Don't Drink the Water!

Mental illness increase linked to PCE in drinking water

(RxWiki News) The water you drink today may be impacting your 'mental health'. A new study found contaminated drinking water caused a statistically significant increase in mental illness in the 1980s.

The study published today highlights a substantial increase in mental health-related disabilities for those ingesting water containing the solvent tetrachloroethylene (PCE).

"Test your water to ensure it's safe for consumption. "

Ann Aschengrau, Ph.D., lead author on the study from Boston University, explains, "the results provide support for an impact of early life exposure [of PCE] on the risk of bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder."

The solvent was believed to be introduced into the waterways in Massachusetts from 1968 until the early 80s when water companies used vinyl-lined water pipes. PCE leaked into the drinking water through the pipes, and researchers followed its effects.

Published in the journal Environmental Health, Dr. Achengrau and a team of ten tracked the prevalence of mental illness in Cape Cod from 1968-83 amongst those exposed to the PCE. The investigators looked for both prenatal exposure as well as exposure during early adolescence to find 831 exposed and 547 unexposed subjects.

Questionnaires on mental illness, medical characteristics, and other individual information provided a basis for symptom analysis, while a novel exposure assessment method determined yearly PCE exposure to individual residences.

Within the study, PCE-contaminated water exposure nearly doubled instances of bipolar disorder while raising risks of post-traumatic stress disorder fifty-percent.

The research did not show significant differences in depression levels between those exposed or unexposed.

"It is impossible to calculate the exact amount of PCE these people were exposed to - levels of PCE were recorded as high as 1,550 times the currently recommended safe limit," Achengrau explains.

"While the water companies flushed the pipes to address this problem, people are still being exposed to PCE in the dry cleaning and textile industries, and from consumer products, and so the potential for an increased risk of illness remains real."

According to an affiliate organization entitled Physicians for Social Responsibility, previous research by Dr. Achengrau linked PCE exposure to increased risks of breast cancer and reproductive issues as well.

While congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974 and amended it in 1986, ensuring the quality of American's drinking water, EPA regulations do not apply to privately owned wells, according to the Center for Disease Control.

Over 15 million U.S. households drink from private wells, holding their own responsibility to ensure the safety of their water.

Review Date: 
January 19, 2012