SEABROOK – County residents may want to think twice before giving Fido a bowl of water or filling Swimmy’s tank in Prince George’s County. During the last six months The Sentinel Newspapers conducted a series of water tests at two dozen sites in the county. The tests samples were pulled from city water, provided through […]
SEABROOK – County residents may want to think twice before giving Fido a bowl of water or filling Swimmy’s tank in Prince George’s County.
During the last six months The Sentinel Newspapers conducted a series of water tests at two dozen sites in the county. The tests samples were pulled from city water, provided through the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), while local rivers and lakes and were analyzed by National Testing Laboratories Ltd. in Ypsilanti, Mich.
While the water sampling did not yield any serious red flags in water quality, as most contaminants fell below Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards, The Sentinel found numerous traces of metals, moderate to high levels of chlorine and variances in water hardness.
The Sentinel published full findings in previous sections of this series and while county tap water is overall safe to drink, veterinary specialists and toxicologist urge caution and understanding when it comes to how water quality can affect pets.
Dr. Sandra James-Yi is a veterinary toxicologist who teaches at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. James-Yi said she is not sure if there are people who care more for animals than other humans, but said pet owners will often see their pets as an extension of their family.
“It’s just like having children. You want to care for everybody,” she said.
And in caring for everybody, especially for pets, James-Yi said pet owners should follow a rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t drink it, eat it or want it for yourself, you shouldn’t give it to your pet.
Throughout the county The Sentinel tested for a variety of chemicals, that when in certain doses or through continued exposure, could have harmful effects on humans and animals. County water carried metals, such as copper, iron, manganese and zinc, and a variant level of chlorine.
James-Yi said, that while there is no extensive research into how these effect household pets, the harmful factors in communities also affect the animals of that community.
“For instance, with lead, animals may or may not act the same as humans, but in case of lead, dogs are actually more sensitive than people, so its kind of like the canary in the coalmine,” she said.
Lead can do extreme damage to dogs by causing upsets in the gastrointestinal tract and potentially causing neurological damage, which is why it is so important to eliminate lead-causing factors such as old pipes and lead paint.
In addition, James-Yi said farm animals such as cattle are also sensitive to lead.
Throughout the county, lead was one of the metals that routinely did not show up on The Sentinel’s water quality tests, though it did show up in tests conducted at Suitland High School. The EPA standard for lead is .015 parts per billion or ppb. The lead in Suitland totaled .006 ppb.
Metals and chemicals in tap water can also harm fish and decrease their lifespan, according to Dr. Stephan Smith, who is a professor of Aquatic, Wildlife and Exotic Animal Medicine at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine.
Most pet owners use the water from their faucets and hoses to fill the fish tanks, which can lead to deceased fish if pet owners are not careful. “Chlorine is fairly easy to remove from water, but when it comes in, if there is not a dechlorinator added, or you don’t allow time for the chlorine to get the gas off, it can be extremely toxic to fish,” Smith said.
In Prince George’s County, The Sentinel Newspapers found variant levels of chlorine in the tap water with the minimum detection level of .1 ppb found in Bowie and the highest level of .8 ppb found in Chillum.
With most drinking water sources, Smith said, residents are unlikely to have water with so much chlorine that a basic, store-bought dechlorinator will not work, but said residents should also consider pulling their tank water in advance and letting it sit long enough for the chemical to evaporate.
Taking good care of fish can takes patience and practice, Smith said, otherwise chemicals and metals in the tap water could slowly suffocate aquarium fish.
“The problem that we see is people who have koi ponds outside. A lot of people who have home aquariums, they know to add a certain amount (of dechlorinator) per gallon of water,” Smith said. “Often when you have people who have koi ponds, you’re not talking about 10 or 20 gallons, we’re talking hundreds of gallons and a lot of times those people don’t have the money or put the money into dechlorinators.”
Smith said in other instances, a continued exposure to certain chemicals and metals could cause sub-lethal effects on fish such as irritation of the gills and hyperplasia of the cells, which mean the fish would suffocate over time.
Copper, which was found in county water well below the 1.3 ppb EPA standard, and zinc sulfate, which is used to make water portable are also toxic to fish, especially juvenile fish.
“Every time people add zinc sulfate to our water here, to our municipal plant, I usually get lots of calls from people that their angel fish all of a sudden died this week because of that addition,” Smith said.
E-coli is another potential danger to both farm animals and household pets. The Anacostia and Patuxent Rivers, as well as local manmade lakes returned positive tests for the bacteria e-coli.
James-Yi said despite what pet owners may think, e-coli can have the same effect on their pets as it would them. Dogs are susceptible to microbes and infections much like humans.
“We have to deal with a lot of illnesses because dogs get into things they shouldn’t,” she said.
Drinking water could also be harmful if the pet consumes a continued level of metals and contaminants. This could lead to killing off the natural micro flora in the pet’s digestion tract and cause vomiting as well as other problems.
In addition to bacteria found in local ground water, James-Yi said pet owners should be aware of algae in local lakes, which can attack a dog’s neurological system and kill them almost instantly.
“There are some toxins that can be very devastating from algae,” she said. “It can actually kill them. Some dogs never make it to the other side of the lake.”
The suggestion James-Yi gives is to keep pets away from water you wouldn’t allow a child to play in, or water not advised for swimming like the swimming advisors for both major rivers in Prince George’s County.
She also filters the water she gives to her pets.
“I just use a charcoal-based filtering system and the reason is, it is not being paranoid or it is not that there’s necessarily a problem where I live, but in our current, modern day environment we’re just being exposed to so many chemicals. That is just one little thing that I can do,” she said.