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January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month

Did you know that every four minutes, a baby is born with a birth defect? I was astounded at that number!  That’s 360 babies per day. Of course, there are literally hundreds of causes that we can point our finger to – smoking, drug abuse, poor nutrition, and so forth. But, as a water guy, I decided to just do a quick search on how drinking water affects pregnancy, so I plugged “drinking water + birth defects” into Google, and I found quite a wide array of potential problems. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think our municipal water treatment plants do a fantastic job of keeping us safe, but an unborn baby is affected by minute quantities of contaminants that wouldn’t affect a healthy adult so drastically.
So, here’s what I found on my search:

  • In 2009, MedPage Today wrote “An expectant mother’s exposure to drinking water contaminated with the solvent perchloroethylene (PCE) increases the risk of congenital anomalies in her offspring.” Exposure to PCE was accompanied by a marked increase in neural tube defects and oral clefts.
  • In 2002, WebMD wrote, “Two groups report that hundreds of thousands of pregnant women are at risk of birth defects and miscarriages from contaminated tap water.” The culprit in this article? The chlorine that is added to save us from harmful bacteria in the water. That chlorine creates disinfection byproducts that are toxic and can lead to low birth weight, cleft palate, spina bifida, and even miscarriage. This article not only recommends a drinking water filter, but also some sort of whole house system or water conditioner because these contaminants can be inhaled during a shower or bath.
  • In 2011, the EPA indicated that high nitrate levels in drinking water has been linked to thyroid dysfunction in pregnant women, which leads to reduced childhood IQ scores, neurodevelopmental effects, and unsuccessful or complicated pregnancies. The EPA also indicates that arsenic in drinking water has been tied to a long list abnormal pregnancy outcomes from reduced cognitive function to childhood cancer to still-births and infant mortality.
  • In 2009, the US National Library of Medicine published an online article titled Agrichemicals in surface water and birth defects in the United States. Their study found that “Mean concentrations of agrichemicals were highest in April – July. Total birth defects […] were more likely to occur in live births with LMPs between April and July. A significant association was found between the season of elevated agrichemicals and birth defects.” Yes, there are problems outside of cities and industrial centers – farm folks need to watch their water too.

And so the list went on. If you are pregnant, or are considering adding to your family, we encourage you to have your water tested. Birth defects are heartbreaking – and permanent. There is much that we cannot control, such as genetic factors, but we can most certainly control the water we drink and use in our homes. A quality water filter, drinking water system, or water conditioner could mean life or death to your baby.