Endocrine Disruptors In Drinking Water: What You Need To Know
***Updated 8/27/2018 to include video***
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. Endocrine disruptors can be pharmaceuticals, dioxin and dioxin-like compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls, 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.
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 (the chemical shown on the left hand side of the header image) 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 (an example is shown on the right hand side of the header image) 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.
Can Tap Water Become Contaminated With Endocrine Disruptors?
Absolutely. Common medications like horomonal 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 email@example.com or through our live chat window.
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Bioaccumulation & Biomagnification Of Toxic Chemicals: What You Need To Know
Editor's Note: We've been writing more articles about organic chemicals like endocrine disruptors, methylated mercury, so we've been getting a lot of quesitons about how people become exposed to these chemicals. Even though these questions deal more with food than drinking water, we though that it'd be worthwhile to spend some time on an article explaining how this happens.
What is Bioaccumulation?
Bioaccumulation refers to the process of toxic chemicals building up inside of an organism’s body. This happens when a chemical is consumed or absorbed, and the body cannot catabolize or excrete it quickly enough. Mercury is a well-known chemical that will bioaccumulate in humans. We commonly hear about mercury exposure resulting from eating fish such as tuna (or other large predatory fish). However, mercury as well as many other harmful chemicals can also be found in drinking water supplies across the United States.
Chemicals that tend to bioaccumulate are stored in cells and not exposed to direct physical or biochemical degradation. These chemicals can collect and hide-out, particularly within adipose tissue (fat cells). Fatty mammary tissue often contains the highest concentrations of toxic chemicals. These chemicals in our mammary tissue are then passed along to infants when nursing.
What is Biomagnification?
Image from http://biology.tutorvista.com/environmental-pollution/effects-of-water-pollution.html
Biomagnification refers to the process of toxic chemicals increasing in concentration as they move throughout a food chain. Bioaccumulation and biomagnification often work hand-in-hand; one animal accumulates chemicals in the body (bioaccumulation) and then a larger predator consumes that smaller animal such that the chemical is passed along to the predator. The chemical “magnifies” as the resulting concentrations increase in the predator because it likely consumes large quantities of that particular prey throughout its lifetime (biomagnification). As top-level predators in our own food chain, humans tend to collect high concentrations of toxic chemicals in our bodies.
What are Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxics (PBTs)?
PBTs are a particular group of chemicals that threaten the health of humans and the environment. Examples include methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT), and dioxins. PBTs are considered extremely dangerous to both humans and wildlife because they remain in the environment for a very long time without breaking down, then bioaccumulate and biomagnify in ecosystems (including ours).
PBTs can also travel long distances and move between air, water, and land. DDT, a notorious environmental pollutant, was developed as a synthetic insecticide in the 1940s. Sprayed over crops, DDT would then wash into water supplies and contaminate lakes, ponds, streams, rivers, and oceans. Small organisms such as plankton and algae absorb DDT through the water. Smaller fish then consume the contaminated algae and plankton. Larger predatory fish then consume the smaller fish. Eventually, large predatory birds or humans eat the contaminated fish. Despite being banned in the United States over 40 years ago, DDT is still found in soil and water supplies today. In addition, humans contain the highest concentrations of DDT when compared to other organisms.
How Does This Impact Human Health?
Exposure to PBTs has been linked to a wide range of toxic effects in humans and wildlife. Some of those adverse effects include but are not limited to disruption of the nervous and endocrine systems, reproductive and developmental problems, immune system suppression, and cancer.
How Can I Minimize Exposure To PBTs?
- Avoid eating species of fish that are long-lived and high on the food chain such as tuna, marlin, shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish.
- Use a high quality water filters that removes PBTs (e.g. DDT, Dioxins, BPA, Phthalates from contaminated drinking water before the chemicals get a chance to accumulate in you
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Digging Into The Environmental Working Group Tap Water Database
Eric Roy, Ph.D. | Scientific Founder
This past week, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a website where people punch in their zip code, and view contaminants found in their water. As a company that uses water quality data to optimize each customer’s water filter, we applaud EWG for putting in the enormous amount of time & effort to build the database so the public can learn about their water. Unfortunately, we are seeing that these data are being used to generate inflammatory headlines, which can leave consumers confused and unnecessarily panicked.
We will be updating this water quality database blog post as more questions come in. If you have your own question, please reach out to us (firstname.lastname@example.org). One of our water nerds will do their best to get back to you very quickly, even if it’s outside of our business hours.
Frequently Asked Questions
Updated July 31, 2017
Are All Potential Contaminants Listed In The EWG Tap Water Database?
No. The EWG Tap Water Database pulls data from municipal measurements, but municipalities are only required to test for certain things. Simply put, you can’t detect what you don’t look for. One example of this can be seen by punching in Zip Code 28402 (Wilmington, North Carolina) into the EWG Tap Water Database. GenX, a chemical that has been discharged into the Cape Fear River by Chemours since PFOA since 2010, is not listed, even though it’s been in the center of a huge topic of conversation for the past 2 months in the local media.
Why Is The “Health Guideline” Different Than The “Legal Limit?”
The two different thresholds use different criteria. For example, the “Health Guideline” cited by EWG for carcinogens is defined by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) as a one-in-a-million lifetime risk of cancer, while the “Legal Limit” refers to the MCL which is the limit that triggers a violation by EPA. The OEHHA's criteria are established by toxicological techniques, while the EPA limits are negotiated through political channels. We wrote an article that addresses this topic in much more detail for those who are interested.
Why Am I Just Learning About This Now?
The EPA's Safe Drinking Water Act requires municipalities to make water quality test data public in Consumer Confidence Reports. These reports are required to talk about the water's source, information about any regulated contaminants found in the water, health effects of any regulated contaminant found above the regulated limit, and a few other things. As discussed before, the data in the EWG report use different criteria than the EPA, and it's hard for people to make sense of what's what.
Are The Data Correct If My Water Comes From A Private Well?
No. The EWG Tap Water Database only has data for municipal tap water. Private wells are completely unregulated, and there's no requirement to conduct testing. If you'd like us to dig into our additional water quality databases to help you understand likely contaminants in your private well, we're happy to do so. We don't offer testing services, but we're happy to help you find an accredited lab in your area, give advice on which tests to run, and help you interpret the results! We offer this service for free.
What About My City's Water Quality?
Hydroviv makes it our business to help you better understand your water. As always, feel free to take advantage of our “help no matter what” approach to technical support! Our water nerds will work to answer your questions, even if you have no intention of purchasing one of our water filters. Reach out by dropping us an email (email@example.com) or through our live chat. You can also find us on Twitter or Facebook!
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