Scientists from the University of New Mexico are raising urgent concerns about the quality of drinking water that millions of Americans rely on. Their research suggests that the water could contain harmful substances, with the risk of even causing cancer.
The study further points out that minority communities and tribal lands are disproportionately impacted by these water issues.
“There were several of us that have expertise in dealing with these particular contaminants, and we were seeing that they’re not always at safe levels in drinking water sources for a number of reasons,” said Dr. Johnnye Lewis, multiple principal investigator of the Navajo Birth Cohort Study and director of the UNM METALS Superfund Research Program.
The contaminants of concern in the water include elements like arsenic, lead, and uranium, as well as compounds like nitrates, chlorinated disinfection byproducts, fracking fluids, and PFAS– or per and polyfluoroalkyl substances.
Some of these, such as inorganic arsenic, uranium, and nitrates, are established cancer-causing agents. Others, like PFAS and fracking fluid, are manmade and pose unknown risks.
For example, PFAS have the ability to persist in the environment for an extended period, potentially not breaking down for decades.
Another worry is how these contaminants can interact with each other. The study indicates that a single water source can contain multiple harmful substances, which would potentially magnify their detrimental impact.
“We’re only really now starting to come up with good methods to assess what those mixtures do. There’s always a lot of uncertainty because a mixture is not the same in one community as it is in the next,” Dr. Lewis detailed.
Many people in the U.S. may think that large water systems can effectively mitigate these contaminant risks, but many people lack even this basic protection.