In this very hot summer Occasional,you'll hear grim news about tariffs, MCLs for PFOAs, wildfires, red tide, fracking, melting ice, chlorpyrifos, infrastructure failure, and reversals of water rule reversals. Then, there are polyphosphates, dissolved oxygen, seals and spacers, water on the moon, old wives' tales, dying fish, the paradox of "efficient" irrigation methods, biofilm in pipes, and, as always, there is much, much more.
There are currently two bills before the US Congress that would require the EPA to establish MCLs for PFOA and PFOS chemicals.
It hurts when one of the things they've always told you turns out to be untrue. Just as we're getting over the news that the commandment to drink exactly eight glasses of water a day isn't in either the Bible or the Constitution, we now hear that the recommendation to flush your tap for half a minute or more before drinking to clear out lead may be bad advice. When someone finally got around to testing the practice, they found that it not only doesn't help, but it may be harmful. More from Water Online.
Some commonly used water treatment resins will be among the items from China subject to 25% tariffs that will go into effect late in August. Price increases for some products are expected.
The American Society of Civil Engineers gives the nation's drinking water infrastructure a D grade. There are 240,000 water main breaks across the county each year, and 6 billion gallons of treated water are lost each year to leaking pipes. An estimated $105 billion is needed to upgrade our country's drinking water and wastewater systems.
One of the effects wildfires have on water quality is to leave behind a lot of organic carbon. When this excess carbon gets into the water supply, it eventually interacts with chlorine when the water is disinfected, thus creating carcinogenic disinfection byproducts which are EPA-regulated contaminants. The logical conclusion is that wildfires will cause more and more cities to switch from chlorine to chloramine as their main disinfectant to avoid production of EPA-regulated DBPs.
The Baltimore city council voted to submit to voters a charter amendment that would ban the privatization of the city's water supply. Passage would make Baltimore the largest US city to prohibit the sale or lease of its water system.
President Donald Trump took to Twitter in recent days to discuss water policy in a series of baffling posts about California wildfires in which he seemed to blame fires on "water from the North being diverted into the Pacific Ocean."
It is estimated that it will cost $177 million over two decades to replace lead water service lines across Indiana. At one time, there were believed to have been as many as 50,000 lead service lines around the state.
For the first time, scientists have found what they say is definitive evidence of water ice on the surface of the moon. According to NASA, having a readily available source of water on the moon's surface would make it easier to explore and stay on the moon.
Florida's governor declared a state of emergency because of the red tide that has made breathing difficult for locals, scared away tourists, and strewn popular beaches with the stinking carcasses of fish, eels, and other sea creatures. Seven counties from Tampa south to the Everglades are inlcuded in the declaration.
A new study shows that between 2011 and 2016 the per well water use for hydraulic fracturing increased by 770%! Full study here.
The Guardian reported that the sea off the north coast of Greenland which has ice so thick it was expected to resist rising temperatures, has experienced record temperatures this summer. The region hit a record high of 62 degrees Fahrenheit. This summer's warm winds have "pushed the ice farther away from the coast than ever before."
A South Carolina court has put a hold on the Trump administration's efforts to nullify the Waters of the United States rule, delaying the planned August 16 implementation in 26 states. It now appears that setting the Clean Water Rule aside will be much more difficult than previously expected. Details.
An interesting new study reveals the paradox that water saving irrigation methods actually cause farmers to consume more water. Details from Science Magazine.
The Evolution of High Quality Drinking Water in the US
1911 Water Fountain
Probably the most spectacular water event in 2014, a year of drought and controversy over fracking, was the chemical leaking into West Virginia’s Elk River. Ten thousand gallons of 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol (MCHM), a chemical used to clean coal, contaminated the water source.
This incident in Charleston, WV served as the starting point of an excellent article on “The Politics of Drinking Water” by Anya Groner. Groner’s article takes a look at the history of America’s drinking water laws and customs.
We often think of advances in drinking water purity beginning with chlorination. We forget about steps to prevent water-borne diseases like the evolutionary jump from shared public drinking cups to the “bubbler” and other very successful strategies like moving the water uptake point away from human pollution found near a lakeshore to a point farther out in the lake.
Here are some excerpts from Anna Groner’s article:
Most Americans take cheap, safe drinking water for granted. Globally, one out of 10 people can’t access clean water. Some 1,400 children die each day from water-related diseases. Unless there’s a spill or equipment failure, these numbers exclude U.S. residents. Across the 50 states, 155,000 public water systems treat, filter, and deliver 100 gallons per person per day, all for the low cost of less than 1 cent per gallon.
Contaminant-free drinking water hasn’t always been part of the American experience. Until the early 1900s, shared public cups accompanied most drinking fountains. Cholera, typhoid fever, dysentery, and food poisoning from coliform bacteria—all potentially fatal—spread from mouth to cup and back again. Diarrhea was rampant. Not until 1899, when Kohler Water Works invented the Bubbler, which pumped a continuous flow of water an inch into the air, did a spout replace the cup. To partake, drinkers stooped over the copper basin and slurped. What wasn’t sucked up dripped down the nozzle. Clean water mingled with saliva. Though an improvement over the public cup, bacteria still flourished.
Humans weren’t the only creatures to suffer waterborne illness. In the late 19th century, 100,000 horses populated New York City’s streets, producing 26,000 gallons of urine daily. Concerned with dehydration, early chapters of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals advocated for the erection of “fountains for man and beast,” with large, street-side basins for horses, sidewalk basins for “the sons of men,” and low spouts for dogs. Glanders, an equine disease now eradicated in North America, proliferated. Lesions formed in the infected horses’ respiratory tracts, causing fevers; coughing; and, ultimately, septicemia (an inflammation of the blood). Within days of exposure, horses died. On occasion, the bacterium crossed species’ lines, taking the lives of cats, dogs, goats, and men.
Despite health hazards, drinking fountains became a fashionable social project. Prominent citizens appealed to city governments to build fountains “for the convenience of street passengers,” and the growing temperance movement boosted the cause. In 1859, a doctor named A. K. Gardner warned the Common Council of New York City that, “Men, and women, too… resort to drinking saloons and bar-rooms where they must ‘take a little something’ for the sake of a glass of water.” A New York Times editorial from the same year argued, “intemperance should be arrested… by putting fresh, good water freely within the reach of the wayfarer.” Water and sewerage boards, church temperance clubs, men’s associations, and tree planting societies took up the cause by writing letters, holding meetings, and raising money.
The ensuing fountains ranged from purely functional to “handsome bronze and marble affair[s]” designed more to flaunt wealth and memorialize family names than to quench public thirst. Rich patrons bequeathed fountains in their wills, and young people collected change to support upkeep. Newspapers supported this fetishization, printing the locales of new fountains alongside lists of prestigious attendees at inaugural festivities.
In 1892, when the Chicago World’s Fair coincided with a devastating typhoid outbreak, clean water became a matter of national safety. In the two years prior, Chicago suffered more typhoid-related deaths than any other city in the world. To protect the fair’s 27 million guests from infection, engineers designed plumbing that extended four miles into Lake Michigan where they hoped the water was contagion-free. Additional supplies were piped in from Waukesha, Wisconsin, and sold for a penny per glass. The innovations worked. When the fair opened to the public in 1893, infection rates dropped and the outbreak receded.
By 1900, germ theory—the belief that microscopic pathogens travel through air and water—took hold. New sanitation methods promised to eliminate these invisible threats. Redesigned Bubblers included arc projection, separating clean water from run-off, and the first disinfectant, a continuous dilute solution of chloride of lime, was added to the Boonton Reservoir in 1908, providing sterile, disease-free water to Jersey City. Nationwide, municipal treatment centers followed suit. Though gastroenteritis and norovirus infections occasionally broke out, germ-free water became the norm.
As tap water became safer, drinking fountains provided a staging ground for white Americans to act out fears of racial contamination. The rhetoric of sanitation—maintaining purity against an insidious threat—was used to justify Jim Crow laws. From 1876-1965, alongside hospitals, trains, lunch counters, voting booths, and highway passing lanes, drinking fountains became sites of Black exclusion. “White Only,” “Colored Only,” or simply “Colored” signs directed traffic. A 1963 pro-segregation speech titled “The Message from Mississippi” argued that separate fountains protected white citizens from “exposure” to bad morals, poor education, and improper hygiene: “There are many Negroes, of course, who have reached plateaus of citizenship. They are personally clean, have high morals and are educated. However, they are still in the minority.” In 1964, the Civil Rights Act mandated “equal enjoyment … of public accommodation,” ending segregated fountains and setting precedent for the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, which legislated spout height and knee clearance to enable wheelchair access.
Although public water fountains have become more inclusive, they’ve also grown less desirable. Bottled water, the fastest-growing drink product in the U.S., is now the preferred way to hydrate.
The anthropologist Martha Kaplan suggests that this “bottlemania” reflects post-9/11 skepticism of federally-protected water supplies. Participants in her study of American water consumption cited unclean pipes, pollution, unsavory smells, bad tastes, and fluoridation as reasons for preferring the corporate-produced, single-serve water bottle. In the Great Recession, Kaplan notes, “Bottled water [was] the only luxury people [could] still afford.”
Besides portability, bottled water offers few advantages over the fountain. Many popular brands—including Aquafina and Dasani—simply fill bottles with tap water. The difference in taste, when there is a difference, is most often caused by the disinfection process. Public treatment plants use chlorine while bottled water companies tend to adopt more costly methods: ultra violet light or ozonation. Not only is single-serve bottled water more expensive than gasoline—averaging $7.50 a gallon—the petroleum used to create the plastic of the bottle and the carbon released during its shipment incur environmental costs. Student organizations such as “Tap That” at Vassar College and “Take Back The Tap” at the University of Nevada attempt to reduce plastic bottle consumption. So far, over ninety colleges have restricted bottled water sales. Last March, San Francisco became the first city to create policy on the topic by banning distribution of single-serve, single-use bottled water on public properties.
Bottled water backlash has renewed enthusiasm for old-fashioned drinking fountains. Since 2013, the EPA has partnered with mayors to “reinvigorat[e] our nation’s supply” of these “iconic symbols of public health and welfare in our communities.” Companies have taken note. Both Elkay EZ and Halsey Taylor sell affordable retrofits: no-touch, sensor-activated spigots that turn neglected fountains into “HydroBoost” stations where passersby can top off reusable bottles. While consumers pause for their refill, electronic counters track how many plastic bottles they’ve diverted from landfills. Watching the display uptick feels good, akin to the sensation produced by a Facebook like or a favorited tweet.
Unlike oil, water is a renewable resource, replenished by rain and snowmelt. Even so, environmentalists warn that we’re tapping out our supply. Agriculture, industry, and household use deplete ecosystems faster than they can replenish. Many of the world’s biggest rivers—including the Indus, the Ganges, and the Colorado—often dry to sand before reaching the ocean. The Baltic Sea, central Lake Erie, the lower Mississippi River, and portions of the Gulf of Mexico are so polluted by fertilizers and sewage that they’ve become oxygen-deprived and are unable to support life.
As we near peak water, hydroclimatologist Peter Gleick warns that skirmishes over resources will intensify. “Water can be—and often is—a source of cooperation rather than conflict,” Gleick notes, “but conflicts over water are real.” Already Gleick’s organization, the Pacific Institute, has created a 5000-year timeline of water-related conflict. Highlights include Assyrians poisoning enemy wells with rye ergot in the 6th century B.C., the World War II targeting and destruction of Soviet hydroelectric dams, the U.S. bombing of North Vietnamese irrigation canals in the 1960s, and riots in Cape Town, South Africa in 2012 sparked by insufficient water supplies. By 2025, scientists predict that one in five humans will live in regions suffering from water scarcity, areas with insufficient resources to meet water usage demands.
The generous “five-year warranty” on standard Fleck control valves doesn’t mean that the valve will be replaced or repaired for anything at all that goes wrong during the warranty period. In fact, most things that go wrong with filter and softener valves are regarded as normal wear and tear and are totally the responsibility of the owner.
Parts that are obviously defective are replaced. Examples would be a failed display screen or a burned-out transformer or a motor that stops working. In these cases, though, it is normally up to the owner to diagnose the problem and do the repair. You may have to send in the faulty part, pay shipping charges yourself, and wait for the replacement part.
City Units vs. Well Units
Filters and softeners running on clean city water normally sail through the warranty period and last years beyond without a problem. Units treating challenging well water issues like iron, manganese, heavy sediment, or extreme hardness, on the other hand, can be expected to need some maintenance from time to time. Harsh operating conditions cause problems that are regarded as normal wear and tear.
Seals and Spacers
The most common control valve issue that well water users face is replacement of seals and spacers. The seals and spacers surrounding the inner piston are vulnerable to damage by adverse water conditions. If you are treating iron, you can be certain that you will eventually have seal and spacer replacement to perform. Seals and spacers are non-warranty parts regarded as part of the “normal wear and tear” issue regardless of how long they last. Do not expect to be given replacement parts or to be reimbursed for labor charges.
Seal and spacer replacements for the three most popular Fleck residential control valves vary in difficulty. All can be repaired without removing the control valve from its tank, but some are much easier than others.
In order of replacement difficulty:
Fleck 2510: Special tools are not absolutely required, but highly recommended. Both extraction and replacement of seals and spacers can be difficult without owning the “puller” and “stuffer” tools sold by Fleck.
Fleck 5600: No special tools needed and the job can be done by anyone with normal handyman skills.
Fleck 5810: Fleck’s newest valve is easiest to service. Seals and spacers are sold in a cartridge format and are easy to replace. No special tools needed.
Seal and Spacer replacement is explained in most Fleck control valve manuals and online videos are plentiful. Parts are also easy to find.
Seals and Spacers are relatively inexpensive parts ($20 and up).
Industry Knew About Dangers of PFASs Decades Ago, But Kept It Secret
Research on the dangerous health effects of perfluorinated alkylate substances (PFASs)—chemicals widely used in everything from carpets and nonstick cookware to firefighting foams—was kept hidden for decades, according to a new editorial by Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor of environmental health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Grandjean wrote that industry-sponsored animal studies documented PFAS toxicity in 1978 but were not shared with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency until 2000. This delay prevented the development of proper guidelines for safe levels of the chemicals in drinking water, according to Grandjean.
PFAS have been linked to a range of health problems, including testicular and kidney cancers, decreased birth weight, and thyroid disease. While most companies have stopped producing two forms of PFASs— perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS)—the chemicals persist in drinking water systems, and new forms of PFASs are raising concerns.
“It’s frustrating to be an environmental health researcher and spend years and years to characterize the exposures and the adverse health effects of these compounds, only to discover that most of that information was already known but had been kept secret,” Grandjean told Environmental Health News.
Grandjean’s revelation underlines the basic truth that allowing industry to voluntarily regulate itself does not work. Strong governmental oversight is essential.
Dissolved Oxygen: An Important Constituent of Water
by Pure Water Annie
Gazette technical writer Pure Water Annie explains how oxygen gets into water and why it needs to be there.
Our atmosphere consists of around 21 percent oxygen. Water, however, has only a fraction of 1 percent.
Oxygen dissolves into water at the point where water and air meet.
Dissolved oxygen, called DO, is made up of microscopic bubbles of oxygen gas in water. This dissolved oxygen is critical for the support of plant life and fish.
According to one authority, “DO is produced by diffusion from the atmosphere, aeration of the water as it passes over falls and rapids, and as a waste product of photosynthesis. It is affected by temperature, salinity, atmospheric pressure, and oxygen demand from aquatic plants and animals.”
Dissolved oxygen is measured as percent saturation or as parts per million (ppm) or milligrams per liter (mg/L). As the chart below indicates, oxygen dissolves easily into cold water, not so easily into warm, and not at all into boiling water.
In water treatment, a high level of dissolved oxygen can make water taste better, but it can also make water corrosive to metal pipes. Dissolved oxygen is a necessary ingredient of many water treatment processes. The use of catalytic carbon to remove iron, for example, requires a minimum of about 4.0 ppm of dissolved oxygen in the source water. Birm, the popular iron removal medium, will not work without sufficient dissolved oxygen.
Oxygen can be added to water by simple aeration techniques which involve exposing the water to air. Ozone is also used in water treatment to greatly increase the oxygen content of water.
Glasses show how oxygen leaves water. Milky water on the left with high level of dissolved oxygen. On the right, the air has gone back to the atmosphere and the water is clear. Often, a film will be left at the surface or “skin” at the top surface of the water. When cloudy water clears from bottom to top the discoloration is harmless air. Water cloudy from silt clears from top to bottom and leaves residue at the bottom of the glass.
Trump Reversal of Chlorpyrifos Ban Reversed by Court
A federal appeals court ruled August 9 that the Trump administration endangered public health by keeping a widely used pesticide on the market despite extensive scientific evidence that even tiny levels of exposure can harm babies' brains.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ordered the EPA to remove chlorpyrifos from sale in the United States within 60 days.
A coalition of farmworkers and environmental groups sued last year after then EPA chief Scott Pruitt reversed an Obama-era effort to ban chlorpyrifos, which is widely sprayed on citrus fruit, apples, and other crops. The attorneys general for several states joined the case against the EPA, including California, New York, and Massachusetts.
Chlorpyrifos was created by Dow Chemical Co. in the 1960s. It remains among the most widely used agricultural pesticides in the United States, wiht the chemical giant selling about 5 million pounds domestically each year.
Chlorpyrifos belongs to a family of organophosphate pesticides that are chemically similar to a nerve gas developed by Nazi Germany before World War II. As a result of its wide use as a pesticide over the past four decades, traces of chlorpyrifos are commonly found in sources of drinking water. A 2012 study at the University of California at Berkeley found that 87 percent of umbilical-cord blood samples tested from newborn babies contained detectable levels of the pesticide.
In October 2015, the Obama administration proposed banning the pesticide's use on food. A risk assesment memo issued by nine EPA scientists concluded:
"There is a breadth of information available on the potential adverse neurodevelopmental effects in infants and children as a result of prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos."
Federal law requires the EPA to ensure that pesticides used on food in the US are safe for human consumption - especially children, who are typically far more sensitive to the negative effects of poisons.
Shortly after his appointment by President Donald Trump in 2017, Pruitt announced he was reversing the Obama administration effort to ban chlorpyrifos, adopting Dow's position that the science showing chlorpyrifos is harmful, was inconclusive, and flawed.
The Associated Press reported in June 2017 that Pruitt announced his agency's reversal on chlorpyrifos just 20 days after his official schedule showed a meeting with Dow CEO Andrew Liveris. At the time, Liveris headed a White House manufacturing working group and his company had written a $1 million check to help underwrite Trump's inaugural festivities.
Pruitt resigned July 6 amid more than a dozen ethics investigations.
Little information is available about point of use treatment of chlorpyrifos in water, but treatment with granular activated carbon (GAC) has been used with some success in wastewater treatment. Chlorpyrifos has also been reduced by ozone and coagulation. Some states now have established standards for chlorpyrifos. Florida, for example, has a legal maximum of only 21 parts per billion.
Summary: Many city drinking water systems add softening agents to keep plumbing free of pipe-clogging mineral buildup. According to new research, these additives may amplify the risk of pathogen release into drinking water by weakening the grip that bacteria - like the kind reponsible for Legionnaire's disease - have on pipe interiors.