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Chemical Contamination of Water Supplies

Carl M. Shy
Environmental Health Perspectives
Vol. 62 (Oct., 1985), pp. 399-406
DOI: 10.2307/3430144
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3430144
Page Count: 8
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Chemical Contamination of Water Supplies
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Abstract

Man-made organic chemicals have been found in drinking water for many years. Their numbers and varieties increase as our analytical capabilities improve. The identified chemicals comprise 10 to 20% of the total organic matter present. These are volatile or low molecular weight compounds which are easily identified. Many of them are carcinogenic or mutagenic. Chlorinated compounds have been found in untreated well water at levels up to 21,300 μg/L and are generally present at higher levels in chlorine-treated water than in untreated water. Aggregate risk studies for cancer are summarized. The most common sites are: bladder, stomach, colon, and rectum. Such studies cannot be linked to individual cases. However, they are useful for identifying exposed populations for epidemiologic studies. Five case-control studies were reviewed, and significant associations with water quality were found for: bladder cancer in two studies, colon cancer in three and rectal cancer in four. A large study by the National Cancer Institute found that there had been a change in the source of raw water for 50% of the persons in one area between the years 1955 and 1975. Such flaws in the data may preclude finding a causal relation between cancer and contaminants in drinking water. Large case-control and cohort studies are needed because of the low frequency of the marker diseases, bladder and rectal cancer. Cohort studies may be precluded by variations in the kinds of water contaminants. Definitive questions about these issues are posed for cooperative effort and resolution by water chemists, engineers, and epidemiologists.

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