WASHINGTON, DC, Apr. 20, 2009 -- The new PBS Frontline documentary "Poisoned Waters" will report this Tuesday evening, Apr. 21st, 9-11 pm, that a new wave of chemical compounds that scientists describe as raising dangers for human health have been found in drinking water systems of cities across the country by the U.S. Geological Survey.
"Poisoned Waters," airing nationwide on PBS, (check local listings) reveals new evidence that today's growing environmental threat comes not from the giant industrial polluters of old, but from chemicals in consumers' face creams, deodorants, prescription medicines and household cleaners that find their way into sewers, storm drains, and eventually into America's waterways and drinking water.
"The long-term, slow-motion risk is already being spelled out in large population studies," Dr. Robert Lawrence of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health tells correspondent and Pulitzer-prize winner Hedrick Smith. Those studies correlate health risks with exposure to chemicals in the environment known as endocrine disrupters because they disrupt the body's normal functioning.
"We can show that people with higher levels of some of these chemicals may have a higher incidence" of disease and such harmful effects such as lower male sperm count, asserts Linda Birnbaum, Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. "In most cases, we don't know what the safe levels are."
Tests by the U.S. Geological Survey of source waters for urban drinking water systems, have documented new contaminants coast to coast. Other scientists say these chemicals are causing fish kills, frogs with six legs, male fish with female eggs in their gonads and other mutations. They see these mutations as warnings to humans.
Millions of people are being exposed to endocrine disruptors, Lawrence explains, "and we don't know precisely how many of them are going to develop premature breast cancer, going to have problems with reproduction, going to have all kinds of congenital anomalies of the male genitalia -- things that are happening at a broad low level so that they don't raise the alarm in the general public."
Using Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound as case studies, "Poisoned Waters" examines how these emerging pollutants along with old industrial contaminants like PCBs, lead and mercury and agricultural pollution from concentrated hog, cattle and chicken growing operations, have kept America from making many of the nation's waterways fishable and swimmable again -- a goal set by Congress nearly four decades ago.
"The environment has slipped off our radar screen because it's not a hot crisis like the financial meltdown," says Smith. "But pollution is a ticking time bomb. It's a chronic cancer that is slowly eating away the natural resources that are vital to our very lives."
"Poisoned Waters" is a FRONTLINE co-production with Hedrick Smith Productions Inc. Hedrick Smith is correspondent and senior producer. FRONTLINE is produced by WGBH Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS.