18 Unregulated Chemicals Found in a Third of U.S. Water Utilities Tested

Sunday, December 08, 2013
(graphic: OSHA)

Federal scientists have found 18 unregulated chemicals in drinking water provided by more than one-third of utilities in the United States.


The unpublished research, conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Environmental Protection Agency, revealed the presence of certain chemicals suspected of causing serious health problems.


Among the 18 chemicals were 11 perfluorinated compounds, an herbicide, two solvents, caffeine, an antibacterial compound, a metal and an antidepressant. None are currently regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, which means utilities don’t have to limit their levels or even monitor for them. A total of 21 contaminants were detected at a third of the utilities from which water was sampled.


“The good news is the concentrations are generally pretty low,” Dana Kolpin, a research hydrologist with the USGS who participated in the study, told Brian Bienkowski of Environmental Health News. “But there’s still the unknown. Are there long-term consequences of low-level exposure to these chemicals?”


One of the perfluorinated compounds, PFOA, has been linked to multiple health problems, including ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, kidney cancer, high cholesterol, testicular cancer, and pregnancy-induced hypertension.


Another compound, PFOS, may cause attention disorders in children and thyroid disease in men. It was used in Scotchgard until 3M phased it out more than a decade ago.


PFOS and PFOA, along with the metal strontium and the herbicide metolachlor, are being considered for drinking water standards by the EPA. Strontium is known to affect bone growth, and metolachlor has been classified as a possible carcinogen.


The analysis was conducted on treated and untreated water samples taken from 25 U.S. utilities that voluntarily participated in the research. The perfluorinated compounds were found to be at similar concentration levels in both the treated and untreated drinking water, leading researchers to believe that the treatment methods may not be effective.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman


To Learn More:

Unregulated Contaminants Common in Drinking Water (by Brian Bienkowski, Environmental Health News)

Harmonizing Science Across Disciplines (Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry) (abstracts) (pdf)

Report Finds “Probably Carcinogenic” Chemicals in All Municipal Water Samples Tested (by Joseph Mercola, LewRockwell.com)

Lawsuit Claims One-Third of California Drinking Water Contaminated with Cancer-Causing Chemical (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)


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