U.S. Water News Online
PITTSBURGH -- The Allegheny County Health Department is
investigating water quality at a suburban Pittsburgh office to
determine whether there is any link between the water and the
miscarriages of a number of employees.
The department is testing water samples from drinking fountains at
the Comcast office in North Fayette for levels of trihalomethanes, a
byproduct that occurs when water is disinfected with chlorine.
Scientists for years have studied whether certain contaminants in
water cause miscarriages. The issue has produced strong feelings on
both sides and some studies have shown a correlation.
Dave Zazac, a county health department spokesman, said they were
contacted by Comcast after the cable company used an outside firm to
test its water, which is provided from the Western Allegheny County
Municipal Authority. The firm, taking two samples, found levels of
trihalomethanes, or THMs, of 100 parts per billion. The health
standard is 80 parts per billion, based on averaging several samples
a year, he said.
"This snapshot that you see is not going to tell the complete
picture of what the water does contain in regards to
trihalomethanes,'' Zazac said. For example, the county recently found
that water going to Comcast tested at 43 parts per billion, well
within normal limits, and the authority's water has consistently
tested within state and national health standards, he said.
County authorities are also interviewing workers at the office and
trying to determine if there are any other factors that could have
contributed to the multiple miscarriages. Zazac said he's not sure of
the exact number of miscarriages among the approximately 200
employees in the office, but he's heard that the number may be
between five and 11 over the past three years.
"The water testing is just the initial phase of this
investigation,'' Zazac said.
Comcast officials said they don't track information on employee
miscarriages, and even if they did, they wouldn't provide the
information due to employee confidentiality. In a statement,
officials said the investigation was the result of concerns raised by
a few employees.
THMs form in drinking water when organic materials react with
chlorine, which is added to drinking water to remove bacteria. People
concerned about THMs in their water can refrigerate tap water in an
open container before drinking it to allow THMs to evaporate, or
examine the annual water quality reports for the local water
authority, according to the Campaign for Safe & Affordable
But proving that THMs could be the cause of the miscarriages in
the North Fayette case won't be easy, Zazac and others said.
Myron Arnowitt, western Pennsylvania director of Clean Water
Action, an advocacy group, said it's important for researchers to get
good data about what's in the water and not just look at a few
samples. Most spontaneous miscarriages happen in the first 12 weeks
of pregnancy, and unless officials are testing the water while
someone is pregnant, it's difficult to say whether water quality was
to blame, he said.
"With miscarriages, studies have shown it doesn't have to be at a
high level for a long period of time'' for a miscarriage to occur,
It's also tough to conclusively prove a link because it's
difficult to track miscarriages, Arnowitt said. Many miscarriages
happen so early that a woman might not realize she's pregnant, or
else she's cared for in an emergency room, where usually miscarriages
aren't tracked, he said.
"If more samples are taken at this building, and they're showing
high levels, something should be done about that,'' Arnowitt said.
Return to the
U.S. Water News Archives page
Return to the U.S. Water
Use a comma to separate e-mail addresses:
Hi, I thought you might like to read this article.