Drinking water: a commodity so abundant in modern society that we rarely give it much thought. At least until recently with two dramatic discoveries. First, the discovery of lead-contaminated water in Flint, Mich., and second, the rising awareness that persistent pollutants, called PFAS, are also present in municipal water systems around the United States.

Executive Summary

FOURTH OF A SERIES. It's not only the metals, PFAS pollutants and pharmaceuticals found in municipal water systems around the country that have health experts worried, it's also the very byproducts used to disinfect water that are raising concerns. These byproducts may actually be obesogens, which are chemicals that disrupt normal metabolic processes. Here, Praedicat's Adam Grossman and Sheryll Mangahas explores if the new water contaminations are the source of the next insurance crisis.

The latter issue is widespread and might pale by comparison to the Flint exposures. And what else is waiting in the wings? We sometimes talk about the “next asbestos,” and we think about product exposures, but newly emerging environmental exposures raise the specter of the next environmental cleanup crisis. Could the new water contaminations be the cause?

Unsafe drinking water was historically a major cause of illness and death, but the advent of modern drinking water standards and purification techniques has all but alleviated these problems and is one of public health’s great achievements. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency regulates approximately 90 drinking water contaminants and, notably, municipal water systems can have non-zero levels of nearly all of them. But even this level of regulation appears to be getting more out of date with each passing year, as thousands of new chemicals enter the market without any assessment of safe drinking water levels.

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