Sunday, February 7, 2016

Infant Formula in the USA, When Water Supplies Are Not Safe

"In general, the metals [lead, mercury, cadmium and other metals] found in breast milk are usually at lower levels than are found in maternal blood.  Thus breast milk is not the primary pathway of exposure for infants, prenatal trans-placental exposure is a much greater concern....infants fed formula made with tap water are at the highest risk from metals contaminating the water supply."
Natural Resources Defense Council,

The situation in Flint, Michigan is making headlines around the nation.  Unbelievable, upsetting and really heartbreaking that children, adults and pregnant women have been exposed to lead in their water.  Government officials have known about this contamination and kept quiet about it for over a year.  Which to my mind borders on criminal behavior.  I listened to Erin Brockovich on RealTime with Bill Maher.  She stated what is happening in Flint Michigan is just the "tip of the iceberg."  She mentioned a number of other cities in various states in our nation that are struggling with contaminated water supplies.  I read Michael Moore's website in which he details the situation in Flint.

In 2014 in West Virginia thousands of gallons of a toxic chemical, MCHM, leaked into the Elk River contaminating water supplies to 300,000 residents in the area. 

A number of states have confirmed that drilling/fracking has contaminated water supplies and/or private wells. 

In another article they state, "Public water supplies in 42 US states are contaminated with 141 unregulated chemicals for which the US Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] has never established safety standards..." 

Recently in Greene County in Pennsylvania they found high levels of radiation (60 times EPA levels) in a stream that flows towards a water treatment plant near Pittsburgh. 

And for second time in two years the "brain-eating" amoeba has appeared in the water supplies of St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana. 

The CDC declares on their website that the US has the safest water supplies in the world. But then they state that outbreaks of illness related to contamination of drinking water are reported every year. 

Health care policies regarding infant feeding choices are predicated on the safety of our drinking water.  It is presumed that in the US, our water supplies are safe. Therefore the choice to use infant formula is without risk.  Yet from the varied articles over the last two years it appears that this safety may not be necessarily true in some communities in the US.  And in fact it seems like more and more communities are experiencing various problems with their drinking water.

In the USA, hiv positive mothers are discouraged from breastfeeding because the presumption is that it is far safer to use infant formula than breastfeed.  Yet it is interesting that my water bill has stated for many years that immune deficient people such as those with hiv should use caution drinking the water because of Cryptosporidium (a parasite that causes diarrhea and can be deadly for those who are immune deficient).  The problem is that this parasite is very resistant to chlorine-based disinfectants and so it will survive the chlorination process.  Cryptosporidium is a problem that is world-wide and every community in the US has this problem. (Boiling the water for 3 minutes is the recommendation).  Is the public well-informed about this possibility?  And while breastfeeding builds an immune system, infant formula cannot do that.  The problem gets even more complex because the longer one boils water, the more concentrated contaminates like lead become in the water.  So you may eliminate the risk of cryptosporidium but if you have old lead pipes you increase the amount of lead in your water.  There are water filters that get lead out but that costs money and the filters have to be replaced.  Of course you can buy bottled water but often that bottled water is nothing more than tap water.  So being poor often means that such problems become too costly to correct.

If we continue down this path with more and more communities struggling to have clean drinking water, should infant feeding in the USA continue to be thought of as a balanced choice? Or shouldn't we be concerned about the expense and risk involved in choosing infant formula when drinking water is contaminated?
Copyright 2016 Valerie W. McClain



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