health risk

Pesticides and Water Quality

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In modern agriculture, almost everything is grown with the help of pesticides. When these chemicals are sprayed on nearly everything we eat, we must ask: can they harm us?

Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring put the toxic and damaging effects of Dichloro-diphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) on the map in 1962, inciting a global conversation about the environmental and public health dangers of widespread pesticide use. 

The word “pesticides” refers to chemicals used to kill or deter pests. Different pesticides are used on different pests: herbicides for weeds and insecticides for insects, for example. Though some older, harmful pesticides (like DDT) are now banned, over 1,000 pesticides are still used globally, each with its own properties and human health effects.

So they kill weeds and pests, but what about humans? We help break down how pesticides can get in water and what their impacts could be on your health.

How Do Pesticides Get Into the Water Supply?

One of the primary ways that pesticides work their way into the water supply is by seeping through the soil to the groundwater. Around 50 percent of people in the US — and about 95 percent of those living in agricultural areas — rely on groundwater for drinking water.

Pesticides are most widely used in agricultural areas, so concentrations of pesticides are usually higher in those regions. Once in the environment, however, pesticides can easily spread, ending up in water through many paths: precipitation, leaching, runoff, and wind, for example.

This process can take years for chemicals to work their way through soil to the groundwater, creating a time lag between pesticide use and appearance in deeper water reserves. Once there, chemicals can stay in groundwater for decades, even if efforts are made to reduce pesticide use above ground.

Changing Pesticides, Changing Risk

Protecting crops and increasing yields has been a goal for decades now. Chemicals have been used to achieve that goal for as long, but the kinds of chemical used have changed.

Before the 1940s, compounds that included arsenic, mercury, or lead were common. Though these chemicals pose serious threats to human health, they are not very soluble, so they turned up in food more often than in water.

After World War II, pesticides shifted towards synthetic organic compounds, which were thought to be safer. These compounds, including chlorinated hydrocarbons such as DDT, are more attractedto soil than water, and so they tend to accumulate in soil and food chains as opposed to water.

When the toxic health effects of these chlorinated hydrocarbons were discovered, an effort began to replace them with safer, less toxic chemicals. One group of these new pesticides are called carbamates, and they are highly soluble in water.

Thus, while pesticides may be trending safer, they may also appear more frequently in our water sources. Long-term studies are still underway to figure out what the health effects are, but in the meantime, scientists are finding carbamates and their transformation products in our drinking water.

Environmental Protection Agency (or EPA) has health standards for pesticides before being released into the environment, but environmental groups have repeatedly identified chemicals (e.g. chlorpyrifos) that pass EPA’s requirements mark but are later found to be toxic.

What Are the Risks to Human Health?

The effects of pesticides on the human body are as varied as the chemicals themselves. Organophosphates and carbamates, for example, affect the nervous system, while others irritate the eyes or skin. They can be carcinogenic or disrupt the body’s endocrine system.

Scientists are studying both the acute and chronic effects of ingesting pesticides. Pesticides are being detected at low concentrations, and as such, acute toxic effects (like nausea or chemical burns) are of less concern for most people. Farmworkers and landscapers directly applying herbicides and pesticides are likely most at risk (consider the evolving case of glyphosate).

Many are concerned, though, that these chemicals can accumulate over time, leading to greater health effects.

Are Pesticides in My Drinking Water?

Only small quantities of pesticides have shown up in treated drinking water. There are two directions of research, however, that promise to illuminate more about how pesticides impact drinking water: 1) cumulative exposures and 2) transformation products.

So far we have been writing about one chemical at a time. In reality, there are multiple herbicides and insecticides present in the environment. Health impacts of cumulative exposure to these compounds are not well understood, which means that our general assessments of risk are likely under-estimating the potential health impacts of pesticide exposures.

As we noted above, scientists have found the transformation products of pesticides in drinking water. A pesticide transformation product is a new chemical formed when the “parent” compound (e.g. DDT) reacts under different conditions – e.g. sunlight or bacteria in the environment or UV treatment in a water treatment facility. Sometimes, these transformation products are even moretoxic than the parent compound. Until engineers and scientists identify the multiple transformation products formed when chemicals enter our treatment systems, we can’t be sure that we are adequately treating our water.

Check out our water testing packages to make an informed decision about your drinking water or get in touch with us here for more information!

Sources:

https://www.safewater.org/fact-sheets-1/2017/1/23/pesticides

https://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/health/case_studies/pesticides.html

https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-science-and-assessing-pesticide-risks/human-health-issues-related-pesticides

https://www.epa.gov/safepestcontrol/drinking-water-and-pesticides

https://www.epa.gov/pesticides/pesticides-and-public-health

https://water.usgs.gov/edu/pesticidesgw.html

http://psep.cce.cornell.edu/facts-slides-self/facts/pes-heef-grw85.aspx

http://npic.orst.edu/envir/dwater.html



The Link Between Fluoride in Water and ADHD: Should You Be Concerned?

New Findings Suggest Fluoride Connected to An Increased Rate of ADHD in Children

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What is Fluoride?

All water contains some fluoride. Naturally occurring in water, soil, rocks ,and air, fluoride is a mineral also found in your bones and teeth. There have been numerous studies championing the benefits of fluoride on dental health and many U.S. water systems intentionally add fluoride to the drinking water supply.

While fluoride has been added to drinking water for upwards of 70 years in the United States, fluoride has come into the hot seat in recent years. A study published in the Journal Environmental Health found that areas with a higher proportion of artificially fluoridated water also had a higher prevalence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children.

Additionally, a University of Toronto study suggests that higher levels of urinary fluoride during pregnancy are associated with an increase in ADHD-like symptoms in young children.

This begs the question: How concerned should you be about fluoride in drinking water?

What is Artificial Water Fluoridation?

Artificial water fluoridation is the practice of adding low concentrations of fluoride–0.7 parts per million (ppm)–to drinking water with the goal of improving dental health. Despite no legal mandate to fluoridate water, nearly 75% of the U.S. population of people had access to fluoridated water. It is widely considered to be a major factor in the 25% decrease in rates of tooth decay in the United States. While hailed as “one of public health’s greatest success stories” by some, the addition of fluoride to drinking water has always had its skeptics, and some people are downright opposed.

Does Fluoride Increase the Risk of ADHD?

For decades, health experts have disagreed as to whether artificially fluoridated water is toxic to the developing human brain. While extremely high levels can cause dental and skeletal fluorosis, it can also cause neurotoxicity in adults. Far less, however, is known about the impact on children's’ developing brains.  

What Does Research Suggest about the Risks of Fluoride?

Since a popular study on fluoride and neurodevelopment began in 1992, the percentage of the U.S. population that drinks fluoridated water has increased from 56 percent to nearly 70 percent. During that same time frame, the percentage of children with an ADHD diagnosis has increased from around seven percent to more than 11 percent.

Additionally, the 2018 University of Toronto study included the analysis of urine from women during pregnancy, as well as from their children from ages six to 12. Researchers examined how levels of fluoride in urine related to the children’s inattention and hyperactivity. After adjusting factors that impact neuro-development (such as gestational age at birth, birth-weight, birth order, sex, maternal marital status, smoking history, age at delivery, education, socioeconomic status and lead exposure), researchers were able to assign scores related to ADHD. They concluded that prenatal exposure to fluoride was associated with an increased frequency of inattentive behaviors and cognitive problems.

Finally, upwards of 40 studies show that children born in areas with elevated concentrations of fluoride (i.e. above the concentration typically used in U.S. public water system), have lower than average IQs. In fact, many studies demonstrate a significant link–showing that children in high fluoride areas had IQs that were seven points below those of children from areas of low concentrations of fluoride.

How Might Fluoride Increase the Prevalence of ADHD in Children?

The studies mentioned above suggest an association between fluoride and ADHD, however they do not prove causality. The question becomes, how might fluoride increase the prevalence of Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder? Below are some possible links:

Fluoride and Fluorosis:

Several studies suggest that children with moderate to severe fluorosis–i.e. The change in the appearance of tooth enamel due to excessive fluoride intake–can lead to a lower score on IQ tests and other measures of cognitive skills. According to a report by the Center for Disease Control  (CDC) suggests that 41% of Americans ages 12 to 15 have some form of fluorosis.

Fluoride and Lead Absorption:

The form of fluoride typically added to U.S. water supplies (fluorosilicic acid) can leach lead–a potent neurotoxin–from pipes. Research has shown that fluoride may increase the body’s ability to absorb lead and children in regions with highly fluoridated water frequently have elevated blood lead levels. Lead has been shown to play a role in ADHD.

Fluoride and Thyroid:

It’s been proven that fluoride impairs the activity of the thyroid gland, which is important for proper brain development.

Not Everyone Agrees on the Link Between Fluoride and ADHD

These findings have led many people to advocate against fluoride, however others were also eager to point out that this is just one study and may not definitively prove the causal link between fluoridation and ADHD. Limitations on the study include:

  1. Individual fluoride exposures were not measured

  2. ADHD diagnoses were not independently verified

  3. There may be other unknown factors (i.e. confounders) that explain the link

Should You Be Concerned About Fluoride in Drinking Water?

Despite the controversies surrounding artificial water fluoridation, the literature on the matter remains overwhelming positive. Fluoride is safe in low, controlled doses.

If you are concerned about your water quality (for any reason), Tap Score home water testing can help. Tap Score tests for fluoride, as well as 100s of other contaminants. For any questions, send us a message at hello@simplewater.us and our team f chemists, engineers, and water quality experts will be standing by!

Sources:

https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/features/fluoride-childrens-health-grandjean-choi/

https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/903653

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/10/181010132343.htm

https://www.thechronicleherald.ca/community/health-naturally-fluoride-adhd-link-found-in-recent-study-252381/

https://www.newsweek.com/water-fluoridation-linked-higher-adhd-rates-312748

https://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12940-015-0003-1

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4389999/https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29192688

https://mytapscore.com/blogs/tips-for-taps/why-do-u-s-water-systems-add-fluoride-to-public-water-supplies

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/154164.php

https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm4841a1.htm

https://www.cdc.gov/fluoridation/statistics/2012stats.htm

https://www.cdc.gov/fluoridation/index.html

https://www.cdc.gov/fluoridation/basics/index.htm

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4851520/

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/index.shtml

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3491930/

http://fluoridealert.org/studies/brain01/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3621205/?tool=pmc

https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/philippe-grandjean/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5805681/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17420053

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4547570/

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/10/181010132343.htm

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3295994

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4547570/

Are Microplastics in my Drinking Water?

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Microplastics are in the environment and they are there to stay. 

Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic, measuring less than five millimeters in length. That’s about the size of a sesame seed, and they can be as small as the period at the end of this sentence (or smaller). 

While you might be familiar with large plastic gyres in the ocean, a recent study suggests that most of the plastic waste in the ocean is not visible on the surface, but rather hidden as microplastics in the water and in marine life. 

An easily recognizable form of microplastics in our everyday life is microbeads–those tiny beads found in face washes and toothpaste. While those microbeads may make your teeth shine and your face shimmer, they’re ending up everywhere in our environment, including our drinking water.

In 2015, President Barack Obama banned microbeads in personal care products and other several countries followed suit. The problem, however, is far from over. Microplastics continue to end up in oceans, lakes, inside animals, and even in drinking water from other sources (like clothing).

Plastic doesn’t decompose or breakdown the way that organic matter does, so when large pieces of plastic degrade into smaller bits, they persist in the environment indefinitely. 

Almost all of the plastic ever manufactured is still on earth. And we're finding it in our drinking water.

Where do Microplastics Come From?

Much of what we manufacture and use (and a huge chunk of our waste) contains plastic. Microplastics come from tires rubbing against pavement, from synthetic clothes, and from paint dust floating through the air. 

Most microplastics are in the form of microfibers. A study commissioned by Patagonia© found that a single fleece coat can release up to 250,000 microfibers in one washing cycle

Are Microplastics in my Drinking Water?

The short answer? Probably, according to a recent study by the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and Orb media.

Plastic has long been a problem for ocean and lake ecosystems, leading to the emerging field of study on microplastics. Knowing how pervasive plastic is in our world and our waters, the question remains: are we drinking it too?

Researchers at the University of Minnesota and journalists at Orb sampled drinking water from metropolitan areas around the world. Overall, they found that 81 percent of samples contained microplastics. 

In the US alone, 94% percent of drinking water samples were found to contain microplastics.

Can Microplastics Affect My Health?

What is all this plastic in and around us doing for our health?

Studies have shown that plastic can absorb toxic chemicals in the environment and leach them out. Put simply, plastic can carry toxic chemicals and then release them later on, exposing people to harmful chemicals. This happens after people have ingested microplastics, but also from drinking bottled water that’s been left in the sun. Those toxic chemicals—such as bisphenol A (BPA) and di-(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP), which can disrupt hormone levels — can stay in your gut or move to affect other tissues.

Research has shown that microplastics can also be a vehicle for pollutants such as metals and dioxins, which can cause reproductive and developmental problems.

As plastics break down into smaller and smaller particles, they can infiltrate into tissues, making their way into the bloodstream. Most research has been conducted on the effects of ingesting plastic in wildlife populations, but similar research is beginning with humans.

As microplastics are a relatively recent field of study, the effects of microplastics on human health remain largely unknown.

What Can I Do?

While we don't yet know what the health impacts really are, there are a few ways you can filter your water that will likely remove microplastics:

1) Carbon filter

2) Reverse osmosis 

3) Ion exchange 

In selecting a treatment technology, check the pore-size. Microplastics in the Orb study were about 2.5 microns. A filter with a pore size less than 2.5 microns will remove most microplastics from your tap water. 

Don't hesitate to get in touch if you would like more suggestions, or if you want to test your water for microplastics to learn more. 

Sources:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S004896971730207

https://www.outsideonline.com/2091876/patagonias-new-study-finds-fleece-jackets-are-serious-pollutant

http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/10/12/124006/meta

https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0194970

https://orbmedia.org/stories/Invisibles_plastics/multimedia

http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/364/1526/2153?utm_source=trend_md&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=TrendMD_RS_Sales

https://www.nature.com/articles/srep03263?ncid=edlinkushpmg00000313

https://www.degruyter.com/view/j/reveh.2013.28.issue-1/reveh-2012-0030/reveh-2012-0030.xml

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969717302073

http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/dioxins-and-their-effects-on-human-health

http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/364/1526/2153?utm_source=trend_md&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=TrendMD_RS_Sales

http://pulse.seattlechildrens.org/study-links-chemical-in-plastics-to-genital-abnormalities-in-baby-boys/

Nitrites, Nitrates, and Your Health

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If my water is contaminated, I will know, right? Unfortunately… if you’ve been reading Tips for Taps, you’ll probably know the answer. Some drinking water contaminants are completely impossible to see, smell, or taste.

Nitrite and nitrate are two such contaminants, but they are associated with serious health risks, especially for infants and pregnant women. A total of 2 million people were served water that exceeded public health guidelines for nitrite and nitrate in 2015.

There are many routes by which nitrite and nitrate can reach drinking water, and several options to prevent and treat contaminated water–Tap Score’s guide to understanding this stealthy pollutant covers the basics.

What are Nitrites and Nitrates?

Nitrite and nitrate are naturally produced in soil by nitrifying bacteria. A complex process called “nitrification” causes nitrites to form into nitrates, which is part of the complex but fascinating nitrogen cycle. Nitrites and nitrates have many other sources as well, including the atmosphere, agricultural runoff, and wastewater discharges.

As far as human activities, both compounds are important component of fertilizers. With the scale of today’s agricultural activity outpacing any other land use in the US, it is now even more abundant in soils all over the world. In industry, both nitrite and nitrate salts are used in meat-curing processes.

Although nitrite is a drinking water contaminant, most nitrite present in water is rapidly converted to nitrate. For this reason, we talk about “nitrate contamination”, which includes nitrite as a source.

How Do Nitrates Affect My Health?

The EPA deems nitrite and nitrate (measured as nitrogen) safe in water at levels below 1 and 10 parts per million, respectively. However, other countries have maximum levels for nitrate that are twice as strict as the EPA standards and some argue that the US should lower the maximum allowed levels. While there are several health risks from consuming too much nitrate–methemoglobinemia (also known as blue baby syndrome)–is one of the biggest risks.

Methemoglobinemia:

After ingestion, the human body reduces nitrate to nitrite. Nitrite then converts normal hemoglobin (Hb), a protein in blood that transports oxygen to bodily tissues, to methemoglobin (metHb), which cannot transport oxygen. Thus, high concentrations of nitrates in drinking water can cause a condition called methemoglobinemia – leading to critical oxygen deficiency in the body.

Methemoglobinemia can lead to cyanosis, a skin discoloration, or even asphyxia - suffocation - at high concentrations.

In adults, a very high concentration of nitrate (unlikely to be consumed) is necessary to result in methemoglobinemia. Infants produce nitrite faster and are less resistant to its effects than adults. Methemoglobinemia is often referred to as “blue baby syndrome” because infants impacted by it can appear blue from lack of oxygen.

Blue baby syndrome is also a risk to fetuses in utero, so pregnant mothers are should test their water for nitrates especially if they live near agricultural lands and rely on private wells.

Other Health Risks:

There are several other health risks associated with nitrate in water, including thyroid issues, birth defects, and cancer.

How do Nitrates Get in My Drinking Water?

Nitrites and nitrates can enter your drinking water from a variety of sources. Your exposure pathway and solutions are different, as you might expect, if you get your water from a water system or a private well.

Public Water System

The highest risk of contamination is from nitrates in private wells, though hundreds of thousands of Americans are exposed to nitrates in public water systems. EPA found that water systems violating the 10 mg/L MCL for nitrates has actually been increasing. Water systems often rely on their own groundwater wells for source water, meaning nitrites and nitrates enter water treatment plants similarly to the way they might for a private well.

Private Well

If you rely on private well water, you are more at risk of nitrate contamination if your well is near the following areas commonly associated with nitrate contamination:

  1. Livestock or animal farms

  2. A septic system

  3. Agricultural land

  4. Neighbors overzealous with garden fertilizer

Nitrates and nitrites are readily mobilized in water. As excess levels are often applied to land for growing crops and livestock manure may not be properly managed, nitrates readily run into groundwater pumped up by wells.

What Should I Do About Nitrate in My Water?

Testing:

Nitrate and nitrite are colorless, odorless, and tasteless compounds. That means they are impossible to detect without laboratory testing. The first step is to test your water. Tap Score’s well water and city water tests all include a nitrate screen. If you are in an at-risk environment (e.g. near agriculture), we recommend a higher-resolution test for nitrate (again, this is the most common form in your water and is measured as nitrogen). You might also consider testing for nitrifying and denitrifying bacteria.

Solutions:

If you find nitrates in your drinking water source, and you have an infant, do not feed your infant formula with the drinking water.

You will likely need to treat your water by installing an at-home treatment system such as those involving reverse osmosis, ion exchange, or distillation. Unless you are regularly testing the safety of your water treatment system, however, it is recommended that you do not use the water source with infants under six months old.

Though it is commonly believed that boiling water will remove contaminants, boiling water will not remove nitrite/nitrate and will actually increase their concentrations by evaporating some of the water around them.

If you have a private well, you should have it inspected and check the casings and fittings – any damage could enable seepage from shallow groundwater containing nitrates. Finally, remove any potential sources within close proximity to the well–e.g. improperly managed animal manure or fertilizer use.

Questions?

Send any concerns or inquiry to Tap Score and you’ll be dispatched to a water quality expert in no time – hello@simplewater.us.

Sources:

http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/dwq/chemicals/nitratenitrite2ndadd.pdf

https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/rwqcb3/water_issues/programs/gap/docs/salinas_pajro_valley_proj_2012-2013/gap_nitrate_fact_sheet_121613.pdf 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1071541/ https://www.ewg.org/research/pouring-it/health-effects-nitrate-exposure#.W2OD89JKg2x

https://safewater.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/211401718-4-What-are-EPA-s-drinking-water-regulations-for-nitrate-

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/320541734_Trends_in_Drinking_Water_Nitrate_Violations_Across_the_United_States

 https://cfpub.epa.gov/si/si_public_record_report.cfm?direntryid=337186 

https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2018-us-land-use/ 

https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/hac/pha/reports/pacificgaselectric_04222003ca/pdf/apph.pdf

https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-09/documents/nitrification_1.pdf https://www.ewg.org/tapwater/contaminant.php?contamcode=1038#.W2oey9JKg2whttp://psep.cce.cornell.edu/facts-slides-self/facts/nit-heef-grw85.aspx 



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