The Invisible Health Threats Hiding in Tap Water: From Forever Chemicals to Fluoride

More than just a basic necessity, water is the universal solvent and elixir of life. Making up about 60 percent of the human body, water’s importance transcends just hydration: playing a pivotal role in every body function, from nutrient assimilation and energy production to detoxification and cellular health.

However, toxins in our drinking water can compromise these functions, causing core imbalances that result in accelerated aging and health problems ranging from increased cancer risk and reproductive problems to thyroid issues and high cholesterol.

Recognizing the gravity of this issue, the Biden-Harris administration recently pledged more than $50 billion in funding to upgrade America’s water infrastructure in every state. The funding aims to expand access to clean drinking water, replace lead pipes, improve wastewater and sanitation infrastructure, and remove toxic “forever chemicals” like PFAS.

 Yet, there’s still a long journey ahead (with additional headwinds from over-exploitation and climate change). So it’s crucial to understand the toxins lurking in our water in the meantime—and learn how to avoid them.

Tap Water Toxins: A Closer Look

Tap water is one of the main sources of exposure to environmental toxins including the following:

PFAS: The “Forever Chemicals”

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that more than 200 million Americans are exposed to toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS through their water systems. These chemicals, used in products like Teflon and Scotchgard, are linked to a myriad of health issues, including cancer, weakened immunity, thyroid problems, reproductive issues, low birth weight, and endocrine disruption.

Heavy Metals: Silent Neurotoxins

With up to ten million lead service lines still in use throughout the country, a staggering 56 percent of the population is exposed to levels of lead in tap water that put adults and children at risk for lead-associated cognitive impairment and behavioral problems—including significantly lower IQ scores and lower cognitive functioning in adulthood. In fact, a study published by the American Academy of Neurology found that higher community exposure to lead was equivalent to two to six years of aging.

Thirty nine percent of the US population has lead levels over 2 micrograms per deciliter which makes them at greater risk of heart attack, stroke, and death than those with high cholesterol.

Other metals contaminating our drinking water can include mercury, linked to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, hypertension, and thyroid cancer; arsenic, linked to cardiovascular disease and increased cancer risks; and chromium-6, linked to cancer, liver damage, and reproductive problems.

Microplastics and Nanoplastics: The Invisible Threat

While microplastics are generally more abundant in bottled water than tap water (just a liter of bottled water can contain hundreds of thousands of nanoplastics ) microplastics can also make their way into tap water sources from surface run-off, industrial pollution, and degraded plastic waste—

posing risks to heart health , disrupting hormones, and attracting and concentrating adjacent heavy metals and pollutants in water such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

Fluoride: A Double-Edged Sword Although mass fluoridation of our water supply has been shown clinically effective for dental health and cavity prevention, we also have evidence to suggest that excessive exposure to fluoride can harm both the body and the brain. Studies show a link between fluoride exposure and hypothyroidism, and it also accumulates in the pineal gland (where melatonin is released), leading to disturbances in sleep and sleep cycle regulation.

The Limitations of Standard Water Filters It's a common misconception that a standard water pitcher filter can remove all harmful toxins. Brands like Brita may improve taste and remove chlorine, but they fall short in filtering out PFAS, heavy metals, fluoride, and microplastics.  

Empowering Yourself: Steps to Clean Water

1. Identify Your Water’s Toxins

  • Use the Environmental Working Group’s Tap Water Database to discover contaminants in your local water by searching your zip code or utility grid.
  • Search online for your local municipality’s water quality reports for up-to-date information.

2. Invest in High-Quality Filtration

  • Consider a reverse osmosis system, like the AquaTru Under Sink or AquaTru Carafe, which effectively remove a broad range of contaminants.
  • Remember to replace the filters as needed and add trace minerals back into the water to compensate for those lost during filtration.

3. Opt for Certified Filters

  • Look for filters certified by NSF International or the Water Quality Association.
  • The EWG’s guide to water filters also offers a comprehensive overview of various filters, detailing the toxins they remove, pros and cons, and pricing.

4. Choose Safer Containers

  • Avoid bottled water whenever possible to reduce microplastic exposure.
  • Instead, use stainless steel water bottles like Hydro Flask or Klean Kanteen for safer hydration.

Clean water is a cornerstone of health and longevity. By taking proactive steps to ensure the purity of your drinking water, you’re not just quenching thirst—you’re nurturing your body's future.

  References

1. Heidari, S., Mostafaei, S., Razazian, N. et al. The effect of lead exposure on IQ test scores in children under 12 years: a systematic review and meta-analysis of case-control studies. Syst Rev 11, 106 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13643-022-01963-y

2. Haena Lee et al. ,Childhood lead exposure is associated with lower cognitive functioning at older ages. Sci. Adv. 8 (2022) doi:10.1126/sciadv.abn5164

are associated with cognitive decline, cardiovascular disease, and an increased risk of cancer.

3. Menke A, Muntner P, Batuman V, Silbergeld EK, Guallar E. Blood lead below 0.48 micromol/L (10 microg/dL) and mortality among US adults. Circulation. 2006;114(13):1388-1394. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.106.628321

4. Marfella R, Prattichizzo F, Sardu C, et al. Microplastics and Nanoplastics in Atheromas and Cardiovascular Events. N Engl J Med. 2024;390(10):900-910. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa2309822

5. Qian N, Gao X, Lang X, et al. Rapid single-particle chemical imaging of nanoplastics by SRS microscopy. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2024;121(3):e2300582121. doi:10.1073/pnas.2300582121

6. Iamandii I, De Pasquale L, Giannone ME, et al. Does fluoride exposure affect thyroid function? A systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis. Environ Res. 2024;242:117759. doi:10.1016/j.envres.2023.117759

7. Malin, A.J., Bose, S., Busgang, S.A. et al. Fluoride exposure and sleep patterns among older adolescents in the United States: a cross-sectional study of NHANES 2015–2016.Environ Health 18, 106 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12940-019-0546-7

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