Study Says Tap Water Poses Birth Defect, Miscarriage Risk
A study released Tuesday by two environmental groups says that in some areas, tap water consumed by "millions of Americans" contains more chlorine byproducts than are safe for pregnant women, the AP/St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. The Environmental Working Group of Washington and state Public Interest Research Groups reported that pregnant women who drink water that contains high levels of chlorine byproducts -- which result from a combination of chlorine and water contaminated by organic matter such as fertilizer or algae -- may be at increased risk for miscarriage, neural tube defects and low birthweight (Heilprin, AP/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/8). Water-utility officials said the study was "based on flawed science," and the water department in Philadelphia, identified by the study as "high among American cities" with contaminated water, said that its water was "well within" new Environmental Protection Agency standards for the chlorine byproducts, known as trihalomethanes, which took effect on Jan. 1. But a "small body of research" indicates that even if average chemical levels are within EPA standards, a "spike" in chemical content lasting as little as a few days could still harm fetuses, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports (Avril, Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/9).
Areas "statistically most at risk" for water with increased chlorine byproducts were "populous, lacked buffers from urban sprawl and were downstream from agricultural sites," the groups reported. Women who live in small towns, however, usually "face twice the risk" from drinking high levels of chemical byproducts, EWG Research Director Jane Houlihan said (AP/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/8). The groups suggested that pregnant women who live in areas with tap water high in these chemicals can reduce their risk of exposure by filtering their water or drinking bottled water. The Philadelphia Inquirer also reports that chlorine is "no longer the only effective way to purify water," noting that ozone or ultraviolet light could also be effective. The study added that reducing the amount of pollution in the water source would lower the number of chlorine byproducts. The EPA yesterday "acknowledged the concern that the chemicals may be linked to health risks" and said it planned to issue new regulations this summer that would "mitigate reproductive and developmental risks" (Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/9).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.