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Dirty Tap Water May Cause Birth Defects

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Schwartz says a number of recent studies have linked chlorine byproducts to reproduction risks. His group, for example, has found the substances could affect a baby's birth weight. Other research has pointed to risk of birth defects and miscarriage.

"There is potential to cause harm. But there are things we can do to reduce the risk," he says, adding that the following measures won't drop your risk to zero, but they can make things safer:

  • First, don't kid yourself with the bottled water. There may be no way to tell how long it has been since the company last tested it.
  • You may want to install filters on the sinks you use for your drinking water. Products that use charcoal can filter out the chlorine byproducts. The more charcoal a particular filter uses, the more contaminants can be sifted from the water before you drink it.
  • You also may want something for your shower, since these contaminants could evaporate in the steam and be inhaled.

But Schwartz adds there are much bigger issues here that need to be handled at the community level. First, people need to decide how the water will be used. All the water going into your house doesn't really need to be fit to drink, when a lot of it is used to flush toilets, water the lawn, or do the wash. If a town doesn't have to pay to make all household water drinkable, it can then free up some resources to do a better job treating water that people will drink.

Getting rid of chlorine is not the answer, Schwartz says. But communities can use it more responsibly. It's helpful when treatment plants can tailor the amount of chlorine they use according to how much is actually needed. And if more of the particles and debris can be filtered out, germs have fewer hiding places and are easier to kill. That also means less chlorine.

It's also a good idea to clean the plumbing that brings water from the treatment center to your home. The pipes can get crusty with gunk. So facilities have to keep some chlorine in the water to treat it as it makes its way to you. But cleaner pipes mean less chlorine.

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