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We’ve recently talked about how fluoridation of public water supplies does more harm than good. And we all know that lead has no place in your drinking water. But these aren’t the only water contaminants that are cause for concern.

Consider tungsten, a heavy metal that has many modern industrial applications.

tungsten diagram

With the highest melting point of any metal, tungsten’s remarkably high density and hardness make it a prized ingredient in a range of industrial, military, and medical applications. Used in cutting tools, ammunition, medical devices, and even some medications, the metal has become part of our daily lives.

Airborne tungsten particles have long been recognized as being hazardous to workers in mines and refining plants. But little attention has been given to whether water-soluble tungsten compounds pose any hazards. This began to change relatively recently.

The issue came to prominence in the early 2000s when scientists investigated a possible link between a cluster of childhood leukemia cases in Fallon, Nevada, and high levels of tungsten in the groundwater from which the town drew its supply. The case prompted the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to nominate tungsten for toxicology and carcinogenesis studies.

Now, new concerns about tungsten toxicity have been raised by a recent study in Communications Chemistry.

For their study, scientists exposed mice to tungsten through their drinking water. They found that it rapidly built up in the bones of the mice. In fact, the tungsten accumulated at levels ten times greater than background in specific areas of the bone, including the bone marrow and porous bone tissue.

Tungsten was also found in the outer shell of the bones, or bone cortex, raising concerns that the tungsten could weaken bones and disrupt their structure. Even worse, the tungsten was chemically active. As Futurity reported,

The results show that the element was accumulating in a form resembling phosphotungstate, a known chemical catalyst with significant potential to intervene in the biological processes that occur in bone marrow and cancellous bone—immune cell formation and bone growth among them.

The researchers were also unable to remove the tungsten from the bones once it was inside them. Methods that work with metals such as lead and strontium didn’t work for tungsten. Eventually, it did clear from the marrow and porous bone, but even two months after the mice stopped ingesting the metal, tungsten remained trapped in the bone cortex.

Fortunately, tungsten isn’t currently an issue here in St. Louis, but other water contaminants are.

water running from tapLike many older cities, we have aged plumbing systems. This makes lead contamination a real possibility. Since there’s really no safe level of lead, it’s a good idea to get your tap water tested for it.

Chemicals such as chloramine, used to decontaminate and disinfect water, are also a concern.

But one of the biggest concerns with our local water supply is chromium-6, or hexavalent chromium. The EPA has never determined a “safe” level of human exposure to this compound known to cause cancer. Among all major US cities, St. Louis water has the second highest level of chromium-6.

Notably, this chemical comes from the water source rather than the plumbing and must be removed by filtration.

Though we still don’t know everything we’d like to know about this and other contaminants, there are steps you can take to clean your water of such impurities. The steps we outlined before to get fluoride out of your water will work to eliminate other contaminants, as we..

Images by Inkscape & Alex Anlicker