A TOXIC cocktail of chemical pollutants in tap water could lead to 100,000 people getting cancer, experts have warned.
Contaminants including arsenic and radium, which have no smell, colour or taste, have been detected in water systems in the US.
Researchers at the Environmental Working Group found 22 cancer-causing substances in drinking water across the country.
In some cases, a single water system could carry multiple carcinogenic contaminants, according to the team's report published today in the journal Heliyon.
For example, in California's Central Valley, they found both nitrates and trihalomethanes – a group of chemicals associated with an increased risk of bowel and bladder cancers.
The scientists say that the longer people are exposed to a range of contaminants can have a negative impact on your health over time.
Sydney Evans, lead author, said: "Drinking water contains complex mixtures of contaminants, yet government agencies currently assess the health hazards of tap water pollutants one by one.
"In the real world, people are exposed to combinations of chemicals, so it is important that we start to assess health impacts by looking at the combined effects of multiple pollutants."
His team set out to quantify the risk by looking at 22 cancer-causing chemicals found in US tap water between 2010 and 2017.
They used a novel analytical framework that calculated the combined health impacts of carcinogens in 48,363 US community water systems.
Their analysis didn't include water quality information for the 13.5 million American households that rely on private wells for their drinking water.
They found that most of the increased cancer risk is due to contamination with arsenic, disinfection byproducts and radioactive elements such as uranium and radium.
Based on this data, they concluded that water pollutants could cause more than 100,000 cancer cases among people who consumed them for life.
Water systems with the highest risk tend to serve smaller communities and rely on groundwater, they said.
These communities often need improved infrastructure and resources to provide safe drinking water to their residents.
However, large surface water systems contribute a significant share of the overall risk due to the greater population served and the consistent presence of disinfection byproducts.
Contaminants present in the water at those concentrations – perfectly legal – can still harm human health
Olga Naidenko, EWG's vice president for science investigation, said: "The vast majority of community water systems meet legal standards.
"Yet the latest research shows that contaminants present in the water at those concentrations – perfectly legal – can still harm human health.
"We need to prioritise source water protection, to make sure that these contaminants don't get into the drinking water supplies to begin with."
Consumers who are concerned about chemicals in their tap water can install a water filter to help reduce their exposure to contaminants.
Filters should be targeted to the specific contaminants detected in the tap water, the experts added.
Tap water in the UK has to meet strict standards that ensure it is safe to drink and the quality is acceptable to consumers.
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Water companies do add chlorine to water at low levels to disinfect it.
According to Water UK: "All tap water intended for human consumption supplied by water companies is subject to stringent standards, which make sure you can drink it on a daily basis without any harm.
"Occasional failures are mostly attributable to poor tap hygiene or inappropriate plumbing arrangements which can result in objectionable tastes or odours."
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