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What is in our water? Known unknowns, and unknown unknowns

What is in your drinking water? It turns out there may be more than we know. In general, we are enjoying a golden era of clean water, with healthy refreshment available at the twist of a tap to over 70% of the population of the world (source: WHO). But we are threatening this most valuable of resources. In many high-profile cases, such as microplastics and rocket fuels, people are beating the drums of change and regulators are acting. But we can't control what we don't know. Target chemicals don't tell the story When it comes to monitoring water supplies for safe drinking water, typically less than 100 chemicals or chemical groups are regulated. Another 100 may be on a list of contaminants of emerging concern (CECs), which water authorities are monitoring but are not yet regulating, as the concentrations and occurrences are below a health concern level. Or in the worst case, the CEC may be unsafe but the process of proving that to meet the standard required to regulate can take years. These contaminants are known in the industry jargon as "knowns" or "target pollutants." The word "target" explains it: these are the chemicals we know might be there and we are aiming to find them and quantify their levels to ensure they are below levels of concern for public health. But while we are looking for a couple hundred bad actors, there are approximately 30,000 chemicals being sold and used in the modern world. And that is not counting the degradation products which are formed when these chemicals break down to other chemicals (transformation products or metabolites) in the environment. Usually, that breakdown is a good thing - most of these chemicals break into harmless bits and no longer pose problems. But the breakdown can end at smaller molecules that are as dangerous as the starting molecules, and may be more mobile which means they could get into water sources more quickly.

Read More: TreeHugger

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