Is your drinking water contaminated with toxins?

Is your drinking water contaminated with toxins?

Shortly after our son graduated from high school in 1995, our family moved from Ohio to Iowa. One of the most noticeable differences between Southeast Ohio and Iowa was the landscape. Iowa’s was basically a flat terrain dominated with corn and soybean crops. With the exception of river banks, very few forested areas were present in the Quad Cities where we lived.

Big agriculture is a major player in Iowa’s economy. It seemed that every commercial on TV was one for a pesticide, herbicide or man-made fertilizer. Corn requires lots of nitrogen, and most large-scale farming operations use ammonium nitrate.

While we were in Iowa, there were several water alerts warning citizens of the presence of excessive amounts of nitrate compounds in drinking water. The compound is very water soluble, making it difficult for drinking waters suppliers to remove it from drinking water. It can be removed on a small-scale basis by using residential reverse osmosis systems.

Because nitrate is toxic, Iowa’s citizens were advised to use bottled water rather than tap water to make baby formula. When exposed to nitrate-contaminated water, the baby’s body converts the nitrate to nitrites that combine with hemoglobin to form methemoglobin. This will not carry oxygen to cells, and thus the body takes on a bluish, oxygen-deprived hue. The baby becomes cyanotic.

Atrazine is an herbicide used to kill weeds in cornfields. The amounts used in the USA are staggering: 76 million pounds each year. Because atrazine also can be absorbed dermally, washing or taking a shower in atrazine-contaminated water can cause the toxin to be absorbed.

Ohio corn farmers also use the herbicide atrazine. It has been banned in Europe since the 1980s but is used on 75% of all corn acreage in Ohio. It is linked to prostate cancer, heart problems, hormonal problems, and kidney and lung problems. The Environmental Working Group found of the watersheds monitored, Deer Creek, Mad River, North Fork Licking and Kokosing all had atrazine concentrations above the EPA 3.0 parts per billion drinking water standards.

Mercury, a heavy metal, can cause brain damage and is a neurotoxin. Ohio’s drinking water supplies have a history of being contaminated with mercury. The Ohio River, the most polluted river in the U.S., has had an ongoing issue with mercury contamination. The mercury is often directly discharged into the river from industry.

Since mercury can accumulate in the food chain, fish advisories are often listed for fish found in surface waters in Ohio. There is a 135-mile stretch of the Ohio River where mercury levels are so high anglers are warned to only eat fish caught in this stretch of river once a month.

Mercury also can enter surface waters from the atmosphere. When mercury-containing materials such as mercury-containing paints are burned in incinerators or when coal is burned in power plants, the elemental mercury in the compounds is not destroyed. It becomes volatilized and is emitted from the smokestacks. The mercury then settles on the landscape and is carried into surface water during rain run-off.

According to a report published by the Ohio Valley Resource, Ohio has 10 coal-ash landfill sites that are leaking toxic compounds including mercury into surface and groundwater. The largest coal-ash waste site in the USA lies on the border of Ohio and West Virginia in the town of Chester, West Virginia.

The 960-acre site, known as Little Blue Run, is owned by FirstEnergy. It closed in 2016. The site is so large it can be seen from space. In an attempt to bolster the coal industry, the Trump EPA proposed weakening the standards for coal-ash impoundments in 2019.

If you are on a city drinking water system, you are supposed to receive an annual notification about your water quality. The report issued by the EPA is the Public Water System Consumer Confidence Report. We got a report when we lived in Cambridge, Ohio.

Trihalomethane is a class of compounds that is often listed on these reports for exceeding the Safe Drinking Water standards. Oddly, this compound is created as a result of water chlorination. The naturally occurring organic matter in water (soil, leaves) reacts with the chlorine added during the disinfection stage and creates trihalomethanes.

This group of compounds has chlorine atoms attached to a single carbon atom. To give you an idea of the toxicity of these compounds, four chlorine atoms attached to a single carbon atom is carbon tetrachloride, drying cleaning fluid. Three chlorine atoms attached is chloroform.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Science did a study showing residents who had trihalomethane in their tap water were at even greater risk of exposure from taking hot showers or hand-washing dishes than from drinking it.

This is due to two facts: the compound has a low molecular weight and evaporates into the air from the hot water to be inhaled, and it also can be absorbed through the skin. This compound is linked to cancer and reproductive problems.

On Aug. 28 Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine requested the Department of Defense enter into a joint agreement with Dayton and the Ohio EPA to address drinking-water contamination from fire-fighting foam used at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

The foam contains polyfluoroalkyl substances. These compounds also are known as the “forever compounds” and were depicted in last year’s movie, “Dark Waters.”

Recently, Thermal Heritage Incinerator in East Liverpool started incinerating DOD waste foam containing PFAS. A lawsuit to stop this has been filed by the East Liverpool grassroots group, Save Our County. They are worried these compounds, being flame resistant, will not be destroyed and will instead rain down on the Ohio River Valley from the smokestack of the incinerator.

So what can people do to help ensure the water they drink is free from possible contamination? One thing they shouldn’t do to eliminate chemicals is boiling their water. Boiling might kill pathogens, but it also can concentrate some chemicals with boiling points higher than water.

A home water system with reverse osmosis is a good way to remove contaminants. Water is forced through a membrane that will remove anything larger than a water molecule (0.001 micron). This includes heavy metals, fluoride, chlorides and salts. Some things they cannot remove are certain chemical compounds, some pesticides, dissolved gases and some other organic compounds.

Carbon filters also are a good choice if you cannot invest in a RO filter system. Carbon removes colors, odors and tastes, as well as volatile organic substances. They do not filter out minerals or inorganic substances.

The bottom line: industry and big agriculture should never be allowed to use our water sources as their waste dumps.

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