Drinking Water Safety: Key Considerations for Consumers

Contaminates get into water sources by absorbing into the ground.

90% of Florida’s drinking water is provided by aquifers, huge underground rocks made of porous limestone containing a large amount of fresh water. Think of the aquifer as a sponge. The water in Florida's aquifer is vulnerable to contamination due to the area's specific soil composition, high water table, porous limestone, and frequent rainfall.

Water can become contaminated for various reasons, such as:
  • RAW sewage overflow from poor infrastructure in cities
  • Leaking septic tanks
  • Leaking sewer lines
  • Agricultural activities such as sewage sludge application
  • Industry activities such as improper handling of hazardous waste
  • Pesticide use such as ethylene dibromide (EDB)
When materials are absorbed, they can contaminate groundwater sources. This can happen when pipes break, or there is too much water run-off during heavy rain. When the contaminated water seeps into drinking water sources, it can lead to diseases caused by microorganisms like E Coli and Hepatitis A.
According to the EPA, polluted groundwater can reach drinking water systems and pose serious public health threats, particularly to children and young adults. Chemicals from various manufacturers and microbial contaminants can quickly enter the state’s aquifer water.

Government Agencies Fail to Disclose How Chemicals Are Regulated

Did you know that water systems may contain unregulated contaminants? Perfluorinated chemicals, which can be harmful, have been found in some home faucets worldwide. However, since they aren't regulated, these contaminants don't appear in violations of water quality standards that aim to safeguard public health. It can be challenging to determine how much of a chemical is too much because the amount of water someone drinks varies from person to person, and certain groups are more at risk than others.

The Safe Drinking Water Act hasn't been updated since 1996

The Safe Drinking Water Act hasn't been updated since 1996, which has led to regulatory issues despite knowing the health risks associated with certain chemicals for decades. Congress can take a bigger role in preventing contamination and improving infrastructure to ensure national standards that protect all Americans.

Chlorine Used in Drinking Water Creates Cancer Causing THMs

Back in 1977, studies showed a link between the presence of chlorine in drinking water systems and cancer. When chlorine is used to purify drinking water, it reacts with organic matter and creates disinfection byproducts (DBPs). This is particularly worrisome for water systems that rely on surface water sources like rivers and lakes, as exposure to DBPs over time can increase cancer risk.

The disinfection byproduct known as Trihalomethanes (THMs) is widely recognized, and prolonged exposure to it has been linked to a higher risk of bladder cancer.

Did you know that in 1979 Melbourne, Florida, was found to have the highest levels of trihalomethanes in the United States?

Boiling Water Can Concentrate Certain Chemicals

When drinking water in a specific area becomes contaminated, the local government sends out “boil water notices,” where they instruct you to boil your drinking water for at least one minute before using it. Boiling kills most types of parasites, bacteria, and viruses but increases concentrations of other contaminants due to the evaporation of water. ​ Boiling water can concentrate chemicals like PFAS. Chemicals like PFAS in water cannot be broken down, and you can't "kill" chemicals like this.

Rhode Island Department of Health says not to boil water for this reason. You can read more by visiting: https://health.ri.gov/water/about/pfas/

Is Your City Adding Fluoride to the Drinking Water?

Is your city putting pharmaceutical-grade fluoride found in toothpaste or the cheap untreated industrial waste Hydrofluorosilicic Acid (HFSA) into your drinking water?

Central Florida has some of the largest phosphate deposits in the world. In the process of mining, it creates liquid waste from pollution scrubbers that convert toxic vapors into Fluorosilicic Acid. What is being added to your drinking water is transported from Florida fertilizer factories. The phosphate industry would be stuck with an expensive waste disposal problem without fluoridation.

Hydrofluorsilisc Acid is put into drinking water across America and is called "fluoride."

Phosphate Mining Industry Impacts on Water

Several studies have discussed the impact of phosphate mining on water quality. Most of the concerns are associated with acidic process water, radionuclides, phosphate runoff, and toxic fluoride and heavy metals in the runoff. Arsenic, chromium, lead, mercury, nickel, vanadium, and cadmium are frequently associated with phosphate rock. The dominant radioactivity detected in phosphate rocks is uranium and thorium. ​ Watch the documentary Phosfate to learn more about the environmental effects the phosphate mining industry has on Florida's environment and human health: www.phosfatemovie.com

PFAS Chemicals in Ground and Drinking Water

Once released into the environment, PFAS doesn’t break down, which is why they are called “forever chemicals.” They build up in the blood and organs, which may cause potential long-term risks to human health and the environment. These fluorinated chemicals were found in the blood and tissues of wildlife near the Kennedy Space Center by Biologists in 2018. Many of the highest detections of PFAS in water were found at military bases, and in 2018 a Department of Defense report showed that Patrick Air Force Base is the third most PFAS-contaminated base in the United States. They found levels 57,000 times greater than the health advisory limit set by the Environmental Protection Agency. These forever chemicals are in groundwater throughout Florida communities next to military bases and airports.

Florida Leads the Nation in Lead Pipes

According to a PBS report, "9.2 million lead pipes carry water into homes across the U.S., with more in Florida than any other state."

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Fight For Zero test my water? As a nonprofit organization, Fight For Zero depends on the generosity of donors to support our research, outreach, and projects. We do not offer testing services but aim to collaborate with lab partners such as Tap Score to equip communities with the necessary tools to tackle these issues. We are dedicated to empowering communities by offering science education and providing the resources needed to ensure success in their pursuit of answers and protection for their loved ones. If you require assistance with your project, please don't hesitate to contact us. ​ Can my water have lead? If your home was built before lead-free pipes were mandated in 1986, it could leach into your water from the pipes leading to your house. You can read more about lead in U.S. drinking water here: https://www.sciline.org/water-quality/drinking-lead/ Is bottled water safe to drink? Although bottled water is filtered tap water and is generally safe to drink, it was not intended to be the primary source of drinking water. Bottled water should only be used in emergencies. The bottled water industry extracts millions of gallons of groundwater, which can negatively impact lakes and wetlands by lowering the water table. Additionally, it takes three times the amount of water to produce a plastic bottle as it does to fill it. This results in giant corporations receiving valuable resources at a minimal cost while local communities suffer the consequences. Is my drinking water safe? The only way to know if your drinking water is safe from contaminants is by testing it. There is an annual drinking water report for your city water, but this report does not consider unregulated contaminants like PFAS and perchlorate. The water is tested from the water treatment facility, but this doesn't show what the water may be picking up on its way to your faucet. If your city is dealing with poor infrastructure, constant main breaks, and continuous flooding, contaminants can get into the water. ​ Is my well water safe? You won't get a water quality report if you are on well water. The Federal Safe Drinking Water Act does not regulate water safety from private wells. More than one in five wells tested from 1991-2004 contained one or more contaminants at concentrations more significant than a human-health benchmark: Pubs.usgs.gov ​

Contaminates of Concern

Many people never become suspicious of drinking water until people in the community start to get sick. Whether you have water near agricultural areas or industrial plants, here are some contaminants of concern: ​Antimony: A naturally occurring metal that enters tap water from plumbing fittings or industrial use. Health concerns are harmful to the liver and change to the stomach and intestines. ​ Arsenic: Cancer-causing contaminant in drinking water. It causes thousands of cancer cases (skin, bladder, liver, & prostate cancer) each year in the U.S. It can come from wood preservatives, petroleum production, pesticides, industrial deposits, and coal power plants. It also has cardiovascular, pulmonary, immunological, neurological, and endocrine disruption effects. ​ Barium: From manufacturing mineral deposits, smelting of copper, and disposal of drilling wastes. High concentrations of barium in drinking water increase the risk of increased blood pressure, changes in heart rhythm, stomach irritation, brain swelling, and damage to the liver, kidney, heart, and spleen. ​Cadmium: From corrosion of pipes, erosion of natural deposits, discharge from metal refineries, and runoff from waste batteries and paints. Potential health effects are diarrhea, sensory disturbances, liver injury, concussions, and kidney, liver, bone, and blood damage. ​ ​Carbon Tetrachloride: A volatile carcinogenic solvent that has been used in industrial chemical production and as a dry cleaning ingredient. Health concerns are cancer, harm to the liver, harm to the central nervous system, harm to the kidney, and decreased fertility. ​ ​Chloramine: Comes from municipal treatment. It can cause hemolytic anemia when present in dialysis process water. Chlorate: Forms in drinking water as a byproduct of disinfection. It is linked to impaired thyroid function, which can be harmful during pregnancy and childhood. ​Chromium (hexavalent): Cancer-causing chemical made notorious by the film "Erin Brockovich." It causes harm to the liver and reproductive system. ​ ​Copper: From industrial discharges, copper plumbing materials due to corrosion, and copper salts used for algae control in reservoirs. Potential health effects are nausea, vomiting, gastrointestinal illness, abdominal and muscle pain, anemia, liver poisoning, and kidney failure. ​ Cyanobacteria: Bacteria that come from the rapid growth of blue-green algae and endangers drinking water supplies worldwide. When ingested, cyanotoxins can attack the liver, create abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, inflamed and bleeding liver, pneumonia, or kidney damage, and might even promote tumor growth. Some cyanobacteria produce unpleasant tastes and odors, which results in water treatment facilities increasing disinfectant byproducts. ​ Di (2-Ethylhexyl) phthalate: A softener added to PVC plastics. Phthalates are hormone disruptors that target the male reproductive system. ​ Dioxins: Released during combustion, such as the burning of hazardous waste, forest fires, cigarette smoke, and burning oil and coal. Long-term exposure can affect the immune, nervous, endocrine, and reproductive system. ​ Disinfection Byproducts: Chemicals used in drinking water disinfection processes, such as chlorine, trihalomethanes, and haloacetic acids, are added to drinking water for purification, despite it not being completely safe. Chlorine is a reactive chemical and bonds with water, including the water in your gut. A mixture of these chemicals, forming byproducts, may damage cells and increase cancer risk. Fluoride (hydrofluorosilicic acid): Comes from municipally treated water. Potential health effects are skeletal fluorosis, bone disorder resembling osteoporosis, and abnormal fragility of the bones. Haloacetic acids (HAA5): Formed when disinfectant such as chlorine is added to tap water. Harmful to fetal growth and development and cancer concerns. ​ Lead: From lead-containing solder, service line, and fittings of different types of industrial processes. Potential health effects are reduced intelligence, impaired hearing, decreased growth in children, damage to the brain, kidneys, bone marrow, nervous system, and red blood cells. Mercury: Mercury vapor can linger in the atmosphere and ride the winds halfway around the globe. It can cause brain damage, cognitive disability, headaches, weakness, tremors, mood swings, memory loss, and skin rashes. Nitrate: Sources of contamination are human sewage and livestock manure, fertilizers, and erosion of natural deposits. It can cause oxygen deprivation in infants and increase the risk of cancer. ​Pathogens: Bacteria, viruses, and parasites that cause diarrhea, vomiting, cramps, nausea, headaches, and fever can find a way into water supplies inadequately treated to kill germs. ​ PCBs: Polychlorinated biphenyls are chemicals used for industrial purposes such as insulation, oil, paints, adhesives, and fluorescent lights. PCBs were banned in 1979 but are still present in landfills. They break down slowly and infiltrate the environment. Ingestion of these chemicals can cause cancer, nervous and endocrine system issues. ​ Perchlorate: Toxic chemicals used in rocket fuel, explosive road flairs, can interfere with thyroid hormone production. They dissolve and seep into groundwater from military and industrial sites. ​ Pesticides: Atrazine, DDT, glyphosate, HCB (hexachlorobenzene), and dacthal are some of the most commonly detected pesticide chemicals in water and soil. Some of these chemicals are persistent and can travel long distances in the atmosphere. Runoff from agricultural areas enters groundwater and contaminate wells. Epidemiological studies have reported associated damage to adrenal glands, kidneys, liver, thyroid, spleen, and cancer risk to these chemicals. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFHPA): A member of perfluorinated chemicals used in many consumer products can cause serious health effects such as endocrine disruption, accelerated puberty, liver and immune system damage, thyroid changes, and cancer. ​Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS): A member of perfluorinated chemicals used in many consumer products. PFOS can cause serious health effects, including cancer, endocrine disruption, accelerated puberty, liver and immune system damage, and thyroids changes. Perfluorinated chemicals are persistent in the environment, and they accumulate in people. ​Radioactive contaminants: Radioactive material from the production of nuclear weapons, energy, and medicines can get in drinking supplies through leaks and improper waste storage. Exposure can cause cancer or kidney failure. ​ Radium-226: A radioactive element that causes bone cancer and other cancers. ​Radium-228: A radioactive element that causes bone cancer and other cancers. Selenium: Sources of the contaminant are natural deposits and releases from copper smelting. Potential health effects are hair and fingernail changes, damage to the peripheral nervous system, fatigue, and irritability. Strontium: Radiative strontium-90 can cause bone cancer and leukemia, and any form of strontium at high doses can harm bone health. ​Thallium: A naturally occurring metal released into the environment from metal smelting and coal burning. Exposure to too much thallium can cause harm loss, liver damage, central nervous system damage, and harm to the male reproductive system. Total trihalomethane (TTHMs): Cancer-causing contaminants that form during water treatment with chlorine and other disinfectants. It is linked to bladder cancer, skin cancer, and fetal development issues. ​Vinyl Chloride: Used to make PVC plastic products, vinyl chloride is a cancer-causing contaminant that can leach from older piping and has been found in drinking water. Uranium: Source is radioactive decay of uranium and thorium in rocks and soil. The potential health effect is an increased risk of cancer.
Additional Resources
Environmental Working Groups Tap Water Database: https://www.ewg.org/tapwater/ Table of Regulated Drinking Water Contaminants
Other Resources
Consider donating to Fight For Zero to help raise public awareness ​ Fight For Zero is a nonprofit organization that works on environmental health projects. Our goal is to empower advocates and communities to take on water quality challenges through resources and education.

Stel Bailey

Stel Bailey, a cancer cluster survivor and environmental health advocate, is a researcher and journalist with more than two decades of multimedia experience, having been published globally.

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post

Contact Form