The Pure Water Occasional for May 26, 2014

In this Memorial Day Occasional, you'll hear about Nitrosomonas eutropha, AOB and the wonderful skin microbiome.  There's also the poisoning of the mighty Mississippi, and news of the pool where Tarzan was lifeguard. Hear about National Public Works Week and the boil water alert in Portland (scene of the recent peeing-in-the-reservoir scandal). As usual, a lot about coal and and fracking. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, plastics in Arctic ice, and the dirtiest beach in California. Then there's the great water lettuce controversy in Florida, the battle for water in San Bartolo Ameyalco, Mexico, and the growing world-wide hatred for the bully corporation Monsanto. Hear about your Army's attempts to skip out without paying the tab and a new study that may show that fluoride does not make you stupid. Finally, Pure Water Annie explains how water softener work.  And, as always, there is much, much more.

The Pure Water Occasional is a project of Pure Water Products and the Pure Water Gazette.

To read this issue on the Pure Water Gazette's website,  please go here.


Introductory Note: The first article in this issue offers a glimpse at a new way of thinking about our relationship with the natural world.  Julia Scott's research supports my own beliefs that much of our reliance on personal care chemicals is actually no more than habit--a habit supported and encouraged by advertising and aggressive marketing.  Our addiction to personal care chemicals is part of the war on bacteria that has characterized our age.  We are, fortunately, learning that this is a very bad idea; but our addiction to personal care items aimed at keeping us squeaky clean and bacteria free will be a hard one to break. Scott's article will show you, though, that a world without shampoos, harsh soaps, and, yes, even without showering may be possible if we are bold enough to question the wisdom of commercials that tell us that we will be social outcasts if our hair doesn't glisten. -- Gene Franks.

My No-Soap, No-Shampoo, Bacteria-Rich Hygiene Experiment

by Julia Scott

The M.I.T.-trained chemical engineer who invented AO+ has not showered for the past 12 years.

For most of my life, if I’ve thought at all about the bacteria living on my skin, it has been while trying to scrub them away. But recently I spent four weeks rubbing them in. I was Subject 26 in testing a living bacterial skin tonic, developed by AOBiome, a biotech start-up in Cambridge, Mass. The tonic looks, feels and tastes like water, but each spray bottle of AO+ Refreshing Cosmetic Mist contains billions of cultivated Nitrosomonas eutropha, an ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) that is most commonly found in dirt and untreated water. AOBiome scientists hypothesize that it once lived happily on us too — before we started washing it away with soap and shampoo — acting as a built-in cleanser, deodorant, anti-inflammatory and immune booster by feeding on the ammonia in our sweat and converting it into nitrite and nitric oxide.


In the conference room of the cramped offices that the four-person AOBiome team rents at a start-up incubator, Spiros Jamas, the chief executive, handed me a chilled bottle of the solution from the refrigerator. “These are AOB,” he said. “They’re very innocuous.” Because the N. eutropha are alive, he said, they would need to be kept cold to remain stable. I would be required to mist my face, scalp and body with bacteria twice a day. I would be swabbed every week at a lab, and the samples would be analyzed to detect changes in my invisible microbial community.

In the last few years, the microbiome (sometimes referred to as “the second genome”) has become a focus for the health conscious and for scientists alike. Studies like the Human Microbiome Project, a national enterprise to sequence bacterial DNA taken from 242 healthy Americans, have tagged 19 of our phyla (groupings of bacteria), each with thousands of distinct species. As Michael Pollan wrote in this magazine last year: “As a civilization, we’ve just spent the better part of a century doing our unwitting best to wreck the human-associated microbiota. . . . Whether any cures emerge from the exploration of the second genome, the implications of what has already been learned — for our sense of self, for our definition of health and for our attitude toward bacteria in general — are difficult to overstate.”

While most microbiome studies have focused on the health implications of what’s found deep in the gut, companies like AOBiome are interested in how we can manipulate the hidden universe of organisms (bacteria, viruses and fungi) teeming throughout our glands, hair follicles and epidermis. They see long-term medical possibilities in the idea of adding skin bacteria instead of vanquishing them with antibacterials — the potential to change how we diagnose and treat serious skin ailments. But drug treatments require the approval of the Food and Drug Administration, an onerous and expensive process that can take upward of a decade. Instead, AOBiome’s founders introduced AO+ under the loosely regulated “cosmetics” umbrella as a way to release their skin tonic quickly. With luck, the sales revenue will help to finance their research into drug applications. “The cosmetic route is the quickest,” Jamas said. “The other route is the hardest, the most expensive and the most rewarding.”

AOBiome does not market its product as an alternative to conventional cleansers, but it notes that some regular users may find themselves less reliant on soaps, moisturizers and deodorants after as little as a month. Jamas, a quiet, serial entrepreneur with a doctorate in biotechnology, incorporated N. eutropha into his hygiene routine years ago; today he uses soap just twice a week. The chairman of the company’s board of directors, Jamie Heywood, lathers up once or twice a month and shampoos just three times a year. The most extreme case is David Whitlock, the M.I.T.-trained chemical engineer who invented AO+. He has not showered for the past 12 years. He occasionally takes a sponge bath to wash away grime but trusts his skin’s bacterial colony to do the rest. I met these men. I got close enough to shake their hands, engage in casual conversation and note that they in no way conveyed a sense of being “unclean” in either the visual or olfactory sense.

For my part in the AO+ study, I wanted to see what the bacteria could do quickly, and I wanted to cut down on variables, so I decided to sacrifice my own soaps, shampoo and deodorant while participating. I was determined to grow a garden of my own.

The story of AOBiome begins in 2001, in a patch of dirt on the floor of a Boston-area horse stable, where Whitlock was collecting soil samples. A few months before, an equestrienne he was dating asked him to answer a question she had long been curious about: Why did her horse like to roll in the dirt? Whitlock didn’t know, but he saw an opportunity to impress.

Whitlock thought about how much horses sweat in the summer. He wondered whether the animals managed their sweat by engaging in dirt bathing. Could there be a kind of “good” bacteria in the dirt that fed off perspiration? He knew there was a class of bacteria that derive their energy from ammonia rather than from carbon and grew convinced that horses (and possibly other mammals that engage in dirt bathing) would be covered in them. “The only way that horses could evolve this behavior was if they had substantial evolutionary benefits from it,” he told me.

Whitlock gathered his samples and brought them back to his makeshift home laboratory, where he skimmed off the dirt and grew the bacteria in an ammonia solution (to simulate sweat). The strain that emerged as the hardiest was indeed an ammonia oxidizer: N. eutropha. Here was one way to test his “clean dirt” theory: Whitlock put the bacteria in water and dumped them onto his head and body.

Some skin bacteria species double every 20 minutes; ammonia-oxidizing bacteria are much slower, doubling only every 10 hours. They are delicate creatures, so Whitlock decided to avoid showering to simulate a pre-soap living condition. “I wasn’t sure what would happen,” he said, “but I knew it would be good.”

The bacteria thrived on Whitlock. AO+ was created using bacterial cultures from his skin.

And now the bacteria were on my skin.

I had warned my friends and co-workers about my experiment, and while there were plenty of jokes — someone left a stick of deodorant on my desk; people started referring to me as “Teen Spirit” — when I pressed them to sniff me after a few soap-free days, no one could detect a difference. Aside from my increasingly greasy hair, the real changes were invisible. By the end of the week, Jamas was happy to see test results that showed the N. eutropha had begun to settle in, finding a friendly niche within my biome.

AOBiome is not the first company to try to leverage emerging discoveries about the skin microbiome into topical products. The skin-care aisle at my drugstore had a moisturizer with a “probiotic complex,” which contains an extract of Lactobacillus, species unknown. Online, companies offer face masks, creams and cleansers, capitalizing on the booming market in probiotic yogurts and nutritional supplements. There is even a “frozen yogurt” body cleanser whose second ingredient is sodium lauryl sulfate, a potent detergent, so you can remove your healthy bacteria just as fast as you can grow them.

Audrey Gueniche, a project director in L’Oréal’s research and innovation division, said the recent skin microbiome craze “has revolutionized the way we study the skin and the results we look for.” L’Oréal has patented several bacterial treatments for dry and sensitive skin, including Bifidobacterium longum extract, which it uses in a Lancôme product. Clinique sells a foundation with Lactobacillus ferment, and its parent company, Estée Lauder, holds a patent for skin application of Lactobacillus plantarum. But it’s unclear whether the probiotics in any of these products would actually have any effect on skin: Although a few studies have shown that Lactobacillus may reduce symptoms of eczema when taken orally, it does not live on the skin with any abundance, making it “a curious place to start for a skin probiotic,” said Michael Fischbach, a microbiologist at the University of California, San Francisco. Extracts are not alive, so they won’t be colonizing anything.

To differentiate their product from others on the market, the makers of AO+ use the term “probiotics” sparingly, preferring instead to refer to “microbiomics.” No matter what their marketing approach, at this stage the company is still in the process of defining itself. It doesn’t help that the F.D.A. has no regulatory definition for “probiotic” and has never approved such a product for therapeutic use. “The skin microbiome is the wild frontier,” Fischbach told me. “We know very little about what goes wrong when things go wrong and whether fixing the bacterial community is going to fix any real problems.”

I didn’t really grasp how much was yet unknown until I received my skin swab results from Week 2. My overall bacterial landscape was consistent with the majority of Americans’: Most of my bacteria fell into the genera Propionibacterium, Corynebacterium and Staphylococcus, which are among the most common groups. (S. epidermidis is one of several Staphylococcus species that reside on the skin without harming it.) But my test results also showed hundreds of unknown bacterial strains that simply haven’t been classified yet.

Meanwhile, I began to regret my decision to use AO+ as a replacement for soap and shampoo. People began asking if I’d “done something new” with my hair, which turned a full shade darker for being coated in oil that my scalp wouldn’t stop producing. I slept with a towel over my pillow and found myself avoiding parties and public events. Mortified by my body odor, I kept my arms pinned to my sides, unless someone volunteered to smell my armpit. One friend detected the smell of onions. Another caught a whiff of “pleasant pot.”

When I visited the gym, I followed AOBiome’s instructions, misting myself before leaving the house and again when I came home. The results: After letting the spray dry on my skin, I smelled better. Not odorless, but not as bad as I would have ordinarily. And, oddly, my feet didn’t smell at all.

My skin began to change for the better. It actually became softer and smoother, rather than dry and flaky, as though a sauna’s worth of humidity had penetrated my winter-hardened shell. And my complexion, prone to hormone-related breakouts, was clear. For the first time ever, my pores seemed to shrink. As I took my morning “shower” — a three-minute rinse in a bathroom devoid of hygiene products — I remembered all the antibiotics I took as a teenager to quell my acne. How funny it would be if adding bacteria were the answer all along.

Dr. Elizabeth Grice, an assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania who studies the role of microbiota in wound healing and inflammatory skin disease, said she believed that discoveries about the second genome might one day not only revolutionize treatments for acne but also — as AOBiome and its biotech peers hope — help us diagnose and cure disease, heal severe lesions and more. Those with wounds that fail to respond to antibiotics could receive a probiotic cocktail adapted to fight the specific strain of infecting bacteria. Body odor could be altered to repel insects and thereby fight malaria and dengue fever. And eczema and other chronic inflammatory disorders could be ameliorated.

According to Julie Segre, a senior investigator at the National Human Genome Research Institute and a specialist on the skin microbiome, there is a strong correlation between eczema flare-ups and the colonization of Staphylococcus aureus on the skin. Segre told me that scientists don’t know what triggers the bacterial bloom. But if an eczema patient could monitor their microbes in real time, they could lessen flare-ups. “Just like someone who has diabetes is checking their blood-sugar levels, a kid who had eczema would be checking their microbial-diversity levels by swabbing their skin,” Segre said.

AOBiome says its early research seems to hold promise. In-house lab results show that AOB activates enough acidified nitrite to diminish the dangerous methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). A regime of concentrated AO+ caused a hundredfold decrease of Propionibacterium acnes, often blamed for acne breakouts. And the company says that diabetic mice with skin wounds heal more quickly after two weeks of treatment with a formulation of AOB.

Soon, AOBiome will file an Investigational New Drug Application with the F.D.A. to request permission to test more concentrated forms of AOB for the treatment of diabetic ulcers and other dermatologic conditions. “It’s very, very easy to make a quack therapy; to put together a bunch of biological links to convince someone that something’s true,” Heywood said. “What would hurt us is trying to sell anything ahead of the data.”

As my experiment drew to a close, I found myself reluctant to return to my old routine of daily shampooing and face treatments. A month earlier, I packed all my hygiene products into a cooler and hid it away. On the last day of the experiment, I opened it up, wrinkling my nose at the chemical odor. Almost everything in the cooler was a synthesized liquid surfactant, with lab-manufactured ingredients engineered to smell good and add moisture to replace the oils they washed away. I asked AOBiome which of my products was the biggest threat to the “good” bacteria on my skin. The answer was equivocal: Sodium lauryl sulfate, the first ingredient in many shampoos, may be the deadliest to N. eutropha, but nearly all common liquid cleansers remove at least some of the bacteria. Antibacterial soaps are most likely the worst culprits, but even soaps made with only vegetable oils or animal fats strip the skin of AOB.

Bar soaps don’t need bacteria-killing preservatives the way liquid soaps do, but they are more concentrated and more alkaline, whereas liquid soaps are often milder and closer to the natural pH of skin. Which is better for our bacteria? “The short answer is, we don’t know,” said Dr. Larry Weiss, founder of CleanWell, a botanical-cleanser manufacturer. Weiss is helping AOBiome put together a list of “bacteria-safe” cleansers based on lab testing. In the end, I tipped most of my products into the trash and purchased a basic soap and a fragrance-free shampoo with a short list of easily pronounceable ingredients. Then I enjoyed a very long shower, hoping my robust biofilm would hang on tight.

One week after the end of the experiment, though, a final skin swab found almost no evidence of N. eutropha anywhere on my skin. It had taken me a month to coax a new colony of bacteria onto my body. It took me three showers to extirpate it. Billions of bacteria, and they had disappeared as invisibly as they arrived. I had come to think of them as “mine,” and yet I had evicted them.

Julia Scott is a writer and radio producer in San Francisco. She edited the coming humor collection “Drivel: Deliciously Bad Writing by Your Favorite Authors.”  

Source: New York Times.

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Study: Mississippi River Overwhelmed by Agricultural Chemicals


 Dead Fish on the Mississippi

Gazette's Introductory Note: A new study shows what we already knew: farmers are trashing the nation's water with an overload of  fertilizers and other chemicals and we need to find better ways to grow things. --Hardly Waite.

Every spring a so-called "dead zone" develops in the Gulf of Mexico near the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Spreading up to 13,600 square kilometers and extending all the way to the eastern Texas shoreline, the zone results from nitrogen-heavy river water pouring into the gulf, where it promotes the growth of algae. As the algae dies, it sinks to the bottom where it decomposes and depletes oxygen from the water, a condition called hypoxia that is deadly to fish and shrimp.

While scientists know what causes a hypoxic zone, a recently published study by two Austin-based hydrogeologists shows the solution may prove a hard sell for those landlocked to the north.

According to Dr. Bayani Cardenas, Associate Professor at the University of Texas's Jackson School of Geosciences, river bank sediments naturally filter water-borne contaminants, typically removing nitrates that otherwise create dead zones downstream.

"You can think of it as a spiraling flow back around the bank of the river," said Cardenas, the study's lead author. "A water molecule goes into the bank and then comes back out into the river at some downstream point, and it does that repeatedly as it travels downstream."

And yet nitrate-heavy waters of the Mississippi River have been pouring into the gulf each spring. Determined to find out why, Cardenas, his recent study shows, found that although more than 99 percent of the river’s water does pass through sediment on its way south, the system is overwhelmed by sheer the amount of nitrogen it carries.

The Mississippi river system carries water to the gulf from 33 states and two Canadian provinces where chemicals like nitrogen are used extensively in agriculture. Farmers say the use of such chemicals is essential to produce food for a growing world population.

But Cardenas says his research shows that something needs to be done.

“If you want to curtail this process it has to be at the source, just less inputs from the start," he said, explaining that the majority of contaminants wreaking havoc on Louisiana's gulf fishermen are introduced to the water system in states farther to the north.

Aaron Packman, Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Northwestern University, agrees. He says farmers may be able to better control the amount of nitrate fertilizer they put on fields.

“How much fertilizer do you need to give you good yields and then how much is maybe a marginal gain from adding lots more fertilizer?" he said. "There is really a question here: can you maybe [reduce the amount] and get close to the same level of yield without having such a negative impact?”

Packman also says solutions need to be implemented upstream from Louisiana, which has a relatively small section of the river.

“The Mississippi river system is 40 percent of the surface area of the continental United States," he said. "I think it takes some further work in the distributive areas upstream that are the source of a lot of the nutrient.”

Filtration by the river system has been weakened by human-made “improvements” such as levees and canals that aid transportation and help control floods. But Cardenas says filtration works better when the river meanders through twists and turns, forcing the water to spend more time in the sediment that cleans it.

“A straight channel won’t offer this buffering," he said. "A very sinuous channel provides a lot of the contact of the river water with the sediment.”

While Louisiana has embarked on a project to divert more river water through wetlands to filter it and increase coastal silt deposits, this will have only a limited effect if states farther upstream do not take action as well.

In coming months, storms will stir the gulf waters and diminish the oxygen-depleted zone, but it will return next year and grow larger in years ahead if something isn’t done to reduce the flow of nitrogen in the Mississippi.

Cardenas's study appears in a recent issue of Nature Geosciences.

Source: Voice of America.

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Water News for the Week of May 26 

This week was National Public Works Week. At a time when we hear much about of “privatizing” water systems and “downsizing” government, we should take a moment to consider what our lives would be like without the exceptional public works infrastructure whose benefits we take for granted. Here's an editorial from Stormwater:

Each year the nonprofit American Public Works Association declares a week to recognize what it calls the “often unsung heroes” in the US and Canada who keep our infrastructure working. As people in the public works arena know, these are the sorts of jobs that don’t call great attention to themselves when they’re done well but that everyone notices when something goes awry. This is perhaps especially true of stormwater. APWA’s executive director, Peter King, notes “We celebrate the week to honor the enormous contributions that these public works professionals make in serving our communities every day by providing and maintaining our transportation systems, clean water, utilities, emergency response operations and other essential infrastructure and services.”

As a point of contrast, our publisher pointed out an article in yesterday’s New York Times that might make us appreciate a smoothly running infrastructure even more. Titled “Note to Olympic Sailors: Don’t Fall in Rio’s Water,” it includes comments from athletes training for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay, where events like windsurfing and sailing will be held. The bay is very polluted; one Australian sailor says the smell of sewage was so strong he was afraid to put his feet into the water to launch his boat from the shore. Another recounts how his dinghy capsized when he crashed into a partially submerged sofa. In addition to trash, the bay receives untreated sewage from the city; at last estimate only about 40% of the sewage is treated. Brazilian officials say cleanup efforts are underway and new water treatment plants are under construction, but officials in Rio de Janeiro state are calling for more federal money to help them meet their goals in time for the Olympics. The need for adequate funding, at least, is one thing public works departments the world over can probably agree on.

 Piscine Molitor, once one of Paris's most fashionable public swimming pools,  reopened last week 85 years after Parisians first entered its tiers of art deco cubicles. US Olympic gold medallist and future Tarzan actor, Johnny Weissmuller, was a lifeguard there. 

A citywide boil notice was issued for Portland after E. coli was detected in the water supply. The Portland Water Bureau said Friday that residents should boil all tap water used for drinking, food preparation, tooth brushing and ice for at least one minute. The notice, which also covers several suburban cities, affects about 670,000 people. It will remain in effect until tests show the water system is clean.

Rural North Carolina sites become dump grounds for unwanted coal ash.

Years before the accidental coal ash spill into the Dan River in February, the waste was being dumped into creeks, wetlands and vacant fields across North Carolina. Coal ash has been much in the news in North Carolina. It is a major threat to groundwater, leaking arsenic, lead, and sulfate into wells. This article gives an excellent overview of the problem and underlines the danger of lax regulation.

Wastewater a source of antibiotic-resistant bacteria: Study. Wastewater from cities and hospitals releases some antibiotic-resistant bacteria into the environment, according to a new French study.

Trillions of plastic pieces may be trapped in Arctic ice. Humans produced nearly 300 million tons of plastic in 2012, but where does it end up? A new study has found plastic debris in a surprising location: trapped in Arctic sea ice. As the ice melts, it could release a flood of floating plastic onto the world.

Outside groups shelled out $4.5M for EPA officials' travel. Fracking, and how the federal government regulates it, is of great concern to Chesapeake Energy Corp., which spent $1.8 million on lobbying in 2012, including lobbying EPA on its hydraulic fracturing study looking into potential impacts on drinking water, according to disclosure records on file with the Senate.

North Carolina Senate passes bill that would lift fracking moratorium. The N.C. Senate passed a fracking bill Wednesday that would lift the state’s moratorium on shale gas drilling, setting up a replay of last year’s political showdown in the state House that prompted Republicans to join Democrats and keep the moratorium in place.

Drought's upside? Better water quality at beaches, report says. There’s at least one upside to the drought: Record-low rainfall has resulted in cleaner water up and down the California coast, a new report says, with lower amounts of polluted runoff flowing down to the coast during the driest year on record.

 Water lettuce is regarded as a villain or friend in Florida's environment. There is much debate about the prolific plant's origin and equally strong opinions about whether it should be killed, tolerated, or encouraged. 

  Mexico City residents battle police over water. A confrontation between 1,500 police and residents of a village on Mexico City's western outskirts left more than 100 police injured in a battle over a water spring. It was the latest in a series of clashes over increasingly scarce water in the city of 9 million people, which must draw much of its supply from surrounding states. The city grew so fast between the 1940s and the 1990s that once-independent villages like San Bartolo Ameyalco, whose spring is the main point of the dispute, were swallowed up by the sprawl.

Santa Cruz beach has West Coast's dirtiest water. A stretch of sand popular with tourists and surfers for its mellow waves and up-close views of the Santa Cruz wharf was marked Thursday with the dubious distinction of having the worst water quality on the West Coast -- partly because of bird and human feces.

Illegal waste site leaks 1.5m litres of polluted water. Around one and a half million litres of polluted water seeping from a festering mountain of illegally dumped rubbish has had to be removed.

52 countries join 'March against Monsanto.' 

This week a March Against Monsanto took place in over 400 cities worldwide. As many as a million people are estimated to have joined in the march and other anti-Monsanto protests taking place over 52 countries and 47 US states. Monsanto has become symbol of corporate greed and irresponsibility—a purveyor for profit of pollution, genetic engineering, and seed variety destruction. An upsurge of global anger at Monsanto is now taking place in Korea, Taiwan, Mexico, Ecuador, Australia, Germany, Ghana, India and dozens of cities across the US. The Pure Water Gazette has been an outspoken foe of the corporate giant since before 1990. From our archive please see “My Secret Life as a Farmer” for a good overview of the very serious seed patenting issue.

Upgrading Sacramento’s wastewater treatment could cost $2 billion. Officials at Sacramento’s immense wastewater treatment plant intend to begin construction this year on what could be the largest public works project in Sacramento County’s history – an expansion they say will cost between $1.5 billion and $2 billion.

Medical News Today reported the results of a small study in New Zealand which refutes findings of recently reported Harvard University research indicating that fluoridation of water lowers IQ. The lead researcher summarized:

Our analysis showed no significant differences in IQ by fluoride exposure, even before controlling for the other factors that might influence scores. In line with other studies, we found breastfeeding was associated with higher child IQ, and this was regardless of whether children grew up in fluoridated or non-fluoridated areas.

Water Treatment Chemicals Market Expected to Explode. The report "Water Treatment Chemicals Market By Type (Coagulants & Flocculants, Corrosion Inhibitor, Scale Inhibitors, Biocides, Chelating Agents, Anti-foaming Agents, pH Adjusters & Others) & Application (Industrial & Municipal) - Global Trends & Forecasts to 2018" defines and segments the global water treatment chemicals market with analysis and forecasting of the global revenue and consumption. The water treatment chemicals market consumption will grow from an estimated 12.8 billion lbs in 2013 to 15.3 billion lbs by 2018, with a CAGR of 3.5% from 2013 to 2018.

Memorial Day Special from Pure Water Products. Our websites never offer specials or sales. We put up the best price we can and leave it. However, for one week only, ending June 2, 2014, Pure Water Occasional readers can take 15% off anything purchased from our main website   or from our all-Pura website.  If you order by phone, ask for the Occasional's Memorial Day Special and the price will be reduced by 15%.  No volume limit, no products excluded. If you order from the shopping cart, the cart will charge full price, but if you ask for the Memorial Day Special in the Comments section, we'll refund your card for 15% of the purchase.

US Army Sued Again in Decades-Old Water Case in New Brighton, MN.

In 1981, the Minnesota Department of Health discovered that New Brighton's municipal wells were contaminated with harmful chemicals that were traced to the U.S. Army's Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant.

For years, the Army denied responsibility for the contamination, and in 1984 New Brighton sued the Army to recover the money it needed to provide an updated water supply from an aquifer that had not been contaminated. In 1988, the U.S. Army finally admitted that it contaminated the city's water supply and agreed to settle the city's lawsuit. This week the city went back to court in an attempt to force the Army to keep its decades-old promise.

How Water Softeners Work

by Pure Water Annie

Gazette Technical Wizard Pure Water Annie Gives a Quick An Easy Explanation of How Water Softeners Work


Above is a diagram of our Fleck 5600 Softener. It shows how our softener—and everyone else's softener—works.

A water softener is an ion exchangerHard water—water with a high calcium/magnesium content—enters the softener through the “In” port indicated by the green arrow. It passes through the control valve and into the treatment tank, where it goes from top to bottom through a specially prepared resin that “softens” it.

The resin consists of beads that have been specially manufactured to be saturated with sodium ions. “Softening” occurs as the hardness minerals in the water attach themselves to the resin and are “exchanged” for sodium.

The softened water then enters the long center tube, called a riser, via the strainer basket in the bottom of the tank and passes upward through the riser. The water exits the softener via the control valve (blue arrow) and is sent to the home.

When the resin becomes saturated by hardness minerals, the softener automatically goes into regeneration. (The regeneration process is initiated by a timer or a meter, depending on the type of softener you purchase.) By this process the hardness minerals are washed down the drain (via a drain tube not shown in the diagram), and the resin bed is rinsed, resettled, and recharged with sodium. It is now again ready to soften your water.

The regeneration process is accomplished by passing very salty water from the brine tank through the resin.

The brine tank must remain filled with softener salt at all times so that it can regenerate the softening resin again and again.

Useful Terms

Brine.  Name given the extremely salty water that is used to regenerate the softener's resin.

Grain.  A standard measure of hardness.  A "grain" of hardness is the equivalent of 17.1 parts per million.

Hardness. The concentration of calcium and magnesium salts in the water.

Hard Water.  Though not all authorities agree on a precise definition,  water with over 7 grains of hardness is considered "hard" by almost everyone. Many would say that hardness begins at a lower number.

Ion Exchange. A chemical reaction in which ions are exchanged in solution. In the case of the water softener, which is a cation exchanger, calcium and magnesium are exchanged for sodium.

Regeneration. The process by which an ion exchanger (like a water softener) renews its ability to do its job. In the case of the softener, a strong brine solution is passed through the resin bed and sodium is exchanged for calcium and magnesium.

Resin. Specially manufactured polymer beads used in the ion exchange process to remove dissolved salts from water.



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Places to Visit on Our Websites in the meantime.

Garden Hose Filters.  Don’t be the last on your block to own one.

Model 77: “The World’s Greatest $77 Water Filter”

Sprite Shower Filters: You’ll Sing Better!”

An Alphabetical Index to Water Treatment Products

Our famous whole house Chloramine Catcher

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