Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Trihalomethanes and Cancer - Not just an imaginary risk! Learn why you should get this stuff OUT of your water.

I used to think Trihalomethanes (THMs) were no big deal. I'd think, "ahhh well... a little chlorine in the water is no big deal. Everybody's got a little chlorine (or some type of chlorine byproduct) in their water, right? I mean, it's not like our water smells like it does in Las Vegas!!!" (no offense Las Vegas). I used to drink it right from the tap.

My thinking was kind of like someone who smokes, saying, well this is nothing, at least I'm not on Heroin! Or a heroin addict saying, well at least I'm still alive!  You can always find a situation that's worse... but that doesn't mean your situation is good!

Since I've been looking up water reports, the average amount of trihalomethanes I've seen in Northern California water seems to be around 50 parts per billion. Maybe that doesn't sound like a lot to you (like it didn't, to me, a few months ago) but it is. Keep in mind that the birth control Nuva Ring is active at just 0.035 parts per billion. Not even ONE part per billion. The legal limit for trihalomethanes is 80 parts per billion.

There is a LOT of evidence that shows trihalomethanes can increase a person's risk for cancer (especially bladder and breast cancer),  problems in pregnancy (stillbirth, low birth weight), anemia, skin irritation, liver problems, kidney problems, or central nervous system problems.  

The Environmental Working Group has some good, important studies about Trihalomethanes posted on their site. CLICK HERE to see EWG's original page. I'm pasting the part about Trihalomethanes below so I can highlight certain facts I think you may want to look at.  I am pasting some more (pretty alarming) facts further down the post. You can see their list of other contaminants by clicking HERE.

In 2007, researchers from four Taiwanese universities reported that people faced twice the odds of dying from bladder cancer if they drank water with trihalomethane contamination greater than 21 parts per billion. This study was cited in the 2011 National Report on Carcinogens, a Congressionally-mandated report produced by the National Toxicology Program, a federal interagency scientific body (Chang 2007, NTP 2011).

In 2007, a scientific team in Spain associated exposure to trihalomethanes greater than 35 parts per billion with increased bladder cancer risks (Villanueva 2007).
In 2011 a French research team, pooling data from studies in France, Finland and Spain, found that men exposed to more than 50 parts per billion of trihalomethanes had significantly increased bladder cancer risks (Costet 2011).
In 2008, scientists from the University of North Carolina found that women exposed to more than 80 parts per billion of trihalomethanes during their third trimester of pregnancy faced twice the risk of delivering a child small for gestational age (Hoffman 2008).
British scientists found a link between 60 parts per billion of trihalomethane exposure and stillbirths (Toledano 2005).

You might be thinking, well, who really gets cancer from water? 

In the last 5 months since I've been looking up water reports, I have heard of about 12 cases of people who developed cancer (some of whom have died) or some other chronic condition (like Parkinson's or serious lung problems) and in every single case, the particular type of cancer they had seemed to correlate with what type of toxins were in their water. True, there's no way to tell for sure how these people got their cancer, but... it's starting to sound like more than coincidence.

A friend of mine recently told me that she has three friends who have bladder cancer. I asked her where her friends live. One lives in Menlo Park (where the level of trihalomethanes was 18-63 PPB), another is in Fremont (where the level was 27.5 - 47.6), and the other is in Belmar, New Jersey (where the level detected was ND-38.3) ("ND" means "Non detect" - or a level that was non detectable, but they can't quite put "zero."). In all these cases, the water has an average level of trihalomethanes that is twice the amount that's shown to cause an increase in bladder cancer (in the Taiwanese study mentioned earlier) and about 20x what California considers to be a safe limit (meaning, an amount that would be considered to pose NO risk).

By the way, not everyone has really high levels of trihalomethanes in their water. For example, Mountain View is one of the few areas in Northern California that's reported to have a relatively low amount of trihalomethanes (.5 parts per billion) on one of their reports (though they have fairly high levels of hexavalent chromium, the "Erin Brockovich" chemical). It was the first reports I'd seen that was actually lower than California's proposed safe limit (0.8). You can see Mountain View's water report by clicking here.  (Note, their level of trihalomethanes is listed as ug/L, which is basically the same as PPB or Parts Per Billion. You can see a conversion chart here).

Not to be a downer, but I do want to clarify, just because Mountain View has low levels of trihalomethanes, does not mean the water is safe to drink from the tap. A friend of mine who lives in Mountain View told me every one of her neighbors has cancer (she attributes the fact that she never had it, to the fact that she always filters her water). My Mom in Hawai'i has also reported that every one of her neighbors has had cancer. Both Mountain View and Hawaii water have fairly high levels of hexavalent chromium in it (about 10x what the California EPA proposes as a "safe limit").

You will not find hexavalent chromium listed on Mountain View's water report, because the water company not required to test for it or report it, as long as it is under the amount set by the Federal EPA. You can see the water report that does have a test for hexavalent chromium (released by the Environmental Working Group), by clicking here.  Who knows what is in the water now. Maybe the levels are lower, maybe they are higher. The best way to find out is to get your water tested (contact me through blogger if you need a resource, I know a guy who can do it cheap and he's very honest and accurate).

I know someone who developed breast cancer (twice) and I looked up her water report (she lives in El Sobrante). She highest level of trihalomethanes I'd seen on EBMUD's whole report. When I told her about the high levels or THMs in the water, she was shocked, and her reaction was, "Who can I sue???" But there's nobody to sue, because very high levels of trihalomethanes (even amounts that are shown to cause cancer in studies) are perfectly legal. It's really up to us to protect ourselves. I feel really strongly that everyone should be filtering their water at home. It would be a waste of money and resources, for water companies to filter all the water before it reached our homes when so much of the water we use at home is not used for drinking or cooking.

There are levels of risk that are involved in a lot of things people do. There's risk in getting in your car and driving to a store. There's risk in putting your money in the stock market. When you get on the WIFI in a public place, you run the risk that someone could hack into your computer. You have a risk of your identity being stolen just by sitting at home minding your own business, while someone is stealing your mail!

The government is well aware that there is a risk for people to develop cancer from trihalomethanes, but they are working with the budget they have (people would bitch about our taxes going up if they forced water companies to get the level of trihalomethanes to almost zero). I just wish they would warn more people that they really should filter their own water.

It says right on the Environmental Protection Agency's siteEPA strongly encourages people to learn more about their drinking water, and to support local efforts to protect the supply of safe drinking water and upgrade the community water system.

The EPA doesn't have the budget to broadcast thousands of commercials during prime time television just to make sure you are fully aware that there could be toxic chemicals in the water, that are usually at levels twice the amount shown to cause cancer in studies. It's on their website. The information is available. It doesn't matter if you wouldn't normally go there to find it, or if you're a renter and don't get a water bill and would never actually see a water quality report in in the mail (or read information about how to view it). As far as the EPA is concerned, they have done their job by putting the info on their website, and if you don't happen to see it or know about it... too bad for you!

I'm really happy that there have been many news reports warning the public that bottled water is very bad for the environment.  But it alarms me that they make it sound like tap water is perfectly safe to drink, which, in my opinion, it is NOT. I believe at some point our government will make a greater effort to tell us that we should filter our tap water at home, but that could take decades.

The information below (before highlighting and bolding, etc)  is from EWG's Website:


Forgotten Toxics in American Water

Water treatment plants along the East Coast are struggling to recover from Superstorm Sandy, whose torrential rains washed tens of millions of gallons of raw or partially treated sewage into waterways.
View and Download the report here: 2013 Tap Water Report
The less dramatic but equally urgent story: inside those waterworks, and others across the nation, chlorine, added as a disinfectant to kill disease- causing microganisms in dirty source water, is reacting with rotting organic matter like sewage, manure from livestock, dead animals and fallen leaves to form toxic chemicals that are potentially harmful to people.
This unintended side effect of chlorinating water to meet federal drinking water regulations creates a family of chemicals known as trihalomethanes. The Environmental Protection Agency lumps them under the euphemism “disinfection byproducts” but we call them what they are: toxic trash.
The EPA regulates four members of the trihalomethane family, the best known of which is chloroform, once used as an anesthetic and, in pulp detective stories, to knock out victims. Today, the U.S. government classifies chloroform as a “probable” human carcinogen. California officials consider it a “known” carcinogen. Three other regulated trihalomethanes are bromodichloromethane, bromoform, and dibromochloromethane. Hundreds more types of toxic trash are unregulated.
Scientists suspect that trihalomethanes in drinking water may cause thousands of cases of bladder cancer every year. These chemicals have also been linked to colon and rectal cancer, birth defects, low birth weight and miscarriage (NHDES 2006).

When Does Water Treatment Contamination Reach the Danger Point?

An Environmental Working Group analysis of water quality tests conducted in 2011 and made public last year by 201 large American municipal water systems in 43 states has determined that each of these systems detected thihalomethane contamination. In short, more than 100 million Americans served by these large waterworks were exposed to toxic trash.
Only one of the systems studied by EWG – Davenport, Iowa – exceeded the EPA rule barring more than 80 parts per billion of trihalomethanes in drinking water (see Appendix). This legal limit was set in 1998, based on the potential for trihalomethanes to cause bladder cancer. The 80-parts-per-billion standard was part of a major Clinton administration initiative to improve federal drinking water protections under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.
Yet the significant toxicity of trihalomethanes and other water contaminants generated by water treatment chemicals, documented by large numbers of scientists around the world, makes a compelling case for lowering the federal legal limit to well below 80 parts per billion. Since 1998, the evidence implicating trihalomethanes in serious disorders has mounted:
In 2011 a French research team, pooling data from studies in France, Finland and Spain, found that men exposed to more than 50 parts per billion of trihalomethanes had significantly increased bladder cancer risks (Costet 2011).
In 2007, a scientific team in Spain associated exposure to trihalomethanes greater than 35 parts per billion with increased bladder cancer risks (Villanueva 2007).
In 2007, researchers from four Taiwanese universities reported that people faced twice the odds of dying from bladder cancer if they drank water with trihalomethane contamination greater than 21 parts per billion. This study was cited in the 2011 National Report on Carcinogens, a Congressionally-mandated report produced by the National Toxicology Program, a federal interagency scientific body (Chang 2007, NTP 2011).
A 2010 study by the National Cancer Institute found that about a quarter of the human population may have a genetic susceptibility that raises its risk of bladder cancer from trihalomethanes (Cantor 2010).
Some 168 of the systems studied by EWG, or 84 percent, reported average annual trihalomethane contamination greater than 21 parts per billion – the level at which Taiwanese researchers detected a heightened risk of bladder cancer. Concentrations greater than 35 parts per billion were found in 107, or 53 percent of these systems. In 2005, the EPA considered lowering the legal limit for trihalomethanes to 40 parts per billion, calculating that this move would prevent nearly 1,300 bladder cancer cases each year and save the U.S. between $2.9 and $7.1 billion (EPA 2005). The agency did not attempt to establish this lower standard as a regulation with the force of law. Instead it made marginal improvements in the way it would measure trihalomethanes for compliance with existing regulations and gave water treatment facilities until 2016 to comply with these modest changes.

Contamination Spikes Present Special Risks During Pregnancy

EWG’s analysis suggests that many people are likely exposed to far higher concentrations of trihalomethanes than anyone knows. The EPA regulation for these toxic chemicals is based on the system-wide annual average. But in most water systems, trihalomethane contamination fluctuates from month to month, sometimes rising well beyond the 80 parts-per-billion federal cap. Contamination spikes are offset by low readings that keep the systems in legal compliance.
The EPA standard for trihalomethanes is based on preventing bladder cancer, but the agency has noted that these chemicals may present reproductive and developmental risks as well (EPA 2012a). A spike that lasts three months exposes a pregnant woman and her fetus to excessive trihalomethane for an entire trimester, a critical window of development. Scientific research has shown that such intensive exposure can have serious consequences for the child. Three studies published last year:
Australian scientists found that when women in their third trimester of pregnancy consumed water with 25 parts per billion of chloroform, their newborns were small for their gestational age, meaning that they typically had birth weights in the lowest ten percent of newborns and were at higher risk for a various health problems (Summerhayes 2012).
Canadian researchers found that exposure to more than 100 parts per billion of trihalomethanes during the last trimester of pregnancy was associated with newborns small for their gestational age (Levallois 2012).
Taiwanese researchers linked stillbirth risks to trihalomethane levels as low as 20 parts per billion (Hwang 2012).
Numerous other studies have associated reproductive and developmental problems with trihalomethanes. Among them:
In 2008, scientists from the University of North Carolina found that women exposed to more than 80 parts per billion of trihalomethanes during their third trimester of pregnancy faced twice the risk of delivering a child small for gestational age (Hoffman 2008).
British scientists found a link between 60 parts per billion of trihalomethane exposure and stillbirths (Toledano 2005).
In 2003, a team from the Harvard School of Public Health linked exposures to more than 80 parts per billion of trihalomethanes during the second trimester of pregnancy to low birth weight and small-for-gestational-age newborns (Wright 2003).
In 2002 researchers at the Federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry reviewed the findings of 14 major studies and concluded that there was “moderate evidence” for an association between trihalomethane exposure, small-for-gestational-age newborns, neural tube defects and miscarriage (Bove 2002). The neural tube is the structure in the fetus that develops into the brain and spinal cord.

Trihalomethanes Are Just the Tip of the Iceberg

Studies have shown that there are more than 600 unwanted chemicals created by the interaction of water treatment disinfectants and pollutants in source water (Barlow 2004, Richardson 1998, 1999a, 1999b, 2003). Most of these water treatment contaminants have not been studied in depth. Among them: haloacetonitriles, haloaldehydes, haloketones, halohydroxyfuranones, haloquinones, aldehydes, haloacetamides, halonitriles, halonitromethanes, nitrosamines, organic N-chloramines, iodoacids, ketones and carboxylic acids (Bond 2011, Bull 2011, EWG 2001, Plewa 2004, Yang 2012). Some of these compounds are suspected carcinogens (Bull 2011). Notably, scientists believe that hundreds more water treatment contaminants are present in drinking water but have not yet been identified (Barlow 2004).
Besides the four regulated trihalomethanes, the EPA regulates five other contaminants in a family of chemicals known as haloacetic acids -- monochloroacetic acid, dichloroacetic acid, trichloroacetic acid, monobromoacetic acid and dibromoacetic acid (EPA 2012b). The current EPA legal limit for these five chemicals is 60 parts per billion.
While there have been relatively few epidemiological studies on the potential health effects of haloacetic acids, there is evidence suggesting that exposure to these chemicals during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy may be linked to intrauterine growth retardation and low birth weight (Levallois 2012, Hinckley 2005; Porter 2005).
Haloacetic acids have been classified by the EPA as possibly carcinogenic to humans because of evidence of carcinogenicity in animals. According to the EPA, long-term consumption of water that contains haloacetic acid concentrations in excess the legal limit of 60 parts per billion is associated with an increased risk of cancer (EPA 2002). A technical bulletin released by the Oregon Department of Human Services in 2004 warned that long-term exposure to haloacetic acids at or above 60 parts per billion may cause injury to the brain, nerves, liver, kidneys, eyes and reproductive systems.
Some studies point to concerns with specific haloacetic acids. Dibromoacetic acid has been shown to disturb the balance of the intestinal tract and to cause disease, especially in people with weakened immune systems (Rusin 1997). This particular haloacetic acid compound is toxic to the sperm of adult rats at concentrations as low as 10 parts per billion. At high doses, it has caused a range of neurological problems in test animals, including awkward gait, tremors and immovable hind limbs (Linder 1995). Two members of the haloacetic acid family -- dichloroacetic acid and trichloroacetic acid -- have been shown to cause severe skin and eye irritations in humans (NTP 2005).

The article below is from the OEHHA site (Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment).... in other words, the California EPA.



The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) of the California Environmental Protection Agency is announcing the availability of the draft technical support document for a proposed Public Health Goal (PHG) for trihalomethanes (THMs) in drinking water. The draft document on THMs has been revised since the first posting to provide a proposed PHG of 0.8 parts per billion for the combined chemicals (chloroform, bromodichloromethane, chlorodibromomethane, and bromoform), rather than separate values for the individual disinfection byproducts. The draft document is posted on the OEHHA web site ( OEHHA is soliciting comments on the draft report during a 30-day comment period. The Office previously offered a 45-day public comment period and held a public workshop on these chemicals on August 7, 2009.
This 30-day public comment period is the second and final request for public input. OEHHA will evaluate all the comments received and revise the document as appropriate. Written comments must be received at the OEHHA address below by 5:00 p.m. on October 11, 2010 to be considered for the final revision of the document. The final document will be posted on the OEHHA web site along with responses to the major comments received during the public review and scientific comment periods. OEHHA follows the requirements set forth in Health and Safety Code Sections 57003(a) and 116365 for conducting the workshop and receiving public input.
The PHG technical support documents provide information on the health effects of contaminants in drinking water. The PHG is a level of drinking water contaminant at which adverse health effects are not expected to occur from a lifetime of exposure. The California Safe Drinking Water Act of 1996 requires OEHHA to develop PHGs based exclusively on public health considerations. PHGs published by OEHHA are considered by the California Department of Public Health in setting drinking water standards (Maximum Contaminant Levels, or MCLs).
If you would like to receive further information on this announcement or have questions, please contact OEHHA at (510) 622-3170 or the address below.
Hermelinda Jimenez (
Pesticide and Environmental Toxicology Branch
Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment
California Environmental Protection Agency
1515 Clay St., 16th floor
Oakland, California 94612
Attention: PHG Project

The information below was taken directly from the EPA's site, and you can see it HERE.

Basic Information about Disinfection Byproducts in Drinking Water: Total Trihalomethanes, Haloacetic Acids, Bromate, and Chlorite

To protect drinking water from disease-causing organisms, or pathogens, water suppliers often add a disinfectant, such as chlorine, to drinking water. However, disinfection practices can be complicated because certain microbial pathogens, such as Cryptosporidium, are highly resistant to traditional disinfection practices. Also, disinfectants themselves can react with naturally-occurring materials in the water to form byproducts, which may pose health risks.
A major challenge for water suppliers is how to control and limit the risks from pathogens and disinfection byproducts. It is important to provide protection from pathogens while simultaneously minimizing health risks to the population from disinfection byproducts. For more information, see fact sheets on Pathogens and Indicators and Disinfectants.

What disinfection byproducts does EPA regulate, how are they formed, and what are their health effects in drinking water at levels above the maximum contaminant level?
Disinfection Byproduct (Chemical Abstract Service Registry Number)How is it formed?Health Effects
Total Trihalomethanes
Bromodichloromethane (75-27-4)Trihalomethanes occur when naturally-occurring organic and inorganic materials in the water react with the disinfectants, chlorine and chloramine.Some people who drink water containing total trihalomethanes in excess of the MCL over many years could experience liver, kidney, or central nervous system problems and increased risk of cancer.
Bromoform (75-25-2)
Dibromochloromethane (124-48-1)
Chloroform (67-66-3)
Haloacetic acids:
Dichloroacetic acid (79-43-6)Haloacetic acids occur when naturally-occurring organic and inorganic materials in the water react with the disinfectants, chlorine and chloramine.Some people who drink water containing haloacetic acids in excess of the MCL over many years may have an increased risk of getting cancer.
Trichloroacetic acid (76-03-9)
Chloroacetic acid (79-11-8)
Bromoacetic acid(79-08-3)
Dibromoacetic acid (631-64-1)
Bromate (15541-45-4)Bromate occurs when bromide in the water reacts with the disinfectant, ozone.Some people who drink water containing bromate in excess of theMCL over many years may have an increased risk of getting cancer.
Chlorite (7758-19-2)Chlorite occurs when chlorine dioxide breaks down.Some infants and young children who drink water containing chlorite in excess of the MCL could experience nervous system effects. Similar effects may occur in fetuses of pregnant women who drink water containing chlorite in excess of the MCL. Some people may experience anemia.
This health effects language is not intended to catalog all possible health effects for disinfection byproducts. Rather, it is intended to inform consumers of some of the possible health effects associated with disinfection byproducts in drinking water when the rule was finalized.

What are EPA’s drinking water regulations for disinfection byproducts?
In 1974, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act. This law requires EPA to determine the level of contaminants in drinking water at which no adverse health effects are likely to occur. These non-enforceable health goals, based solely on possible health risks and exposure over a lifetime, with an adequate margin of safety, are called maximum contaminant level goals (MCLG). Contaminants are any physical, chemical, biological or radiological substances or matter in water. EPA sets MCLGs based on the best available science to prevent potential health problems.
Based on the MCLGEPA sets an enforceable regulation called a maximum contaminant level (MCL). MCLs are set as close to the health goals as possible, considering cost, benefits and the ability of public water systems to detect and remove contaminants using suitable treatment technologies. MCLs for disinfection byproducts are set at the following levels:
Levels for Total Trihalomethanes
Disinfection ByproductMCLGMCL
BromodichloromethaneZero0.080 mg/L or 80 ppb
(Sum of the concentrations of all four trihalomethanes) as an annual average
Dibromochloromethane0.06 mg/L or 60ppb
Chloroform0.07 mg/L or 70ppb

Levels for Haloacetic acids
Disinfection ByproductMCLGMCL
Dichloroacetic acidZero0.060 mg/L or 60 ppb
(Sum of the concentrations of all five haloacetic acids) as an annual average
Trichloroacetic acid0.02 mg/L or 20 ppb
Monochloroacetic acid0.07 mg/L or 70 ppb
Bromoacetic acidRegulated with this group but has no MCLG
Dibromoacetic acidRegulated with this group but has no MCLG
BromateZero0.010 mg/L or 10 ppb as an annual average
Chlorite0.80 mg/L or 800 ppb1.0 mg/L or 1 part per million (ppm)
MCLs are set as close to the health goals as possible, considering cost, benefits and the ability of public water systems to detect and remove contaminants using suitable treatment technologies. States may set more stringent drinking waterMCLGs and MCLs for disinfection byproducts than EPA.
The following drinking water regulations apply to disinfectants and disinfection byproducts:
  • Stage 1 Disinfectants and Disinfection Byproducts Rule (Stage 1 DBP) (December 16, 1998)
    The Stage 1 Disinfectants and Disinfection Byproducts Rule reduces exposure to disinfection byproducts for customers of community water systems and non-transient non-community systems, including those serving fewer than 10,000 people, that add a disinfectant to the drinking water during any part of the treatment process.
  • Stage 2 Disinfectants and Disinfection Byproducts Rule (Stage 2 DBP) (December 15, 2005)
    Stage 2 DBP rule builds upon earlier rules that addressed disinfection byproducts to improve your drinking water quality and provide additional public health protection from disinfection byproducts.
The Safe Drinking Water Act requires EPA to periodically review the national primary drinking water regulation for each contaminant and revise the regulation, if appropriate, based on new scientific data. EPA will include the Disinfectants and Disinfection Byproducts rules in a future review cycle.

How will I know if disinfection byproducts are in my drinking water?
When routine monitoring indicates that disinfection byproduct levels are above the MCL, your water supplier must take steps to reduce the amount of disinfection byproductsso that they are below that level. Water suppliers must notify their customers as soon as practical, but no later than 30 days after the system learns of the violation. Additional actions, such as providing alternative drinking water supplies, may be required to prevent serious risks to public health.

How will disinfection byproducts be removed from my drinking water?
Water systems that use surface water or ground water under the direct influence of surface water and use conventional filtration treatment are required to remove specified percentages of organic materials that may react with disinfectants to form disinfection byproducts, prior to disinfection. Other control strategies include modification of disinfection practices in a manner that still provides adequate protection against pathogens.

How do I learn more about my drinking water?
EPA strongly encourages people to learn more about their drinking water, and to support local efforts to protect the supply of safe drinking water and upgrade the community water system. Your water bill or telephone book’s government listings are a good starting point for local information.
Contact your water utility. EPA requires all community water systems to prepare and deliver an annual consumer confidence report (CCR) (sometimes called a water quality report) for their customers by July 1 of each year. If your water provider is not a community water system, or if you have a private water supply, request a copy from a nearby community water system.

Other EPA websites

You will need Adobe Reader to view some of the files in this section. See EPA's PDF page to learn more.

Other Federal Departments and Agencies