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Cambridge, Massachusetts Water Quality Report

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Sources Of Drinking Water in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Where does Cambridge get its water from?  Cambridge's water comes from the Quabbin Reservoir, about 65 miles west of Boston, and the Wachusett Reservoir, about 35 miles west of Boston. The two reservoirs combined supplied an average of 200 million gallons per day to consumers in 2017. The Quabbin alone can hold a supply of five-year supply of water.

The reservoirs are filled naturally. Rain and snow fall onto watersheds (protected land around reservoirs) and eventually turn into streams that flow into reservoirs. This water comes into contact with soil, rock, plants and other material as it follows its path. This process helps to clean the water, and it can also dissolve and carry very small amounts of material into the reservoir.

The Quabbin and Wachusett Reservoirs are protected. Over 85% of the watershed lands that surround the reservoirs are covered in forest and wetlands. About 75% of the total watershed land cannot be built on. The natural undeveloped watersheds help to keep Massachusetts Water Resources Authority's water clean and clear. Also, to ensure safety, the streams and the reservoirs are tested often and patrolled daily by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). Because they are well-protected, the water in the Quabbin and Wachusett Reservoirs is considered to be of very high quality. Is Cambridge's water safe to drink? Does Cambridge put fluoride in the water?

Source: City of Cambridge

Contaminants Found in Cambridge's Water Supply

(Detected above health guidelines)

Bromodichloromethane

Bromodichloromethane, one of the total trihalomethanes (TTHMs), is formed when chlorine or other disinfectants are used to treat drinking water. Bromodichloromethane and other disinfection byproducts increase the risk of cancer and may cause problems during pregnancy.

Chloroform

Chloroform, one of the total trihalomethanes (TTHMs), is formed when chlorine or other disinfectants are used to treat drinking water. Chloroform and other disinfection byproducts increase the risk of cancer and may cause problems during pregnancy.

Dibromochloromethane

Dibromochloromethane, one of the total trihalomethanes (TTHMs), is formed when chlorine or other disinfectants are used to treat drinking water.

Dichloroacetic acid

Dichloroacetic acid, one of the group of five haloacetic acids regulated by federal standards, is formed when chlorine or other disinfectants are used to treat drinking water. Haloacetic acids and other disinfection byproducts increase the risk of cancer and may cause problems during pregnancy.

Radiological contaminants 

Radiological contaminants leach into water from certain minerals and from mining. This utility detected Radium, combined (-226 & -228).

Total trihalomethanes (TTHMs)

Trihalomethanes are cancer-causing contaminants that form during water treatment with chlorine and other disinfectants. The total trihalomethanes group includes four chemicals: chloroform, bromodichloromethane, dibromochloromethane and bromoform.

Trichloroacetic acid

Trichloroacetic acid, one of the group of five haloacetic acids regulated by federal standards, is formed when chlorine or other disinfectants are used to treat drinking water. Haloacetic acids and other disinfection byproducts increase the risk of cancer and may cause problems during pregnancy. 

Fluoride

Fluoride occurs naturally in surface and groundwater and is also added to drinking water by many water systems. The fluoride that is added to water is not the naturally occurring kind, the main chemicals used to fluoridate drinking water are known as “silicofluorides” (i.e., hydrofluorosilicic acid and sodium fluorosilicate). Silicofluorides are not pharmaceutical-grade fluoride products; they are unprocessed industrial by-products of the phosphate fertilizer industry (Gross!). Since these silicofluorides undergo no purification procedures, they can contain elevated levels of arsenic — more so than any other water treatment chemical. In addition, recent research suggests that the addition of silicofluorides to water is a risk factor for elevated lead exposure, particularly among residents who live in homes with old pipes.  Some have hypothesized that community water containing sodium silicofluoride and hydrofluosilicic acid may increase blood lead (PbB) concentrations in children by leaching of lead from water conduits and by increasing absorption of lead from water but further studies are needed.

Potential Health Effects of Consuming These Contaminants

Health risks of bromodichloromethane in excess of health guideline

Cancer: The health guideline of 0.4 ppb for bromodichloromethane was defined by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment as a one-in-a-million lifetime risk of cancer. Values greater than one-in-a-million cancer risk level can result in increased cancer cases above one in a million people.

Health risks of chloroform in excess of health guideline

Cancer: The health guideline of 1 ppb for chloroform was defined by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment as a one-in-a-million lifetime risk of cancer. Values greater than one-in-a-million cancer risk level can result in increased cancer cases above one in a million people.

Health risks of dichloroacetic acid in excess of health guideline

Cancer: The health guideline of 0.7 ppb for dichloroacetic acid was defined by the Environmental Protection Agency as a one-in-a-million lifetime risk of cancer. Values greater than one-in-a-million cancer risk level can result in increased cancer cases above one in a million people.

Health risks of dibromochloromethane  in excess of health guidelines

Cancer & Birth Defects: Dibromochloromethane and other disinfection byproducts increase the risk of cancer and may cause problems during pregnancy.

Health risks of trihalomethanes in excess of health guideline

Cancer: The health guideline of 0.8 ppb for trihalomethanes was defined by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment as a draft public health goal, the level of drinking water contaminant that does not pose a significant health risk. This health guideline protects against cancer.

Health risks of trichloroacetic acid in excess of health guideline

Cancer: The health guideline of 0.5 ppb for trichloroacetic acid was defined by the Environmental Protection Agency as a one-in-a-million lifetime risk of cancer. Values greater than one-in-a-million cancer risk level can result in increased cancer cases above one in a million people.

Health risks of radiological contaminants in excess of health guidelines

Birth defects: Drinking water contamination with radioactive substances increases the risk of cancer and may harm fetal development.

Contaminant Levels in Cambridge, MA Compared to Other Regions

Bromodichloromethane

- Health Guideline: 0.06 ppb

 - State: 3.30 ppb

 - Cambridge, MA: 2.64 ppb

 - National: 4.38 ppb

Chloroform

 - Health Guideline: 1.0 ppb

 - State: 9.27 ppb

 - National: 11.4 ppb

 - Cambridge, MA: 9.73 ppb

Dibromochloromethane  

 - Health Guideline: 0.7 ppb

 - State: 1.69 ppb

 - National: 6.00 ppb

 - Cambridge, MA: 0.700 ppb

Dichloroacetic acid

 - Health Guideline: 0.7 ppb

 - State: 4.97 ppb

 - National: 6.00 ppb

 - Cambridge, MA: 6.87 ppb

Total trihalomethanes (TTHMs)

 - Health Guideline: 0.8 ppb

 - State: 17.8 ppb

 - National: 23.4 ppb

 - Cambridge, MA: 13.1 ppb

Trichloroacetic acid

 - Health Guideline: 0.5 ppb

 - State: 6.00 ppb

 - National: 4.93 ppb

 - Cambridge, MA: 1.22 ppb

Radiological contaminants  

No information available about this contaminant but it cannot be good. This utility detected Radium, combined (-226 & -228). Radiological contaminants leach into water from certain minerals and from mining. Drinking water contamination with radioactive substances increases the risk of cancer and may harm fetal development.

Fluoride

- Legal Limit: 4 ppb

 - State: 0.302 ppb

 - National: 0.440 ppb

 - Cambridge, MA: 0.405 ppb

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April Jones

A hiker, blogger, and water quality expert...

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