Environmentalists Say Water Carries Birth Defect Risk

From: Robina Suwol
Date: 25 Jan 2002
Time: 01:59:21
Remote Name:


Date: 020111
From: http://www.app.com/
By Kathy Hennessy, Gannett State Bureau, 1/11/01

Trenton - State environmentalists released a report Thursday that said more than 10,000 New Jersey women risk miscarriage or delivering babies with birth defects because of highly chlorinated drinking water. Within New Jersey, 20 public water systems have elevated levels of trihalomethanes, which are linked to elevated cancer risk and increased chance of birth defects or miscarriage for pregnant women, according to a report from the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group and Environmental Working Group.

The report did not include statistics citing how many at-risk women had miscarriages or delivered babies with birth defects. The water systems include Shrewsbury, Keansburg and Avon By the Sea in Monmouth County, New Brunswick and East Brunswick in Middlesex County, Burlington City and Fort Dix in Burlington County and Rahway City in Union County. "Heavy chlorination and water treatments are not a substitute for protecting our drinking water sources," said Douglas O'Malley, water specialist with NJPIRG.

Chlorine is added to water to kill bacteria that is present in organic matter, such as soil, plant material and animal waste. When the chemical interacts with the organic material, it creates toxic byproducts such as trihalomethanes. Environmentalists blame the problem on suburban development, which typically increases the number of septic systems, sewer lines and toxins like fertilizer that may be in an area and seep into water supplies. "This is the smoking gun," said Jeff Tittel, executive director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. "It shows there is a direct link between birth defects and overdevelopment and sprawl." 

The environmental groups have asked state officials to uphold federal and state water safety regulations. They also advocate tougher protections such as providing buffer zones between sewer or septic lines and water sources, requiring tests to make sure waste water dumped into waterways isn't causing pollution and banning new or expanded sewer lines near water systems. Gov.-elect James E. McGreevey recently said he is committed to making increased protection of water sources a priority of his administration.

A recent survey by the New Jersey Water Supply Authority indicates residents rank the importance of protecting water quality above reducing taxes, unemployment and road congestion. The poll of 801 central Jersey residents, who live in the 1,100-square-mile area Raritan River Basin, found support regulations to improve water quality and limiting development. In response to the report, the New Jersey section of the American Water Works Association said it supports efforts to clean source waters. The organization urged water companies and suppliers to find affordable and innovative ways to treat drinking water. The organization has spent $140 million to research alternate methods to treat water such as ultraviolet light.

"We all need to work in a cooperative spirit between dischargers, regulators and environmentalists in a concerted effort to clean up our waterways and reduce disinfection," a statement from the group said.

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