Is Our Water Supply Safe | June 13, 2007
Is Our Water Supply Safe? (June 13, 2007)

By Dennis R Miller MD

An Overview of Environmental Contamination and a Review of the 2006 Annual Drinking Water Quality Report, Village of Tuxedo Park Water, Public Water Supply

June 10, 2007

Peace, tranquility, safety, and natural beauty are a few of the compelling reasons why we chose to live in Tuxedo Park. As residents of our unique community, maintaining and preserving our environmental resources must and should be an ongoing high priority for all of us. We are much more cognizant of and concerned about environmental hazards in this millennium than we were 15 or 20 years ago. We have a better understanding of environmental contaminants of the air we breathe and the water we drink and rely on state and federal agencies to protect the environment, define unacceptable or potentially dangerous levels of environmental contaminants, and order remediation if safe levels are exceeded. We live about 20 linear miles from the Indian Point Nuclear Power Point and appreciate the dangers of radiation. Motion pictures have depicted real life dangers of environmental drinking water contamination (e.g. “Civil Action” about an alleged epidemic of childhood leukemia in Woburn, MA where some of the town’s wells contained trichloroethylene, dumped by two industries in town and “Erin Brockovich”, about chromium contamination of the water supply). However, Hollywood, 60-Minutes, and the New York Times do not always understand the science of chemical contamination and its potential hazards to those exposed. How often have we heard sound bites on the 6:00 pm TV news broadcast describing some newly discovered contamination of soil, or air, or water in Metropolitan New York/New Jersey by some “chemical carcinogen” (cancer causing chemical). Rarely, if ever, do we hear any follow-up with an analysis of the findings and some effort to allay community anxiety if the contamination is not relevant, dangerous, or threatening to our health and well-being. The purpose of this brief report is to address recent concerns about the safety of our drinking water from Tuxedo Lake. I will review the 2006 Annual Drinking Water Quality Report and evaluate data which are always required to begin any evaluation of possible environmental contamination. I will also rely on epidemiological principles rather than speculation or hype.

First, a little background on my own qualifications to address these issues. As many of you know, I am a pediatric hematologist-oncologist and have had a special interest in the epidemiology of childhood and adult cancers for over 35 years. I have participated in studies of the effects of radiation, chemotherapy, immune deficiency disorders, electromagnetic fields, and chemical contaminants in air and water on general health and on cancer causation. Specific chemical contaminants included asbestos, benzene, halogenated hydrocarbons, and lead, among others. I served on the Leukemia Epidemiology Task Force of the Childrens Cancer Group and conducted a huge controlled study evaluating the potential effects of chemical and electromagnetic contamination on the causation of childhood leukemia. I also served as a medical expert in the real civil action in Woburn as well as in a number of other cases of chemical contamination of the water supply and air (e.g. asbestos and mesothelioma in automotive repair mechanics and their children). I have given many lectures and written peer-reviewed papers on the subject over the past few decades.

The Annual Drinking Water Quality Report for 2006 provides data on the levels of contaminants that may be present in our drinking water derived from Tuxedo Lake. Per state regulations, our water is tested for coliform bacteria (from the intestinal tract and feces), turbidity (cloudiness or murkiness), nitrite and nitrate (from natural sources and fertilizers), lead, copper, volatile organic compounds (e.g. halogenated hydrocarbons like trichloroethylene), synthetic organic compounds, inorganic compounds, total trihalomethanes, radioactivity, and chemical products of the drinking water chlorination process itself. Although “pesticides and herbicides” are not mentioned specifically, pesticides and herbicides are composed of synthetic organic and inorganic compounds (nitrates, nitrites, phosphates, etc) and would be included in the analyses of these compounds.

Water from 10 sites is tested and the results of these tests make up the report which defined detected contaminants only. That is, if a potential contaminant is absent, it is not reported. The state, EPA, and CDC (Centers for Disease Control) have established regulatory guidelines and limits for safe and unsafe concentrations of compounds that might gain access to public drinking water. If unacceptable and unsafe levels are detected (levels above the maximum contaminant level or Action Level), remediation must be instituted to correct any violations.

What compounds were detected? The 2005-2006 testing revealed the presence of copper, lead, barium, sulfate, trihalomethanes, and HAA. The latter two compounds are by-products of the chlorination process that makes our drinking water safe. The levels of the detected compounds were all within regulatory limits. Not reported because they were undetected included nitrates, nitrites, coliform bacteria, volatile organic compounds, synthetic organic compounds, and beta particles (radioactivity). The reported inorganic compounds included copper, lead, sulfate, and barium, all well within regulatory limits. The conclusion from the Annual Drinking Water Quality Report is that our drinking water complies with all regulatory criteria. I agree with that conclusion and it is my expert opinion, expressed with a reasonable degree of medical and scientific probability, that our drinking water is safe.

It must be clear to everyone that we live in Tuxedo Park and not Poland Spring. All public and private well water contains contaminants. The key is whether the measured levels of these contaminants is above carefully defined and regulated levels which might be a health hazard to an entire community or to selected, subsets of at-risk individuals within the general population. A second key principle is that in toxicology, “the dose makes the poison.” Thus, one molecule of barium, copper, lead, benzene or trichloroethylene is not hazardous to your health.

We are indeed fortunate to live in Tuxedo Park. We chose to live here because of a unique quality of life and environment. We should strive to protect our environment and our precious resources to maintain that uniqueness.

Thanks for taking the time to let me share my thoughts and experience with you.

Denis R. Miller, MD

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