Water Quality InformationWritten By Actual Experts


BPA and Phthalates: Are These Two Endocrine Disruptors in Your Water?

Analies Dyjak @ Friday, June 4, 2021 at 11:28 am -0400


Analies Dyjak, M.A. | Head of Policy and Perspectives   

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. This article highlights what you need to know about two of the most well-known endocrine disruptors: Bisphenol A (BPA) and Phthalates.

What is Bisphenol A or BPA?

Bisphenol A or BPA is a chemical used in various consumer goods, including several types of plastics, cash receipts, and canned foods. It’s been used to make polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins since the 1960’s. BPA is considered an endocrine disruptor because of how it interacts with certain hormones in the body, including estrogen receptors. BPA can be particularly dangerous for pregnant mothers and babies for these very reasons. Exposure to BPA can cause a handful of negative health effects, including; male and female infertility, precocious puberty, hormone-related tumors (breast and prostate cancers), and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). The National Institutes of Health has a full and comprehensive list of these health outcomes.

Is BPA Regulated?

One of the shocking realities of BPA in the United States today is that it’s not entirely banned. Certain states created “disclosure requirements” or “reporting values” when scientists began researching its toxicity. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned BPA from baby bottles and sippy cups in 2012 which is the only robust regulation to date. Plastic companies instead decided to voluntarily phase-out BPA to avoid legal challenges. The issue is that companies tend to replace harmful contaminants with equally, if not more dangerous chemicals. Consumer products are pushed to market before meaningful health studies are completed. This is extremely problematic because the public typically has no idea of the health impacts of certain consumer products until it too late. We wrote an in-depth article about how drinking water contaminants are regulated in the U.S. and why agencies follow this rather backwards protocol. 

What Are Phthalates?

Phthalates are chemicals that are added to polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes and plastics, certain cosmetics, wood varnishes, and even medical supplies. They’re under that class of endocrine disruptors, so they have a direct impact on hormonal functions, reproductive outcomes, and more. Typically people are exposed to phthalates through food that’s been in contact with plastic containers and wraps, consumer or cosmetics containing phthalates as well as drinking water. Again, the good news is that drinking water is the least problematic in that entire list. Similar to BPA, there’s not a whole lot of testing going on for phthalates in drinking water. One of the reasons is because there are so many different variations. A lot of times plastic producers or other industries that produce phthalates will find a version that works better than the last, replace it, and introduce it into the environment. This is the exact same story that's going on with PFAS or ‘forever chemicals’ in drinking water. And all those different variations, only one type of phthalate is regulated in drinking water. So in short it’s safe to say that we just don’t know the entire story of phthalates in drinking water.

Wildfires and Phthalates:

The increase of destructive wildfires in the past few years has prompted researchers to take a closer look at their impact on drinking water. There is a problematic secondary consequence of these natural disasters aside from the influx of debris, fire fighting chemicals, and other pollutants into drinking water sources. Researchers determined that the PVC pipes leached phthalates into the distribution system after coming in contact with heat from the wildfires. Phthalates leach at a high frequency when they are heated. It’s the same reason why certain types of plastic aren’t microwave safe. This will continue to be problematic as more municipalities replace their lead distribution lines with PVC or other types of plastic pipes.

Do All Water Filters Remove BPA and Phthalates?

No. You'll want to make sure your water filter is able to remove these two endocrine disruptors before purchasing. 

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Wildfires and Water Quality

Analies Dyjak @ Friday, March 30, 2018 at 2:12 pm -0400

Analies Dyjak, M.A.  |  Head of Policy

*Updated 9/17/20 to include current data

California, parts of the Pacific Northwest and the Southwestern United States are experiencing some of the worst wildfires in history. We’ve seen a significant increase in both the frequency and magnitude of these destructive natural disasters since 1990. These areas are naturally susceptible to drought-like conditions, but the magnitude of wildfires becomes further heightened due to global warming trends and poor timber harvesting protocols. The overall threat of wildfires is also increasing due to urban sprawl and higher densities of people moving to drought-prone locations. Wildfires can negatively impact water quality and here’s why:

How do Wildfires Affect Water Quality?

After a wildfire event, watersheds become vulnerable to erosion, sedimentation, runoff, and other freshwater impairments. 80% of freshwater resources originate or pass through some type of forested land. Forested watersheds naturally filter rainwater, slow the rate of storm water runoff, and contribute immensely to the health of surrounding tributaries. Once forested vegetation is destroyed, the rate and volume of runoff increases tremendously, which is influenced by topography of an area. Additionally, purifying capabilities become eliminated once forested vegetation is destroyed.

What Type of Water Quality Pollution and How Is It Treated?

Destruction from massive forest fires results in displaced debris, ash, and contamination. Loose detritus of any sorts gets picked up and swept into waterbodies after a subsequent rain event. Water treatment facilities try their best to provide clean drinking water to municipalities, but an influx of suspended solids can make this a very difficult task. Extreme weather events can increase the rate of incoming water, containing high levels of suspended solids. Large deposits of sediment into a water treatment facility increases the levels of suspended material, specifically dissolved organic carbon (DOC), into your drinking water. It can also increase the turbidity or cloudiness of drinking water. Dissolved organic carbon molecules react with chlorine and chloramine, which are used to purify drinking water. This reaction creates disinfection byproducts which we are very familiar with here at Hydroviv. 

Introduction of Chemicals Into Waterbodies

Fire retardant chemicals are necessary to contain wildfire destruction, but there are several negative consequences associated with their impact on freshwater resources. The typical "slurry" used to combat wildfires is a mixture of water, ammonium phosphate fertilizers, colorants, corrosion inhibitors, thickeners, stabilizers, and bactericides. Little is known about health effects to humans, but many of these contaminants are toxic to aquatic species. Per and Polyfluoralkyl Substances (PFAS) are a main ingredient in Aqueous Fire Fighting Foam or AFFF. AFFF is typically used to extinguish fires derived from flammable liquids, and less so wildfires, but it's important to mention PFAS when talking about fire suppression. That being said, little is known about health effects associated with a typical fire suppressant slurry. 

What To Do:

Listen to public disclosures and follow recommendations from state and local governments. 

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