“Symbol of creation, harbour of all seeds, water becomes the supreme magic and medicinal substance; it heals, it restores youth, it ensures eternal life”
-–…Mircea Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religions.
The municipal water and public health crisis of tap water contamination with lead in Flint, Michigan was a wake- up call and underscores the 2017 report from the Natural Resources Defense Council that U.S. residents have a one-in-four chance that their tap water is either unsafe to drink or has not been properly monitored for contaminants. (See https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/whats-in-your-water-flint-beyond-report.pdf)
It is difficult to find pure, potable water almost anywhere on the planet, and that shortage is exacerbated because of chemical contamination. This contamination results from pesticides, heavy metals like lead and mercury, copper from pipes, arsenic compounds, radioactivity in some regions, excessive amounts of nitrates and phosphates, potentially harmful bacteria and other microorganisms, even pharmaceutical products excreted by humans and other animals given various drugs, and also industrial pollutants especially dioxins and PCBs. Pollution of the air can result in contaminated rain, which can pollute lakes, crops, the water we drink and the food we eat.
Water contamination by high phosphate and other domestic and commercial laundry detergents, cleaning agents and industrial solvents has serious ecological and public health consequences. Government regulations and oversight are no substitute for consumer, business and industry responsibility to take immediate steps to phase out their use of and dependence upon these chemicals, and in many instances, give a false sense of security and even official sanction. .
Water treatment facilities, and most water-purification systems, (like reverse osmosis, ultraviolet and ozone disinfection, ion exchange and activated carbon filters) may not control all of these contaminants that can pose serious health problems to people and to our animal companions. The widespread chlorination of water to kill bacteria causes further problems especially when there are high levels of naturally occurring organic contaminants because byproducts like chloroform and trihalomethanes are formed that are highly carcinogenic, causing kidney, liver, and intestinal tumors, and also kidney, liver and brain damage, as well as birth and developmental defects in test animals. Alternative water disinfection with chloramines, a hoped-for safer alternative to chlorine, also results in the formation of highly toxic iodoacetic and holoacetic acids.
Compounding these health-hazards of already contaminated water is the addition of fluoride, a byproduct of the phosphate fertilizer industry, ostensibly to strengthen peoples’ teeth and prevent cavities. But in order to do this, fluoride must be in direct contact with the teeth. That means the fluoride must be applied topically. Studies have shown no benefit from ingested fluoride.
On the contrary, fluoride can mottle the teeth and cause a host of health problems, notably osteoporosis, arthritis, kidney disease, and hypothyroidism. Fluoride has also been linked with gastrointestinal ailments, allergic skin reactions, impaired cognitive ability in children, harm to the pineal gland that helps regulate the onset of puberty, and possibly cause cancer.
Of particular concern: Where there is some already existing kidney disease, the kidneys’ ability to excrete fluoride becomes markedly impaired, leading to a build-up of fluoride in the body.
I am also very concerned about the widespread use of aluminum chlorhydrate and other aluminum compounds, various anionic and cationic emulsions and powder polymers, and especially polyacrylamide, for waste-water treatment. These chemicals are used to cause flocculation and coagulation of various wastes, including the effluent from poultry slaughter/packing plants. Wastes that contain these added agents may be variously used as fertilizer and livestock feed. Acrylamides are carcinogenic and can cause genetic damage, neurological problems and birth defects, and therefore may result in a hazard if they get into our food-chain and drinking water. Clearly trading one or more health risks from contaminated water for others created by water treatment processes is ill advised. Safer, cost-effective, organic, microbial and ecologically-based alternative systems of water treatment, recovery, purification and waste management/disposal are most urgently called for.
It is for the above reasons that I advise all people to drink water that has ideally been tested and treated/purified as needed, and to provide no less for their animal companions. In purchasing so called pure spring water ( that may or may not only require sand-filtration to meet with US National Sanitation Standards certification), the user should know the source of the water, has access to verified water test results, and knows where the aquifer is recharged. The quality of the ground water can change over time and should periodically be retested.
The mineral content of spring water, and water from remote, often high altitude, glacial and other isolated sources far from industrial and agricultural activities, are generally extremely beneficial, but excesses need to be closely monitored because of possible trace-nutrient imbalances that they may cause, and also urinary calculi or stones. Purified, distilled water, lacking in these essential minerals, may actually result in osteoporosis and other health problems. (Note, agricultural chemical contaminants have been found in alpine / glacial waters. They volatilize from warm fields then condense on cold snow and ice).
Water from private wells, according to the Scientific Investigations report 2011-5059 by the U.S.Geological Survey entitled Trace Elements and Radon in Groundwater Across the United States 1992-2003, should always be tested. Different regions have different problems. In many regions, arsenic, uranium and manganese most frequently exceeded either health standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency or health guidelines developed by the USGS and the EPA. Arsenic, radon and chromium are carcinogens, cadmium and uranium can damage kidneys and manganese may have neurological effects. Boron might lead to smaller fetuses and damage to male reproductive organs, while barium can cause high blood pressure and lithium can suppress the thyroid.
Some cats have a clear aversion to drinking tap water, a possibly natural instinctual reaction to potentially harmful chlorine, fluoride, and other contaminants. Many prefer to drink from a dripping faucet or cat water dispenser, possibly because there is less aversive smell than in standing water in a bowl.
Cats’ aversion to tap water is compounded by many becoming addicted to dry food, which is associated with several health problems, especially inflammation of the urinary bladder and the development of stones/sand/urinary calculi, and urethral blockage in male cats (i.e. the so-called feline urologic syndrome). Cats, being of a desert origin and physiology, lack the normal thirst mechanism when their diet is dry and deprives them of fluids, so they may fail to properly regulate their fluid balance by drinking more to compensate for an all-dry food diet, and suffer the consequences of the feline urologic syndrome and ultimately fatal kidney failure that is now taking many cats at an early age.
Some cats have developed skin problems (inflammation and small pustules) under their chins that clear up when their water bowls are switched from plastic to glass or stainless steel. So I strongly advise people with cats and dogs not to use plastic containers for the animals’ water or food because of possible leaching of potentially harmful chemicals.
Since cats drink little water at the best of times, they should always be given pure spring water, or the closest equivalent, since poor quality water will only worsen their already compromised condition of inadequate hydration.
Older animals, like older people, at risk from chronic heart and kidney disease, should not be given water that has been treated with salt (sodium chloride) to soften it. Hard water for domestic use is often treated with salt to soften it, and especially in apartments and condominiums treatment of the central water supply to both cold and hot water faucets is not separated, which means that soft/salt-contaminated water comes out of both faucets. Older animals with chronic kidney disease, diabetes, and other health problems, and those on certain medications like prednisone, will drink copious quantities of water, and thus be more at risk from absorbing more than normal quantities of water-born chemical contaminants.
Dogs, when outdoors, often want to drink from puddles and ponds. They should not be allowed to do so because standing water can be heavily contaminated with the chemical cocktail of road-run-off, as well as various pathogens: giardia, cryptosporidia, blue-green algae neurotoxin, botulism-toxin bacteria, harmful fungus that can cause fatal pythiosis or “swamp cancer”, fecal bacteria from humans, farmed animal wastes that cause periodic epidemics of flu-like food poisoning in the human population, and also lawn, garden and golf-course pesticides and other harmful chemical run-off, most especially from agriculture.
We humans have disrupted and contaminated the hydrological cycle/ system on this “Blue Water” planet Earth, at potentially great cost to our own health and to all other life forms that, like us, need water to live. Many creatures live in the polluted surface waters of the planet from which neither they, nor we, have any escape.
We are drinking the chemicals that we expected nature’s ecosystems could somehow assimilate, dilute and neutralize. But that is not always the case, as any chemical analysis of human and whale mother’s milk will affirm. But there are long-term solutions beyond the science and technology of water purification and de-salinization that alone cannot guarantee a safe and sustainable source of drinking water for the generations to come. Solutions include reducing or eliminating the use of pesticides —herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and chemical fertilizers on our lawns, gardens, golf-courses and crops, organic and sustainable agriculture being one hope for the future. Managing pollutant releases from waste-disposal, incineration, energy, petrochemical, paper, plastic and other consumer-driven commodity and appliance industries so that the fewer pollutants they release into consumable air and surface waters the better their profits. In the process they could market no products or by-products that cannot be recycled without harm to the health, vitality, integrity and beauty of this living Earth, and all who dwell therein.
We can no longer take water for granted as one of Nature’s bountiful, pure and eternally renewable resources. Water is the fundamental life-source that sustains all beings, and to our peril and the demise of this living planet, we have thoughtlessly squandered and poisoned this basic, vital element of existence. We cannot trust that the water coming from our faucets and wells is safe to drink or to give to our animals and the science of water-safety and quality evaluation is relatively still in its infancy. We have very good tools to monitor, evaluate, and understand water quality, but the funding to do this work is far short of what is needed to effectively accomplish the work that needs to be done.
Even so, consumer-citizen tax payers have a right to have their municipal water authorities test domestic water sources regularly, and make their findings available to the public; and to have better monitoring and law enforcement to protect open waters from pollution run-off from peoples’ lawns and gardens, as well as from agriculture and other human activities and various industries. And just as the organic foods market has accelerated with increased, informed consumer demand over the past decade, so in this next decade of the 21st century, a more informed public is demanding pure water, some of the purest coming from ancient springs and as yet uncontaminated and sustainable deep aquifers. But these sources will not last for ever, and delivery to where potable water is needed, and fresh water for crop irrigation and livestock, is increasingly problematic. It is the responsibility of us all to conserve the waters of life, to stop polluting, and to treat this basic resource that sustains all life with respect and gratitude.
Those northern states of the US have an immediate and most urgent responsibility at this time to reduce the agricultural, industrial and municipal sewage pollution of rivers, and over-exploitation of same, through diversion and dam-construction for commodity-crop irrigation and dairy and other livestock production, notably facilitated for decades by the US Corps of Engineers, (that has put the Florida Everglades on the never-glades path to extinction for the sugar and cattle industries), and for industrial -scale orchard/plantation irrigation after natural ecosystems have been annihilated, along with the many wildlife species like the wolf, the lynx, the Florida panther, the flying squirrel and the coatimundi. The rivers/waterways that flow south across the North American continent, harm all southern states that take what poisoned water is left, and ultimately the Texas Gulf, where an area of ocean the size of Rhode Island is void of any life according to marine biologists and the local fishing industry.
All who care about their health, the health of their families and companion animals, will see the wisdom of acquiring the best quality water that they can, and not adhere to the erroneous belief that treated municipal tap water is necessarily safe for consumption . In many locales it may actually be safer than bottled water, the market for which has created another environmental crisis of disposable plastic bottles. Water quality and safety is a wake-up call for us all, and confirms the truism that when we harm the earth, we harm ourselves. The health of the Earth, of aquatic as well as terrestrial ecosystems, like the health of the human population, are interdependent, linked by air and water quality that for the good of all we must improve and maintain.
In tests conducted in 2011, trace amounts of sex hormones, prescription drugs, flame retardants and herbicides were detected in the treated drinking water of more than 7 million people in Chicago and its suburbs. City officials discovered that more than two dozen pharmaceutical drugs and other unregulated chemicals pass through Chicago’s massive treatment plants. Substances found in the city’s latest tests include the sex hormones progesterone and testosterone, gemfibrozil, a prescription cholesterol-fighting drug; and DEET, the active ingredient in bug sprays.
Perfluorooctane sulfonate, an ingredient in Scotchgard stain-fighting coatings, tris (2-butoxyethyl) phosphate, a flame retardant chemical, and bisphenol A, a plastic additive that is an endocrine system disruptor.
Like other cities, Chicago authorities must notify the public if its drinking water contains regulated contaminants, including lead, pesticides and harmful bacteria. There is no such requirement if pharmaceuticals and other unregulated substances are detected.
Environmental reporter Jeff McMahon writes in Forbes Magazine (8/9/11) -“—volatile organic compounds, perchlorate and hexavalent chromium are among 6,000 toxins the EPA has yet to regulate in municipal drinking water systems. After a scathing review by the General Accounting Office, the EPA has begun to develop regulations to remove these chemicals from tap and bottled water—and industry has begun efforts to delay or prevent their implementation.
While government and industry wrestle over regulations, McMahon provides the following synopsis of the most hazardous drinking water contaminants, and the best ways to remove them from your water without government help:
Earlier this year the EPA reversed a Bush Administration decision to leave perchlorate unregulated and to pursue perchlorate first in a new push for stricter drinking water regulations.
An important ingredient in rocket fuel, fireworks, and explosives, Perchlorate can disrupt the thyroid gland’s production of hormones essential to prenatal and postnatal development and body metabolism, according to EPA and National Sanitation Foundation.
“Monitoring data show more than 4 percent of public water systems have detected perchlorate and between 5 million and 17 million people may be served drinking water containing perchlorate,” according to EPA.
Perchlorate can be removed from drinking water through reverse osmosis.
“The protocol requires a reverse osmosis unit to be able to reduce 130 ppb perchlorates to 4 ppb or less in the treated water supply,” according to NSF.
The EPA has a drinking water standard for total chromium, but not all forms of chromium pack the same punch, and the total chromium standard may be allowing unhealthy levels of toxic chromium into the water supply.
Hexavalent chromium, or chromium-6, in drinking water has been traced to stomach cancer in humans and animals, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. It has also been linked to liver, kidney, circulatory and reproductive disorders.
Last week the city of Chicago released test results showing levels of hexavalent chromium more than ten times higher than California’s recently-adopted health standard. The California standard, 2 parts per billion, is designed for a risk level of one additional case of cancer per million people:
“For every million people who drink tap water with that level of chromium 6 each day for 70 years, there is likely to be one additional case of cancer from exposure to the chemical,” according to the California Office of Health Hazard Assessment.
Like perchlorate, hexavalent chromium can be removed from water through reverse osmosis. According to NSF, it can also be removed through distillation and certain types of water filters.
EPA proposes to streamline the regulation of additional toxins by regulating chemical groups rather than individual compounds, the first group being The first group a set of 16 volatile organic compounds known to cause cancer.
The EPA already regulates eight VOCs, including common industrial solvents and petroleum products, as carcinogens. In revising its standard for some of those, it intends to add eight that are currently unregulated:
The Agency is considering eight currently regulated compounds (benzene; carbon tetrachloride; 1,2- dichloroethane; 1,2-dichloropropane; dichloromethane; tetrachloroethylene; trichloroethylene; vinyl chloride) and eight unregulated compounds (aniline; benzyl chloride; 1,3-butadiene; 1,1-dichloroethane; nitrobenzene; oxirane methyl; 1,2,3-trichloropropane and urethane). All of these VOCs are known or suspected to cause cancer.”
PFASs; Another Water Safety & Health Issue
“Drinking water contamination with poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) poses risks to the developmental, immune, metabolic, and endocrine health of consumers. We present a spatial analysis of 2013–2015 national drinking water PFAS concentrations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (US EPA) third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR3) program. The number of industrial sites that manufacture or use these compounds, the number of military fire training areas, and the number of wastewater treatment plants are all significant predictors of PFAS detection frequencies and concentrations in public water supplies. Among samples with detectable PFAS levels, each additional military site within a watershed’s eight-digit hydrologic unit is associated with a 20% increase in PFHxS, a 10% increase in both PFHpA and PFOA, and a 35% increase in PFOS. The number of civilian airports with personnel trained in the use of aqueous film-forming foams is significantly associated with the detection of PFASs above the minimal reporting level. We find drinking water supplies for 6 million U.S. residents exceed US EPA’s lifetime health advisory (70 ng/L) for PFOS and PFOA. Lower analytical reporting limits and additional sampling of smaller utilities serving <10000 individuals and private wells would greatly assist in further identifying PFAS contamination sources.”—From Xindi C. Hu et al ( 2016) Detection of Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs) in U.S. Drinking Water Linked to Industrial Sites, Military Fire Training Areas, and Wastewater Treatment Plants Environ. Sci. Technol. Lett., 3 (10), pp 344–350
Reverse osmosis won’t help you get volatile organic compounds out of your water, according to the National Santitation Foundation, but carbon filtration will.”
Water-purifying Filters: Conventional water treatment does not screen out many unregulated contaminants, but can reduce concentrations, and some household filters, notably activated carbon filters, can help. Water filtration products are certified by NSF International, a nonprofit group. Visit nsf.org
I live in Minnesota, “land of 10,000 lakes”, many of which are polluted and periodically hazardous to bathers and consumers of fish. The Star Tribune published a lead article (Sept. 22, 2010) about a University of Minnesota vice president of University Relations “in hot seat over film” that was a university-produced documentary about farming, pollution and the Mississippi River, which she blocked from being shown. Her ruling was subsequently overturned and public viewing of this film “Troubled Waters: A Mississippi River Story” was rescheduled. This is but one instance of the power of corporate interests to silence environmental concerns, in this instance water quality and safety.
Putting corporate and other vested interests before the public good is a problem of the times. But the deeper rationalizations and denial, especially with regard to the plight of farmed animals in factory farms and feedlots, and the hidden cultural, socio-economic, public health, animal welfare and environmental costs of the agribusiness food industry, call for censorship: A censorship not simply of land-grant colleges and their mission and allegiances, but of the kind of society we have all created and continue to support with our dietary choices, tax dollars and donations to alumni and other ‘non-profit’ associations and organizations, both secular and religious.
Brad Schrade’s front page article in the Oct. 24 th, 2010 Star Tribune, entitled “State lags on fixing farm pollution” is a devastating documentation of the almost total failure of a 10-year, 2000-2010, state funded program under Minnesota’s Pollution Control Agency to significantly reduce lake and stream pollution caused by the animal waste run-off especially from beef feed-lots and dairy cow operations. There should be a public registry of which states are polluting the headwaters, tributaries and wetlands of our great rivers like the Mississippi, Crow and Minnesota, which are under the stewardship and trust of state land users for the benefit of all beyond their immediate communities of vested interest, especially in those lower states receiving spoiled river water from the north. Clean-up time for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, from the Everglades to the Great Plains, is also long overdue, along with prairie, wetland and forest/watershed restoration.
University of Minnesota water expert Deborah Swackhammer has presented the Minnesota Water Sustainability Framework to state authorities for them to address the declining quality and safety of the state’s river and lake waters, (Star Tribune Jan 5, 2011). One major issue is the fact that forty percent of state waters are affected by farmers and feedlot operators who are exempt from strict federal clean water regulation as applied to manufacturing and wastewater treatment plants, but follow clearly ineffectual “best farming practices” to reduce runoff.
While coal-fired power plants are the primary source of mercury pollution in this state, a close second in this state is from the burgeoning mining industry that also leaches selenium, manganese, sulfates and other harmful chemicals into lakes and rivers. (visit www.waterlegacy.org for details). Mined rock with ahigh sulfur content creates sulfuric acid when processed that leaches heavy metals such as mercury and arsenic into groundwater, lakes and rivers. This chemical contamination can persist for decades and in high concentrations the acidification makes water lethal to wildlife and undrinkable for humans.
Industrial boilers that burn coal and other fuels to generate steam and hot water for heat and electricity are regarded as America’s second largest source of mercury emissions after coal-fired power plants, and currently have no emission control standards. Attempts by the Obama administration to establish standards under EPA oversight are currently being blocked under the politics of business-as –usual interests that claim any controls are too costly to implement.
Planet Earth has been called the water planet, but 97% of the world’s water we cannot drink or use to grow crops because it is too salty. Only and estimated 3% is salt-free, fresh water, and only 1% is available since the remaining 2% is frozen in snow and ice. Global warming is releasing more of this frozen water from the polar ice caps and from mountain glaciers, causing devastating floods in many parts of the world which will then experience life-extinguishing droughts.
Two thirds of the salt-free water supply water we use to produce food. Aquifers are being depleted for irrigation and to provide water for livestock at a greater rate than they are replenished naturally. In many areas, dependence on such irrigation leads to salt-buildup in the soil, salinization being the result of agri-industrial desertification. Conservation measures and greater efficiencies are urgently needed in the commodity crop and livestock sectors in particular, along with a drastic reduction in the production and consumption of food-animal products (e.g. beef and milk) which account for most of our water use today. ( For further details visit www.globalwaterinitiative.com).
“How we treat the water is how the water will treat us.”
- Eddie Benton Benais, Anishinaabe (Chippewa) Spiritual elder –
(FROM ANIMAL DOCTOR SYNDICATED NEWSPAPER COLUMN)
After reading your article about the importance of giving the purest possible water for animals to drink I stopped giving my cats tap water and got a water purifying system for them and myself. In a few days they were actually drinking more water and had fewer if any episodes of vomiting and loose stools. Thanks for pointing out this important aspect of health care. We take water for granted but what comes out of our taps, as my cats confirmed, may not be fit to drink.
G.C, Fargo ND
I am not the only veterinarian advocating pure water especially for cats, many of whom do not drink sufficient water on a regular basis. Some enjoy a bubbling water dispenser, but the water must not come straight from the tap, and “spring water” sold in stores may not be the best and distilled water lacks essential trace minerals. I use a Zero water filter, and reverse-ionization, as per my article, is a good investment for every family.
We are facing a global water shortage and water quality crisis which is reaching critical mass as governments around the world do little to protect this vital resource. I live in Minnesota, “land of 10,000 (now many seriously polluted) lakes”
This Sate’s recent abolition of the Pollution Control Agency’s Citizen Board, reportedly to open the way for a harmful, sulfate-discharging PolyMet copper-nickel mining business proposal casts a shadow across the State’s image of responsible wilderness management and protection and is a potential national disaster in the making. This business-friendly initiative of abolishing the Citizen Board underscores the socioeconomic and political influence of various industries in Minnesota, as in other States, that marginalize long-term environmental risks and costs, public health consequences being virtually ignored and trumped by the promise of jobs and taxable products and services.
Surely without containment and immediate environmental remediation of the multiple existing and well documented harms of Minnesota’s major industries—agriculture, mining, energy and forestry—further industrial expansion is imprudent, state and federal tax revenues and discount-incentives not withstanding: But continues virtually unabated, as per fracking, sod-busting biomass fuel and livestock feed production, expansion of CAFOs ( concentrated animal feeding operations, especially dairy and pig factories) and yet more mining, all of which are taking finite ground (aquifer) water resources at a non-sustainable rate and polluting same: And what of the down-stream public health costs and irreversible loss of biodiversity?
This is a world-wide problem, the ever expanding, biodiversity-diminishing and polluting carbon footprint of industrial exploitation giving only short-term benefit to a diminishing few. Will it deprive our children’s children their right to purer water, cleaner air and more wholesome food? Climate change, loss of biodiversity (especially in our soils and intestines), and the obesity and cancer epidemics are all interconnected. Land, water and air are part of the global public commons. Minnesota, with fresh water being one of its greatest natural resource, should steward this hydrological ecosystem/watershed as a national treasure, too long taken for granted and treated with the indifference of a flush-toilet for industrial pollutants and human wastes. If every Governor and aligned Chambers of Commerce and legislatures of every state, with Minnesota taking the lead in the U.S., were to make the waters flowing out of their states less impure than when they took office, we might yet get on the right track for the recovery of democracy, public health and a more viable future. To tout water quality remediation/ purification as the ultimate solution is to continue the tradition of bad, albeit profitable conventional medicine, treating the symptoms and not the cause. “Green” industries and consumption—solar, organic, environmentally friendly and socially just—translate into value added enterprises and bio-regionally sustainable industries of scale under the banner of an ecologically democratic, global community and economy.