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The High Risk of Chlorinated Drinking Water
A recent Johns Hopkins study discovered carcinogenic toxins in American tap water treated with chlorine.1 These newly found chemicals are byproducts that occur when disinfectants (like chlorine) combine with phenolic chemicals.
Some phenols occur naturally, while others are residues from pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and industrial waste. The mixture of phenols and chlorine creates highly toxic cancer-causing disinfection byproducts.1
Drinking Water: The Dilemma!
While this new study questions use of chlorine as a water disinfectant, scientists remind us of the life-saving benefits of chlorinated drinking water and the global need to disinfect water.
For example, in 2009, the World Health Organization reported that, every year, more than 3.4 million people die from water-related diseases, making it the leading cause of disease and death around the world.3
Another report, commissioned by the United Nations, showed 4,000 children die each day as a result of diseases caused by ingesting filthy water. The report says four out of 10 people in the world, particularly in Africa and Asia, do not have clean water to drink.3
In the medical journal The Lancet, researchers concluded poor water sanitation and lack of safe drinking water take a greater human toll than war, terrorism, and weapons of mass destruction combined.3
Chlorine + Phenols: A Challenging Problem
The Lancet study points the finger not at chlorine itself, but at the cancer causing microscopic byproducts that occur when chlorine combines with phenols.
Thousands of naturally occurring plant-based phenolic compounds act as antioxidants in nature. They function to stop reaction of free radicals with other molecules in your body, preventing damage to your DNA, as well as supporting long-term health.2
In nature, phenols are attached to other molecules and become stable compounds that we all have learned to be healthy, such as bioflavonoids, resveratrol, tocopherols (vitamin E), and others, like thymols found in oregano.2 When phenols break away from these compounds, they become pure phenols and, in that form, are toxic. When combined with chlorine, they become carcinogens.1,3-5
Pure phenols are also used in medicine as nerve blocks, sterile agents, analgesics, personal care products, and preservatives, and are also found in many pharmaceutical products, which all find their way into public drinking water.2
The risk of disinfection byproducts from the combination of pure phenols and chlorine in water has been a concern since the seventies. The most common disinfection byproduct removed by water treatment plants since the eighties is chloroform.6
Today, the problem is that these newly identified disinfection byproducts, called BDA (2-butene-1,4-dial and chloro-2-butene-1,4-dial) are so small and light, they blend in with other naturally occurring dissolved particles in water. BDAs have never been found in drinking water before now. They are very toxic known carcinogens.4
Based on reduced use of chlorine for water treatment in other places (like Europe), researchers now question the need for water chlorination at all. In Europe, where chlorination is not used as frequently, their water is still free from waterborne illnesses.4
Safe Drinking Water: Finding a Solution
Researchers are looking at alternative methods to disinfect drinking water. Clearly, fresh spring water that has never been chlorinated will be your best option. Bottled spring water, as long as it has not been chlorinated, should be okay as well. Phenols occur naturally in all water supplies, so you can’t avoid them. It is the chlorine you need to avoid.
My second choice for water is sourcing a filter that will tackle not only chlorine, but fluoride as well, like a ZeroWater filter or similar system. Fluoride is a very small molecule, and most systems do not remove it. Filtering water to zero dissolved particles may be the best option besides finding clean spring water that has never been chlorinated.
Clearly, much more research needs to be done here.
Find a Spring
If you ask around your local health food store, you may find out there is a local spring you can source your water from.
You can also find a spring in your area online at findaspring.com.
Where do you get your water? And how do you feel about it?