These days clean water from the tap is often a privilege that is taken for granted. We’re accustomed to running to the sink whenever we’re thirsty. But as the brown tap water in Flint and Crystal City show, we cannot always trust that clean water will be available.

But water contamination isn’t always something that is easy to sniff out because of its color or smell. For some, especially those living in rural agricultural areas, water may have substances that put pregnant women in danger without their knowledge.

Jean Brender, professor emeritus of public health at Texas A&M University, has been studying the effects of drinking contaminated water for more than two decades. She and her colleagues recently took a look at 14 studies completed since 2000 to see whether drinking water with common agricultural chemicals put pregnant women and their babies at risk.

The team was asked by the journal Current Environmental Health Reports to write a review of agricultural chemicals, water and birth defects. They found that nitrates, atrazine and arsenic have been linked to birth defects.

The study focused on rural, agricultural areas for nitrazine and actrazine, fertilizers and herbicides that are often used in farming. These chemicals can often get into the water supply, and if elevated levels are found in the water, they can be dangerous.

Women who had babies with birth defects – part of their brain missing, a protruding spinal cord, cleft palates, abdominal wall defects and limb reduction defects – were more likely to have a higher nitrate intake from drinking water than babies without major birth defects, Brender says.

“If a woman is on a public water supply – and they’ll know that because they’ll get a water bill every month – they should check with their water supplier regarding what levels of nitrate and actrazine have most recently been found in their water,” Brender says. “Here’s the problem – drinking water from private wells is not regulated by the EPA or the state of Texas so it would be a good idea for people on private wells to get their water tested.”

Prepared for web by Beth Cortez-Neavel.

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