Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Contaminated Drinking Water Linked to Mental Illness by by Noelle Swan
Move over family history and traumatic experience, here comes another piece in the mental illness puzzle.
A recent Boston University study suggests that exposure to a common drinking water contaminant in the womb and during early childhood could lead to heightened risk for bipolar and post traumatic stress disorders.
From the late 1960s to the early 1980s, Mass. public works and water departments lay over 600 miles of pipe lined with vinyl that had been applied with tetrachloroetylene (PCE), a common dry cleaning solvent. At the time, it was assumed that the PCE would evaporate during a 48-hour drying period.
They thought wrong.
Over a decade after water began coursing through the pipes, it became clear that PCE remained in the liner and subsequently leached into the water. In 1992, the EPA listed PCE as a drinking water contaminant and set a maximum contaminant level of 5 parts per billion in 1992. Today towns monitor for PCE and are required by law to notify residents should levels spike above EPA limits.
The 1970s residents of Massachusetts received no such warning. Bottled water and home filters had not gained popularity yet. Everyone, including pregnant women and young children drank directly from the tap.
Boston University epidemiology professor Ann Ashengrau has studied the health effects of PCE in drinking water for over 20 years exploring cancer risks, reproductive affects and most recently, neurotoxic effects. Her latest findings appearing in the current issue of the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health addressed anecdotal evidence suggesting that PCE exposure might be connected to prevalence of mental illness.