Q: I am worried about whether our drinking water is safe -- especially now that I hear that new standards have been introduced that make a lot of places’ water unsafe to drink! What can I do to find out? -- Joan F., Riverhead, New York
A: Water contamination from industrial chemicals, lead, medications, household products, and farms and livestock is a real concern. But the spotlight has been focused on just two chemicals that the Environmental Protection Agency has determined are more dangerous than previously thought: PFOA and PFOS -- two forms of perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs.
PFCs are used as stain repellents, in nonstick surfaces and in many other industrial applications. Based on human studies, the agency now recommends much lower levels in drinking water. And they state that they found “associations between PFOA exposure and high cholesterol, increased liver enzymes, decreased vaccination response, thyroid disorders, pregnancy-induced hypertension and pre-eclampsia, and cancer (testicular and kidney).” They conclude that PFOA exposure is a human health hazard, especially to a fetus and young children, and they say the same about PFOS.
How common is this persistent contaminant? The reports state that PFOS and PFOA “was detected in blood serum in up to 99 percent of the U.S. general population between 1999 and 2012. ... Water resources contaminated by PFOS have been associated with releases from manufacturing sites, industrial sites and especially fire- or crash-training areas, and industrial or municipal waste sites where products are disposed of or applied.”
So, do test your tap water, but don’t rely on results from water-sampling kits or local water-testing companies without checking them out. Call the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791 to get the names of state-certified testing labs and your local health authority; they may offer low-cost or free test kits. Go to the EPA’s website at www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water for more help. Get a charcoal water filter for all your at-home uses. (Next week we will talk about chlorine in water supplies!)
Q: We moved to the suburbs for the schools and now, along with higher taxes, they are going to start teaching our ninth-grader yoga, claiming it’s really healthy for the kids. How does that work, and is that even legal? -- Elizabeth F., Riverside, California
A: Take a deep breath! Those are tax dollars well spent and, yes, in 2013 a judge in your state decided it was legal to offer yoga in public schools. Initially, some parents raised questions about whether teaching yoga to kids is the same as teaching them a religion, but the judge ruled that as long as there is no religion mentioned, there is nothing improper about learning how to breathe deeply (it reduces stress) and how to do various yoga postures, which can improve balance and physical fitness. One athletic trainer who has worked with many professional sports teams (she’s a mom who has taught yoga to her three kids) makes the point that “the popular Americanized version of yoga being taught in schools is a secular form of mind-body exercise focused on mental and physical benefits, not spirituality.”
Your community isn’t alone in its interest in bringing yoga into the classroom. Across the country there’s been an overwhelming surge in the number of yoga classes being taught in schools, and a roster of studies have come out indicating its benefits. One study evaluated the effect of offering adolescents the option of taking yoga in physical education classes (another option included standard PE). The teens who took the yoga class saw the greatest improvement in their ability to manage anger and reduce stress. Another study found that elementary school students’ self-esteem, academic performance and behavior improved after doing yoga in class.
So we hope you will encourage your teen to give it a try, and suggest that you go to www.sharecare.com to view the Yoga Starter video with Joel Harper. You just might get into it, too!
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at firstname.lastname@example.org.