The Pure Water Occasional for December 16, 2013

In this issue you’ll hear how artificial sweeteners are gumming up Ontario's Grand River,  how a lot of chlorine can be less effective than not much, and how drawing water from a well causes the sea level to rise.  Then there are two Christmas stories from Pure Water Gazettes past wherein Tiger Tom defends the honor of plastic Christmas trees and numerical wizard B. Sharper retells a story you know but with an ending you don't know.   And as always, you’ll find the best in of the week’s world water news.

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Ontario’s Grand River loaded with artificial sweeteners, study finds

by Ivan Semeniuk, Science Reporteer

Ontario’s Grand River is so chock full of artificial sweeteners that scientists say the chemicals can be used to track the movement of treated waste in the region’s municipal water supplies.

Artificial sweeteners are used as sugar substitutes in diet drinks and foods.

They impart no calories because they are not readily broken down in the human digestive system, so they tend to exit the body intact.

But that persistence also means the sweeteners linger long after they are flushed away.

They survive processing in waste-water treatment plants, find their way into the environment and reappear in drinking water.

As part of a long-term study, scientists with Environment Canada and the University of Waterloo repeatedly sampled 23 sites along the Grand River system as well as household taps.

Four artificial sweeteners – acesulfame, saccharin, cyclamate and sucralose – were detected, in some cases at higher concentrations than reported anywhere else in the world.

At one site, the researcher calculated that the equivalent of 90,000 to 190,000 cans of diet soda were being consumed each day to account for the quantity of acesulfame they measured.

“If you think about all those cans of pop floating down the river, it’s quite an image,” said Sherry Schiff, a biogeochemist at the University of Waterloo and a co-author of the study, published Wednesday in the open access journal PLOS ONE.

Nearly one million people live in the region, which includes the communities of Kitchener-Waterloo, Guelph, Cambridge and Brantford.

About half of those people rely on the Grand for their drinking water.

While the sweeteners are approved for human consumption and are present in far greater concentrations in diet products, their appearance in drinking water may come as an unnerving surprise to some. The main aim of the study was to see how well the chemicals can be used to keep tabs on where wastewater ends up.

Because of its stability, acesulfame in particular “seems to be perhaps the most ideal tracer of wastewater found so far,” said John Spoelstra, a research scientist at  the National Water Research Institute in Burlington, Ont., and lead author on the study.

Armed with such a tracer, he added, scientists can better spot where human waste is coming into a watershed – not only from municipal water treatment plants, but from septic systems that may be leaking into groundwater. The changing concentrations of the sweeteners can also be compared with that of pharmaceuticals or other chemicals that may pose a health risk but whose pathway and evolution in the water system is not well understood.

“We need a tracer to be able to be able to distinguish dilution effects from actual removal and degradation effects,” Dr. Spoelstra said.

He added that while other researchers have looked at artificial sweeteners in drinking water systems, this is the first time a study has documented their movement on the scale of an entire watershed.

“We’re looking at how sweeteners are accumulating in that water as you move downstream and more and more wastewater is coming into the system,” Dr. Spoelstra said.

The authors stressed that more research is needed to understand the long-term impact of the sweeteners on the environment. Acesulfame, for example, can break down under exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun, producing compounds that are more toxic than the sweetener itself.

The Grand River is the largest Ontario River that drains into Lake Erie.

 Source: The Globe and Mail.

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Why More Isn’t Always Better When You’re Sanitizing A Water Well

by Pure Water Annie

Pure Water Gazette Technical Writer Pure Water Annie clears the water on the troublesome issue of “shocking” a water well.

When a residential water well is “shocked” with chlorine to rid it of bacterial contaminants,  it is usually assumed that just dumping some bleach down the well will do the job.  This article will show you why quantity matters when it comes to adding chlorine to a well and why it is important to follow one of the many good  instruction sheets on well sanitation or to use a chlorine product especially designed for the task.

When chlorine is added to water, it produces hypochlorous acid (HOCl) and hychlorite ions (OCl-).  Hypochlorous acid is by far the most effective and quickest  chlorine ingredient for sanitizing.  It is 80 times as fast and efficient as OCl-.

What is often not considered is that hypochlorous acid is produced most abundantly at a relatively low pH.  Between pH 5 and 7, chlorine as hypochlorous acid acts mainly as a sanitizer–what you need for killing bacteria.  As the pH goes up and the water becomes more alkaline, chlorine begins to act more as an oxidizer (what you need for precipitating iron or manganese).

The problem is that when you add calcium hypochlorite (chlorine pellets) or sodium hypochlorite (liquid bleach), you also raise the pH of the water. As the pH goes up, the chlorine loses its sanitizing power.  At pH 9, the chlorine is mainly an oxidizer and will not kill bacteria efficiently.

In a word, over-chlorinating  raises the pH to the point where chlorine does not kill bacteria.

HOCl predominates between pH levels of about 4 and 7.  After 7 it drops of rapidly.

Although acids such as muriatic acid or sodium bisulfate are sometimes used to keep pH low and thus enhance the sanitizing power of chlorine, for homeowners whose wells are in the normal pH range it makes more sense to simply avoid over-chlorinating by following the dosage and procedures put forth by experts in the field.

Using Water from Wells Leads to Sea Level Rise

Science Daily reports that as people pump groundwater for irrigation, drinking water, and industrial uses, the water doesn’t just seep back into the ground — it also evaporates into the atmosphere, or runs off into rivers and canals, eventually emptying into the world’s oceans. This water adds up, and a new study calculates that by 2050, groundwater pumping will cause a global sea level rise of about 0.8 millimeters per year.

“Other than ice on land, the excessive groundwater extractions are fast becoming the most important terrestrial water contribution to sea level rise,” said Yoshihide Wada, with Utrecht University in the Netherlands and lead author of the study. In the coming decades, he noted, groundwater contributions to sea level rise are expected to become as significant as those of melting glaciers and ice caps outside of Greenland and the Antarctic.

Read the rest of the story.

This Week's World Water News Highlights

Scientists turn their gaze toward tiny threats to Great Lakes. Tiny plastic beads used in hundreds of toiletries like facial scrubs and toothpastes are slipping through water treatment plants and turning up by the tens of millions in the Great Lakes. There, fish and other aquatic life eat them along with the pollutants they carry — which scientists fear could be working their way back up the food chain to humans.


Reeling in the trawlers: EU takes on overfishing. Something amazing is happening in the seas off Germany's coasts, where most species were long considered overfished. But now some stocks are recovering at an astonishing rate. Experts are seeing a significant upward trend in the North Sea, and even more so in the Baltic Sea.


A vast river and the legal woes at its banks. Researchers say the Rio Grande is one of the most studied and controversial bodies of water in North America. But with various levels of government in two countries making decisions that influence it, the Rio Grande has become the subject of interstate and international legal battles that have intensified during the continuing drought.


Sand wars come to New England coast. Sand is becoming New England coastal dwellers’ most coveted and controversial commodity as they try to fortify beaches against rising seas and severe erosion caused by violent storms.


Battle of the bottom feeder: US, Vietnam in catfish fight. Vietnamese imports now make up 60 percent of the U.S. catfish market and helped drive more than half of the American catfish farms out of business. And U.S. catfish farmers have serious food safety concerns about the Vietnamese fish, which they say are raised with antibiotics in polluted water


Louisiana wetlands tattered by industrial canals, not just river levees. Over the grand sweep of time, sediments carried down from continents by mighty rivers like the Mississippi have built vast deltas of land and marsh along coastlines.


California to add diisononyl phthalate to list of carcinogens. A California scientific advisory panel has cleared the way for the state's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment to add a common plasticizer, diisononyl phthalate, to the list of carcinogens the agency maintains under Proposition 65, the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986.


Report: Herbicides increased around Oregon lake. An analysis of documents from the state shows that private timber companies in the years 2009-2011 used an increasing amount of herbicides on private forests in rural Lane County — an area that is the focus of an Oregon state and federal investigation of residents' health complaints related to the toxins.


Which Christmas tree is greener, real or artificial? Which Christmas trees are greener — fresh trees or artificial ones? Environmental advocates say there are benefits and risks with either.


Lac-Mégantic, Quebec: How to get rid of a town’s oil stain. Six million litres of light crude spilled over, under and through Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, on July 6. Quick thinking and heroic efforts by a team of environmental experts and others kept things from getting a whole lot worse. Now they’re trying to make downtown habitable again. , December 2013.

Heavy snow could bring toxic bay algae blooms. If Maryland experiences heavy snowfall this winter, biologists predict the Chesapeake Bay could experience above-average levels of bacteria and toxic algae blooms during the summer.

Restoring life to San Francisco's long-blighted Mountain Lake. Baby pond turtles growing at the San Francisco and Oakland zoos and water plants thriving in a transplant nursery are all waiting to repopulate the Presidio's long-polluted Mountain Lake, where decades' worth of toxic sludge has finally been dredged out. ,

Learning from the Chesapeake's algae problem. Like Lake Erie, the East Coast’s Chesapeake Bay is a major attraction for beach-goers, boaters and nature enthusiasts. But the two watersheds have a common problem: Harmful algae. And Lake Erie might be able to learn from some of the similarities its problem has to the Chesapeake Bay.

Sea level and risk of flooding rising rapidly in Mid-Atlantic. During the 20th century, sea levels along the highly populated U.S. Mid-Atlantic coastline between New York and Virginia rose faster than in any other century during the past 4,300 years, according to a new study by geoscientists at Rutgers and Tufts universities.

Pollution in India takes a toll on aquatic life in 150 river stretches. Discharge of untreated water into various rivers has left 150 river stretches across India completely polluted. The level of contamination in these stretches is so high that it cannot support any aquatic life.

Ontario’s Grand River loaded with artificial sweeteners, study finds. Ontario’s Grand River is so chock full of artificial sweeteners that scientists say the chemicals can be used to track the movement of treated waste in the region’s municipal water supplies.

New York City nuclear cleanup gains steam. A radioactively contaminated block in New York, where material used in America's atom-bomb program was handled, has been proposed for inclusion in the federal Superfund cleanup program.

Wales: Dwr Cymru fined for Anglesey sewage pollution. Dwr Cymru has been fined after letting sewage flow into an Anglesey estuary unchecked for more than three months.

Hubble finds water vapor erupting from frigid surface of Jupiter's moon Europa. The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has identified water vapor venting from the south pole of Jupiter's moon Europa.

Christmas Lore from the Pure Water Gazette archive

The two items below are from earlier Pure Water Gazettes and are by two of the Gazette's regular writers, B. Sharper and Tiger Tom.   The first selection is veteran Gazette Tiger Tom’s response  an earlier article praising the environmental superiority of “real” Christmas trees as compared with “fake” plastic Christmas trees. – Hardly Waite,  Editor.

In Defense of Phony Plastic Christmas Trees

by Tiger Tom

I’ll be quick because I’m a little ashamed to be taking time to come to the defense of a plastic Christmas tree. It’s like defending Spam, or high fructose corn syrup.One, the guy from the wooden, bushy  Christmas tree industry in the National Geographic article refers to his trees as “real” and to the plastic trees as “fake.” What is so real about having a dead factory farmed tree in your living room? It isn’t any more a tree than the plastic one is.  A pretend tree in the living room  is a fake tree. Wood or plastic, it’s still a fake tree.

Two, the bushy fake tree advocate also leaves out things like the undisputed fact that  people often use plastic trees for many years. This changes the whole equation.  He assumes that everyone buys a plastic tree shipped from China, throws it away, then buys another just like it next December.  I confess that I actually know people who have plastic Christmas trees.  Several people.  And I don’t know any who pitch the tree at the end of the season so they can get next year’s upgraded model. A plastic tree is a plastic tree, and if you’ve got one you might as well stick with it. Next year’s won’t have a better operating system.

Three, the wooden tree argument just assumes, without showing any evidence, that it takes more water to produce a plastic fake tree than a wooden one.  I remain unconvinced.  Trees, especially young ones (and Christmas trees, let’s be frank, are murdered before they even reach adolescence), are very, very thirsty little guys.  And when you add in the re-use factor, it’s clear that the bushy tree water saving theory doesn’t hold water.

The bushy tree advocate also fails to mention that plastic trees don’t have to be made in China.  He says most of them are made in China.  I frankly don’t give a flip where they’re made, but if having the manufacturing pollution and water consumption in the US rather than China is really important to us, perhaps a Made In USA tree could capture the market. And if you made it out of recycled plastic, it would be a sure winner. Or who says fake trees have to be made of PVC?  Why not old automobile tires or recycled waffle irons?

The big hole in the bushy tree argument, though, is that it assumes the non-existence of the best environmental and water-saving choice of all–not having a Christmas tree. There’s not a hint in the article that a person could get by in our civilization without a Christmas tree. It’s either a plastic tree or a bushy tree.  It’s like saying it’s good to kick your dog because it’s better than kicking your sister.

Did Jesus’ family have a Christmas tree?  Of course not. It was actually a 16th century German (probably one who owned a lot of scrubby useless trees that he needed to get rid of) who invented the Christmas tree. Since that time the whole of western civilization thinks it has to rush to the Christmas tree lot as soon as the merchants start ringing the bells.

I, Tiger Tom, say Bah, Humbug!  Show some class.  Skip the fake indoor forest altogether, or decorate your potted Aloe Vera plant.

What could be weirder than having a having a big, messy fire hazard in your living room at holiday time?

The Number of Nights Before Christmas that ‘Twas: 1

by Bee Sharper

Editor’s Note:  Pure Water Gazette numerical wizard Bea Sharper writes only in the Harper’ s Index number format.  This makes fiction difficult, but you’ll see that she carries it off well in the piece below.  Hardly Waite.


Number of nights before Christmas that ’twas: 1

Number of creatures, including mice, that were stirring: 0.

Stockings that were hung by the chimney with care: 16

Approximate number of visions of sugar plums dancing in Timmy’s head: 43.

Time when Timmy settled down for his long winter’s nap: 10:30.

Number of clatters that arose on the lawn: 1.

Total number of miniature sleighs seen by Timmy when he tore open the shutters and threw up the sash: 1.

Number of tiny reindeer that were pulling the sleigh: 8.

Exact number of little old lively and quick sleigh drivers seen by Timmy: 1

Number of little round bellies the lively and quick sleigh driver with a nose like a cherry had: 1.

Total number of toys he had in his bundle when he came down Timmy’s chimney: 176.

Number of stairs Timmy quietly crept down in order to watch Jolly Old St. Nick go about his work: 14.

Number of times you’ll have to click on this link to find out what happened next: 1.

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Thank you for reading.  Please come back next week.

Places to Visit on Our Websites in the meantime

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

Sprite Shower Filters: You’ll Sing Better!”

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