Frankenstein chemicals: the hidden dangers in your drinking water

Treven Pyles

By Treven Pyles

Posted on August 01st, 2023

Drinking water is a vital resource that should provide nourishment and promote good health. However, beneath the familiar chlorine smell, lurks a brewing menace that has been largely overlooked - disinfection byproducts (DBPs) or, as some call them, "Frankenstein chemicals."

While "forever chemicals" PFAS have garnered significant attention, another real threat to our drinking water lies in the overlooked "Frankenstein chemicals" or disinfection byproducts (DBPs). These compounds, formed spontaneously during water disinfection, are highly toxic and abundant, posing a severe risk to human health. It is essential to prioritize research, regulation, and public awareness about the dangers of DBPs, ensuring that every individual can access clean, safe drinking water. By addressing this hidden menace, we can take significant strides toward securing a healthier and sustainable future for all.

The overlooked threat: disinfection byproducts (DBPs)

For over three decades, Susan Richardson, a former EPA chemist and current researcher at the University of South Carolina, has been studying the dangers of polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) or "forever chemicals." However, her recent findings have uncovered a more significant threat to public health - disinfection byproducts (DBPs).

DBPs are compounds that form as a byproduct of water disinfection, and their concentration in water is, on average, a staggering 1,000 times greater than that of PFAS. Not only are DBPs more abundant, but they also exhibit greater toxicity, posing a severe risk to human health.

The issue of risk perception

Richardson contends that DBPs do not receive the attention they deserve, partly due to their lack of an attention-grabbing name like "forever chemicals." She even suggested the name "Frankenstein chemicals" to better capture the idea that these compounds are formed from a mix of different components. However, this lack of an outrage factor makes it challenging to raise public concern and prioritize regulatory action.

Water treatment plants use a range of methods to ensure water is safe for consumption, including:

  • Coagulation
  • Flocculation
  • Sedimentation
  • Filtration
  • Disinfection

However, some disinfection methods are more prone to forming dangerous DBPs, contributing to the contamination of our water sources.

The importance of regulation

Currently, there are around 700 known DBPs, but only 11 are regulated. Sadly, these regulated compounds are not even the most hazardous ones. The most hazardous ones remain free to contaminate our water and endanger our health. This regulatory oversight exposes a significant gap in protecting public health.

The DBP issue also has implications for PFAS. Some studies suggest there are thousands of PFAS, but many are not industrial products. Instead, they may be the result of PFAS fragmenting or combining with other chemicals, leading to the formation of new, long-lived, and unnatural compounds.

Epidemiological studies have demonstrated connections between DBPs and diseases such as bladder and colon cancer, while PFAS have been linked to high cholesterol and decreased male fertility. Although these studies cannot attribute individual cancer cases to chemical pollution, they highlight the need for safe, clean drinking water for everyone.

The path forward: prioritizing public health

Water treatment processes vary from one community to another, depending on the quality of the source water received at the treatment plant. Typically, the source water can be either surface water, such as lakes, rivers, and streams, or groundwater. Surface water often necessitates more extensive treatment and filtration compared to groundwater due to its higher levels of sediment (sand, clay, silt, and other soil particles), germs, chemicals, and toxins.

Certain water supplies may also contain additional pollutants, such as radionuclides (small radioactive particles), specific chemicals like nitrates, or toxins produced by cyanobacteria.

As we face the challenges of a changing climate and water scarcity, providing clean and safe drinking water becomes even more critical. We must focus on comprehensive risk assessment and the development of regulations that address both PFAS and DBPs to safeguard public health effectively.

Join the PFAS water contamination lawsuit with the help of our dedicated attorneys

Environmental Litigation Group, having served toxic exposure victims for over three decades, is well-qualified to support local communities and public water systems in obtaining the necessary compensation for urgent PFAS remediation efforts. If your public water utility has detectable PFAS levels, you may qualify to participate in the PFAS lawsuit.

By joining, eligible parties have the opportunity to secure a portion of 3M's historic settlement, which can help cover the prohibitively expensive costs associated with PFAS testing and treatment. Should you have any uncertainties about your eligibility, feel free to contact us for a complimentary case evaluation. Our team is fully committed to assisting you throughout the entire process.