Water Pollution and Cancer

Communities world over are increasingly becoming concerned about the potentials risks that chemicals found in drinking water pose. Irrespective of the source of water – tap water, from a well additives and contaminants that can cause cancer exist in water. Although various legislations have been introduced with regards to water pollution and presence of safe level of cancer causing chemicals in water much remains uncovered in developing countries like ours. In this article we discuss the how and why of water pollution and cancer.  

One of the cost of development that mankind is paying is the increasing incidence of cancer. Punjab the bread bowl of India is a witness to this. The cost of green revolution has been a high incidence of cancer in the state. It would not be wrong to say that there are cancer clusters in the state.pollution 4

My water is polluted!!

Different additives and pollutants find their way into water bodies leading to an increased risk of cancer. Exposure to these pollutants and additives can occur through different human activities – drinking, bathing, showering or swimming. The irony is that additives like chlorine that may be introduced to water for disinfecting may also increase the risk of cancer. Chlorination a process that is expected to protect health, reduce illness due to water borne diseases may introduce multiple health issues. When chlorine reacts with organic compounds hundreds of by-products are generated that while disinfecting are known to cause cancer. Chloroform, trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids are examples of by-products that have been found to cause cancer. Studies suggest that people who are exposed to disinfecting by products for a long term in drinking water show a higher possibility of cancers like bladder, colon, rectal and esophageal.

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Disinfection by products are not the only pollutants that may increase the possibility of cancer. Presence of Radon in drinking water is known to increase the risk of lung cancer. Arsenic is another pollutant that may increase the risk of bladder, lung, kidney, prostate, liver and certain skin cancers. Arsenic may naturally be high in some geographical regions but it is also high in areas with mining and ore processing activity. In addition to the above hazardous waste as a result of industrial, commercial, agricultural and domestic activity may increase the level of various pollutants and additives in water. Fluoride, uranium and radium can cause cancer of the brain and bone.

Fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides easily filter through the water system. These contain carcinogens that potentially increase the risk of cancer. Nitrates a common by product of fertilizers breaks down into nitrosamines that are potential cancer causing agents. These additives and pollutants may seep into drinking water directly or indirectly.

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Can the risk be reduced?

The answer to the above question is a definite yes. Risk of cancer from polluted water sources can definitely be reduced. Most of the municipalities the world over do not have up to date filtration technologies that are capable of eliminating harmful chemicals. The same holds true for companies providing filtered bottled water. This is one of the reasons why chlorine is added which kills microbes present in the water but is ineffective towards heavy metals. These heavy metals get consumed along with water. Filtering using reverse osmosis helps reduce the risk of cancer. Another effective technique that can be adopted is reducing pollution and promoting go green initiatives and alternatives. Water from industries should be treated before being released in water bodies. Protective standards for a range of pollutants can also be raised to higher level in order to reduce the risk of cancer. Taking preventive measures can also reduce the use of disinfectants which can further reduce the presence of carcinogenics.

Steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of cancer can be summed as:

  • Stricter environmental regulations and regulations related to chemical handling and disposal;pollution 3
  • Upgrade water treatment facilities;
  • Identify safer alternatives over substances and processes that pose the risk of cancer;
  • Support and encourage research for better insight into relationship between cancer and exposure to various additives and pollutants.

The Clean Siddhwan Canal Project that has been undertaken in the city of Ludhiana is an admirable project that can be easily termed as the need of the hour for this industrial city. What makes the project exceptional is that private individuals and non-governmental organizations have taken the onus to not only get the stretches cleaned and maintaining them but also pursuing the same effectively with the local administration. Let us do our bit to keep plastics, chemicals and other pollutants away from this water channel. Let us remember somehow or the other the pollutants in water find their way into our bodies.

Reference: http://sustainableproduction.org/downloads/Airandwaterpollutants_001.pdf