At the recent World Economic Forum, the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, warned that water and food shortages would be the crisis of this century.

At the recent World Economic Forum, the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, warned that water and food shortages would be the crisis of this century. We should expect conflicts over water shortages, which can easily be triggered by climate change, population growth and poor water management in the coming years.

We create pollution from trucking 1 billion bottles of water weekly to supermarkets and retailers across the US. Less than 25% of those plastic bottles are ever recycled. Over 30 billion plastic water bottles requiring as many as 17 million barrels of oil to produce, are discarded into landfills and will remain there for over 100 years.

Aquifers in many parts of the country are being threatened by over pumping or the removal of too much freshwater, which allows saltwater to move into areas where freshwater used to be. All bodies of water and aquifers are increasingly vulnerable to sources of pollutants such as lawn fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals as well as animal wastes that run off of our backyards or other developed areas and seep into the ground and into our water system.

It has become more and more common to hear about water shortages affecting residents in the US, areas such as in California, Georgia, Maryland and countless other states.

The United Nations has identified China with the worlds largest population and one of 13 countries with the lowest water per capita. Less than 15% of China’s population has access to safe tap water. China’s work force has a 33% absentee rate due to water borne pathogens. Two-thirds of Chinas largest cities do not have enough water and of these many cities one-half have severely polluted ground water.

India in some areas has critically poor water. They have drilled over 21 million wells and are still drastically short of water.

The expanding population means 90% of fresh water will be used for food production, 5% will be used for industry leaving only 5% remains for drinking water.

Due to climate change and a number of other factors, entire regions are becoming unsuitable for crop production which will undoubtedly trigger shortages for both food and water.


  • 3.575 million people die each year from water-related disease.
  • 43% of water-related deaths are due to diarrhea.
  • 84% of water-related deaths are in children ages 0 – 14
  • 98% of water-related deaths occur in the developing world.
  • 1.5 billion (1 in 5) people, lack access to safe potable water.
  • The water and sanitation crisis claims more lives through disease than any war claims through guns.
  • At any given time, patients suffering from water-related diseases occupy half of the world’s hospital beds.

By 1904, adding chlorine was the standard in water treatment. For the most part, that has not changed even today more than a hundred years later.

Chlorine is used, not because it’s the safest or even the most effective means of disinfection. Chlorine is used as it is inexpensive. In spite of all our technological advances, we essentially still pour bleach in our water before we drink it. The long-term effects of chlorinated drinking water are just now being recognized. According to the U.S. Council of Environmental Quality, “Cancer risk among those drinking chlorinated water is 93% higher than among those whose water does not contain chlorine.” Dr. Joseph Price wrote a highly controversial book in the late sixties titled “Coronaries/Cholesterol/Chlorine” and concluded that nothing can negate the incontrovertible fact, the basic cause of atherosclerosis and resulting entities such as heart attacks and stroke, is chlorine. Dr. Price later headed up a study using chickens as test subjects, where two groups of several hundred birds were observed throughout their span to maturity.

One group was given water with chlorine and the other without. The group raised with chlorine, when autopsied, showed some level of heart or circulatory disease in every specimen, the group without had no incidence of disease. The group with chlorine under winter conditions, showed outward signs of poor circulation, shivering, drooped feathers and a reduced level of activity.
The group without chlorine grew faster, larger and displayed vigorous health. This study was well received in the poultry industry and is still used as a reference today. As a result of this finding, most large poultry producers use de-chlorinated water. It would be a common sense conclusion that if regular chlorinated tap water is not good enough for the chickens, then it probably is not good enough for us humans!

What the heck are Trihalomethanes? There is a lot of well founded concern about chlorine. When chlorine is added to our water, it combines with other natural compounds to form Trihalomethanes (chlorination byproducts), or THM.

These chlorine byproducts trigger the production of free radicals in the body, causing cell damage and are highly carcinogenic. “Although concentrations of these carcinogens (THMs) are low, it is precisely these low levels that cancer scientists believe are responsible for the majority of human cancers in the United States.”

Simply stated chlorine is a pesticide, as defined by the U.S. EPA. It’s sole purpose is to kill living organisms. When we consume water containing chlorine, it kills some part of us, destroying cells and tissue inside our body.

Dr. Robert Carlson, a highly respected University of Minnesota researcher who’s work is sponsored by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency, sums it up by claiming , “the chlorine problem is similar to that of air pollution”, and adds that “chlorine is the greatest crippler and killer of modern times!”

Breast cancer, which now affects one in every eight women in North America, has recently been linked to the accumulation of chlorine compounds in the breast tissue. A study carried out in Hartford Connecticut, the first of it’s kind in North America, found that, “women with breast cancer have 50% to 60% higher levels of organochlorines (chlorination byproducts) in their breast tissue than women without breast cancer.”

A benchmark investigation of industrial chemicals, pollutants and pesticides in umbilical cord blood by: Environmental Working Group, July 14, 2005

Summary. In the month leading up to a baby’s birth, the umbilical cord pulses with the equivalent of at least 300 quarts of blood each day, pumped back and forth from thenutrient and oxygen-rich placenta to the rapidly growing child cradled in a sac of amniotic fluid. This cord is a lifeline between mother and baby, bearing nutrients that sustain life and propel growth.

Not long ago scientists thought that the placenta shielded cord blood and the developing baby from most chemicals and pollutants in the environment. However we know that at this critical time when organs, vessels, membranes and systems are knit together from single cells to finished form in a span of weeks, the umbilical cord carries not only the building blocks of life, but also a steady stream of industrial chemicals, pollutants and pesticides that cross the placenta as readily as residues from cigarettes and alcohol. This is the human “body burden” the pollution in people that permeates everyone in the world, including babies in the womb.

In a study spearheaded by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in collaboration with Commonweal, researchers at two major laboratories found an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants in umbilical cord blood from 10 babies born in August and September of 2004 in U.S. hospitals. Tests revealed a total of 287 chemicals in the group. The umbilical cord blood of these 10 children, collected by Red Cross after the cord was cut, harbored pesticides, consumer product ingredients, and wastes from burning coal, gasoline, and garbage.

This study represents the first reported cord blood tests for 261 of the targeted chemicals and the first reported detections in cord blood for 209 compounds. Among them are eight perfluorochemicals used as stain and oil repellants in fast food packaging, clothes and textiles including the Teflon chemical PFOA, recently characterized as a likely human carcinogen by the EPA’s Science Advisory Board dozens of widely used brominated flame retardants and their toxic by-products; and numerous pesticides.

Of the 287 chemicals we detected in umbilical cord blood, we know that 180 cause cancer in humans or animals, 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 208 cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal tests. The dangers of pre or post natal exposure to this complex mixture of carcinogens, developmental toxins and neurotoxins have never been studied.

WASHINGTON – A wide range of pharmaceuticals that include antibiotics, sex hormones, and drugs used to treat epilepsy and depression, contaminate drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans, according to a 5-month investigation by the Associated Press National Investigation Team released today.

Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) studies show that tap water across the U.S. is contaminated with many industrial chemicals and we now know that millions of Americans are also drinking low-level mixtures of pharmaceuticals with every glass of water, said Jane Houlihan, EWG Vice President for Research. The health effect of this cocktail of chemicals and drugs hasn’t been studied, but we are extremely concerned about the risks for infants and others who may be vulnerable. Environmental Working Group analysis shows that of the top 200 drugs in the U.S., 13 percent list serious side effects at levels less than 100 parts-per-billion (ppb) in human blood, with some causing potential health risks in the parts-per-trillion range. EWG has called on the EPA to take swift action to set standards for pollutants in tap water that will protect the health of Americans nationwide, including children and others most vulnerable to health risks from these exposures.

Drug residues contaminate drinking water supplies when people take pills. While their bodies absorb some of the medication, the rest of it is flushed down the toilet. Drinking water treatment plants are not designed to remove these residues The EPA team has uncovered data showing these same chemicals in treated tap water and water supplies in 24 major metropolitan areas around the US. The EWG National Tap Water Atlas reports findings of tap water testing results from 40,000 communities around the country.

All of the pharmaceuticals reported in drinking water supplies are unregulated in treated tap water at any level is legal. EWG found an average of 200 industrial chemicals, pesticides and other pollutants in umbilical cord blood from 10 babies born in the U.S., indicating that our exposures to toxic chemicals begin in the womb, when risks are greatest.

At least 36 US states are expected to face water shortages within the next five years, according to U.S. government estimates. Available freshwater supplies are dwindling across the country due to rising temperatures and droughts, while increasing sprawl, population and inefficient resource usage is leading to rising demand.

“Is it a crisis? If we don’t do some decent water planning, it could be,” said Jack Hoffbuhr, executive director of the American Water Works Association. Rising temperatures due to global warming have increased evaporation rates across the country and reduced the availability of important water sources. One of these is the Sierra Nevada snow-pack, which supplies a significant portion of California’s water. Across the West, similar trends are expected to reduce flows of the Colorado River, which supplies water for seven states.

Meanwhile, rising sea levels are expected to cause saltwater to infiltrate freshwater aquifers in coastal states, rendering that water unusable.

California uses about 23 trillion gallons of fresh water per year. The United States as a whole uses more than 148 trillion gallons for all purposes, including agriculture, manufacturing and other uses.
Other threatened regions include the Midwest, where the Great Lakes are shrinking and upstate New York, where reservoir levels have fallen to record lows. Georgia’s crisis has already arrived and Florida’s is expected to hit soon.

While Florida has no shortage of rainfall, widespread draining and paving of the region’s natural wetlands has left the water unable to drain back into the soil. As a consequence, the state is forced to flush millions of gallons of water into the ocean per year to avert floods. The state’s environmental chief, Michael Sole, has asked the Florida legislature to increase the use of reclaimed wastewater. Other states are encouraging measures such as desalinization, but it is widely accepted that conservation is the cheapest alternative.

Even with such measures, the forecast is not expected to improve. “Unfortunately, there’s just not going to be any more cheap water,” said Randy Brown, utilities director for Pompano Beach, Fla.

Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) two-and-a-half year investigation of water suppliers’ tests of the treated tap water served to communities across the country, revealed the tap water in 42 states is contaminated with more than 140 unregulated chemicals that lack safety standards.

  • Of the 141 unregulated contaminants found in tap water, 40 were detected in tap water served to at least one million people.
  • Nineteen unregulated contaminants were detected above health-based limits in tap water served to at least 10,000 people. Seventy lack health-based limits, which have yet to be developed by EPA.

Scientists the EPA have identified 600 chemicals in tap water formed as by-products of disinfection; tracked some 220 million pounds of 650 industrial chemicals discharged to rivers and streams each year and spearheaded research on emerging contaminants after the U.S. Geological Survey found 82 unregulated pharmaceuticals and personal care product chemicals in rivers and streams across the country that provide drinking water for millions of Americans. All told, the EPA has set safety standards for fewer than 20 percent of the many hundreds of chemicals that have been identified in tap water.

The EPA found that 45 percent of lakes and 39 percent of streams and rivers are “impaired” and unsafe for drinking, fishing or even swimming in some cases. Even after water suppliers filter and disinfect the water, scores of contaminants remain with conventional treatment regimes removing less than 20 percent of some contaminants.

Millions of people consume these contaminants daily. Many are linked in scientific studies to serious health concerns; some have not been studied for health safety at all:

  • Of the 141 unregulated contaminants utilities detected in water supplies between 1998 and 2003, 52 are linked to cancer, 41 to reproductive toxicity, 36 to developmental toxicity, and 16to immune system damage. Despite the potential health risks, any concentration of these chemicals in tap water is set as acceptable and legal, no matter what levels are found.
  • For 64 of the unregulated contaminants found in tap water, the government has not yet recommended health-based limits in tap water. For 46 of these chemicals, no health information whatsoever is available in standard government or academic references.
  • Altogether, the unregulated chemicals that pollute public tap water supplies include the gasoline additive MTBE; the rocket fuel component perchlorate; at least 15 chemical by-products of water disinfection; four industrial plasticizers called phthalates linked to birth defects and reproductive toxicity; 78 chemicals used in industrial and consumer products; and 20 chemical pollutants from gasoline, coal, and other fuel combustion.

The EPA rightly calls water one of our “most valuable assets”, Americans care about it deeply and are coming to realize the the resource is in limited supply.

A Harris Interactive poll published in October 2005 found that Americans rank water pollution as the number one environmental concern facing the country, topping global warming, ozone depletion, and air pollution.

EWG found that between 1998 and 2003, water suppliers collectively identified in treated tap water 83 agricultural pollutants, including pesticides and chemicals from fertilizer- and manure-laden runoff; 59 contaminants linked to sprawl and urban areas, from polluted runoff and wastewater treatment plants; 166 industrial chemicals from factory waste and consumer products; and 44 pollutants that are by-products of the water treatment process or that leach from pipes and storage tanks.

Agricultural Chemicals in Tap Water: The EWGs analysis of water suppliers’ tap water test results shows water to be contaminated with 83 agricultural pollutants, including pesticides and fertilizer ingredients and being served to 201,955,000 people in 41 states. 15% of those people were served water with one or more agricultural contaminantspresent at levels above non-enforceable, health-based limits. 54 of the agricultural chemicals detected in tap water are unregulated, without a legal, health-based limit in the tap water.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture figures, in 2002 the agriculture industry spread commercial fertilizer over one-eighth of the continental U.S. 110 billion pounds of fertilizer.. a total of over 248 million acres altogether.

Runoff from these farms and feedlots can be laden with sediment, disease-causing microorganisms, pesticides, and fertilizer ingredients that can widely contaminate water supplies. In fact, in its most recent in a series of mandated biannual investigations on national water quality, EPA found that agricultural pollutants impair nearly one of every five miles of rivers and streams across the country. Millions of Americans drink the residues that remain.

Industrial chemicals in tap water: The EWGs analysis of water supplier’s tap water test results shows that water contaminated with 166 industrial pollutants including plasticizers, solvents and propellants are served to 210,528,000 people in 42 states. 56% of those people were served water with one or more industrial contaminates present at levels above non-enforceable, health-based limits. 94 of the industrial chemicals detected in tap water are known to be unregulated, without a legal health-based limit in tap water.

U.S. industries manufacture and import approximately 82,000 chemicals, 3,000 of them at over a million pounds per year. A 1998 EPA study found that fully 43 percent of chemicals used in the highest volumes (more than one million pounds per year) completely lacked any of the seven most basic health and safety screening studies, let alone substantive information on the potential of the chemical to pollute tap water sources Health officials do not know the full extent of industrial pollution to tap water supplies, and what the health consequences of exposures may be.
But health officials do know with certainty that some of these chemicals end up in rivers and streams that form the nation’s tap water supplies, and that many of them persist all the way to the tap. The EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory reporting program shows that in 2003 U.S. industries discharged 220 million pounds of 650 chemicals to rivers and streams. The EWGs analysis shows that water suppliers detected 166 industrial chemicals in treated tap water from 42 states between 1998 and 2003. Still the vast majority of industrial chemicals remain untested and unregulated in tap water.

There is some irony in the fact that to reduce risk of infectious disease from microbes in tap water, Water Utilities must add chemicals that invariably increase the cancer risks and introduce many risks to development and reproduction.

Recommendations: The cost of treating water is high and will only increase if current policies continue. According to the EPA, the nation’s water utilities will need an estimated $53 billion in investments for water treatment over the next 20 years, to meet the safety standards for water polluted with the chemicals that EPA has failed to control upstream. This investment is not designed to vastly improve tap water quality, it has been set to ensure that water suppliers can continue to meet current standards. Interestingly, at the current levels of contamination, the public doesn’t trust the water: Americans spent over $10 billion on bottled water in 2005 .