Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
Cancer-Linked Chemicals Manufactured by 3M Are Turning Up in Drinking Water (bloomberg.com)
387 points by smacktoward 9 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 170 comments

15 years I ago I worked on the construction phase of a microchip manufacturing facility, well actually they were adding another separate plant to make gaming chips.

The computer giant that owned the land and had done so much ecological damage to the water table they had to supply the town with city water. Dead birds could be found all over the rooftops, no worms or insects were in any of the soil near the plant.

At the time I had no idea of the chemicals used to make chips but I do now, and it's TERRIFING. Here's a few off the top of my head: 100% ultra high purity Sulphuric acid, Hydrochloric Acid, Hydrofluoric Acid, Potassium Hydroxide, Arsine, Arsenic, Silane gas (my personal fav, it's deadly to breathe but that won't kill you because it typically explodes when it mixes with air), and also a patented chemical that the company named J1000... but we all called it 2 step because if you got even One drop on you--you'd take 2 steps and be dead.

I worked there for just a few months... I was involved with the testing of the gasses some inert most were deadly though and could fuck you up just by touching your skin; one night I had a dream that a valve cabinet failed, and I tasted pink bubble gum--I woke up before I died in that dream. The next day I quit.

Did anyone die while you worked there?

Not the OP but all those things can't be good for you at all. The worst part is that it may happen 22 years later and just blame second hand smoke or something.

Very true. My skin harshly reacts to many things that are just common place today. Don’t want to go near stuff like that. I fully back leaving a workplace like that. It’s sad our field relies on such harmful compounds.

Chemistry /physics are such maybe that we have no way out? Don't know.

Maybe robots can make both sides happy?

Not that I know of, but I understand a young employee from an electrical company had a heart attack due to cyanide exposure from an improperly decommissioned pipe; that was the word on street, and I talked to him and that's what he claimed too. I have no idea if it was true or not.

There’s an auto supplier upstream of my town that was dumping PFAs into the drain. It’s containminated the whole river and all the lakes. The river is where my town gets our drinking water.

They are installing carbon filters which should help. I use a carbon filter for all our water.

The thing is we have a dixione plume approaching our water intake too.

The parts per trillion is kinda mind blowing too. Take a large pool, let’s say 40,000 gallons. There’s 90,000 drops per gallon. So your pool is made of 3.6 billion drops of water.

It takes .0036 drops of this stuff to raise your pools concentration to 1 part per trillion. That means a quarter of a drop of this stuff will turn the pool into something that is above EPA limits.

It’s insane and mind blowing.

You must be lying. President Trump tells us that all business will do the right thing and not poison the water, the air or it's customers.

Ann Arbor?


It's nice to see the local officials concerned and doing something about the problem, but in many municipalities the local officials are part of the problem.

I think that the mayor of every city should be required to eat a fish caught in the most polluted stream that runs through the city, and state governors should be required to eat a fish caught from the most polluted stream in the state.

To wash it down, each should be required to drink a glass of water from the tap of the area of their jurisdiction with the dirtiest tap water.

This should happen weekly so that the toxins create a real health concern for the officials ingesting them.

We live in a world where most officials allow our natural resources and infrastructure to fail with impunity. This has to change. That we don't see local "watchdog" groups staging these sorts of tastings for television illustrates that the corruption spreads beyond the officials and into the media as well.

Although surely not serious, lots of naivete here. This assumes everyone values personal health over financial health. This prevents anyone from wanting to get elected to fix an existing problem. This places guilt even on the innocent if they are subjected to upstream or state-level pollution. On and on and on.

You either have a problem with existing laws not being enforced or there not being laws to enforce concerning the issue. This happens in many other areas of concern too. It's going to require a citizenry that cares, though PR stunts always feel good on paper.

"Although surely not serious ..."

Not your parent but I took it seriously and I think "skin in the game" structures like this should be taken very seriously - they are likely the best mechanisms for aligning interests.

"This assumes everyone values personal health over financial health."

Very easy to solve this one - the elected official doesn't eat the fish and drink the water, their children do.

"This prevents anyone from wanting to get elected to fix an existing problem."

This is a good and important point - you would scare away potential candidates for office if existing systems are already broken/unsafe. I don't know how to arrange a neat solution to this.

Very well put. Newly elected officials could be given a six month grace period to get any remediation efforts underway before their first tasting. Incumbents would not be eligible for a grace period.

One other point to add to rsync's comment:

One other point to mention is that rational choices cannot be made about things like pollution when measurement methods can be fudged and the health effects of specific pollutants are not necessarily well studied. Bottom line, putting it in one's own body is the best way to determine whether a sensible person would feel comfortable with the environmental exposure being forced upon citizens due to lax or imperfect regulation, or even imperfect science. Do I want to drink this discolored, foul smelling water just because it does not test positive for known carcinogens? Common sense is actually a surprisingly helpful guide here.

All that would happen is that regulations would begin to be enforced or modified to match the improved perception of reality informed by the tasting.

Think about it this way, climate change is a fairly abstract concept that is much easier to ignore than the fish dinner sitting in front of you that was caught in water your administration declared safe.

Thats not really fair if you have a superfund lake from the 1950s that nobody uses water from, eats fish in it or has the budget to fix. And is in the middle of nowhere at some desert.

The notion of an appropriate budget to fix these kinds of things usually omits the full cost of neglect.

The article linked above describes a massive plume of cancer-causing pollution spreading through underground waterways. All we need to do to find and justify the budget is accurately quantify the human cost.

> Very easy to solve this one - the elected official doesn't eat the fish and drink the water, their children do.

Are you trying to setup some breeding program for building a better psychopath? :)

"Here's this high-status high-paying job, that people with a sense of ethics aren't taking because of the Flint-like water that can't be fixed on budget in any reasonable amount of time. No problem, just adopt a few orphans, score political brownie points in the process by seeming caring, and have them drink all the pollution!"

""This assumes everyone values personal health over financial health."

Very easy to solve this one - the elected official doesn't eat the fish and drink the water, their children do."

Even that doesn't seem to work in a very large number of cases. Look at how many people choose to locate their families in polluted cities for the financial benefits when the deleterious effects on health are so well studied and documented. There's just not enough immediacy of the effects of breathing polluted air or eating a fish contaminated with carcinogens.

I wonder what would happen should private schools be forced to use the same food that public schools have.

This is easy to fix for motivated parties though. Imagine that pro wrestling circus but with fish and water and better staged.

Joke's on you, I'm childless.

The root of the problem is that many value their financial health over the personal health of others. I would argue that no government office should be able to have water filters, bottled water or 5 gallon jugs etc. Obviously individual employees are free to bring in whatever they want to work but the office should only provide the same tap water used by citizens.

Any company whether private or partially county/municipality owned such as power plants that gets a license to dump into nearby bodies of water should be forced to follow the same rules. I personally find it unlikely that flint would not have happened if local and state level officials had been forced to drink the water. The outbreak of legionaries disease after the fact was especially egregious.

I live in a decent middle class suburb and still pay $100 per month to have spring water delivered because known carcinogens have been found in the water supply for years now. I spoke to the city commissionaire about it and his brief response was well they keep raising the requirements so its not really his fault. They have been out of compliance for at least the 4+ years I have been here, likely far longer. What are the consequences for the families that cannot afford $100 per month extra or don't take the time to read the water reports?

You're probably getting other exposures like BPA from the plastic water bottles.

BPA free, but you are right in that I am probably getting something from the plastics.

FYI, the replacement for BPA might not be any better. One writeup: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/bpa-free-plastic-...

> This happens in many other areas of concern too.

Yes, elected officials should also be required to spend 24 consecutive hours each month in the inmate population of the local jail, prison, etc. to ensure that it offers safe and humane conditions.

I would support this. The fact that the government can seize you, force you to live among people who are known to be violent and then not take responsibility when someone is assaulted or killed is insane. Criminal or not, if your person is under government control, your safety and health should be absolutely guaranteed.

On a side note the concept of private prisons is also insane. That a private company can hold you for profit is not right.

I'd be happy if they were just forced to use public transit for all transportation 3 days a month.

Wow! For country like India, this can solve traffic problem.

Not just elected officials, I'll also include in police officers, judges, juries, and, really, pretty much all members of the public in the list of people who would greatly benefit from such an experience.

I see a clear pattern here, and it is the loss of once common coming-of-age ritual.

You might add other modern suggestions in that spirit:

No Meat until you slaughter an animal yourself.

No pepper spray unless you try it yourself.

Spend a week living in the 'retirement community' before dumping those you claim to love there.

Etc. Basically dogfooding as gatekeeping.

More people value personal health over financial health than would admit in a survey. They just often don't realize it until they've lost their health.

Case in point: people pay for health services.

Now that is the definition of putting some skin in the game.

This is obviously hearsay, but I believe there are regulations in Aus that towns that discharge treated water have to discharge it upstream of their town, for just this reason.

This does happen. Apparently Chicago diverted the sewage and pollution in the Chicago river so that it would flow into the Mississippi river rather than onto Chicago's shores of Lake Michigan:


Like many excellent ideas, Simpsons did it:


I agree. It's nice to see some local officials do something, but a lot of them also have no idea what's really going on in their city because they consume the best products out there. Throw them in the mix with the poorest town and let's see how long they will last. Sometimes this is the only way to make them really look closely as to what's really going on in the city.

"Last November, she announced that areas around the Cottage Grove plant had elevated levels of some cancers including childhood cancers , and lower fertility. And, she said in court filings, 3M was to blame."

- I wonder if chemicals are the cause of the 50% drop in male sperm count in developed countries [over the last 30 years].

The answer is almost definitely yes, at least in great part. Furthermore, the top two killers in America are heart disease and cancer. 80% of heart disease is preventable by diet - avoiding foods that cause insulin resistance (sugar) and gut dysfunction (chemicals). The top cancer and many others are triggered by environmental variables (chemicals).

And I know I am going to be downvoted for not citing, maybe someone who agrees can help back me up, and also for saying "chemicals" and there are people here who cringe because everything is chemicals and most chemicals are good, I want to be clear I'm talking about the bad chemicals here- PFCs like the ones in the article, heavy metals, other petroleum-derived baddies, and some others.

The answer about heart disease, cancer, etc seems to be dietary but not necessarily the chemical industry’s fault: https://nutritionfacts.org/video/how-not-to-die/

[Edit: In general, I should say, but these chemicals in concentrations like those in the article are certainly cancer promoters.]

Don’t forget seed oils!

Good point, though it might trigger the correlation-not-causation debate.

When one has a widespread, general rise in cancer and vascular disease, one should look for a systemic cause. The general perception is changing from 'cancer is genetic' to 'cancer is environmental', although oncologists have long known it. The California Prop 65 warnings are a start at raising awareness, though more risible than alarming.

I hope we start testing, treating & preventing causes, whether it's pathogens (HPV) or chemicals (benzene) causing cancer. Or other disease triggers like Alzheimer's (zoster) or ischemic event triggers (periodontal).

And oxygen. That stuff can be lethal.


A lot of dead people--not to say 100% because I have no source--had been using oxygen before they died.

Some scientists are putting your assumption to the test. Here's an HN discussion from a couple months back: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17942744

I wonder the same. Might these all be signs of the great filter at work?


I'm following this story because our local air force base (in Australia) used 3M firefighting foam for decades, and the run-off has contaminated residential properties, including creeks where people used to fish. The Australian government and Defence Force have basically tried to rely on 3M's health advice to tell everyone that their cancers aren't related to the chemicals, but nobody really trusts them.

There was an excellent article in the NYT a couple of years ago about the fight against the PFAS industry (PFOA, etc.) [1].

The legal fight against DuPont, 3M and others has been going on for decades, and their environmental abuses have been going on since the 1950s. PFAS are scary, and they're absolutely everywhere. And every time a much-maligned pollutant such as PFOA or PFOS gets phased out or banned, a new fluorochemical takes it place that has more or less the same properties; same story all over again.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/10/magazine/the-lawyer-who-b...

I came here to post the exact same link. It was a fantastic and well researched article with tons of details and left me feeling sad at the situation but happy that there was someone who fought for helping people out.

Here's another that's in a very similar vein that had some solid research behind it. It'll probably leave you in the same state the NY Times article above will but it's a must-read. I don't think enough people will see it or your link unfortunately. https://theintercept.com/2015/08/11/dupont-chemistry-decepti...

I've been meaning to read that series, thanks for reminding me!

It's a great read. It really goes super quickly and flows well. It's just a shame that the subject is so unfortunate. When I finished the whole series I was honestly amazed at how much I'd read through because I didn't even notice it. Almost like a thriller that you just can't put down. Enjoy!

Do alternatives even exist?

Yes, they themselves produce alternatives but they have the same issues generally speaking as the original chemicals. As noted above they'll usually move to the new one because they've exhausted what they can get from the original and the new one isn't tainted by regulation/lawsuits/studies yet. The EPA isn't proactive about testing these things so it then takes time for people to study them and determine that they're not healthy for people and the cycle continues.

Generally speaking though, things like teflon and such and the chemicals that make them up are probably always going to be bad for the endocrine system. I'm hopeful I'm wrong and we can find alternatives that aren't but the human body doesn't seem to do well with chemicals that make things hydrophobic/slippery/nonstick.

You seem knowledgeable so I'm reaching out into the dark here.. Does that mean I should throw out my non-stick pans and get steel or cast iron alternatives?

Hey, sorry for the slow reply. Generally, no you'll probably be fine with non-stick pans. The precursor chemicals used for making teflon are definitely not good, but once it gets into your pan it's mostly ok. That said, if you get the pan too hot (think no food in it and its just sitting on a hot fire) then I believe the teflon can offgas which is bad for you. Also, you should use bamboo/wood/silicon utensils on non-stick pans. Anything else can scratch it and take off some of the teflon. Once it's been scratched it becomes very easy for bits of teflon to come off in your food and parts of the layers to continue to peel off. If you scratch it you should either see if the manufacturer will replace/fix it or probably toss it. You don't want to be eating the stuff that flakes off the scratched areas. While teflon is I think technically inert (which is why it's used everywhere) I don't think it's healthy to have that passing through your system.

So, if you take good care of your non-stick pans you'll mostly be ok. Basically just baby them and make sure they're in good condition and you should be fine.

Stainless steel doesn't have this problem but of course isn't as non-stick as teflon or the teflon-similar materials out there and can be much more expensive depending on quality levels.

I wouldn't throw them out if I were you, but would invest in some high quality utensils to use with them (silicon on the end and bamboo for the handle part) so you never scratch them. Oh, and of course when cleaning don't use anything metallic like steel wool/mesh on them. Even barkeepers friend has potential to be too abrasive and take off some of the layers. Soap and water when it's still hot is a great way to make cleaning the pots/pans easier.

Hope that helps!

Thanks a bunch for the reply! Puts my mind at ease. I've always been obsessive about not getting scratches in the non-stick coating because I heard it was pretty bad for your health. I'll keep it up

I find this interesting as in my undergrad I was working with a 3M supplied poly-fluorinated ether which was said to be a highly stable compound. We were breaking it apart with all manner of amine compounds producing various levels of HF and and HF2 along with poly-fluorinated amides that had a small amount of research mostly pointing to negative environmental impacts. Nothing really came of it as my reactions had no applications relevant to the goals of the lab I was working in.

Is there anywhere in the US that you can live without fear or worry of having contaminated water or air?

Yes, you need to be aware of things though, especially if you aren’t using municipal water.

Look for superfund sites, former dumps, former military facilities, etc and avoid them. Even things like army depots and train depots. If you’re in an area with well water, understand what’s upstream.

In an old city, test the soil if you grow vegetables in the yard, you may have coal ash or other nasties.

>Look for superfund sites, former dumps, former military facilities, etc and avoid them

Sorry Bay Area....

There isn't anywhere in the world where you can live without fear or worry of contaminated water or air.

Microplastics for example have been found in:

sea salt - https://www.mnn.com/health/fitness-well-being/stories/sea-sa...

water - https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/mar/15/micropla...

air - https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/09/people-m...

poop - https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/microplastics-foun...

And of course thanks to all of the atomic/nuclear weapons we've detonated, everyone alive right now holds radioactive evidence from those detonations in their bodies https://www.businessinsider.com/bomb-pulse-radiation-decay-c...

Then there's the ozone damage we've done and the fact someone in China is still using, or has recently been anyway, CFCs - https://www.engadget.com/2018/06/27/investigators-china-ille...

And mercury from coal smoke - https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S130910421...

Lead in soil from: leaded paints, past use of leaded gasoline, lead water-supply piping in the US until the 1920's, lead in in plumbing solder in the US until 1986...

This sounds very fear mongery. I bet you'd get more radiation from eating a Banana than the residual radiation of every nuclear test combined.

You selected one of several points and took it entirely out of context adding your own bias. The point is, we've contaminated the entire planet with various things as a direct result of our actions.

Many places in Alaska and would image other remote areas of other northern states as well.

Many places in AK unfortunately have a history of barely-regulated mining [1], which is now being joined by a push to expand and deregulate the oil and gas industry in those areas [2].

Unfortunately remote is no guarantee of clean and in some cases might even mean the opposite because being out of the public eye allows companies to ignore externalities that they would otherwise have to take responsibility for.

[1] https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2018/02/most-toxic-town-...

[2] https://www.npca.org/articles/1721-offshore-leasing-plan-thr...

Great point, but the articles mentions extremely small areas compared to the entire state over the period of decades.

Unfortunately those extremely small areas do not exist in a vacuum and and connected to the rest of the state by things like watersheds, especially when we're talking about timescales like decades.

The areas are still very small including watersheds.

Sadly is not only the US

What kind of equipment would you need to check your drinking water for any kind of contamination? What would it cost?

Just curious.

Slight change of topic, but this is one reason I believe we're overly fearful of nuclear energy. Nobody seems to give a damn about dangerous chemicals that can cause cancer and are nearly impossible to detect. But everyone is scared to death about radioctive materials that can cause cancer and are easily detected (Geiger counter).

"What kind of equipment would you need to check your drinking water for any kind of contamination? What would it cost?"

You need to send it away for testing - it would be impractical to home test for all of the things you'd want to test for.

It's likely that your local municipality has a testing service that you can send water into for $50 or $100 and have rough testing done for lead and e-coli and crypto and so on.

A more extensive (and expensive) test will test for essentially everything, including VOCs and chemicals and all manner of manufacturing byproducts, plastics, phthalates, etc.

That would cost you $600 or $800 ...

The appropriate local municipality is probably your county health department, who almost certainly has results from the last time your home was sold on file. Here, it's $15 to retest, or a couple bucks and a FOIA request to get all previous records.

I do have 65 ppt of PFAS in my well water (one of the gray dots in West Michigan, where Wolverine operated a tannery that dumped Scotchguard-treated leather scrap in local swamps). The test for that (and various other contaminants) ran $650. Yeah, Wolverine is paying for that and the carbon filters in my basement, but it kinda sucks to have been drinking it for 30 years. At least they caught it when my kid was onky exposed in the womb and his formula until he was 1...

Depends on what you're looking to detect and what kind of facility you have access to.

A few hundred dollars will get you a lab test for common contaminants, but the cost rises exponentially for anything beyond that.

You can probably take a sample and send it off to an analysis lab. Some things have simple tests but you'd probably want the full spectrum.

Pretty much everywhere. Tap water in the us is perfectly safe in most places.


"Allaire found the amount of violations varied by year, affecting as many as 45 million people in some years, representing about 28% of the U.S. population."


"Tainted tap water isn’t just a problem in Flint, Michigan. In any given year from 1982 to 2015, somewhere between 9 million and 45 million Americans got their drinking water from a source that was in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act, according to a new study"


>> most places

> Wrong [...] 45 million [...] 28% of the U.S. population

I don't think it's fair to call the comment "Wrong". If anything, this supposed refutation is saying "Right".

I might be taking words out of context, but 45 million is nowhere near 28% of the US population; this is a little under 15%. I am not arguing for or against the problem of water pollution, but this is just seriously suspect math.

You've essentially proven their point. Outside a few problem areas, water in the US is remarkably safe and clean. The US population minus "nine to 45 million" definitely qualifies as "most places" in America. And that's not even close to 28%, by the way.

Most people in the world have it far worse off than the US. We tend to easily fly into a panic and start drinking bottled water instead, which only pumps ever more plastic and carbon into the biosphere. That exact phenomenon happened in Austin recently. People went into a prepper panic and raided the grocery stores anyway, completely cleaning out all the bottled water in the city. Again. The water was perfectly fine, it turns out.

My travels through the third world have made me more aware of how much we take our highly reliable infrastructure for granted. Of course we still have some problems to work out, but acting like most tap water is unsafe is hyperbolic and just not helpful.

More and more microplastics are showing up in drinking water because the particles are so small. They seem to be mostly coming from our clothing released during washing, which is increasingly made of synthetic materials.

"The US had the highest contamination rate, at 94%, with plastic fibres found in tap water sampled at sites including Congress buildings, the US Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters, and Trump Tower in New York. Lebanon and India had the next highest rates." https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/06/plastic-...

Has there been any conclusive studies yet that say what impact if any microplastics have on us?

It can harm small organisms at the very least. Things like zooplankton can have their bodily processes interrupted by ingesting the materials. This indicates it can result in death: http://www.ices.dk/news-and-events/symposia/zp6/Pages/Effect...

Other studies indicating harm are available, while others have shown mixed results. For example, one where polystyrene microplastics depress and then appear to stimulate growth of algae: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S004565351...

Microplastics from car tyres seems to be a big source as well: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5664766/

People _really_ need to stop laundering synthetics. The amount of plastic and other material that sheds into our water is stunning.

I think that blames the victims a bit too much, it's analogous to "people need to stop buying food in single-use plastics" - I would put the onus on the manufacturers to fix their products and their distribution, rather than the end users. What's the alternative to laundering your clothing, realistically?

Don’t buy synthetics is a start.

Vote to pass legislation that taxes synthetics and the money is used for mitigation.

Company’s make what consumers want.

I agree that it'd be better not to buy synthetics as they stand, but that requires manufacturers to shift their production to natural fibers. I think regulation / remediation sounds like a good way to encourage that shift. Consumers buy what's on offer - if everything in the market was natural fiber, consumers would choose accordingly, otherwise they are likely to choose whatever meets their needs (which maybe low-price, or high-fashion, but without more education and alternatives, won't be cleaner water).

It seems challenging as full-cotton shirts seem to be more prone to shrinkage and aren't necessarily as soft and resilient like the cotton/poly blends that are all so prevalent in just about every fabric out there.

> Vote to pass legislation that taxes synthetics

Just regulate the items you don't want with rules. If you want it gradual, make the rules gradual. No need to build more money-collecting bureaucracy and keep asking people to pretend the gatekeepers/spenders are trustworthy.

The problem here is synthetics are generally considerably less resource intense than natural fibers, I looked into cotton vs polyester a couple of years ago https://www.ryanmercer.com/ryansthoughts/2016/7/19/environme...

While the synthetics and artificial fibers are bad as they pollute the environment downstream, cotton production requires roughly 20,000 liters to produce 1kg of fiber while polyester requires SEVENTEEN liters of water.

Which synthetics? Does that include polyester? Rayon?

I believe polyester microfibers are the main culprit[1], rayon is made from cellulose so I would expect it to break down easily.

1: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jun/20/microfib...

No. Under capitalism, companies make what their consumers can afford. And these days, very few consumers can afford what they want, so the market becomes irrational. We have to buy, and thus encourage production of, what we don't want... because it's all we can afford.

I don't think I own many clothes with synthetic fabric but if it doesn't say dry clean only then of course I'm going to launder it. Why is it on consumers to become experts in every product to save the environment but there are few calls to stop manufacturers from putting products on the market that they know perfectly well are going to create more pollution?

"People _really_ need to stop laundering synthetics."

I thought the major, overwhelming source of microplastic pollution was from plastic beads in makeup and skin products.

Are synthetic fabrics, laundered, a significant source ?

Genuinely curious and would appreciate a citation.

Clothing is the main source of microplastics. Everyone wears and washes clothing. Lots of people don't have microbeads in their cosmetics.


> Multiple studies have shown synthetic fibers to make up the lion’s share of microplastics found in oceans, rivers and lakes, and clothes made from synthetics (polyester, nylon, and so on) are widely implicated as the source of that pollution.

I think one problem is that there aren't lots of good alternatives at least when it comes to warm weather gear. Wool tends to be expensive, difficult to care for, and some people are allergic or vegan. On the other hand, all of the plant fibers that I'm aware of do not keep you warm if they get wet.

Have you written to your representatives about this yet?

The absence of specific dangers is not the same as safety, but the former is all that water supply testing can provide.

We test for things that are really dangerous (e. coli, arsenic, heavy metals, etc.). If microplastics were dangerous like those things, it would be pretty obvious by now.

>If microplastics were dangerous like those things, it would be pretty obvious by now.

You're right, it is pretty obvious

"The chronic biological effects in marine organisms results due to accumulation of microplastics in their cells and tissues. The potential hazardous effects on humans by alternate ingestion of microparticles can cause alteration in chromosomes which lead to infertility, obesity, and cancer."


"Not only is the potential migration of the plastics throughout our body a concern, but the additives in plastics may carry health risks. Many of these additives are known endocrine disrupters. According to Dr. Herbert Tilg, president of the Austrian Society of Gastroenterology and chair of the UEG Scientific Committee, microplastics could possibly be one of the factors contributing to inflammatory bowel syndrome or even colon cancer, which is on the rise among young adults."


You say pretty obviously as dangerous and then provide quotes about "potential hazardous effects", "can cause", "potential migration", "may carry", "could possibly", etc. That's quite different than being pretty obviously as dangerous as the other things mentioned.

In my view the deeper point of okmokmz's comment is that it's just crazy to only consider the most blatantly obvious health effects of pollutants.

We're still learning a lot about the hormonal effects of consuming microplastics and plasticizers (among other things) but it's all pointing in some pretty nasty directions, and until recently we didn't have much awareness of how much of the stuff we were consuming. We have to decide how much of the stuff we're going to try and prevent from entering the environment and our water supply, and I wouldn't want the people making that determination to be informed by ideas like "well, it's not as dangerous as uranium or lead so let's just not worry about it."

> We test for things that are really dangerous (e. coli, arsenic, heavy metals, etc.). If microplastics were dangerous like those things, it would be pretty obvious by now.

Microplastics aren't necessarily dangerous like those things, but they've been shown to be potentially dangerous in different ways. Really acute problems of the sort you're thinking of, like long-term cancer risk and short-term infection risk, can be considered alongside reduced fertility in men and developmental problems in infants and children.

> If microplastics were dangerous like those things, it would be pretty obvious by now.

E. coli, arsenic and heavy metals don't really have the same economic and lobbying power the plastic industry does.

Tobacco and climate change give us better models for how easy it is to suppress or cast doubt on pretty solid evidence if there's a profit to be made in doing so.

Even the ancient Egyptians knew arsenic was toxic. Plastics haven’t been around nearly as long.

Ha. I live in cottage grove, and I assumed the same thing.

Your fear can of course be anywhere. Rational fear, not so much outside maybe Flint Michigan.

>Rational fear, not so much outside maybe Flint Michigan.

You're deluding yourself if you believe Flint is the only location in the US where you need to be worried about contaminated or otherwise unsafe water



I know a little bit about the subject. (I worked at NU's environmental clinic when they were looking at SDWA violations, though I didn't work on that project.) Although tons of municipalities are out of compliance with regulations, the regulations are very conservative and the water can be out of spec without being something you need to "fear."

You edited your comment and removed the part about third world countries, which was probably smart, but your original point seemed to be that it's fine that millions of Americans are exposed to potentially harmful chemicals/compounds/substances because it's not as bad as third world countries. I don't know about you, but I don't want to drink water that doesn't meet regulatory standards but is maybe technically "safe". If that's the case, why even have standards/regulations at all? Just because you won't immediately die of dysentery doesn't mean there won't be long term negative effects.

I'd say the opposite, but maybe not so much on the fear front. Superfund sites are everywhere, p2.5 is generated by every diesel on the road. A level of human generated poison/contamination is everywhere. Low levels of pesticides, herbicides and microplastics are part of our lives. They have a cost and in many cases the cost is unknown, and maybe unquantifiable without tremendous cost. These are just facts, not things to be feared so much as motivation to answer in the affirmative when there is a policy choice re: "hey should we study why there is a worldwide loss of flying insects, bee colony collapse?, should we incentivize less polluting tech?" etc.

So is your position that the chemical mentioned in this article is harmless and the concerns groundless? The article said it's now widely found in Americans' blood and that 110 million americans are exposed to levels considered unsafe.

Not being snarky. If there's another position consistent with the article I'm interested to hear it.

I'm from Bangladesh. I think arsenic in water is something to fear. If this stuff was harmful like arsenic, we would know by now. If it turns a 0.1% chance of cancer into a 0.12% chance of cancer, I think it's a waste of time to worry about it.

No argument that this chemical is surely much less harmful than arsenic and that america is less polluted than Bangladesh.

And in practice it probably doesn't make sense for the individual in america to worry too much. There aren't really any places on earth you wouldn't have an effect from less dangerous/harder to diagnose chemicals.

But as a society we should still investigate it. A lot of small things summed together can add to something large.

For instance, why has fertility dropped so much? No one knows. Why are lab animals getting fatter? We don't know that either.

Slow burns are harder to sort out, but they can certainly exist.

If it were just one chemical we should be concerned about your argument would be valid. However, we're in contact with thousands of compounds every day that never had long term safety testing done. Not to mention potential effects caused by the interactions of the different chemicals.

> If it turns a 0.1% chance of cancer into a 0.12% chance of cancer, I think it's a waste of time to worry about it.

That's 60k cases of cancer in the US. Not worth worrying about on a personal level, perhaps, but on a public policy one?

To put this number into perspective, there are roughly ~30k automobile related fatalities in the US each year.

HN tends to glorify self-driving vehicles because they might put a dent into that statistic. I wonder why that concern doesn't apply to drinking water.

In fairness, the cancer odds were lifetime. So would would have to divide that hypothetixal by 80 or so to compare to annual car deaths: 750

Sure, but the OP was talking about personal “fear” not public policy. I absolutely agree these should be investigated for public policy purposes because of tve potential aggregate effect. But don’t worry about it.

Note that much of the background on this issue appears to be provided by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). They are an organization which frequently promotes their agenda through scaremongering scientific claims which are frequently flat-out wrong or misrepresented.

The valid stuff in the article is the stuff where the Minnesota department of health altered their allowable limits based on published scientific concerns, and the town was over the limit. The other stuff... I can't tell the wheat from the chaff.

I'm from Cottage Grove area, in fact my childhood dentist was there. None of this is news, it is a terrible legacy, Cottage Grove was not the only area contaminated, much of the entire Eastern Twin Cities suburbs have problems in the water with ongoing cleanup efforts. 3M is a chemical company, in essence. How much cancer did it cause? I don't know...some. While many Americans don't agree that climate change is an important issue, I think it's well accepted that just dumping chemicals is bad. I think the issue is whether it's in one's own back yard or not.

What are the current best Home Water Filter we could get? Are the Brita MAXTRA+ any good? And which one is the most affordable?

( We now need to paid extra money to get drinking water, in many ways I think this is backward as a society )

Reverse-osmosis based systems are the current best, cheap and, well, pretty much the only ones available on the market, since it's the cheapest way to purify water. But they have a learning curve, require quite a bit of maintenance and waste some water. Although I believe you can trade wear out of the membrane for less water waste, if water is too expensive in your region. The most basic system costs like $100, has at least five filtering stages with three different cartridge replacement rates and likely needs periodic chlorine disinfection. You can add other stages afterwards: mineralization, UV, etc.

About the best commonly available setup is a carbon filter and reverse osmosis. Something like [1], but Some things are still going to get through though [2]

[1] https://www.amazon.com/HiKiNS-Filtration-RO-125G-Efficiency-...

[2] https://www.quora.com/Is-there-anything-that-a-reverse-osmos...

I live in one of the highly contaminated municipalities-- almost everyone here is doing GAC (granular activated carbon) on all water entering the home, and Reverse Osmosis at point-of-use. Idea being that the GAC gets a good amount of the problem filtered out for water you might use topically, and GAC+RO for drinking, cooking, etc. ideally gets almost everything for water you ingest. RO is not good at providing high flow rates without giant reserve tanks, so it's a reasonable trade off. The cost is not bad, each system is a couple hundred bucks, and simple enough to DIY install if you're so inclined.

Brita's are pretty much unless unfortunately. As are most pitcher style filter systems. Faucet mounted systems are probably the easiest way to go (eg Pur), but better under the counter or household water filters do exist.

Its also worth mentioning that there good chance that a water filter won't actually filter this out. Water treatment plants will often treat the water through multiple levels of filtration, reverse osmosis, UV treatment, ozone treatment, etc.

> Brita's are pretty much unless unfortunately.

How do you figure that? They're the same carbon filters as found in the faucet systems.

They are both carbon filters, but they are not the same.

I got concerned about water quality (specifically lead) right before the Flint after doing some plumbing work in my apartment. After some digging I found a report detailing PPM before and after filtration. Brita's generally filtered less than 20 percent of containment with the exception of things like chlorine which naturally off gas. The faucet systems generally removed 80-90%.

They're granulated. The good under sink filters are carbon block.

Are there any independent tests to back up the claims made about Berkey filters? I was given a Berkey filter and I spent some time trying to find independent validation of their claims. All I could find were just circular references between "sources" in the scammy "natural" health industry.

You can get a full blown Reverse Osmosis system. But it does deplete the water of all minerals.

There are some good standalone water filters (but Brita is not too good): https://web.archive.org/web/20170815211007/http://waterfilte...

Looks like they are preparing some new tests: http://www.waterfilterlabs.com/Index.html

RO system is the best as many have mentioned.

However, of the pitcher filters, ZEROWATER is the only one certified to remove lead. It's what I use.

Reverse osmosis only for peace of mind. Nothing else is worth it in my opinion.

But then there is not enough minerals in the water. How do you deal with that ?

You can remineralize with limestone post-filtration.

Or eat food.

Chemicals in the drinking water, plastic in the salt. It's either you embrace ignorance or live in fear of what is in your food, drink, air. Kind of depressing.

Um, I believe there is another alternative, wherein we use that information to regulate the use and release of those chemicals and microplastics....

My point isn't that we should just accept this, just that it's already in the food supply.

"Embrace ignorance or feel afraid" describes the situation for literally every significant problem.

I'm having a hard time following this. Is this cancerous like asbestos is cancerous, or is this cancerous in the same way California says coffee is cancerous?

It's cancerous in the sense that a consultant for 3M called it "one of the strongest cancer promoters I’ve ever seen." (quote from TFA)

Curious, is there an easy way to test the water quality at home?

I've looked into this myself. Unfortunately it's not practical.

Firstly, there are a number of different chemicals you might test for. Secondly, for chemicals that are dangerous at 1ppb only gas-chemotography / mass-spectrometry can detect that, which would cost upward of $500 per test per chemical and be done at a university lab.

Might be more practical to only drink filtered or distilled water. Normal water filters do a shockingly good job with most chemicals, not sure about PFAs.

I run a RO/DI filter with a 11 gallon reservoir. Unless its smaller than a water molecule and the DI does not pick it up. Its not getting through. The annual cost is about 30 dollars to replace the various filters and media. Plus you have 99.9% pure water at your disposal at all times for making drinking water, carbonated water and base water for anything where you need to know the chemical composition. (saltwater fish tanks etc.). I highly recommend it!

> Firstly, there are a number of different chemicals you might test for. Secondly, for chemicals that are dangerous at 1ppb only gas-chemotography / mass-spectrometry can detect that, which would cost upward of $500 per test per chemical

i don't think anyone uses GC/MS to find heavy metals. that would tend to be more of an ICP/MS sort of thing.

$500/compound seems pretty steep for GC/MS work, when it can generally see multiple compounds in the same run (that's the whole point of doing the chromatographic separation).

> be done at a university lab.

plenty of non-universities run GC/MSes, and other fancier instrumentation.

you probably need to look into this a little more, i think you probably stumbled across some places that didn't do the sort of work you want on a regular basis, so they were quoting you rather expensive prices to make you go away.

Carbon filters clean up "some" of them, but not all. Reverse Osmosis is better if you can afford it.

The filtering really should be done by the city / government on an industrial scale (like CG did in the article) where it's not only more cost efficient, but also their responsibility.

Reverse osmosis also wastes a certain amount of water as it filters, doesn't it? I remember there being a drain line on kits I looked at.

I run the drain line to my garden.

Yes, like 10x of water in those kits.

Could this process not be scaled, automated somewhat, to bring the cost per test down?

You can arrange with an appropriately-certified lab to get a testing kit. You then have to ensure you get a sample that is not contaminated. You should also get samples from multiple points in the home, so that you do not confuse a contaminated tap with contaminated water.

Not really, maybe TDS/EC meters. But those are mostly useful for reverse osmosis water filters. Just get such water filter if you care about water quality.

Is this something a reverse-osmosis system can filter out at home?

RO doesn't catch everything, and are kind of a maintenance hassle. You need to be religious about changing the filters, back-flushing, etc. In the end, I decided it wasn't worth the hassle. We have a counter-top water distiller. It does 1 gallon at a time. Over the years, I've gone through 4 of these machines, I think. But I do trust the resulting water.

(I don't mean to shill, but before someone asks, I have an earlier version of this one: https://waterwise.com/product/waterwise-3200-countertop-dist... )

Granular activated carbon filters that meet NSF P473 test standards will work.


I'm curious about that too. We use a RO system, and so far I've only replaced the carbon sediment filters. I'm a year or two away from replacing the RO membrane cartridge. I cut them open when I replace them, I always wanted to do some kind of chemical analyses of the filters. Visibly they're just brown and saturated with rust from old galvanized pipes our building uses.

I think it's actually pretty hard to tell much from the membrane itself, my understanding is that most of the process is based in the membrane preferring the smaller water-only molecules and allowing the waste run off to carry away anything else. So they shouldn't really be catching much in the element.

They fail either from the chlorine degrading the membrane film which will start allowing larger dissolved solids through (your TDS will increase) or by having the pores scale and plug over time which will slowly decrease the output.

I wonder if you had been living in an area with production plants as a child for a while exposed to this whether this still has an effect in adulthood.

I believe we will need a great deal of nanoscale filters.

I'm a libertarian, and I believe in the free market above all else, so it's important to not regulate this, because whatever else happens will inevitably be worse.

Did you forget the sarcasm tag, or do you really equate free markets with the made up "freedom" of polluting the environment and give cancer to everyone who in turn will have to pay for health care or just die? That is not what free markets means...

There is no contradiction between a "free market" and the government regulating the production of goods and services so that the harm caused by such production (and by the goods themselves,) is factored into the cost of production. We know (and this article is just one example of many,) that companies(and governments) will cut costs in every possible way. Whether by disposing of hazardous waste in Love Canal, the Hudson River(GE, IBM and who know who else,) or down dry wells in Phoenix, AZ(Motorola,) or buried in landfills all over the country (including Minn.,) or skimping on product safety or skimping on worker safety. While the pursuit of a Dollar, Pound, Euro or Rupee is and amazing motivating factor, regulating to mitigate the harm done is a valid government (and it is government, industry has shown itself hopeless at self-regulation without oversight,) function. This should include the global supply chain as well. Moving low cost production to Bangladesh often(always?) means low cost hazardous waste disposal.

Thanks for strawmanning libertarians. This is why I don't tell everyone to vote. Many people dont have the time or means to be educated on the issues.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact