Why water purifiers aren’t the solution to the water crisis
A new study finds people who live near public water systems are not just less likely to have a water purification system, but also have a higher likelihood of dying from water-related illnesses.
The report from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research is published online today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
“There is no single solution,” says lead researcher Dr. Kristina Stott of the University of Alberta in Edmonton.
“The solution is public water, so that’s what we’re recommending.”
Stott says the most common risk factors for death from water related illnesses include: being in a high-risk household, having a history of a heart attack or stroke, having high blood pressure or diabetes, or having a family history of drinking contaminated water.
“These are all risk factors that are associated with increased risk of death,” says Stott.
“So we think that there’s something going on in the population that is making water more accessible to people who are less able to pay for it.”
The study also found that the likelihood of death from these diseases was higher for people living in rural areas, which is one of the most heavily water-districted areas in Canada.
“I don’t think that people should be drinking contaminated drinking water, especially in rural communities,” says study author Dr. Michael Kowalski, professor of epidemiology at the University at Buffalo in New York.
“People should be paying attention to how much they’re consuming and to how often they’re drinking contaminated and polluted drinking water.”
The researchers compared the risk of deaths from waterborne diseases, including water-borne infections, in 2,098 residents in rural Alberta and Ontario.
The researchers also compared deaths in different parts of the province, including cities and towns, using data from the Health of Alberta, a province-run health information database.
“What we found is that rural residents in the most polluted areas were at higher risk of mortality from these water-associated diseases than people in the urban areas,” says Kowalksi.
“And that may have implications for people who have been exposed to water in the city and don’t have the opportunity to pay attention to it.”
While the study found that residents in areas with higher levels of water contamination were more likely to die from water illnesses, there were also some notable differences in mortality rates.
The study found a statistically significant increase in the risk for death by water-inflicted disease in people who lived in rural locations compared to people in urban areas.
“In fact, there was a significant increase of the risk in people in rural compared to those in urban locations,” says Dr. Kowalin.
“This is a finding that is consistent across all levels of risk.”
In fact, among people living more than 15 kilometres away from a public water system, the risk increased the most, with an increased risk in rural than urban locations.
The research also found a significant difference in the mortality rates for people exposed to contaminated drinking and recreational water.
Among those exposed to drinking water contaminated with the human toxin arsenic, the study also identified higher rates of mortality for people in households exposed to the toxin.
The new study is a collaborative effort with the Alberta Health Services (AHS) and the Alberta School of Public Health.
Dr. Karen Maclean, a researcher with AHS and an expert on the effects of drinking water on people, says the results of the study provide hope for people whose lives are impacted by drinking water contamination.
“If you’re going to have an elevated risk of dying, you should be taking the steps to protect yourself from these illnesses, whether you’re drinking water that’s contaminated or not,” she says.
Maclean adds that while people are not being informed of the risks associated with drinking water in rural regions, the information available to people is often insufficient.
“A lot of people think they know the risks from drinking water and they don’t.
But that’s not true,” says Maclean.
“We need to get better information out there about how to make sure people are getting the most from their drinking water resources and getting the water quality and the water safety measures that are in place.”
In a statement, AHS said the study provides important information for public health, and is “consistent with the recommendations of the Health Canada Advisory Committee on Drinking Water Quality and Safety” and the American Institute of Water Conservation’s guidelines.
MacLean says that AHS has provided a “health advisory” for drinking water systems in Alberta.
“All Alberta water systems have a comprehensive and integrated risk assessment program, and our water systems assess their systems for risk and provide information about the risk and other information that is needed to make informed decisions,” she adds.
Our system’s risk assessment process, designed to provide information and support to water system managers and stakeholders, is based