100,000 cases of cancer in US could come from tap water chemicals

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Chemicals in unfiltered tap water across America could lead to more than 100,000 cases of cancer across the U.S. over the course of a lifetime due to carcinogenic contaminants, according to a new study released by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). The study says it's an indicator that communities need to protect source water and consumers need to consider filtration options at home.

The authors say it's the first study applying a cumulative cancer risk framework to analyze drinking water contaminants for the entire United States. It analyzed water quality from 48,363 community water systems, the majority of which already comply with national drinking water standards.

"The majority of this risk is due to the presence of arsenic, disinfection byproducts and radioactive contaminants," the abstract of the study, published in the journal Heliyon, said.

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"Overall, tap water exposure to the carcinogenic contaminants analyzed in this study corresponds to 105,887 estimated lifetime cancer cases," the study found. That equates to four lifetime cancer cases in every 10,000 people.

That's higher than the one-in-a-million benchmark considered the minimum by U.S. regulatory agencies, according to the study.

"Overall, state- and national-level cumulative cancer risks due to carcinogenic water contaminants are similar in magnitude to the risks reported for carcinogenic air pollutants," the study concludes. "Thus, improving water quality at the tap and investing in measures for source water protections represent opportunities for protecting public health and decreasing potential disease incidence due to environmental pollution."

The EWG reportedly says one way that consumers can protect themselves is with filtration systems, some of which are relatively inexpensive such as Brita filters which come either in pitchers or can be attached to faucets. But those don't filter out everything. More expensive systems to filter out arsenic can cost thousands of dollars.

The study notes that U.S. drinking water analyzed in the study can be seen at this EWG web page. Detailed information about the database can be found at this link.