The President’s Cancer Panel released their report on reducing environmental cancer risks last week. This work is the culmination of extensive study, peer-reviewed data, conferences, and meetings. I read this report with great interest, since I lost a parent to cancer and want to be sure to protect myself, my family, and others from known and suspected carcinogens.

Some interesting quotes relating to cancer and water quality (The page references refer to the .pdf page number, not the numbered pages in the report):

“The Panel urges you most strongly to use the power of your office to remove the carcinogens and other toxins from our food, water, and air that needlessly increase health care costs, cripple our Nation’s productivity, and devastate American lives.” – Page 2

“Many known or suspected carcinogens first identified through studies of industrial and agricultural occupational exposures have since found their way into soil, air, water, and numerous consumer products.” – Page 11

“In addition, pharmaceuticals have become a considerable source of environmental contamination. Drugs of all types enter the water supply when they are excreted or improperly disposed of; the health impact of long-term exposure to varying mixtures of these compounds is unknown.” – Page 13

“Individuals and families have many opportunities to reduce or eliminate chemical exposures. For example:

Family exposure to numerous occupational chemicals can be reduced by removing shoes before entering the home and washing work clothes separately from the other family laundry.

Filtering home tap or well water can decrease exposure to numerous known or suspected carcinogens and endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Unless the home water source is known to be contaminated, it is preferable to use filtered tap water instead of commercially bottled water.” – Page 27

“Children are exposed to toxic and carcinogenic chemicals and radiation through the air they breathe, the food and water they consume, medications they are given, and the environment in which they live, including their homes, schools, day care centers, and even the motor vehicles in which they ride.25 Pound for pound, children take in more food, water, air, and other environmental substances than adults. Children also can be exposed to toxins in utero via placental transfer and/or after birth via breast milk. Tests of umbilical cord blood26 found traces of nearly 300 pollutants in newborns’ bodies, such as chemicals used in fast-food packaging, flame retardants present in household dust, and pesticides.” – Page 39

“The number and prevalence of known or suspected carcinogens is growing. Many environmental contaminants are manufactured synthetic chemicals; waste and by-products of industrial processes; chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemicals used in farming and for landscaping; chemicals used in other commercial activities; combustion by-products of petroleum-powered engines; water disinfection/chlorination by-products; and both man-made and natural sources of radiation.” – Page 50

“By contrast, in 1976 the EU prohibited the use of approximately 1,100 chemicals in cosmetics.108 Atrazine, a widely used herbicide believed to have endocrine-disrupting and possible carcinogenic properties, was banned by the EU in October 2003 because of its ubiquitous and unpreventable water contamination.109 The same month, the EPA approved the continued use of atrazine in the U.S. Most recently, the EU banned dichloromethane, an ingredient commonly used in paint strippers that has been classified an EU Category 3 carcinogen (possibly carcinogenic to humans).” – Page 56

“Elemental mercury occurs naturally and also is released into the air through industrial pollution, contaminating food and water sources. It is a suspected carcinogen for brain and central nervous system (CNS) cancers. U.S. coal-fired power plants emit more than 48 tons of mercury into the air each year.163” – Page 70

“We use 80 million pounds [of atrazine] annually in the United States. It’s the number-one pesticide contaminant of ground water, surface water, and drinking water. It’s used in more than 80 countries but it’s now outlawed in all of Europe or, as the company likes to say, has been denied regulatory approval. The main point here is that here’s a compound that we use 80 million pounds of, and it’s illegal in the home country of the company that makes it.” – Page 80

“Ingesting contaminated drinking water is the primary route of human exposure to nitrate from nitrogen fertilizers.239 Nitrates in drinking water are important because the most likely known mechanism for human cancer related to nitrate is the body’s formation of N-nitroso compounds (NOC), which have been shown to cause tumors at multiple organ sites in every animal species tested, including neurological system cancers following transplacental exposure.” – Page 82

“In humans, nitrosamines and NOCs are suspected brain and CNS carcinogens. In addition, a cohort study of older women in Iowa241 found that those whose drinking water had higher long-term average nitrate levels had an increased risk of bladder and ovarian cancers.” – Page 82

“With greater production of corn for fuel, nitrate levels in drinking water are likely to continue their upward trend.” – Page 82

“Phosphate fertilizers also accelerate the leaching of arsenic from soils into groundwater.249” – Page 83

“Assessing health hazards due to drinking water contamination is difficult, since it typically is challenging to estimate the levels and timing of exposures and the specific chemicals involved. It also can be difficult to define exposed populations clearly and select the most appropriate disease endpoints or intermediate biologic markers for study. Further, it often is not possible to identify the cause of observed health effects when there are multiple exposures or to link specific health effects with individual chemicals that occur in mixtures.
Public water filtration and treatment plants remove some contaminants, but current technologies cannot remove them all.” – Page 87

“EPA typically sets a level that they would call safe, which is as close to zero risk as they can get, and then they say, well, we can’t do that because that costs money, so let’s come up with another number that allows a certain amount of risk as a trade-off for cleaning up the water… I think our public policies need to be revisited because we’re trading disease for costs probably unnecessarily.” – Page 88

“Many bottled water users assume that it is cleaner than tap water. Bottled water is regulated by the FDA, and while standards for lead content are more stringent than Federal public water standards, other quality
standards are the same as Federal limits for public supplies. Bottlers, however, are not required to disclose either the content or the source of their water, as is the case for public supplies. Some bottled water is simply drawn from municipal supplies and receives no additional filtration or other treatment.” – Page 88

“Wherever you chlorinate water, you have chlorination by-products… there is strong evidence that disinfection by-products are carcinogenic for bladder cancer.” – Page 89

“Disinfection of public water supplies has dramatically reduced the incidence of waterborne illnesses and related mortality in the United States, with unquestionable public health benefit. However, chemical by-products are formed when disinfectants such as chlorine react with organic matter, and long-term exposure to these chemicals may increase cancer risk.
Hundreds of disinfection by-products have been identified; the most common of these are trihalomethanes (THMs, including chloroform, bromoform, and others) and haloacetic acid. Only a small percentage of identified DBPs have been tested for carcinogenicity. Some rodent studies have been positive for cancer, and some DBP components have shown mutagenic effects in in vitro testing, suggesting carcinogenicity.267” – Page 89

“People are exposed to DBPs through consumption and through inhalation and absorption through the skin during bathing, showering, and swimming in chlorinated pools.267 Relatively little research has been done on DBPs and cancer; the strongest data show increased bladder cancer risk with long-term (up to 40 years) exposure to DBPs, particularly among men.270 In addition, several metabolic pathways and key genes have been identified that may increase bladder cancer risk among individuals with common variants in these genetic factors. Other very limited research suggests possible DBP associations with colon and rectal cancer, renal cell carcinoma, and glioma.271,272 One speaker underscored the need for further research on DBPs and cancer, noting that exposure assessments should account for at least 35 years of exposure prior to a cancer diagnosis. DBPs represent a situation in which observed relative risks are modest, but because of the high numbers of people exposed, such risks may translate into potentially significant public health problems.” – Page 90

“Pharmaceuticals have become a significant water pollutant nationwide. Water filtration plants generally are unable to remove dissolved medications that enter water systems after being excreted or poured into household drains or toilets.” – Page 108

“Among the human medications found in water supplies are antidepressants, medications for high blood pressure and diabetes, anticonvulsants, steroid medications, oral contraceptives, hormone replacement therapy medications, codeine, non-prescription pain relievers, chemotherapy drugs, heart medications, and antibiotics.357,358” – Page 109

“The Federal government has not established limits on the amounts of pharmaceuticals in drinking water and does not require water testing to determine the amounts present.” – Page 109

“Ecologic, cohort, and case-control studies of highly exposed populations have linked inorganic arsenic in drinking water with skin, lung, bladder, and kidney cancer in both sexes and with prostate cancer in men.267” – Page 127

America has some of the cleanest, safest, and cheapest municipal water in the world. With an average of less than 2% of all municipal water being used for human consumption it is unfeasible and ridiculously expensive to try to treat ALL municipal water to human consumption standards. The most logical option is to enable homeowners to use Point of Entry (POE) and Point of Use (POU) water treatment technologies to cost-effectively improve their water to the standard that they deserve.