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Federal researchers detect 18 unregulated chemicals in U.S. drinking water

Posted: December 17, 2013 |   Comments

( Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and the Environmental Protection Agency recently analyzed treated and untreated water samples from 25 U.S. water utilities who participated voluntarily. They detected 21 contaminants, mostly in low concentrations at parts per trillion, in treated drinking water from at least nine of the tested facilities.

18 of the chemicals detected are not regulated by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, so utilities are not required to monitor them or limit the amount in drinking water. The researchers found 11 perfluorinated compounds, an herbicide, two solvents, caffeine, an antibacterial compound, a metal and an antidepressant.

Little research has been done to examine the effects on human health many of these chemicals have at such low doses. One of the perfluorinated compounds, though, PFOA, has been linked to a variety of health issues including cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease and pregnancy-induced hypertension. PFOA and PFOS were the most commonly detected perfluorinated compounds found in the utilities' drinking water, and they have been detected in the blood of most people in the United States. Perfluorinated compounds were detected at similar concentrations in both treated and untreated water, indicating that treatment techniques are largely unsuccessful at removing them. Only one plant was able to remove them using activated carbon treatment, which is often cost-prohibitive compared to conventional chlorine treatment.

"Chlorination and other treatments technologies will remove some contaminants, but will react with others," Laurel Schaider, a research associate at the Harvard School of Public Health, said. "Some compounds may appear to be removed but may be transformed to a chemical we know even less about."

Specific chemicals found in at least one-third of the 25 utilities' treated drinking water include barium, strontium (can affect bone growth), bromoform, lithium, benzotriazole methyl-1H, triclosan, atrazine, caffeine, isophorone, metolachlor (possible carcinogen) and 11 perfluorinated compounds including PFOS and PFOA. Additionally, the scientists also detected 113 chemicals in eight or fewer of the utilities' treated drinking water.

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