Is Your Drinking Water Safe?

Published: January 10th, 2013 |

How our tap water may be causing food allergies.

Remember when the kid in your class who had a peanut allergy was the exception? Nowadays, it’s more of a rule that someone you know will have a food allergy as more and more research comes out tying allergic reactions to everything from gluten to dairy.

The potential reason behind this food allergy boom seems somewhat counterintuitive: The cleaner and more hygienic we become as a population, the less good-for-us bacteria remains in our systems, which means higher susceptibility to allergens. Bacteria gets a bad rap as something that may make us sick, but the fact is, our bodies are full of bacteria that helps keep our systems healthy. Bacterium in our digestive systems helps break down foods and clean out waste, and on our skin these little organisms are constantly sloughing away and maintain our dermis. There are a whole slew of ways that we separate ourselves from these superstar bacterium, from our overly sterile homes to the processed and packaged foods that we eat. But it’s our water, and the ramifications of excessive pesticide and fertilizer use, that is potentially creating a more allergy-prone population.

What Are You Drinking?
Researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the Montefiore Medical Center, both in New York, found a potential association between food allergies and levels of chemical byproducts of pesticide use and chlorination processes in urine. There was not an association between environmental allergies (i.e. dust, pollen) and the chemicals. These chemicals, called dichlorophenols, are antiseptic, meaning they could cause a decrease in the body’s bacterium. While research is still needed to establish a causal relationship, it sheds light on the increasing food allergy trend. The good news is that the chemicals used to chlorinate water are strictly regulated, says study author Elina Jerschow, M.D., but the added exposure from pesticide use may be spiking dichlorophenol levels.

Since dichlorophenol exposure from airborne sources doesn’t affect susceptibility to allergies, what we’re ingesting is what matters. Which means, in terms of food allergies, what we’re drinking may matter more than what we’re breathing. So how clean is your water and what can you do about it?

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), passed by Congress in 1974, is the main federal law that protects our tap water drinking supply and water sources such as rivers, lakes, reservoirs, springs, and wells. Most water in the Unites States is safe, because any source that serves more than 25 people is covered by the SDWA. If you still want to check, consult the Environmental Working Group’s Big City Water Ratings if your city has a population over 250,000. If your city is smaller, you can test your water at home by calling your local water provider at the number provided on your bill. By law the supplier must test and report their water safety annually.

How to Ensure Your Water Is Safe
Before you order bottled water in bulk, you still may be better off drinking tap water because of regulations like SDWA. ”Pollutant levels in tap water are regulated, while bottled water has no such requirements. Therefore it is more difficult to know what is in the bottled water‬,” Jerschow says. Filtering your tap water may be the best bet. A standard household filter will remove dichlorophenols from the tap, making sure your next tall drink of water is safe for consumption.

-Nina Lincoff

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Keywords: beverages, health, nutrition