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Sunday, March 20 2016

Water:  The Bad News

In recent weeks we have heard disturbing news about lead contaminated water in Flint Michigan.  The city changed its water source to the Flint River instead of Lake Huron and the Detroit River.  The water from the Flint River didn’t have corrosion control treatment on the aging lead pipes that delivered the water for use by its residents.  It’s estimated that 6,000-12,000 children were exposed to high levels of lead.  Because the Flint River was so high in bacteria, higher levels of chlorine were used in treating the water resulting in higher than normal carcinogenic byproducts such as trihalomethanes. The health risks from this exposure is vast and there will be scores of lawsuits that will follow.  The chain of command that played a part in this tragedy seems to go as high as the governor of Michigan and possibly into the EPA. 

In the book Lead Wars, the authors Moskowitz and Rosner give a detailed history of the lead problem in the U.S.  For example, between 1900-1950 all paint was 50% lead carbonate.  A child ingesting a chip consisting of a gram or two could be enough to cause convulsions.  Lead is a known neurotoxin and has been linked to A.D.D. Dyslexia and violent behavior.  There still exists a substantial infrastructure of lead pipes installed at the turn of the century in many older cities and for those that don’t have lead pipes, many have copper pipes with lead solder around its couplings.  Additionally, decades of adding lead to gasoline emitted lead into the atmosphere, soil, and water. In 1979 alone, U.S. cars released 210 million pounds of lead into the atmosphere! 


We hear stories like Flint every so often.  We wrongly assume that the water from our tap and showers are safe and pure. A January 6, 2016 NY Times Magazine section featured a cover article on Rob Bilott a corporate defense lawyer who did an about face and represented a farmer Wilbur Tennant in Parkersburg West Virginia. Tennant’s land was contaminated by PFOA, a chemical used by DuPont in the manufacturing of Teflon and Scotchgard.  Bilott uncovered evidence that spanned four decades of knowledge from DuPont of the toxicity of PFOA. Despite all this, DuPont by 1990 had buried 7100 tons of PFOA waste in a landfill near Tennant’s farm.  Products that used PFOA earned DuPont 1 billion dollars a year, but none of that money went to protect the estimated 100,000 people who lived in close proximity to Parkersburg.  Because PFOA was an unregulated chemical not on the E.P.A.’s toxic list, Bilott enlisted scientists to prove the health risks of PFOA. It took years, but now the first judgement against DuPont has been won.  There are over 3500 more cases filed against DuPont and DuPont still refuses to accept responsibility and is appealing the one judgement against them.  A sad epilogue to this story is that despite all of this, the E.P.A. has only set a “provisional” limit of .4 parts per billion for short term exposure, and that local water districts are under no obligation to tell customers whether PFOA is in their water.  This despite the fact that PFOA is found in the blood of every person and animal world-wide where it has been tested.  DuPont has finally shifted to a different fluorine based compound designed to biodegrade more quickly but many scientists are still concerned about its safety. 

In all these cases the truth was suppressed, and innocent people suffered or died because of the irresponsibility of those in charge.  PFOA is just one of 60,000 chemicals that are unregulated by the E.P.A.  B.P.A. (bisphenol A) was one of them but recent exposure as to its potential for toxicity has forced companies to remove it from plastics.  However, an article in Scientific American in August 2011, reported that BPA has been replaced with BPS (bisphenol S) and this brings new concerns.  A study from the University of Calgary showed hyperactivity in zebra fish with exposure to BPS and another study from the University of Cincinnati showed heart arrhythmias in female rats from exposure to BPS. 

What can be done?

Multiple lawsuits against companies like General Electric or record awards against Pacific Gas & Electric in the 1990’s for their culpability in poisoning people in Hickley California, as depicted in the movie Erin Brockovich, have not deterred future polluters.  Clearly these examples show that clean water is not a guarantee and filtering the water in our homes has become mandatory.  Flustered about which water filter to get?  This site has done the analysis to see what works or not 

Personally I use the Zero Filter for my drinking water.  It comes with a TDS meter to measure total dissolved solids.  Regular tap water generally scores about 230 ppm (parts per million) dissolved solids.  It doesn’t tell you what those dissolved solids are, but most likely it includes parts of medications, and toxic chemicals like chlorine or heavy metals, or even bits of toilet paper!   In any case, after using the zero filter you can measure the reduction in dissolved solids.  Depending on how much you or your family drink you can change the filter once the reading goes to .006 ppm.  I am attaching pre and post readings of a TDS meter on the tap water from my home.

Posted by: Dr. Paul Goldstein AT 08:17 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
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