Water in Household Appliances May Contain Toxic Chemicals

USA TODAY, September 2000 | Go to article overview

Water in Household Appliances May Contain Toxic Chemicals


Environmental engineers at The University of Texas at Austin have documented that showers and dishwashers contribute to indoor air pollution. When tap water contains even trace amounts of harmful chemicals such as radon, components of gasoline, or by-products of drinking water chlorination, these chemicals can be transferred from water to indoor air. This process, called volatilization or chemical stripping, adds to a growing list of indoor air pollutants.

Researchers, led by Richard Corsi, associate professor of civil engineering, completed a series of experiments using household appliances such as dishwashers, showers, bathtubs, and washing machines. During each experiment, water used by the appliance contained chemical tracers with properties similar to potentially toxic chemicals found in many public water supplies. The scientists determined that significant percentages of all tested pollutants transferred from water to indoor air.

Corsi notes that nearly all public water supplies contain at least small amounts of potentially toxic chemicals associated with the chlorination of drinking water, an otherwise beneficial process used to protect the public from pathogenic organisms. Furthermore, exposure from breathing many of these chemicals may rival or exceed exposure due to drinking of the water. A much smaller number of Americans is exposed to significantly higher levels of harmful chemicals in well water tainted by gasoline from leaking underground storage tanks or industrial solvents previously spilled on soil.

Dishwashers were observed to be particularly effective at stripping chemicals from water to indoor air, with the bulk of chemicals released when the door is opened after washing is completed. Washing machines and dishwashers using chlorinated bleaches or detergents might increase public exposure to chlorinated chemicals through the formation and volatization of these additional chemicals. …

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Water in Household Appliances May Contain Toxic Chemicals
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