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Chemicals Used to Disinfect Water Create Dangerous Toxins

Saturday, April 04, 2009 by: Sherry Baker, Health Sciences Editor
Tags: water supply, health news, Natural News

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(NewsTarget) If you swim in a pool or drink water from your public water supply, you know the water has been disinfected by chemicals. But this process, which is often called "purifying" water, appears to not make water "pure" for the body. In fact, a recent study by University of Illinois scientists published in the scientific journal Mutation Research shows the chemicals used to treat water we drink and use in swimming pools causes a reaction with organic materials in the water that creates dangerous, cancer-causing toxins known as disinfection by-products (DBPs).

"The reason that you and I can go to a drinking fountain and not be fearful of getting cholera is because we disinfect water in the United States. But the process of disinfecting water with chlorine and chloramines and other types of disinfectants generates a class of compounds in the water that are called disinfection by-products. The disinfectant reacts with the organic material in the water and generates hundreds of different compounds. Some of these are toxic, some can cause birth defects, some are genotoxic, which damage DNA, and some we know are also carcinogenic," University of Illinois geneticist Michael Plewa said in a statement to the media.

A 10-year, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funded study headed by Dr. Plewa used specially developed mammalian cell lines to analyze the impact of these compounds. Specifically, the researchers analyzed the cytotoxicity (ability to cause cell death) and DNA genome damage caused by disinfection by-products.

"Our lab has assembled the largest toxicological data base on these emerging new DBPs. And from them we've made two fundamental discoveries that hopefully will aid the U.S. EPA in their regulatory decisions. The two discoveries are somewhat surprising," Dr. Plewa stated.

The first discovery of the University of Illinois research team involved water with naturally high bromine and iodine in it, produced primarily from sea water or underground aquifers most likely linked to ancient sea beds in the past. When this type of water was disinfected with chemicals, DBPs were produced that had iodine atoms attached -- creating a gene harming toxin.

The second discovery revealed a danger from nitrogen-containing DBPs. "Disinfectant by-products that have a nitrogen atom incorporated into the structure are far more toxic and genotoxic, and some even carcinogenic, than those DBPs that don't have nitrogen. And there are no nitrogen-containing DBPs that are currently regulated," Dr. Plewa said in the media statement.

And it isn't only drinking water that can be loaded with danger. Swimming pools and hot tubs are hazardous, too. "You've got all of this organic material called 'people' -- and people sweat and use sunscreen and wear cosmetics that come off in the water. People may urinate in a public pool. Hair falls into the water and then this water is chlorinated. But the water is recycled again and again so the levels of DBPs can be ten-fold higher than what you have in drinking water," Dr. Plewa stated in the press release.

Swimming often results in longer exposure to toxic chemicals that are both absorbed through the skin and inhaled. This could explain previous studies that have revealed higher levels of bladder cancer and asthma in people who are frequent swimmers.

"The big concern that we have is babies in public pools because young children and especially babies are much more susceptible to DNA damage in agents because their bodies are growing and they're replicating DNA like crazy," Dr. Plewa warned.

As a researcher with a National Science Foundation Center called WaterCAMPWS at the University of Illinois, Dr. Plewa is currently working with engineers and chemists to develop new technologies that will disinfect and desalinate water and also remove pharmaceuticals from water without generating by-products that are even more toxic than the compounds trying to be removed. Until new technologies are created to safely disinfect the water in public pools especially, Dr. Plewa urges people to bathe or shower before jumping in for a swim. "It's the organic material that gets in the pool that is disinfected and then recirculated over and over again. That's why we call swimming pools disinfectant by-product reactors. But by public education, by personal behavior, there should be ways that we can reduce the levels of the dissolved organic material that should reduce the level of DBPs," he stated.

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About the author

Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA's "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine's "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic's "Men's Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.

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