In this mid-summer Occasional,you'll read about algae blooms, record-breaking ocean temperatures, a giant dam-removal project, a compact retention tank, and waterborne diseases. Also, lead in pipes, lead in schools, manganese, PFOS and PFAS, NSF and ANSI, micropores and mesopores. Finally, the resurrection of Bluebird, the best water temperature for your washing machine, the significance of Ball Pan Hardness, and, as always, there is much, much more.
National water news featured flooding in some areas, record heat and drought in others, ravaging wildfires in California, and broken water mains across the nation.
Toxic blue-green algae has bloomed again in Lake Okeechobee, Florida's largest lake. An outbreak so severe that Governor Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency in seven counties. While the term "algae bloom" might not sound dangerous, it amounts to an outbreak of cyanobacteria that presents a signficant risk to public health.
Go here for a good explanation of the algae bloom and a discussion of possible solutions.
The Bluebird K-7 Floats Again, After More Than Fifty Years
Bluebird, the hydroplane that reached record-breaking speeds, has returned to the water for the first time in more than 50 years since it crashed killing its pilot, Donald Campbell. The jet-powered boat was launched in a lake on Isle of Bute in Scotland on August 4, 2018.
Having broken eight world-speed records on water and land in the 1950s and 1960s, Campbell was attempting to break his own water-speed record of 276 mps when he was killed. The wreckage of Bluebird, with Campbell's body, his race suit still intact, was pulled from the depths of the Cumbria Lake in 2001. The boat was restored by volunteers.
Scientists announced that the sea surface temperature off the coast of La Jolla, California came in at 78.6 degrees Fahrenheit - the warmest it's ever been in the 102 years of recorded measurements. Earlier in the week, the National Weather Service (NWS) in San Diego recorded the sea surface temperature at 80 degrees Fahrenheit, a few miles north off Solana Beach. One NWS meteorologist said, "It's over the top. It's making the nights warmer, the days muggier, and the sea breeze doesn't mork as well as it usually does."
According to science journal, Nature, police in the southern Chinese city of Zhongshan are monitoring waste water to evaluate the effectiveness of drug-reduction programs and to track down and arrest manufacturers of illegal drugs.
In what is regarded as the biggest dam removal project in U.S. history, a plan is underway to remove simultaneously four hydroelectric dams from the Klamath River. The dams have been blamed for failing populations of wild fish runs, such as salmon and steelhead, as well as exacerbating water quality problems in the river.
There is a plan in Lincoln, Nebraska to provide free replacement of lead service lines leading into residents' homes in order to avoid any future problems with lead in the city's drinking water. The $21 million plan would replace lead pipes for about 3,000 homes built before 1950 over a period of 14 years.
Only 43 percent of school districts in the United States tested for lead in drinking water used by students in 2016 or 2017, according to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
Research conducted by LSU Health New Orleans School of Public Health finds that the old standby recommendations for running water to flush out lead in residential water pipes are not consistently effective and may not be the best way to protect children from lead in drinking water. The study recommends other lead exposure interventions, like certified water filters, especially if it's not financially possible to replace water lines.
Widespread testing for PFCs is being conducted in Michigan. Environmental officials are more than halfway through testing over 1,380 community water supplies for certain contaminants. So far, some 650 water supplies have been found to have water that exceeds the federal recommendation of 70 parts per trillion. For example, the water supply for the city of Parchment and neighboring Cooper Township was found to have 1,587 parts per trillion of PFAS, more than 20 times higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's health advisory for perfluoroalkyl (PFAS) and polyfluoroalkyl contaminants (PFOS). The city placed them under a state of emergency after officials warned residents not to drink the water or to cook with it.
A recent article warns that while manganese in water has been regarded as a nuisance rather than a health threat, there is growing evidence that, in significant amounts in well water, it can be associated with lowered IQ of children and other health issues. Most health problems with manganese seem to be related to diet and inhalation (one study, for example, shows that welders are particularly at risk for manganese-related ailments). Just 0.05 parts per million manganese in water can cause staining and odors, so ingesting large amounts from well water doesn't seem too likely. (Our advice: if your water in the sink looks like the picture above, don't drink it!)
Just as you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, you normally don't need NSF certification to tell you that water from a water filter is gluten free.
Editor's Note: This article first appeared inthe Pure Water Occasional for April 2010. It has since been expanded.
A standard question about water treatment products these days is to ask if they are “NSF certified.” For our products, the answer isn’t simple. Some of them carry full third-party certification obtained by the manufacturer, some have certification a few of their components, and some aren’t certified at all. And other products have certification from third parties that have no affiliation with NSF.
“Is your product NSF certified?” implies–and most take it to mean–that there is some federally sponsored (N for national) certifying agency, probably a branch of the EPA, that “certifies” products the way the USDA puts its stamp on the rump of a dead pig making it an officially edible ham. That isn’t the way it works at all.
First, NSF isn’t a government agency. NSF used to stand for National Sanitation Foundation, but it is my understanding that the letters don’t “stand for” anything now, and the corporate name is simply NSF, a.k.a. NSF International. NSF started in 1944 when a couple of University of Michigan professors saw a need to set up safety standards for lunch counters and took it upon themselves to start such a service as a university activity. The agency over the years separated from the university and grew into a very large and well funded non-profit corporation.
So, how did NSF get the right to dictate “standards” for water treatment devices (and a host of other commercial products)?
Actually, it didn’t. ANSI, the American National Standards Institute, is the official certifying agency in the US. (Canada has its equivalent in the Standards Council of Canada, SCC.) The US EPA, Health Canada, as well as all states of the US and all provinces of Canada rely on ANSI and SCC to determine the standards that are accepted for third party certification of products.
So, where does NSF fit in? NSF plays a double role in the certification process. First, it “authors” standards, at ANSI’s behest, and it is also one of the many agencies that are licensed to perform the testing required in the standards for product certification. ANSI/NSF standards are standards prepared by NSF under the authority and approval of ANSI.
NSF is only one of many agencies that are authorized to test products to the standards set by NSF/ANSI. Others equally empowered to perform the rites of certification include the Water Quality Association (WQA), Underwriter Laboratories (UL), the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), Truesdail Laboratories, Mechanical Officials, and the International Association of Plumbing, among others.
So, when a product is said to be “tested to ANSI/NSF” standards, this means that the product has been tested to standards authored by NSF for ANSI and tested by either NSF or another ANSI-approved testing agency (like the WQA), or even tested by a non-certified third party tester using NSF/ANSI standards.
Something that is often not understood is that if you want to research a product’s certification, you must know the testing agency. The NSF website lists only products tested by NSF’s testing division. Products tested to NSF standards by, for example, the International Association of Plumbing, are not listed on NSF’s website. There is no central registrar for all NSF/ANSI tested products. Each testing agency keeps its own records. If a product advertiser claims “NSF certification” and you go to NSF’s website for verification and can’t find it, it doesn’t mean that the advertiser is (or isn’t) lying.
What All This Means
There is much confusion in the public mind about what “NSF Certification” means. What it does not necessarily mean is that the certified product is “guaranteed to work,” or that a level of performance is guaranteed. There are numerous NSF/ANSI standards that apply to water treatment products. Not all address performance, although advertisers frequently imply that superior performance is guaranteed simply because their product is “NSF certified.”
Here are the standards by which water treatment devices are most frequently tested and certified under:
STANDARD 42: Drinking Water Treatment Devices – Aesthetic Effects
STANDARD 44: Cation Exchange Water Softeners
STANDARD 53: Drinking Water Treatment Devices – Health Effects
STANDARD 55: Ultraviolet Microbiological Water Treatment Systems
STANDARD 58: Reverse Osmosis Drinking Water Treatment Systems
STANDARD 62: Drinking Water Distillation Systems
Most manufacturers of water treatment devices present their certification information in a straightforward manner that really tells you what their certification covers. As an example, here’s how KX Industries, the nation’s largest maker of extruded carbon block filters, labels one of our favorite products, the MatiriKX PB1 filter cartridge. KX displays this certificate on the product’s fact sheet:
The MATRIKX® + Pb1 is Tested and Certified by NSF International under NSF/ANSI Standard 42 for material requirements only.
What this says is that NSF International (the testing branch of NSF) has performed the necessary tests to certify the product under the materials requirements only of Standard 42 prepared by NSF for ANSI.
The materials requirement under Standard 42 gives you the assurance that the materials used in the product are safe and non-toxic and the cartridge isn’t adding anything to the water that will cause harm. (If Chinese toys were certified under this standard, you could let your child gnaw on them without concern.) Standard 42 materials certification makes no guarantee of performance.
Note this is a “component” certification, not a product certification.
When looking at water treatment products, some are certified and marked with the word “component” on the product label. There is a difference between system certification and component certification. A component is an individual piece of a system and requires less rigorous testing for certification.
The testing a component must undergo to pass requirements for certification include material safety and structural integrity if it is a pressure-bearing component. The material safety test ensures no contaminants are introduced into the the water. The structural integrity test ensures no leaking will occur when exposed to high pressure or repeated fluctuations in pressure.
System certification includes the aforementioned testing as well as meeting performance criteria. Performance testing must meet the minimum criteria which includes “testing of minimum and rated service flow rates, testing of pressure drop for larger products, and evaluating product design to ensure replacement components are readily removable, waste connections have an appropriate air gap, and the product does not pose obvious hazards.” Each system may be subject to more rigorous testing requirements as well.
Carrying products that are system or component certified ensures the seller and consumer that these water treatment parts will not leak or put contaminants into the water.
In addition to this actual certification, the manufacturer’s sheet for the PB1 cartridge informs that lead reduction, chlorine, taste/odor, turbidity and cyst reduction claims are “based on NSF/ANSI Standard 53.” This means that KX didn’t actually submit the cartridge for NSF/ANSI certification under Standard 53 (a health effects performance standard) but that it was tested (by KX or an unspecified third party) and found to perform at the specified levels as determined by NSF/ANSI Standard 53. (In the case of the PB1, an additional label indicates that the testing to NSF/ANSI standards was done by the Water Quality Association’s testing division.)
Why would KX Industries not just have its PB1 cartridge NSF/ANSI certified? Well, cost for one thing, but also because it is a “component” rather than a full product, like a reverse osmosis unit, for example. It costs literally tens of thousands of dollars to obtain and maintain NSF/ANSI certification.
Many manufacturers use certification as a selling tool. They spend large sums of money maintaining product certification and advertise their products accordingly; usually, with the implication that uncertified products are not to be trusted. Other manufacturers–KX Industries, for example, as well as many other highly respected manufacturers–rely as much on their own reputation and experience as third-party certification to sell their products. The money saved on not certifying a product means they can charge lower prices which is an added selling advantage.
Certification is important. It gives the customer confidence the product meets a certain standard–either in materials it is made from or in its performance. But if you limit yourself to products that are NSF/ANSI certified you may be depriving yourself of some really superior products as well as spending more than you need to.
“Let the buyer beware” is a two-edged sword. It isn’t good to buy an inferior product, but no one likes the idea of paying an extra $30 for a filter cartridge to support the manufacturer’s advertising campaign.
As demand on water resources rises, will there be a mad rush to grab up the nation's last untapped water resources?
That’s a looming fear for those who say the Great Salt Lake, the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere, may be at risk of drying up.
The lake is part of a large watershed that is used for drinking water within the most arid part of Utah.
The root of the problem, and the reason the lake is at risk, is language in the Bear River Compact for the Great Salt Lake, an agreement written in 1958 and amended in 1980.
The agreement divides the Bear River between Wyoming, Utah and Idaho. If the states find a way to use all their allotted water, the Great Salt Lake could turn into toxic dust.
Under the agreement, water from the Bear River appears to be at least partially up for grabs by the three states. That puts the lake at risk because the river, an essential water source for the lake, could be tapped.
“The Bear River is one of the few remaining water sources in the western United States where large quantities of unclaimed water may be available. So with demand mounting in neighboring communities, [the] fear that someone is going to figure out how to use that water may become reality. If that happens, he said, it could reduce the Great Salt Lake to dust – toxic dust,” News Deeply reported.
Environmental activists, researchers, and public officials gathered in June to discuss the compact and the fate of the lake, but Wyoming and Idaho did not send representatives.
“Even with concern for the lake mounting, solutions that everyone can agree on will be hard to find,” News Deeply reported.
Craig Miller, a hydrologist with the Utah Division of Water Resources, discussed the need to find an intervention.
“It’s a slow-moving train,” he said, per the report. “We can step off the tracks, but we have to take action. We can’t sit back and say that will never happen.”
As far as the big picture of water use in the U.S., reports from the U.S. Geological Survey are especially useful. These reports represent the longest record of water use data in the U.S.
Thermoelectric power, irrigation withdrawals, and public-supply withdrawals represent 90 percent of total water withdrawals in the U.S., according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The trends in withdrawals for these purposes are as follows:
Thermoelectric power decreased 18 percent between 2010 and 2015, the largest percent decline of all categories.
The “carbon” (often called “charcoal”) that is used for water treatment is made from a variety of raw materials. Someone has said that filter carbon can be made from anything that contains carbon, even peanut butter. Most filter carbon is made from coal–bituminous, sub-bituminous, lignite–and from nut shells, especially coconut shells.
Some of the characteristics that are considered by filter makers when choosing raw materials for the carbon products are:
Surface area – square meters of surface per gram of carbon. The surface area determines how much adsorption can take place and what types of contaminants the carbon can take onto its surface.
Iodine Number – indicates the ability of the carbon to adsorb small, low molecular weight organic molecules, like volatile organic chemicals.
Molasses Number – indicates the ability of the carbon to adsorb large, high molecular weight organic molecules, like colors.
Bulk Density – indicates the density as pounds per square foot in a column. In general, the higher the density, the more surface area available for adsorption.
Water Quality Association training materials provide such a good explanation of how these four parameters apply to carbon suitability that we can’t resist borrowing it.
The inside surface of the activated carbon particle can be viewed as a large parking lot for organic molecules. Further, one can view the large molecules as semitrucks, and the small organic molecules as compact cars. Using this viewpoint, it is easy to illustrate a number of things. First, if most of the pores in the activated carbon are micropores (small parking spaces), the semitrucks are going to have a difficult time moving inside the parking lot, and they will have difficulty finding a parking site which fits. But, the compact cars will have an easy time. (This corresponds to a high iodine number.) Second, if the pores are mostly macropores (large parking spaces), the semitrucks will be able to get around fine, but it will be an extremely inefficient way to park compact cars. (This corresponds to a high molasses number.) Third, if there are only a few roads connecting the various areas inside the parking lot, the cars will all pile up, and the roads will act as a bottleneck. Ultimately, a large number of small cars can be parked, but the parking lot will fill slowly. This is what happens if there is not a suitable mix of micropores (small spaces) and macropores (big spaces).
So, activated carbons made from lignite coal tend to have large pores (macropores) and make good parking spaces for big trucks, like tannins.
Carbons made from coconut shells have very small pores (micropores) and are especially good parking spaces for very small molecules like VOCs, which are the compact cars of the organic chemical world.
But over the years, the most widely used carbon material of all is bituminous coal, because bituminous carbon has big pores and little pores and a lot of mid-sized pores (mesopores) that are just right for parking the great many average-sized family sedans, SUVs, and pickups. In other words, bituminous carbon is widely used because it works pretty well for just about anything. Bituminous coal based activated carbons are frequently a good first choice for general dechlorination and reducing the concentration of a large range of organics.
All carbons, by the way, work well for removing chlorine and even chloramine, although contact time with the carbon needs to be about twice as long for chloramine as for chlorine. (Specially processed carbon called “catalytic carbon,” which is available in coal- or coconut-based, is much better at chloramine removal than standard carbon.) All carbons work well for taste/odor improvement, and we find no scientific basis to support the common belief that coconut shell carbons make water taste better than other carbons.
There are other considerations, of course, that are left out of the parking lot method for choosing carbon. An important one for residential users is a test called Ball-Pan Hardness. It puts a numerical value on the hardness of the carbon–how much banging around it will take before it breaks down. In this test coconut shell carbon always comes out way ahead of bituminous. This is significant for tank-style residential filters because when carbon breaks down because of the rolling and tumbling of repeated backwashing it gets into service lines. Think of it as the coconut shell parking lot having tougher walls and posts to withstand the banging it gets from those wild compact car drivers.
Carbon made from peanut butter, by the way, fares poorly on the Ball-Pan Hardness test but has an excellent Molasses number and great Surface Area.
Compact Retention Tanks
Advanced Retention Tank, outperforms tanks twice its size by relying on enhanced mixing strategies.
Retention tanks play a vital role in water treatment. Their main function is simply to “retain” water being treated long enough for the treatment process to take place. Water treatment chemicals need residence time to do their job. Chlorine, for example, does not work by magic. Whether it is used to control pathogens or perform reactions that facilitate removal of such contaminants as iron and manganese, chlorine usually needs several minutes of contact time with the targeted contaminant. The function of the retention tank is to provide that time.
In residential water treatment, retention tanks of 80 to 120 gallons are commonly installed after the chlorine injection point to allow chlorine time to mix thoroughly with the water and do its work. Oxidizers like ozone and hydrogen peroxide need less time and are used with smaller retention tanks or sometimes with no retention tank at all.
Large tanks are expensive to ship and take up space. A conventional 120 gallon retention tank, for example, is 24″ in diameter x 80″ high. It has to be transported by motor freight, occupies lots of floor space, and typically has a connection size that has to be reduced for use with standard 1″ residential piping. Getting such a tank through a tight door or down stairs into a basement can be a challenge.
There are some new tanks on the market that really fill a need. While they aren’t quite the mythical tank that’s bigger on the inside than on the outside, they go a long way in that direction. They require half the floor space of conventional holding tanks and can be set in place without a fork lift.
The new style retention tanks are smaller, easier to transport and generally easier to install. They require a fraction of the floor space of conventional tanks and have been shown to outperform tanks that are much larger in size.
The secret is the inclusion of inner mixing and swirl chambers that can reduce a drop of water to hundreds of micro bubbles, allowing chemical reactions to take place five times as fast as with conventional retention tanks. In a sense, they are tanks with mixing enhancers built into the tank rather than installed externally, like static mixers, for example.
Inner Swirl Chambers and Mixers blend treatment chemicals with the water quickly to cut retention time significantly.
The tanks in the table below all use 1″ in/out ports and have a 3/4″ blow-down valve installed at the bottom of the tank for easy clean-out.
Of the tanks listed below, the 12″ unit is recommended for most residential chlorine applications. The smaller tank is for use with ozone and hydrogen peroxide or very low-flow chlorine applications.
Standard, Single-Chamber Tanks
Part Number, Description
Equivalent Conventional Tank Size
WH426 – Compact Retention Tank, 10″ X 47″
WH420 – Compact Retention Tank, 12″ X 48″ (12″ x 60″ full size including base and cap.)
These work for most residential applications. Larger tanks are available, including enhanced versions with multiple mixing chambers. Please call for information and pricing for larger models.
The tanks on this page are at present “call to order” products that will soon be on our main website.
To call to order, or for more information: 940 382 3814.
Wash Your Clothes in Cold Water
by McKinley Corbley
Washing your clothes in cold water may seem counterintuitive to everything you’ve learned in the laundry room, but there are a host of benefits that come from turning down the heat on your washing machine.
Using cold water isn’t just better for your clothes and your wallet – it’s also better for the environment.
90% of the energy used in a typical washing machine goes towards heating the water. The other 10% is simply used to power the motor. According to Business Insider, washing machine manufacturers have spent the last 15 years improving their designs so their products can clean laundry more efficiently while still meeting hot water use standards that have been set by the Department of Energy.
As the manufacturers improved their designs, laundry detergent companies improved their recipes so their products could work more efficiently with cold water.
“Front-loaders and high-efficiency top-loaders run normal cycles 10 percent cooler than agitator washers, and the ‘warm’ wash temperature in the U.S. has declined by 15 degrees over the past 15 years,” Tracey Long, communications manager for Proctor & Gamble’s fabric care products in North America, told the news outlet.
“Traditional detergent enzymes can be sluggish in cold water so we worked to create a mix of surfactants and enzymes that deliver cleaning performance in cold water across all product lines,” she added.
So unless you’re washing fabrics that have been used by sick people, or you’re doing a load of dirty diapers, washing dirty clothes in cold water is just as efficient as using hot. According to Christine Dimmick, the author of “Detox Your Home”, you can add a half-cup of white vinegar to a load of smelly laundry to get the odor out. She also says you can add a little dose of essential oil if you’re adverse to the smell of vinegar.
Additionally, cold water is better for the longevity of your clothing, as it keeps them from wearing out, shrinking, or bleeding color.
If the average American washed 4 out of 5 of their laundry loads in cold water, they could save up to 864 pounds of emissions from the atmosphere every year, says Cold Water Saves. That’s the equivalent of planting .34 acres of trees in the US.
Plus, using hot water accounts for roughly $265 worth of electricity for the average American annually, in comparison to cold water only costing about $16.
Gazette technical writer Pure Water Annie describes a landmark moment in the history of water's role in disease.
Waterborne diseases like infectious hepatitis, bacterial dysentery, cholera, and giardiasis were common until fairly recently. Throughout the world, health impacts were staggering. Entire villages in Europe were wiped out by plagues in the 11th and 12th centuries. In 1848 and 1849 in a single cholera epidemic alone, 53,000 people died in London.
Dr. John Snow’s 1854 Pump Study is a landmark in the development of epidemiology (the study of infectious diseases).
The Broad Street Pump Findings
Dr. John Snow, a London obstetrician, became interested in the cause and transmission of cholera after witnessing severe outbreaks of the disease in the 1830s and 1840s. In 1849 he published a pamphlet that suggested that cholera was transmitted by contaminated drinking water. Many theories about the cause of cholera were in circulation at the time, and Dr. Snow’s polluted water theory was not widely accepted. The then-dominant theory was the miasma theory that stated that diseases such as cholera or the Black Death were caused by a noxious form of “bad air.” This was a short time before Pasteur’s “germ theory” became popular.
In 1854 Dr. Snow carefully plotted the locations of the illness and compared his findings to the subscriber lists of two private companies that provided water for London. His research showed that cholera occurred with greater frequency among the customers of one of the companies–the one that drew its water from the lower Thames river which was contaminated by London sewage. The other company used upper Thames water, which was less polluted.
Dr. Snow’s maps indicated a strong correlation between cholera cases and the proximity to the intersection of Cambridge and Broad Streets. The obvious conclusion was that the main cause of the cholera epidemic was the water drawn from a community pump on Broad Street.
Although few at the time believed Dr. Snow’s theory, the handle was removed from the pump to prevent further use of the water and the plague of cholera was broken.
Both the pump and its handle are on public display today and Dr. Snow’s discovery remains a landmark achievement in public health.
Reference: Thomas V. Cech: Principles of Water Resources: History, Development, Management, and Policy. (John Wiley and Sons, 2005).