U.S. Water News Online
SAN ANTONIO -- High levels of a chlorination byproduct
linked to cancer, miscarriages, and neural tube defects has been
discovered in at least 12 Rio Grande Valley Texas water systems,
according to a report in the San Antonio Express-News.
Last month, Alamo residents were sent letters from the city's
water system alerting them that the city's drinking water contained
amounts of trihalomethanes that exceeded federal regulations, the
newspaper reported. Trihalomethanes are chemicals that are produced
in the water chlorination process.
The letters said studies have shown the chemicals may cause
miscarriages in the first trimester of pregnancy. It also noted that
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warns the chemicals may
cause liver, kidney, and central nervous system problems, as well as
cancer. Three studies have linked the chemicals to neural tube
The EPA proposed regulating trihalomethanes in 1977 and, starting
in January, will require large water systems to keep their levels to
a maximum of 80 parts per billion.
Smaller water systems that serve fewer than 10,000 customers will
have until January 2004 to comply.
Texas' standard is 100 parts per billion, but the rule, enforced
by Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, is limited to
large water systems. Utilities serving small communities aren't
``Out of proactiveness, (we) have been getting some data from all
of the systems,'' said TNRCC spokeswoman Jean Pieper Voshell.
Voshell said the agency has begun testing small systems to help
them prepare for compliance with federal regulations. At least 10
systems in the Rio Grande Valley haven't been tested, she said.
In La Feria, where water supplies exceed the state's maximum level
for trihalomethanes, officials plan to reduce levels with ammonia or
chlorine dioxide, said City Manager Sunny Philip.
The city plans to improve the water before a 2004 federal
deadline, he said.
``If it was an immediate danger or something, (the EPA) would have
issued a warning right away,'' Philip said. ``Our water is safe to
drink, and we've never had any violations of water guidelines.''
Activists, who blame environmental causes for the high level of
birth defects on the U.S.-Mexico border, said they have suspected
trihalomethanes for years.
In 1990 and 1991, 33 Cameron County children were born with neural
tube defects, three times the national average. Also, the rate of
neural tube defects inexplicably increased in 1998 after steadily
dropping for six years.
``This doesn't surprise me at all,'' said Dr. Carmen Rocco, a
Brownsville pediatrician. ``These trihalomethanes go back to the
issue about solvents, and we know that that's a big exposure for this
Frank Bove, the scientist who conducted a New Jersey study
published in 1995 linking trihalomethanes to neural tube defects,
said there may be evidence to suggest the chemicals may be involved
in Valley birth defects.
``I think the data is strong enough,'' said Bove, a senior
epidemiologist with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease
Registry. ``It's strong enough to say that we suspect it, and that
should be a strong reason for it to be looked into in Texas.''
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