News Stories

If the Water Doesn?t Get You, the Salad Will

Millions of Americans are drinking tap water that?s contaminated with large amounts of chemical byproducts from chlorine which are far greater may be safe for pregnant women.

Although chlorine is commonly used to disinfect drinking water, when it?s added to water that contains organic matter such as runoff from farms or lawns, it can form compounds such as chloroform that can make you ill.

The Environmental Working Group and Public Interest Research Groups have identified parts of the United State where there may be increased health risks for pregnant women who drink the water, including miscarriage, neural tube defects and reduced fetal growth.

The environmental groups looked through water quality records in 29 states and the District of Columbia and matched them with research into birth defects and miscarriages conducted by state and federal agencies and universities. They found that the places statistically most at risk due to chlorination byproducts were those that have high populations and are downstream from agricultural sites. But women in small towns generally face twice the risk from drinking high levels of the 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,? says their report.

Jane Houlihan, EWG?s research director, says that cleanup failure has ?a direct impact on human health.? Pregnant women need to drink plenty of water, 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, says government agencies found no compelling link between miscarriages and birth defects and chlorinated water. Chlorine has been added to drinking water for more than a century, and he says 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, says, ?EPA has standards in place for these byproducts and has set even stricter standards in 2002 that local water providers are beginning to implement.? She says the EPA ?has an ongoing health research program to provide additional scientific insight into the potential risks posed by disinfection byproducts.?

Dr. Robert Morris, an environmental epidemiologist at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, is worried that millions of pregnant women could be at risk.?That body of literature isn?t necessarily conclusive but people ought to be aware of it,? he says. ?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.? For more information,click here.

Thoroughly rinsing salad greens may not wash away the harmful bacteria that cause food poisoning. Microbiologists at Rutgers University in New Jersey believe harmful bacteria from irrigation water can enter lettuce plants through the roots and end up inside the leaves, rather than on the surface where it can be rinsed off.

Although it?s uncommon, food poisoning caused by eating plants can happen, especially when vegetables are fertilized with animal manure, which can contain potentially fatal bacteria like E. coli. In the Rutgers study, E. coli bacteria were found to migrate from irrigation water into inner tissues of lettuce plants.

Researchers also found lettuce leaves could be infected by watering the ground around plants with bacteria-inoculated water, even if the foliage did not come into direct contact with the water. They suspect small gaps in growing roots may allow E. coli to get in. The discovery may explain the E. coli bacteria outbreak in Connecticut and Illinois that occurred between May 28 and June 27, 1996 that was connected to pre-washed lettuce. Food microbiologist Karl Matthews says the concentrations of bacteria used in his lab experiments are probably far higher than those that occur on farms, since poisoning by salad is not common. Tom Cheasty, a British public health official familiar with the study says researchers believe there is no reason for consumers to treat salad with suspicion.

NOTE: This news story, previously published on our old site, will have any links removed.


Subscribe to Unknowncountry sign up now