In holistic medicine, disease (and dis-ease) is generally caused by not enough of the “good stuff” or too much of the “bad stuff”. When the body is provided the things it needs (in the right amounts) and the things it doesn’t need are eliminated, high-level health and wellness typically follows. We’ve talked a bit about the elimination side of things here and here, but what about keeping the “bad stuff” out in the first place?

Water, as vital as it is to life, can also be a significant source of illness–even in places thought to have clean water.

There is no such thing as naturally occurring pure water: it all contains contaminants, which are anything besides just H20. In much of the world, parasites and viruses are common water contaminants that cause significant acute illness; in the USA more typical water contaminants include everything from dissolved minerals to heavy metals, chemicals such as pesticide residues, pharmaceutical drugs and water purification byproducts. Some of these contaminants are neutral, like trace amounts of minerals. Others are always dangerous (such as lead) and many can be tolerated or dangerous depending on their levels and the susceptibility of the individuals consuming them. Do you know if your water is clean or might it be adding “bad stuff” to your body along with its life-giving properties? How can you be sure?

Enter the Water Quality Report.

Water Quality Reports for drinking water are Consumer Confidence Reports (CCRs) required by the Environmental Protection Agency. With few exceptions, the EPA requires that these are mailed by water utilities to their residents by July 1st each year. If you don’t receive one, you may be able to find it online: do a google search for “Water Quality Report ” or use the EPA’s CCR Search. If you live in a small town, you may have trouble accessing your report. Water utilities are required to make them available: call your water company and ask them to mail you one! Bakersfield’s report can be found here. Note: the EPA is responsible for public water sources. If you use water from a private well, the CDC’s well water page is your source for making sure the water your drink is clean and safe.

What does the Water Quality Report tell me?

Your water quality report should give you important information about:
The source of your drinking water;
Your water’s risk of contamination;
Which regulated contaminants are found in your water supply;
The possible health effects of contaminants found in excess of the EPA standards; this is supposed to be present, but experience says this is sometimes omitted from reports.
What your water utility is doing to fix any problems and keep the water within standards;
Educational statements about cryptosporidium, nitrate, arsenic and lead

But it’s not that simple. Here are some important terms to know.

There are more than 300 known contaminants in the US tap water supply. The EPA has set standards for just over 90 of these, with no new standards set since 2001. Which contaminants are monitored in a given water supply is based on known risks and the what the water utility can afford, not based on public health.

The Maximum Contaminant Level Goal, Public Health Goal and Maximum Contaminant Level are three different things.

The Public Health Goal (PHG) is the level below which no adverse health effects are expected over a lifetime of consumption. These are set without regard to technological ability to detect or remove a given contaminant; these are based purely on what we know of a contaminant’s health effects.

The Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG) is set by the EPA. There is no known or expected risk to health below this level, but it is sometimes different from the PHG.

The Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) is highest level of a given contaminant allowed in a given source of drinking water. Set as a joint effort between the EPA and a state or local agency, the MCL defines what can actually shows up in your water glass. Although the PHG and MCLG are considered when determining an MCL, MCLs are actually set based on local budget and the technology available to detect and remove contaminants and not on their health impact. MCLs are often significantly higher than the PHG or MCLG.

Compliance is granted for contaminants that, on average over a year, are below the MCL.

So, here is how that plays out.

Chromium 6 was made popular by Erin Brockovich. Associated with increased risk of cancer and other ill health effects, the Public Health Goal is set at 0.02 parts per billion (ppb). But, the Maximum Contaminant Level is 10 ppb. That’s a 500x difference! To be “compliant” with Chromium 6 the amount of Cr6 in one’s drinking water can be five hundred times higher than the amount that has been declared safe. Whew! For reference, Bakersfield’s supply had a 2016 average of 0.65 ppb (30 times the health goal), with single values ranging as high as 3.3. Although these values fall under the legal limit, the MCL, they are many times higher than the goal set with public health and safety in mine.

Another example:

Trihalomethanes are a disinfection byproduct formed when chlorine interacts with organic matter such as decaying vegetation present in the water being treated. Listed by California health officials as a “known carcinogen”, trihalomethanes are linked to bladder cancer, colon and rectal cancers, miscarriages, birth defects and low birth weight. In 1998, the EPA set the legal limit (the MCL) at 80 parts per billion. Since that time, research has shown increased risks of bladder cancer and stillbirth at levels as low as just 21 ppb! The EWG tells us that to dramatically reduce the risk of bladder cancer California public health officials have determined that the “the drinking water standard would need to be set at 0.8 parts per billion, which is 100 times lower than the current legal limit set by the EPA.” To keep it relevant, Bakersfield’s 2016 water quality report reveals Trihalomethanes at an average of 68.9 ppm, far above the level known to be carcinogenic and destructive to reproduction.

Whew! It’s hard when something so good–clean water–can also be so bad. Educating yourself about what to look for and where to find the information you need is the first step to keeping yourself and your family healthy and safe. If you haven’t taken a look at your local water quality report, do it now!

If you have read your CCR and you don’t like what you see, consider filtering your water with a filter that has been NSF certified to reduce the damaging contaminants present in your tap. Talk to the front office at Sunrise Natural Medicine if you have questions about filters best suited for the Bakersfield area.