A toxic cocktail of chemicals found in U.S. drinking water could be the cause of more than 100,000 cases of cancer, a new study by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) found.
“The vast majority of community water systems meet legal standards,” said Olga Naidenko, Ph.D., EWG’s vice president for science investigations, in a press release.“Yet the latest research shows that contaminants present in the water at those concentrations – perfectly legal – can still harm human health.”
The study, published in the research journal Heliyon, conducted an assessment of 22 carcinogenic contaminants which meet national drinking water standards and found that a majority of the risk is due to arsenic, disinfection byproducts and radioactive contaminants. Overall, tap water exposure to the carcinogens studied leads to 105,887 cases of cancer in the U.S. over a statistical lifetime, or 70 years. This is the equivalent of four cancer cases per 10,000 people.
Luckily, use of a water filter decreases the risk of exposure to these contaminants.
“Drinking water contains complex mixtures of contaminants, yet government agencies currently assess the health hazards of tap water pollutants one by one,” said Sydney Evans, science analyst and lead author of the paper, in a press release. “In the real world, people are exposed to combinations of chemicals, so it is important that we start to assess health impacts by looking at the combined effects of multiple pollutants.”