Pure Water Occasional, September 25, 2018
In this end of summer Occasional, produced in the soggy wake of Hurricane Florence, you'll hear about flooding and more flooding, coal ash dumps, hog farms, fracking, lead-free drinking fountains, acidic water, and shark fin soup. Read about the sinking of Mexico City, the demise of Bloede Dam, the decaffeination of coffee, manual filter valves, nitrates, PFNAs, microplastics, and as always, there is much, much more.
The month's leading water story was flooding, evacuations, and record high water caused by tropical storm Florence. Water pollution concerns centered on flooding of coal ash dumps and low-lying hog farms. President Trump delcared that, as hurricanes go, Florence "is one of the wettest we've ever seen from the standpoint of water."
The news from Florence provides a tip-off as to why environmentalists have always been so fussy about coal ash storage. The ash left over when coal is burned to generate electricity contains mercury, lead, arsenic, and other toxic heavy metals, as well as carcinogens such as dioxins and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) compounds. The inundated coal ash basin at one of the North Carolina coal plants contains about 400,000 cubic yards of ash. This is dumping toxins in the form of a nasty gray slurry into the Cape Fear River.
Canadian authorities have issued strong complaints about inadequate American water treatment facilities that are dumping untreated sewage into the scenic Niagara River. Full story.
The New Orleans school board has allotted $800,000 to install EcoWater filters to assure lead-free water in all its schools. Filters are being installed on water fountains and faucets in school kitchens.
Homeowners whose homes were flooded by a broken water main in Richardson, Texas learned that neither their homeowner's insurance nor the city's insurance covered the damage.
A new study from researchers at Penn State found that soil may be a natural filter acting as a tertiary treatment for wastewater, preventing antibiotics and other emerging contaminants from damaging groundwater.
The environmental group American Rivers is celebrating the removal of the century-old Bloede Dam on Maryland's Patapsco River. The group has been working over a decade for the removal of the dam. According to the American Rivers website: The challenges from Bloede Dam aren’t unique. With more than 90,000 dams blocking rivers across the United States and at least 659 dams in Maryland alone, our country’s dams have become increasingly dangerous for people and harmful to the environment. While many still assume dams are intrinsically beneficial, the reality is they cause a variety of problems: disrupting the free flow of water, changing the temperature and overall quality of the water, and destroying habitat for fish and other wildlife.
In the leadup to Hurricane Florence, some Amazon bottled water prices went up as high as eight times the regular price.
A new study of oil production in Texas's Permean Basin reveals that obtaining water for fracking operations and disposing of fracking waste water are placing severe economic limitations on the practice. "With fracking, explorers blast water, sand and chemicals down wells to crack open the oil-bearing shale below. As oil is pumped up, so is the water, combined with salt-laden water from underground reservoirs to create a toxic mix that would devastate farmland if released on the surface. With as many as four barrels of water produced for every barrel of oil, it’s a disposal nightmare that could add as much as $6 a barrel to company break-evens by 2025." Full article from Bloomberg News.
The Water Quality Association maintains an informative blog related to hurricanes, flooding, and other emergencies as they relate to home water supplies. Lots of good advice about such topics as boil water alerts, maintaining your home water treatment equipment, etc. See at http://response.wqa.org/
Mexico City's new mayor is giving an additional $370 million to the city's water department in an effort to address the steady sinking of the city being caused by over-pumping of its aquifer. Excellent NPR article.
Anger grew among Puerto Ricans when photos surfaced showing millions of gallons of bottled water that were shipped to Puerto Rico as part of the Hurricane Maria relief effort but are still sitting undelivered on a runway in Ceiba, Puerto Rico. The water has apparently been on the runway for more than a year.
The former water plant superintendent of the village of Sebring, OH was fined $500 and sentenced to 200 hours of community service for failing to notify residents of high lead levels in their drinking water.
UK researchers found that microplastics -- pieces of plastic less than 5 millimeters in size -- remain in the bodies of mosquitoes and other waterborne insects even after they become flying adults. The findings mean that plastic pollution being dumped into oceans is being carried into the air, and raises concerns that birds and other creatures that eat the insects are also being contaminated.
Plastic microfibers like these, most no longer than a grain of sand, are shed by synthetic clothing items when we wash them. They end up in natural water bodies because they are not filtered out by washing machines or most wastewater treatment plants. More about microfibers from Water Deeply and from the Pure Water Gazette.
New Jersey First State to Regulate PFNAs
by Frank Kummer
New Jersey has become the first state to regulate its drinking water for a man-made, toxic chemical compound once used in making nonstick cookware and now linked to a variety of health problems.
A new Department of Environmental Protection rule will cap the amount of compounds known as PFNAs, short for perfluorononanoic acid. For years, the state has been concerned about the level of PFNAs detected in water samples and has studied how the compounds were making their way into water. The state has even found some of the compounds in fish from recreational waterways and has begun issuing consumption advisories.
PFNAs are part of a large group of chemical compounds known as PFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. The compounds were also used to make firefighting foam, stain-resistant clothing, and food packaging. They have been linked to low infant birth weights, effects on the immune system, cancer, and hormone disruption. PFAS can accumulate in the body and remain for long periods.
There are no federal standards for the compounds. US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials under the Trump administration sought to block the release in June of a federal study showing the same class of chemicals that contaminated water supplies near military bases and other areas, worrying it would cause a “public relations nightmare.” Since then, the EPA has held a series of public forums on the compounds, including one in Horsham that drew hundreds of residents.
The New Jersey rule amends the Safe Drinking Water Act to set a maximum contaminant level of 13 parts per trillion of PFNAs starting in 2019. It aligns with Gov. Murphy’s much more aggressive environmental policies compared with the Christie administration, which declined to take up the issue. Environmental groups have long sought such regulation.
“Today, the state has met the challenge to protect people from exposure to PFNAs, one of the most toxic perfluorinated compounds known,” said Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.
PFNAs were first detected in the Delaware River watershed in Gloucester County in 2010, according to the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. The compound was found in a groundwater well in Paulsboro near the Solvay plastics manufacturing plant. The Paulsboro groundwater showed concentration of 96 parts per trillion. Higher levels were later found. The borough filed notice it would sue Solvay, which led to a water treatment system to remove the compound.
Savage Shark Eats Man's Arm and Then Throws Him on the Beach to Writhe and Die
Freshly cut dorsal fin of Scalloped Hammerhead Shark
As we all know, sharks are savage creatures. Since 1580, there have been approximately 2500 confirmed, unprovoked attacks of sharks on humans. Of those, 475 or so were fatal. That’s more than one person killed by a shark every year!
Humans, a far more advanced species, kill around 100,000,000 sharks each year.
A large percentage of sharks are killed now for the noble purpose of cutting off their fins to make shark fin soup. Shark fin soup is a Chinese delicacy that is also enjoyed in other parts of the world, including the US.
The fins are usually removed before the sharks are thrown back into the water alive. The process is known as finning and it consists of the removal and retention of shark fins and throwing the carcass back into the sea. The shark is most often still alive when it is tossed back into the water. Unable to swim, the shark slowly sinks toward the bottom where it is eaten alive by other fish. Many of the fins come from endangered species.
Shark finning has increased over the past decade due to the increasing demand for shark fins (for shark fin soup and traditional cures), improved fishing technology, and improved market economics. Shark specialists estimate that 100 million sharks are killed for their fins, annually.
One pound of dried shark fin can retail for $300 or more. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry. The worst part is that shark fin soup is largely a status dish–something that people eat not because it is nutritious or because it tastes good, but because it costs a lot.
When all the political smoke clears, the truth about “tariffs” is that they amount to a tax increase that isn’t called a tax increase.
And it isn’t the Chinese or the Mexicans or the Canadians who pay the tax. It’s American consumers.
For those who buy water treatment equipment, taxes are going up sharply. One of our vendors just notified us that all products from one major American supplier are going up 4 to 8 percent because of tariffs. Our main parts vendor has just notified us that the prices of filter media and softener resin, filter tanks, and control valves are going to increase sharply. That means prices of finished filters and softeners will rise considerably.
Prices tend to spiral. When a tax on Chinese carbon forces up the price, this allows domestic carbon makers some room to raise their prices and still remain competitive. Foreign-made and American-made both go up. And once prices go up, they hardly every come back down, tariff or no tariff.
In a nutshell: because of the tax increase, we expect that our water softeners, tank-style and cartridge-style filters, filter media and parts in general will be selling for about 10% more. Very soon.
A Filter Control Valve That Costs Less and Does Not Need Electricity
Fleck's simple 2510 Manual Control. No electricity required. It isn't sexy, but it's very functional.
Fleck 2510 Manual. This is the most basic of filter valves, yet in many situations it can be the best. In spite of the low price, it’s a tough and durable piece of equipment. The 2510 Manual is a non-electric control that requires manual backwash and rinse. It is, therefore, not practical if backwashing needs to be performed daily (as with many iron filters, for example), but for a clean city water application where chlorine removal is the main purpose, a monthly backwash is often sufficient and performing it can be a 15-minute task.
The valve operates with a simple selection lever and has only three choices: Service (means the filter is in service, providing water for the home), backwash, and rinse. Performing the backwash and rinse is like shifting gears in n car; pull the lever to backwash and let it run for five to ten minutes, pull it down to rinse for a couple of minutes, then return it to service.
Simple, lever-controlled programming includes: Service, Backwash, and Rapid Rinse positions. No electricity needed.
The 2510 Manual Control unit has exactly the same capacity as the larger-format, fully automatic 2510 timer control, but it costs approximately $150 less and requires no electrical connection.
City water chlorine or chloramine filters that require only infrequent backwashing.
Remote installations like seasonal cabins where an electrical connection is not available.
“Off the grid” installations where saving electricity is high priority.
Installations where a permanent drain connection is not convenient. (The filter must have a drain for backwash and rinse water, but it can be hooked to a garden hose and used for lawn or garden irrigation. The filter’s drain can be easily fitted with a garden hose connection.)
Any intermittent-use application where it’s easier to regenerate the filter manually than to continually reprogram an electric control valve.
Vinyl chloride is not found in nature. It is a man-made, cancer causer that gets into water supplies mainly as a result of manufacturing emissions and spills. It serves as a raw material to produce polyvinyl chloride (PVC) polymers (plastics). PVC is used to manufacture many industrial and consumer products: water and sewer pipe, wire insulation, floor and wall coverings, toys, medical devices, food packaging, etc.
Vinyl chloride is a known carcinogen. It is a danger especially to workers in manufacturing plants where it is used. As a water contaminant, the greatest danger is from contaminated water wells. The contaminant seeps into wells as a result of manufacturing leakage and spills.
Removal of vinyl chloride is accomplished best by filtration with granular activated carbon and by reverse osmosis units. Some distillers remove vinyl chloride.
The primary sources of nitrates in water are human sewage, livestock manure, and fertilizers. Areas with a high density of septic tanks and animal agriculture in close proximity to the drinking water source are most vulnerable to contamination by nitrates. Research has shown an increase in nitrates in water as both agriculture and population grows. While nitrates used to be a “well water” problem, many urban water suppliers now having to work to keep nitrate levels down. (See Nitrate Levels in Drinking Water Are on the Rise.)
The foremost health hazard associated with excessive levels of nitrates in water is blue baby syndrome, a condition that affects the blood usually in infants 6 months old or younger. Young infants’ digestive systems convert nitrates to nitrites and can be fatal.
Nitrates and nitrites are very soluble and cannot be precipitated from water. This means they have to be treated with a chemical or biological process. The best treatments for nitrate contamination are reverse osmosis, distillation, and anion exchange. Reverse osmosis is normally the product of choice for residential applications. Anion exchange can also be effective but it is important to have a water analysis to show other contaminants. Anion treatment is less effective in water with high TDS, high hardness, and high sulfates.
The US EPA maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) are 10 mg/L for nitrate and 1 mg/L for nitrite.
How Caffeine is Stripped from Coffee by Use of the Chemical-Free Water Method
Caffeine is in the coffee bean for a reason. It’s a natural alkaloid that serves the coffee plant as a pesticide. It paralyzes bugs that invade the plant and also gives off a bitter flavor as a warning of its toxic nature.
Caffeine is water soluble, as are most of the other ingredients of the bean that give coffee its flavor.
The art of decaffeination, therefore, consists of stripping the caffeine from the coffee bean while leaving behind the desirable ingredients that provide the coffee taste and aroma.
Several methods are used to remove caffeine from coffee. Many involve chemicals, but others rely almost entirely on water. The water methods are definitely the more desirable. The so-called Swiss Method is considered the standard of excellence.
Here’s how the process is described:
The green, or unroasted coffee is fully submerged in filtered water that has been heated, in order to extract all the soluble material from the beans. The water solution is then filtered through carbon to separate the caffeine compounds from any of the aromatics that also came out during the extraction, and the coffee beans are then placed in an immersion tank with the caffeine-free solution, allowing them to reabsorb everything but the jitters.
World standards differ on the definition of “decaffeinated coffee.” Some allow for 97% caffeine reduction, but the highest standards require elimination of as much as 99.9% of the alkaloid content of coffee in order to display the decaffeinated label.
What Makes Water Acidic and How to Fix It
by Pure Water Annie
Gazette technical wizard, Pure Water Annie, offers a nutshell view of treating acid water.
Acidic water is, by definition, any water with a pH of less than 7.0.
Water that is low in pH can have undesirable effects on plumbing fixtures and piping. Green staining of fixtures is a common indication of acidic water. Copper pipe can be ruined by water low in pH.
Low pH is also an issue in water treatment. Sometimes it is necessary to raise the pH of acidic water in order for other treatment strategies to apply. For example, oxidizing iron to prepare it for filtration is difficult if the pH of the water is low, so raising the pH of the water is often the first step in removing iron from well water.
Almost all water treatment issues involve pH in some way. Water constituents change in nature as pH changes, so many treatments can be applied only if pH is within the desired range.
Although the sales strategy of a class of drinking water products called “ionizers” is based on raising the pH of acidic water, there is no evidence that drinking water low in pH has any negative effect on health. Taste, of course, can be an issue if the pH is very low.
Treating Acidic Water
The pH value of water increases as the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) increases, and pH increases as the amount of bicarbonate alkalinity increases. The ratio of carbon dioxide and bicarbonate alkalinity within the ranges of 3.6 and 8.4 is an indication of the pH value of the water.
Acidic water can be corrected by several water treatment strategies. A common treatment is injection of soda ash, and a more aggressive treatment is the injection of caustic soda (sodium hydroxide). This is usually accomplished by injecting a solution of the soda ash or caustic soda directly into the water pipe.
A second strategy is to run the water through a bed of calcite (the most common treatment mineral) or corosex. As the low pH water passes through the bed, the mineral dissolves into the water and raises its pH.
Calcite treatment raises the pH by adding calcium carbonate to the water. This has the sometimes undesirable effect of increasing the hardness of the water slightly. Calcite and corosex are most commonly used in backwashing filters, but calcite alone can be used with simple upflow filters if the water is reasonably clean. Calcite is also commonly used in cartridge form as a postfiltration treatment for undersink reverse osmosis units. RO lowers pH, and calcite filters are used to bring the pH back to neutral.
Places to visit on our websites
Thanks for reading and be sure to check out the next Occasional!