Pure Water Occasional, January 6, 2018
In this wintry Occasional you'll hear a lot about cold weather and its effect on water: frozen pipes, broken water mains, frozen water towers, and even the shortage of fire-fighting water caused by dripping faucets. Then, there is long-awaited news about the effect of TAC treatment on soap suds, a lot of information about the most popular bacterium, E. coli, and the many, many chemicals currently found in drinking water. Plus, you'll learn how to take care of your well, if you have one. Learn how even the dead pollute water and how road salting is becoming an increasing water management problem. Finally, you'll find a lot of water facts, many of which you can take with a grain of salt. And, as always, there is much, much more.
Happy New Year from the Occasional
Just to show you what you're missing by not reading our back issues, the first article is a truncated piece from a 2006 Occasional. We reprint it as reminder that when it comes to water, you probably shouldn't believe everything you read, not even everything you read in the Occasional.
Water Facts Are Not Always Factual
Because the Pure Water Gazette has been collecting water facts almost since water was discovered, we’ve noticed that experts don’t always or even often agree when it comes to water. We suspect the collecting of water facts is a lot like pontificating on the origins of the universe or the dating of ancient history: there is a lot of room for error, and if you get it wrong, who is to say?
As a case in point, the Gazette’s own in-house numerical wizard B. Sharper has the following item on our front page:
Estimated number of leaks in Iraq's national water distribution system: 500,000
Percentage of the country's water supply that is lost because of these leaks: 60%
We do not know where B. got this information or for that matter how she or anyone else goes about counting the leaks in Iraq’s national water distribution system, especially amid the flying bullets. And we don’t know how B. or anyone else would keep count of the new leaks caused by the bombs of the evil ones as balanced against Halliburton’s feverish efforts to patch the holes. The little Dutch boy had only one leak to worry about, while poor George Bush is fretting with half a million or so.
The point is, when we started putting together the items below we found not just some small contradictions but some really gigantic ones. Like, for example, one assertion claims half the country’s water is sprayed onto lawns during the summer versus a later statement that all household use of water, including the watering of lawns and gardens, makes up only 1% of the country’s use of water.
With this disclaimer in mind, here are a bunch of facts about water. Let the reader beware.
Most communities lose a considerable portion of their piped water (up to 30%) in pipeline leaks, saying it is cheaper to waste than to repair or replace.
It is estimated there are as many as 500,000 leaks in Iraq’s national water distribution system and that 50% of the country’s water is lost due to these leaks.
Humans take in over 16,000 gallons of water during their lifetimes, an average of 2.5 quarts per day. (On the average, people who live to be 100 consume a lot more water than people who die at 35. This proves that water consumption goes hand in hand with longevity.)
Toilets, while consuming nearly one quarter of our municipal water supply, use over 40% more water than needed.
The United States consumes water at twice the rate of other industrialized nations.
Many homes lose more water from leaky taps than they need for cooking and drinking.
The Great Lakes, straddling the Canada-U.S. boundary, contain 25% of the world’s fresh water in lakes (tying for “first place” with Lake Baykal, Russia).
Unsanitary water, which provides a breeding ground for parasites, amoebas, and bacteria, damages the health of 1.2 billion people a year.
More than 1,000,000,000 (one billion) of the Earth’s people have to walk at least three hours to obtain drinking water.
During the summer about half of all treated water is sprayed onto lawns.
Ten gallons of water is required to manufacture one gallon of gasoline.
The composition of seawater is almost identical to the composition of blood. The main difference is that where blood contains iron, seawater contains magnesium.
A chicken is about three-fourths water and a pineapple is about four-fifths water.
1000 kilograms of water is required to grow 1 kilogram of potatoes.
Acid rain with a pH of 3.6 has 100 times the acidity of normal rain with a pH of 5.6.
Water used around the house for such things as drinking, cooking, bathing, toilet flushing, washing clothes and dishes, watering lawns and gardens, maintaining swimming pools, and washing cars accounts for only 1% of all the water used in the U.S. each year.
Of the world's total freshwater supply, over two thirds is found underground.
Half of the world’s hospital beds are occupied by people who suffer from water-borne diseases.
Water uses and consumption (in gallons):
|Shower (10 minutes)
||2 (with tap running)
||1 (with tap running)
||5-10 (per minute)
Each day humans must replace 0.6 gallons of water, some through drinking and the rest taken by the body from the foods we eat.
The United States has about 8% of the world’s renewable freshwater supply, compared with 18% for Brazil, 9% for China, and 8% for Canada.
Worldwide water withdrawals from water bodies have risen from 250 cubic meters per person (per year) in 1900 to over 700 cubic meters today.
Globally, approximately 34,000 deaths occur daily from diseases related to water, feces, and dirt. This is equivalent to 100 jumbo jets crashing daily!
In developing countries, 80% of illnesses are water-related.
One liter of oil can contaminate up to two million liters of water.
The Great Lakes constitute one of the largest systems of freshwater reservoirs on earth, with 18% of the world’s fresh surface water.
Freshwater lakes, rivers, and underground aquifers hold only 3.5% of the world’s water. By comparison, saltwater oceans and seas contain 95.1% of the world’s water supply.
Thirty percent of the earth’s fresh water exists as ice in the form of glaciers and ice caps.
One out of every three Canadians and one out of every seven U.S. residents depend on the Great Lakes for their water, using almost 37,000 gallons of water per second.
295,000 liters of water is required to produce 910 kilograms of paper.
86 300 liters of water is required to produce 910 kilograms of steel.
About 83% of our blood is water. It helps digest our food, take in oxygen, transport body wastes, and control body temperature.
Much less than 1% of the water produced at a large municipal water treatment plant is used for drinking purposes.
A five-minute shower with a standard shower head uses 26 gallons of water, whereas a five-minute shower with a low-flow shower head uses 9 gallons of water.
TAC and Soap
by Emily McBroom and Gene Franks
One of the much touted virtues of conventional water softeners is that they make soap lather better. Many a softener has been sold using in-home sales demos that fill the homeowner’s heart with visions of sudsy showers, silky-soft laundry, and big bags of money saved on soap purchases.
With the salt-free TAC units, the emphasis is usually on more mundane items like scale-free pipes and water heaters than on silky hair and spot-free dishes. We sell TAC units only with the promise that they will prevent scale buildup in pipes and appliances. As for soap performance, we always say we don’t know. Some customers have told us that soap does, in fact, lather better with TAC and some aren’t sure.
To settle this weighty question once and for all, we decided to do a quick test.
One of the conventional tests that home-demo sellers have used to impress prospective customers is the simple soap demo. It is done with a dropper bottle of tincture of green soap and a small test bottle. You put some water in the test bottle, add a drop of soap, give it a shake, and see how much suds appear in the bottle. The result is predictable: The hard water sample is suds-free and the soft water sample is topped off with a big frothy head of suds.
Here’s what our test looked like when we tested untreated tap water, water softened with a conventional softener, and water treated with a small TAC unit that we made for the test.
1. Denton municipal tap water. Mildly hard: 6 grains per gallon (Hach titration test). Soap test result: almost suds free.
2. Denton municipal tap water processed by our office water softener: Hardness = 0 grains per gallon (Hach titration test).
The result: lots of lasting suds.
3. Finally, we tested tap water treated with a small TAC unit made with Watts Scalenet (OneFlow) media, 1/4 liter in a 9.75″ X 2.5″ filter cartridge in a standard sized housing. The cartridge was rinsed for 5 minutes at 0.5 gpm, then tested. The result:
Hardness = 6 grains per gallon (standard Hach titration test). This is as expected. TAC units do not remove calcium and magnesium, which is what is being tested with a conventional hardness test.
Tested with the soap test: medium suds.
So that proves it. TAC improves soap performance. Although this is not a peer-reviewed, double blind test, and as far as we know no one has tried to verify the results, we’re satisfied that TAC-treated water makes soap lather a little bit better than tap water. (“Little bit” is a technical term that we use in testing to indicate an amount somewhere between “just a tiny bit” and “a whole lot.”)
E. Coli, the Most Popular Bacterium
We get occasional calls about tanks for large filters or softeners that lean to the side. If your tank looks like the leaning tower of Pisa, there’s an easy way to fix it.
Escherichia coli, usually known simply as E. coli, was named after its discoverer Theodor Escherich, a German doctor in the 19th century. It is part of a family of fecal bacteria called coliform. It is found in the intestines of animals and humans and will grow in a wide range of intestinal environments. A typical E. coli measures about 2 microns by 0.5 microns and is rod shaped.
When water tests are done, a test is usually first performed for coliform, and if coliform is detected, E. coli, specifically, is looked for. Water can test positive for coliform bacteria without E. coli being present. Although finding E. coli is an immediate cause for concern, most strains of E. coli are harmless. A few strains, like O157:H7, O121 and O104:H21, cause serious disease.
E. coli can infect humans not only through contaminated water but also through foods like insufficiently cooked beef, contaminated, unwashed fresh vegetables, as well as milk or juice.
Presence of E. coli in water is a strong indication that water is contaminated by human or animal feces.
Health effects of E. coli range from no symptoms to death, although in most cases infected individuals recover without medical treatment. Serious outbreaks, though not frequent in this country, are impressive. In 1999 at a county fair in New York, a well at the fair used for drinking and food preparation was contaminated by manure from a nearby animal barn. The result was two deaths, 65 people hospitalized, and more than 1,000 sickened.
The EPA considers detection of E. coli a “direct health risk,” and has set an MCL for total coliforms of zero.
Treatment of E. coli is varied. It includes ultrafiltration, nanofiltration, reverse osmosis, distillation, ultraviolet, chlorination, ozone, boiling.
Reference: Water Technology.
Rod-shaped E. coli are often about 2 microns long and half a micron across. This makes them big enough to be caught by a tight water filter.
How the Dead Pollute Water: Arsenic and Embalming
Embalmers used to pump corpses full of arsenic. Now, it is turning up in groundwater.
From the time of the Civil War to the first decade of the 20th century, arsenic was the main ingredient of embalming fluids in the United States. Arsenic does not degrade, ever, into harmless by-products, so the burial practices of the end of the 19th century and first years of the 20th have left us with significant environmental hazards.
To be clear, we aren’t talking about minute amounts of arsenic. Embalmers often had their own special fluid blend, but they usually used from as little as four ounces to as much as 12 pounds of arsenic per body.
As caskets downgrade, as they do eventually, the arsenic is picked up by water moving downward and washed into the soil or the groundwater.
Safety Tips for Well Owners
Reprinted from the Paris Beacon News.
Floods, droughts, and power outages can affect the safety of water supplies in private wells. Being prepared for the unexpected may minimize the damage, according to Steve Wilson, hydrologist at the Illinois State Water Survey, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
In the event of a flood, store a supply of clean water that you can use during and after the flood. Disconnect the power supply to your well to prevent any electrical damage. Also, plug the vent holes temporarily to keep debris out of the well.
"If flood water overtops the well, assume that the well water is contaminated," Wilson said. Once the water recedes, have your well disinfected and sampled for bacteria before using it again.
Also, inspect your wellhead to be sure no debris got into the well. This is a particular concern if the vent screen is missing. If you think there is debris, have a contractor clean and disinfect your well.
“If the water reaches your well but doesn’t overtop it, take the precaution of disinfecting your well and have samples tested before using it again,” Wilson said.
Septic systems can also be damaged or cause contamination during floods. Make sure the access points are sealed. Your septic system should have a backflow preventer ahead of the tank to keep sewage from backing up into your home during a flood. If your septic system has its own pump, be sure to shut off the power.
In droughts, private wells can go dry. In case of a shallow dug or bored well, you may not have many options to restore the water supply to your home. These wells are built in areas without significant aquifers to store water that seeps into the well slowly.
In a very dry year, such as occurred in some locations in Illinois in 2012, the water table may have dropped below the well. In this situation, one option is to have a portable water tank as a backup system.
“You can have water delivered or haul it yourself from a municipal source, and practice conserving water until the situation changes,” Wilson said.
In some locations, a deeper well might be possible. Contact the Illinois State Water Survey to find out about your options.
When a power outage occurs, the only option is to have a backup generator to keep the well pump working. Keeping the power working is particularly important in the winter for older wells in which the piping comes to the surface. Loss of power could mean frozen pipes as well, which could burst. If you have a well house, it may be possible to use a portable propane heater to keep pipes from freezing.
Water well owners interested in learning how to maintain their own wells can take the Private Well Class, a free, step-by-step online education program to help well owners understand groundwater basics, well care best practices, and how to find assistance.
Well owners will also learn how to sample their well, how to interpret sample results, and what they can do to protect their well and source water from contamination. For more information, visit the Private Well Class website (http://www.privatewellclass.org) or email email@example.com.
Source: Paris Beacon News
Trace Chemicals in Drinking Water
by Mark Brush
Editor’s Note: This Michigan Public Radio report is also available in a radio version.
Before I talk about the small bits of chemicals often found in drinking water, I want to direct some attention to the national water contamination story going on now because I think it reveals something.
The water is bad in West Virginia
The nation has its eyes on a nine-county area in West Virginia that’s under a state of emergency. A coal-processing chemical leaked into a river and poisoned the drinking water there. Cleanup is ongoing. As they attempt to flush the chemical out of their drinking water systems, officials are trying to determine what level of the chemical is safe.
Ken Ward Jr. of the West Virgina Gazette reports that local and federal officials are saying that “1 part per million” of crude 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol (the coal processing chemical) is safe for people to drink.
But Ward is having a tough time finding out what they based that number on:
When asked for more information about where the number came from, Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Karen Bowling pointed to the “material safety data sheet,” or MSDS, from Eastman, the maker of the chemical that leaked.
Bowling, though, downplayed the fact that there is precious little toxicological data and few – if any –public and peer-reviewed studies of what the chemical would do to humans if ingested.
There it is. The research on how these chemicals affect our health can be pretty thin.
Trace amounts of chemicals in drinking water
Around much of the nation, the fact that chemicals get into our drinking water has been known for some time. We’re talking tiny amounts. Scientists use terms like “parts per billion” or “nanograms.”
The kinds of chemicals found depends on what gets into the water.
Larry Sanford is the assistant manager of the Ann Arbor Water Treatment plant. On a recent tour of the plant, he read from a list of chemicals researchers found going into the drinking water supply. These were trace amounts of chemicals found after the treatment process.
“Ibuprofen… Carbamazepine – I’ve never said that word before. Seventeen b estradiol … 17 a ethinyl estradiol, and estrone, and estriol, and cholesterol, and coprostanol.”
Baylor University researchers tested the drinking water in Grand Rapids, Monroe, and Ann Arbor back in 2005.
The researchers were looking for trace amounts of pharmaceuticals and personal-care products in the water. Our bodies don’t take up all of the medicine in birth control pills, or antidepressants, or even coffee.
You go to the bathroom, and the extra stuff gets flushed down the drain. Small amounts end up in the drinking water.
The water samples in Ann Arbor showed that 19 different types of drugs were going into the treatment plant. And the treatment process took out eight of them.
Sanford called that “serendipity.”
“None of these plants were built with the intention of removing any of this stuff,” said Sanford. “You just get the removal based on what’s there already. Now when you decide what it is you want to remove, then you’ll have to build a treatment facility that will take that out. It may take other things out at the same time, it may not.”
So what should we do with this information?
That’s what researchers are trying to figure out right now. What’s worth worrying about, and what’s not?
The U.S. Geological Survey and the EPA recently tested water samples from drinking water plants around the country.
They found more than a third of these plants had trace amounts of 18 unregulated contaminants. In addition to leftover drugs, they found traces of many industrial chemicals, and traces of pesticides too.
Linda Birnbaum is the Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. She’s one of the nation’s leading experts on how exposure to these contaminants might affect our health.
I had her look at the list of chemicals found in drinking water. She told me that several of the chemicals found were of some concern, such as the perfluorinated compounds and some of the pesticides.
But she said, “Again the levels are very low.”
So should we not be concerned at all?
“Well, the answer is we’re beginning to find out that continuous low level exposure may in fact be problematic,” said Birnbaum.
She says studies are beginning to show that continuous low-level exposure to some chemicals might harm the endocrine system. The endocrine system regulates how your body grows and how you behave.
That’s why researchers are focusing on how this stuff impacts pregnant mothers, developing babies, and kids.
More science needed
The Ann Arbor Water Treatment Plant just started a year-long monitoring program.
The treatment plant’s Larry Sanford says we might find that these things really don’t have a big impact on us, but they might have an effect on other things.
“The things that live in the water are much smaller, and there may be an impact on them,” said Sanford. “And it may be something that would be worth doing something about.”
Researchers are looking at what these low-level contaminants are doing to fish.
We’ll take a look at that in our next report.
What you can do
Michigan Radio’s Rebecca Williams gathered much of the tape for this story, and in doing so she spoke with Professor Nancy Love of the University of Michigan. Love teaches in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and focuses her work on how environmental biotechnology and engineered water quality treatment systems can clean up these trace chemicals.
The two discussed reverse osmosis treatment systems, and Love agreed that such a system does a good job of removing many contaminants. She said it’s often difficult to know what might be in bottled water, but if the label says “treated by reverse osmosis,” it’s a sign that the water has been treated well.
There’s not much we can do about the drugs we excrete (drugmakers could work to make sure we use more of the available medicine, rather than excrete it), but if we have left over medicine in the house, we should NOT flush it down the toilet.
If you have susceptible people living in your house (kids or people struggling with substance abuse), you might want to go through the process of disposing the drugs in the trash, rather than storing them in your home while you wait to take them to a drug take-back program.
The lesson to be taken from this is that “final barrier” treatment in the home is very important. A good carbon filtration system for the whole home and, especially, a reverse osmosis drinking water system offer the best protection against extraneous chemicals.–Editor.
Road Salt: Where Does It Go?
by Joseph Stromberg
In the U.S., road crews scatter about 137 pounds of salt per person annually to melt ice. Where does it go after that?
As much of the country endures the heavy snowfall and bitter cold that has marked the start of 2014, municipalities in 26 states will rely on a crucial tool in clearing their roads: salt.
Because the freezing point of salty water is a lower temperature than pure water, scattering some salt atop ice or snow can help accelerate the melting process, opening up the roads to traffic that much sooner. It’s estimated more than 22 million tons of salt are scattered on the roads of the U.S. annually—about 137 pounds of salt for every American.
But all that salt has to go somewhere. After it dissolves—and is split into sodium and chloride ions—it gets carried away via runoff and deposited into both surface water (streams, lakes and rivers) and the groundwater under our feet.
Consider how easily salt can corrode your car. Unsurprisingly, it’s also a problem for the surrounding environment—so much that in 2004, Canada categorized road salt as a toxin and placed new guidelines on its use. And as more and more of the U.S. becomes urbanized and suburbanized, and as a greater number of roads criss-cross the landscape, the mounting piles of salt we dump on them may be getting to be a bigger problem than ever.
Data from long-term studies of watersheds bear this out. A group of scientists who tracked salt levels from 1952 to 1998 in the Mohawk River in Upstate New York, for instance, found concentrations of sodium and chloride increased by 130 and 243 percent, respectively, with road salting the primary reason as the surround area became more developed. More recently, a study of a stream in southeastern New York State that was monitored from 1986 to 2005 found a similar pattern. Significant annual increases of road salting were to blame for an estimated 91 percent of sodium chloride in the watershed.
Because it’s transported more easily than sodium, chloride is the greater concern. In total, an estimated 40 percent of the country’s urban streams have chloride levels exceeding safe guidelines for aquatic life, largely because of road salt.
This chloride can occasionally impact human water use, mostly because some penetrates into the groundwater we tap for drinking purposes. Water utilities most frequently report complaints of salty drinking water during the winter, when chloride concentrations are likely to exceed 250 parts per million (ppm), our tastebuds’ threshold for detecting it. This is an especially big issue for people on salt restrictive diets. Overall, though, road salt-laced drinking water isn’t a widespread problem. A 2009 U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study found fewer than 2 percent of the drinking wells sampled had chloride levels surpassing federal standards.
Road salt pollution is generally a bigger issue for the surrounding environment and the organisms living in it. It’s estimated chloride concentrations above 800 ppm are harmful to most freshwater aquatic organisms—because these high levels interfere with how animals regulate the uptake of salt into their bodies—and for short periods after a snow melt, wetlands nearby highways can surpass these levels. A range of studies has found chloride from road salt can negatively impact the survival rates of crustaceans, amphibians such as salamanders and frogs, fish, plants, and other organisms. There’s even some evidence that it could hasten invasions of non-native plant species. In one marsh by the Massachusetts Turnpike, a study found that it aided the spread of salt-tolerant invasives.
On a broader scale, elevated salt concentrations can reduce water circulation in lakes and ponds because salt affects water’s density, preventing oxygen from reaching bottom layers of water. It can also interfere with a body of water’s natural chemistry, reducing the overall nutrient load. On a smaller scale, highly concentrated road salt can dehydrate and kill trees and plants growing next to roadways, creating desert conditions, because the plants have so much more difficulty absorbing water. In some cases, dried salt crystals can attract deer and moose to busy roads, increasing their chance of becoming roadkill.
How can we avoid killing trees and making roadkill of deer while de-icing the roads? Recently, in some areas, transportation departments have begun pursuing strategies to reduce salt use. Salting before a storm, instead of after, can prevent snow and ice from binding to the asphalt, making the post-storm cleanup a little bit easier and allowing road crews to use less salt overall. Mixing the salt with slight amounts of water allows it to spread more, and blending in sand or gravel lets it to stick more easily and improve traction for cars.
Elsewhere, municipalities are trying out alternate de-icing compounds. Over the past few years, beet juice, sugarcane molasses and cheese brine, among other substances, have been mixed in with salt to reduce the overall chloride load on the environment. These don’t eliminate the need for conventional salt, but they could play a role in cutting down just how much we dump on the roads.
As you would expect, this season's water news has been dominated by cold weather issues. Below are some examples.
Chicago suburb experiences three water main breaks
Source: Daily News-Miner
South Chicago Heights area residents and restaurants have been issued boil water notices until several breaks can be fixed in the main water supply from Lake Michigan. The three elevated tanks which hold the community's water have lost almost all their supply since the breaks occurred.
Source: Chicago Tribue
Residents of Flint, Michigan still skeptical of drinking water
Two years after the well-publicized Flint, Michigan crisis, many residents are still using bottled water as their daily water usage source. Authorities still advise consumers filter their water since not all of the lead pipes have been replaced in the supply line.
Source: VOA News
Southern California has fourth driest start to a water year since record keeping began in 1877
The official recording of a water year begins annually on October 1st. Since the beginning of this water year, Los Angeles has received 0.12 inches of rain; that is, 3 percent of the typical amount of precipitation recorded by this point in the year.
Source: LA Times
Leaking faucets to protect from freezing pipes limits water available for firefighting
The Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans asked residents to turn off running water on January 3rd after the hard freeze precautions due to high water demand. The water supplier expressed concern the fire department would not have enough water pressure to fight fires.
Brave souls venture into freezing temperatures to capture images of frozen water
The link below shows images of frozen fountains and natural scenes across the country where the new year brought in surprisingly cold temperatures.
Water supply tower in Evansdale, Iowa frozen solid
On Monday evening, officials in the town of Evansdale, Iowa discovered an ice cap had formed inside the water supply tower preventing water circulation. Bottled water donations and other precautionary methods have been established to see residents through the freeze. The city is considering solutions such as sending divers into the tower to break the ice.
Places to visit on our websites
Thanks for reading and be sure to check out the next Occasional!