Is Your Bathtub a Toxic Dump?
by Andreas Schuld & George Glasser
Earth Island Journal, Summer 2001
The municipal water that your child drinks, bathes and plays
in is a complex chemical mixture of dissolved minerals, contaminants
and chemical additives. Chemicals are added to clarify the water,
remove solid particulates and disinfect. And, when fluoride compounds
are added to water supplies, polymers are added to inhibit corrosion
of the water pipes.
The skin is the largest organ of the body. ln 1991, the EPA
concluded that the average person can absorb more contaminants
from bathing and showering than from drinking polluted water.
Children are most at risk. Children's bath times may range
from 45 minutes to two hours. As the EPA acknowledged in a June
30, 1998 report, "Children have a greater surface-area-to-body-weight
ratio than adults, which may lead to increased dermal absorption."
Children's tissues, organs and biological systems are still
developing, with several stages of rapid growth and development
occurring from infancy to adolescence. This rapid development,
combined with the immaturity of body organs and systems, predisposes
children to potentially more severe consequences within certain
age ranges and windows of vulnerability
Circulatory flow rates are generally higher in children, which
may increase a child's susceptibility to toxic effects. Despite
these elevated risks, most toxicological data is based on occupational
exposures for adults.
The Children's Environmental Health Network (CEHN) reports
that the US has seen "a worrisome increase" in childhood
diseases that may be linked to chemicals in the environment. According
to the CEHN, "The incidence of two types of childhood cancers
has risen significantly over the past 15 years." Acute Iymphocytic
leukemia is up 10 percent and brain tumors are up more than 30
percent. Learning disabilities and attention-deficit disorders
also appear to be increasing.
Toxins in the Bathwater
Depending on whether a child has eaten, or if there is residual
food in the stomach, about 20-50 percent of chemical contaminants
are metabolized when foods or beverages are consumed. With dermal
exposure and inhalation, however, virtually 100 percent of the
contaminants are absorbed directly into the bloodstream.
As one EPA scientist put it, "a shower cubicle can be
considered an 'exposure chamber.' Exposure to volatile contaminants
absorbed via the lung would be about double the same amount from
drinking water In the bath, underarms [axilla], scrotal and vaginal
areas as well as the groin absorb far greater amounts than in
the normal unwashed forearm test."
The percentages for absorption of parathion are as follows:
scalp (32 percent), ear canal (46 percent), forehead (36 percent),
plant of foot (13 percent), forearm (9 percent), palm (12 percent),
and scrotum (100 percent).
A study by Julian Andelman, Professor of Water Chemistry at
the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health
(published in the May 1984 American Journal of Public Health),
found less chemical
In 1997, the EPA concluded that a person can absorb more contaminants
from bathing and showering than from drinking polluted water.
exposure from drinking contaminated water than from using it to
wash clothes or take a shower .
Studies done by Brown, Bishop and Rowan in the early 1980s
showed that an average of 64 percent of the total dose of waterborne
contaminants is absorbed through the skin.
A study by British researchers at the Health and Safety Laboratory
in Sheffield published in the February 19, 2000 issue of Human
Experimental Toxicology suggests that toxicants such as fluorides
can be stored in the skin and released over a period of time.
A review of nearly 40,000 research papers listed on National
Institutes of Health and other US government Internet sites has
failed to discover a single study addressing water fluoridation
and dermal absorption.
All dosage recommendations developed by EPA are based on ingestion
alone. The EPA and Centers for Disease Control have never commissioned
studies on the dermal absorption of fluoridated water and refuse
to do so.
Brushing Teeth with Toxic Sludge
The most popular fluoridation agent is fluorosilicic acid,
a toxic by-product of phosphate fertilizer production.
On May 10, 1999, US Rep. Ken Calvert, who serves on the House
Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment, asked the EPA to answer
a simple question: "What chronic toxicity test data are there
on sodium fluorosilicate? On hydrofluorosilicic acid?"
On June 23,1999, EPA Assistant Administrator J. Charles Fox
replied that the "EPA was not able to identify chronic studies
for these chemicals."
On September 5, 2000, in response to an inquiry from the US
House Committee on Science, EPA Assistant Administrator Charles
Fox admitted "there are no water quality criteria for fluoride
either for the protection of aquatic life or for the protection
of human health."
The EPA earlier confirmed that water fluoridation puts "at
risk" 52 million older Americans with calcium, magnesium
and vitamin ~ deficiencies. People with cardiovascular and kidney
disorders also may experience severe "dental fluorosis and
skeletal fluorosis" from excessive exposure to fluorides.
The health threat from using fluorosilicates to fluoridate
drinking water goes beyond bathing and drinking the treated water.
The substances in the fluorosilicates do not magically vanish.
All the pollution released from washing clothes and household
items, evaporation from clothes dryers and dishwashers remains
in the home. Water fluoridated with phosphate scrubber liquor
becomes a vehicle to carry hazardous air pollutants directly into
your home. ,'
While this secondary contamination of children from fluoridated
water is significant, it has never been investigated by the EPA
or the US Public Health Service - although both agencies are aware
that pollution scrubber liquor is being used to fluoridate municipal
Because children spend their days close to floors, carpets,
lawns, and soils, and frequently pick up objects and put them
in their mouths, they may be exposed to higher levels of chemicals
in and around the home.
Physicians for Social Responsibility has warned: "Small
amounts of air or water pollution that may have little or no impact
on a healthy adult, can make children, especially newborns, seriously
ill." PSR notes that children's longer lives also make them
"more vulnerable to slow-acting hazards, like pesticides
The EPA admits that "there are no federal safety standards
which are applicable to additives, including those for use in
fluoridating drinking water." Although the reality of children's
vulnerability to environmental toxicants has been acknowledged,
little is being done to address the threat. Children don't vote
and parents are uninformed. Only a few voices have expressed concern,
but those voices are quickly smothered by the sound of money changing
The SLS Effect
Drug companies use sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) to enhance
the absorption of medicines internally and through the skin. SLS
is also found in most shampoos, soaps, bubble baths, and toothpastes.
SLS has been shown to increase the absorption of fluoride
in the mouth by nine percent. No experiments have been done to
determine the effect of SLS on absorption of other contaminants
in tap water.
The US Public Health Service sets the optimal level for fluorides
in the drinking water without considering dermal or inhalation
exposures or the potential of enhanced dermal absorption triggered
by SLS in soaps.
The failure to account for inhalation and dermal exposures
to fluorides is the most significant flaw in fluoride research.
It invalidates all dosage conclusions based solely on ingestion.
George Glasser is a Florida-based researcher, author and activist.
Andreas Schuld is the head of Parents of Fluoride Poisoned Children
[www.bruha.com]. This is an edited version of a report to the
US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on June 13,