of Chlorination

The problem of contaminated water is an old problem. Hundreds of Americans, even through the 1920s and the 1930s, have died from typhoid fever and amoebic dysentery caused by drinking polluted municipal water. The use of chlorine to purify water supplies is considered one of the most important public health advances of the twentieth century. Following the introduction of widespread water chlorination, once-common diseases such as cholera, dysentery, and typhoid fever were practically eliminated. Using disinfectants, along with improved filtration and sewage treatment, dramatic improvements in our water quality have been achieved. Today 98% of U.S. drinking water is disinfected by chlorine.

The bad news is that the chlorination cure-all does have a downside. Disinfection by-products (DBPs) resulting from the reaction between chlorine and organic material, such as leaves and sediment in the source water, are now found in our drinking water. In the 1970s, certain DBPs were found to cause adverse health effects. According to the EPA, chronic exposure to chlorine and chlorine by-products may cause liver, kidney, heart, and neurological damage, as well as affecting unborn children. Chlorinating, which kills bacteria, also kills body cells. Chlorinating can produce trihalomethanes (THM), which have been found to be carcinogenic. A study led by Kenneth P. Cantor at the National Cancer Institute, which was published in the Journal of National Cancer Institute, found that people who drank 8 cups of chlorinated tap water for 40-59 years had a 40% greater risk of bladder cancer than those who drank less tap water or unchlorinated water. People who drank 8 cups of chlorinated tap water for 60 or more years had an 80% greater risk of bladder cancer.

An article from the January 1995, Environmental Health Perspectives: Consumers must still rely on chemical disinfection to prevent waterborne disease. From 1971 to 1990, more than 140,000 people nationwide became ill from microbial contamination of drinking water, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, according to Robert D. Morris, an epidemiologist with the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, such numbers on waterborne disease are only speculative. “The surveillance systems for waterborne disease are designed only to address severe outbreaks. They are useless for dealing with diseases where there is no mortality and which are self-limiting.” Thus, the numbers of people affected by waterborne disease are likely much higher than reported numbers. EPA is attempting to balance risks from microbial contaminants against risks from disinfectants and disinfection by-products.

Dr. Joseph Price, writer of Coronary/Cholesterol/Chlorine, noted an elevated rate of arteriosclerosis among servicemen in Vietnam who drank chlorinated water. He noticed unusually increased rates of cholesterol in 18 and 20 year old men and concluded that it was caused by the chlorinated water. His theory was born out when he tested it in a controlled situation with animals…he gave some chlorinated water and some not. While researching his book, Dr. Price also found the small city of Fullerton, Pennsylvania, which had no water treatment, boasting a population which suffers with no heart disease. This was true, even though most of the population of Fullterton is of Italian ancestry, and they consumed what should have been a high cholesterol diet. The question is, can chlorinating our water lead to heart disease??

A February 20th news article out of the United Kingdom reported that an independent study into the use of chlorine-treated drinking water has been ordered by the Government because of fears that it may causespina bifida and stillbirth. Scientists will carry out the research after doctors in other parts of the world reported higher levels of birth defects in areas where chlorine is used, compared with drinking water treated by alternative methods. All of Britain’s water companies chlorinate their supplies.

A Norwegian study of 141,000 births over three years, found a 14 percent increased risk of birth defects in areas with chlorinated water. Scientists have already found an association between chlorine and an increased risk of bowel, kidney, and bladder cancer, but it is the first time that a link has been found with higher levels of spina bifida.

Chlorinated water touches everyone. Mr. Erik D. Olson, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, says: “One of the largest exposures to chlorinated compounds is from drinking water. Virtually every person in the country is exposed daily, even hourly, to chlorinated water.”

It is important that each family takes precautions as to the quality of water which we drink. The AquaRain Water Filtration System has been specifically engineered to provide safe drinking water from raw water sources as well as municipal sources which we wish to filter. The innovative ceramic elements are filled with a high grade silvered granulated activated carbon and will remove bacteria, cysts, pesticides, chemicals, chlorine, tastes and odors, while leaving the naturally occurring minerals and beneficial electrolytes found in the water unaffected. The ceramic shell is manufactured of natural inert materials (diatomaceous earth and clay) and will gently filter drinking water nature’s way using gravity.

Water is simply poured into the upper container of the AquaRain system where it trickles down through the highly specialized ceramic filter elements, leaving cysts, bacteria, and sediment in the outer layer of the ceramic. After passing through the thick ceramic wall, the water flows through a bed of silvered coconut shell carbon which adsorbs pesticides, various organic chemicals, and chlorine. The filtered water then drips into the lower storage container where it accumulates for easy dispensing with a handy lever-action faucet. The ceramic filters are easily cleaned – up to 200 times – and feature individually attached wear indicators.

When seeking self-reliant living, as well as safe, cost effective drinking water from an energy-free source, a gravity water system is the answer. It is gravity fed. No electricity or water pressure is needed. Ceramic filters safely remove dangerous waterborne pathogens such as cysts and bacteria without the use of dangerous chemicals like chlorine or iodine or the high energy costs of a distiller. The energy-free gravity operation of an AquaRain Water Filter, combined with very long life, state-of-the-art ceramic technology and high quality coconut shell carbon, allows this filter system to produce safe, clean drinking water at the absolute lowest cost per gallon. The durable and attractive stainless steel housing with long lasting ceramic filter elements make the AquaRain Gravity Water Filter System the absolute best value for the dollar in comparison to any other water filter system. All this with the ADDED benefit of its ability to keep producing safe drinking water in an emergency.

Canada E.Coli Death Toll May Rise to 18

TORONTO (Reuters) – The death toll from an outbreak of deadly E. coli bacteria that swept through a small Ontario town last month may be raised to 18, Canadian health officials said on Tuesday.

Health officials said they were investigating four more deaths that could be linked to the E. coli outbreak in Walkerton, Ontario, a farming community of 5,000 about 200 kilometres (125 miles) northwest of Toronto.

Ontario’s chief coroner said four more deaths had been reported to the provincial police, raising the total number of possible E. coli-related deaths in the Walkerton area to 18.

Police added the deaths of an elderly man and woman as well as a 25-year-old man in Walkerton to their investigation. The death of an elderly man in nearby Hanover is also being looked into.

Health authorities have confirmed that at least seven people died from water contaminated by E. coli bacteria during the epidemic, which began in late May and affected about 2,000 people in and around Walkerton.

E. coli (Escherichia coli) is a common bacterium usually found in the intestines of humans and animals. Some strains–like the often lethal 0157 variety that hit Walkerton–can cause dangerous, even life-threatening, infections.

Officials do not yet know exactly how the deadly bug got into Walkerton’s water system but suspect heavy rains may have washed infected manure into the farming community’s wells.

Clean air, dirty water

A gasoline additive turns out to be dangerous

By Laura Tangley

It’s a classic case of good intentions gone awry. When Congress amended the Clean Air Act a decade ago, the lawmakers’ goal was to banish lung-destroying smog from the nation’s cities. But now it turns out that the chemical known as MTBE, which was subsequently added to gasoline to make the fuel burn cleaner, has actually contaminated wells that supply drinking water to tens of millions of Americans from coast to coast.

MTBE, or methyl tertiary-butyl ether, reduces toxic auto emissions by boosting the amount of oxygen in gasoline. Now present in about a third of the nation’s gas, the additive has been very effective in helping formerly smoggy cities clean up their act. But a new study, scheduled for publication next month in Environmental Science & Technology, has found that as many as 9,000 community wells in 31 states are threatened by MTBE contamination, primarily because they are located near leaking underground tanks that store gasoline. John Zogorski of the U.S. Geological Survey, one of the study’s authors, calls his team’s results “generally representative of the entire nation.”

Long-lived problem. A handful of states, including California, Maine, and New Jersey, already have plans to stop or at least reduce the use of MTBE, which has been found to cause cancer in laboratory animals. Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency made a commitment to begin phasing out the additive nationwide. Specifically, EPA administrator Carol Browner has asked Congress to further amend the Clean Air Act to discourage the use of MTBE in gasoline. In addition, the agency will try to restrict the chemical under authority provided by the Toxic Substances Control Act. But both of these strategies could take years to make a dent in the MTBE content of gas. Meanwhile, scientists worry that the additive’s most likely alternative, ethanol derived from corn, has not been adequately tested for safety.

Even if MTBE were banned tomorrow, it would very likely remain a concern for many years. Because the compound degrades slowly and moves easily over long distances, Zogorski believes that past MTBE leaks and spills will threaten water-supply wells until at least the year 2010.

Other scientists have taken the offensive. At this week’s meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Francisco, dozens of researchers will present papers at a four-day symposium devoted entirely to MTBE–including novel strategies for getting the poison out of drinking water. One study suggests that simply adding oxygen to contaminated groundwater encourages native bacteria to degrade the pollutant.

Investigation of E. coli outbreak continues

WALKERTON, ONTARIO — Canadian police and health officials are still investigating how wells in this town 90 miles west of Toronto were infected with E. coli, which has sickened hundreds and killed at least five people. Police also are investigating whether local officials broke laws by failing to report water problems immediately.

Meanwhile, Ontario’s environmental minister, Dan Newman, announced new regulations that would require all of the province’s municipalities to use accredited water-testing labs and to inform the government when hiring a new, private testing firm, according to The Associated Press.

Water plants also would be reviewed and certified every three years, and the ministry would clarify procedures requiring laboratories to notify health officials, city officials and the environment ministry of irregularities.

As of Sunday, the number of people getting sick from the bacteria found in the water supply has decreased. However, officials said several of the hospitalized patients may still die.

E. coli, spread through human and animal feces, may have entered Walkerton’s wells in flooding that followed a storm May 12. City officials said that a chlorinating system on one of the town’s two main wells was malfunctioning for weeks before residents started getting sick.

A provincial water agency took control of the local water utility last week after it was disclosed that the utility knew as early as May 18 about the contamination. A boil-water order was issued for Walkerton May 21 after residents reported illnesses.

One class action lawsuit already has been filed, accusing local officials of failing to promptly notify Walkerton residents of the contamination.

Two nearby communities, Wingham and Freelton, also have found E. coli contamination in water supplies. In Wingham, the contamination was found in a school, which has since been shut down. Freelton was placed under a boil-water order after traces of the bacteria was found in its water.

However, neither case apparently is linked to the Walkerton contamination.

Trucks carrying bottled water moved through Walkerton Sunday, with volunteers carrying the donated cases to doorsteps in some areas.

Copyright 2000 National Trade Publications, Inc. 

Death Came in the Water

E. coli breaks out at a N.Y. county fair

BY AMANDA SPAKE

At first, the illness was a mystery. The Washington County Fair in Greenwich, N.Y., was great fun, but two days later, the Aldrich girls had become feverish, irritable, and lethargic. Their doctor sent them to a local hospital and Kaylea, 2, seemed to improve. But 3-year-old Rachel grew sicker. On Friday, September 3, she was rushed to the pediatric intensive care unit at Albany Medical Center Hospital, where she and her sister were found to be infected with the deadly E. coli 0157:H7 bacterium from drinking water at the fair.

At Albany, Wayne and Lori Aldrich watched helplessly as Rachel’s heart stopped, cutting off oxygen to her brain. Her kidneys failed and she was not able to breathe on her own. Late Saturday afternoon, September 4, on the day she was to celebrate her fourth birthday, Rachel died in her parents’ arms.

Now, the Aldriches sit by Kaylea’s bedside as she remains in serious condition, on kidney dialysis like 10 other children who went to the fair. They are among over 600 people thought to be infected with the bacterium. If confirmed, this would be one of the largest E. coli 0157:H7 outbreaks on record. The great risk now, according to the New York State Department of Health, is further person-to-person spread of the organism.

How did a supposedly safe drinking-water system become the source of a major outbreak? The health department’s theory is that a torrential rainstorm in late August washed manure-laden water from cattle exhibits into loose soil around an auxiliary well at the fairgrounds. This contaminated surface water mixed with the well’s usual source, a ground-water aquifer, which had fallen low because of this summer’s drought. Unlike other wells supplying the fair, the auxiliary well was not chlorinated. Once the well was in use, contaminated water was pumped to food and drink vendors. Two vendors, one of whom has developed symptoms of infection, may have taken water to another New York fair.

But the Greenwich fiasco points up a greater problem: Treatment and monitoring of drinking water cannot be taken for granted. Kristine Smith, spokesperson for the New York Department of Health, says that since the fairgrounds’ water system was considered private, only limited treatment and testing was mandated by the state, and the system was not subject to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

But J. Charles Fox, assistant administrator for the Office of Water at the EPA, is not so sure. “This seems to be what we call a transient noncommunity water system,” says Fox: It is a system that serves the public on an intermittent basis. Smith says the EPA is wrong because the system “does not operate for 60 days a year”–though, as the Washington County Fair office confirms, it serves thousands of people at different events throughout the year.

Higher standards. Upcoming EPA rules will probably require disinfection of ground-water systems like this one, Fox says. And the EPA has been tightening standards for all water systems since renewal of the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1996.

But states don’t always enforce testing requirements, and water-systems managers don’t always report violations to the state or the federal government. A recent draft of an EPA audit of 1,800 public water systems and 27 state programs shows monitoring of water quality and reporting of violations are, in Fox’s words, “exceptionally weak.” While many of the infractions identified in the audit are inconsequential, about one third involve failure to report excessive coliform bacteria, such as E. coli, or failure to treat water for bacterial contaminates. Fox says that “there is nothing in this that should make people feel less confident about their water.” Yet EPA studies show that the U.S. drinking water system “suffers from long-term neglect and serious deterioration.” The cost for fixing the problem is an estimated $12.1 billion–just to meet existing EPA standards, not the more stringent upcoming regulations.

Within the next month, everyone on a water system with more than 25 customers should receive in the mail his first “Consumer Confidence Report.” The reports are now required by law to inform consumers about microbial and chemical contaminants and any violations of EPA regulations by the water supplier–at least those that have been reported. But as the outbreak at the Washington County Fairgrounds shows, it is not what we know about our water that may be most significant, but what we don’t know!

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