Friday, Jan. 18, 2002

Study: Millions Drink Dirty Water

WASHINGTON (AP) - Millions of Americans have been
drinking tap water contaminated with chemical byproducts
from chlorine that are far more than what studies suggest may
be safe for pregnant women, two environmental groups say.

Chlorine is commonly used to disinfect drinking water. When it
is added to water that contains organic matter such as runoff
from farms or lawns, however, it can form compounds such as
chloroform that can cause illness.

The study released Tuesday by the Environmental Working
Group and Public Interest Research Groups identified areas
that may have increased health risks including miscarriage,
neural tube defects and reduced fetal growth from women
drinking chlorination byproducts.

``By failing to clean up rivers and reservoirs that provide
drinking water for hundreds of millions of Americans, EPA and
the Congress have forced water utilities to chlorinate water
that is contaminated with animal waste, sewage, fertilizer,
algae and sediment,'' the report says.

Jane Houlihan, EWG's research director, said the report also
shows how that cleanup failure has ``a direct impact on human
health.'' Pregnant women need to drink plenty of water, she
said, but they can reduce their exposure to potential risks
through simple measures such as home filters and purchasing
bottled water.

However, C.T. Howlett Jr., executive director of the Chlorine
Chemistry Council, said government agencies found no
compelling link between reproductive hazards and chlorinated
water.

He said chlorine has been added to drinking water for more
than a century, and the environmental groups' study ``may
unnecessarily alarm the public and, in particular, pregnant
women, about risks that are not supported by scientific
evidence.''

Catherine C. Milbourn, a spokeswoman for the Environmental
Protection Agency, said, ``EPA has standards in place for
these byproducts and has set even stricter standards in 2002
that local water providers are beginning to implement.''

Milbourn added that the EPA ``has an ongoing health
research program to provide additional scientific insight into
the potential risks posed by disinfection byproducts.''

Still, if the pregnancy studies are proved, millions could be at
risk, said Dr. Robert Morris, an environmental epidemiologist
at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston.

``That body of literature isn't necessarily conclusive but people
ought to be aware of it,'' Morris said. ``It's pretty clear that
some of these compounds can be pretty bad actors. The fact
that these levels are as high as they are is certainly something
to be concerned about.''

The environmental groups combed water quality records in 29
states and the District of Columbia and matched them with
various research into birth defects and miscarriages
conducted by state and federal agencies and universities.

The groups said the places statistically most at risk due to
chlorination byproducts were those that are populous, lacked
buffers from urban sprawl and were downstream from
agricultural sites. But women in small towns generally face
twice the risk from drinking high levels of the byproducts,
Houlihan said.

Matching high rates doesn't prove the environmental risk
caused the health problems, however. Also, the results are
limited because, among other reasons, such health records
do not exist in some states.

On the Net:

Environmental Working Group: http://www.ewg.org

Environmental Protection Agency: http://www.epa.gov