Endocrine Disruptors In Drinking Water: What You Need To Know

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***Updated 2/21/2024***

Endocrine Disruptors are a category of contaminants that impact your body's natural ability to regulate hormones. Endocrine disruptors can be found in a variety of different consumer products like plastic containers, food cans, cosmetics, medical supplies, as well as drinking water. 

What Are Endocrine Disruptors?

Endocrine disruptors are chemical compounds that mimic hormones. They can either block the action of a naturally occurring hormone or intensify the effects of a natural hormone by eliciting the same physiological response as the hormone itself. Some of the major water contaminants are endocrine disrupting chemicals such as disinfection byproducts, fluorinated substances (PFAS), pesticides, and natural and synthetic estrogens. Endocrine disruptors can also be pharmaceuticals, dioxin and dioxin-like compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), pesticides, and plasticizers such as bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates.

Why Do We Care About Endocrine Disruptors in Water?

Once entering the body, endocrine disruptors can accumulate and intensify or block the effects of the body’s natural hormones. As a result, the effects of endocrine disruptors most profoundly impact the reproductive systems of animals by reducing fertility, and increasing risk of developmental malformations in offspring. Endocrine disruptors are also known to increase risk of cancer, and cause disturbances in immune and nervous system function. Recent studies conducted at the National Institutes of Health showed that pregnant women who were exposed to multiple phthalates during pregnancy had an increased risk of preterm birth.

It is not yet clear what concentrations of various endocrine disruptors are safe for humans. Research is ongoing and consumers need to be aware of the potential risks associated with exposure to these potentially harmful chemicals in tap water.

What Are Examples Of Endocrine Disruptors Commonly Found In Household Goods?

BPA is produced in large quantities in the process of creating polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. Polycarbonate plastics have many applications including use in some food and drink packaging, for example, water and infant bottles, impact-resistant safety equipment, and medical devices. Epoxy resins are used as lacquers to coat metal products such as food cans, bottle tops, and water supply pipes.

Phthalates are a group of chemicals used both as solvents and as plasticizers (which make plastics more flexible). They are found in a wide variety of products, such as vinyl flooring, adhesives, detergents, lubricating oils, automotive plastics, plastic clothes (raincoats), and personal-care products (soaps, shampoos, hair sprays, and nail polishes). Pthalates are also used in polyvinyl chloride plastics, which are used to make products such as plastic packaging film and sheets, garden hoses, inflatable toys, blood-storage containers, medical tubing, and some children's toys.

Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are a category of harmful compounds that can be found in drinking water sources across the country. PFAS can take hundreds of years to degrade in the environment which is why you may see them referred to as ‘forever chemicals.’ PFAS are not currently regulated at the federal level, but some states have created regulations or monitoring criteria, including Massachusetts. They are known to increase the risk of cancerincrease cholesterolincrease the risk of miscarriage by 80-120%, and myltiple other negative health outcomes.  

Pesticides are chemicals used to kill environmental pests including insects, weeds, fungi and rodents. Both insecticides and herbicides are classified as pesticides. More than 50 pesticide active ingredients have been identified as endocrine disruptors by the European Union. The herbicide atrazine is one of the most commonly applied pesticides in the world, and has been implicated as an endocrine disrupter in humans, frogs, and fish. 

Can Tap Water Become Contaminated With Endocrine Disruptors?

Absolutely. Common medications like hormonal birth control are (by design) endocrine disrupting chemicals, and can enter the water supply when excreted as urine or when pills are flushed down the toilet. In 2008, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) tested water in nine states across the country and found that 85 man-made chemicals, including some medications, were commonly slipping through municipal treatment systems and ending up as harmful chemicals in our tap water. Another report by the Associated Press found trace amounts of over a dozen pharmaceuticals including endocrine disruptors in water supplies of some 46 million Americans.

How Are Endocrine Disruptors Regulated?

The EPA and FDA recognize that endocrine disruptors cause adverse health effects to both humans and wildlife. In 1996, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) Amendment to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA). This means that drinking water can be monitored or screened for endocrine disrupting chemicals. However, there is still no regulatory limit on these endocrine disruptors in water.

How To Minimize Exposure To Endocrine Disruptors

The US National Institute of Health (NIH) makes the following recommendations to avoid ingesting endocrine disruptors from food packaging:

  • Don’t microwave polycarbonate plastic food containers. Polycarbonate is strong and durable, but over time it may break down from over use at high temperatures.
  • Plastic containers have recycle codes on the bottom. Some, but not all, plastics that are marked with recycle codes 3 or 7 may be made with BPA.
  • Reduce your use of canned foods.
  • When possible, opt for glass, porcelain or stainless steel containers, particularly for hot food or liquids.
  • Use baby bottles that are BPA free, or opt for glass or stainless steel.

In addition to the steps laid out by NIH, high quality home water filtration systems are an effective way to remove endocrine disrupting chemicals, should they be found in your tap water.

As always, we encourage readers to take advantage of our "Help No Matter What" approach to technical support, where one of our experts will answer your questions, even if you have no desire to purchase one of our water filters. Drop us a line at support@hydroviv.com or through our live chat window.

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