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  • Study Finds 6,600 Fracking Spills in Just Four States

    Every year between 2-16% of fracking wells spill hydraulic fracking fluids consisting of chemical-laden water, hydrocarbons, and other contaminants, a new study has found.
    In a report that was recently published in the scientific journal, Environmental Science & Technology, the researchers identified 6,648 fracking spills across the states of Colorado, Pennsylvania, North Dakota and New Mexico over a ten year period. The report provides key insights into the volume and frequency of the spills, as well as what caused them.

    For the study, the research team analyzed state-level spill records, characterizing spills that were associated with 31,481 hydraulically fracked oil and gas wells in the above states over a ten year period from 2005 to 2014.

    "State spill data holds great promise for risk identification and mitigation," said Lauren Patterson, policy associate at Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and lead author of the study. "However, reporting requirements differ across states, requiring considerable effort to make the data usable for analysis."

    This is a screengrab from the study's interactive map shows a decade's worth of spills of more than 5,000 gallons of pollutants from pipeline leaks at North Dakota hydraulic fracturing sites. Source: Science for Nature and People Partnership This is a screengrab from the study's interactive map shows a decade's worth of spills of more than 5,000 gallons of pollutants from pipeline leaks at North Dakota hydraulic fracturing sites. Source: Science for Nature and People Partnership

    According to the data, North Dakota experienced the most spills with 4,453 reported incidents, with 1,293 incidents reported for Pennsylvania, 476 for Colorado, and 426 for New Mexico respectively. The high number of incidents reported for North Dakota can in part be attributed to the more stringent reporting requirements for this state, which requires reporting of smaller spills (from 42 gallons) whereas New Mexico and Colorado only require spills of 210 gallons and over to be reported.

    "As this form of energy production increases, state efforts to reduce spill risk could benefit from making data more uniform and accessible to better provide stakeholders with important information on where to target efforts for locating and preventing future spills," Patterson added.

    Frac_job_in_process

    The study's results are far higher than the 457 spills reported by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a total of eight states from 2006 to 2012, as the EPA only reported spills that occurred during the actual fracking process, not taking spills that occurred during other stages of hydrofracturing operations into account.

    "Understanding spills at all stages of well development is important because preparing for hydraulic fracturing requires the transport of more materials to and from well sites and storage of these materials on site," Patterson said. "Investigating all stages helps to shed further light on the spills that can occur at all types of wells -- not just unconventional ones."

    According to the report, half of the spills occurred when fluids were being stored or moved through pipelines, as a result of pipe or valve failure. However, in some cases it was not possible to identify the reason for the spill, as not all states require this information to be recorded.

    In all four states, the initial three year period when drilling and hydrofracking operations — and consequently production rates — are highest, posed the greatest spill risk. The report shows that a significant percentage of spills — between 26% (Colorado) and 53% (North Dakota) — occurred at wells that had previously experienced a spill, suggesting that sites that had previously experienced a spill may warrant closer attention.

    According to Kate Konschnik, Director of the Environmental Policy Initiative at Harvard Law School, analyses such as this are essential for defining and mitigating the risk posed to water sources and human health. It is critical that reporting criteria is regulated across states so that the correct data is available and accessible to both the industry and the states, as well as researchers in the scientific community.

    Journal Reference

    L. Patterson, K. Konschnik, H. Wiseman, et. al. 2017. "Unconventional Oil and Gas Spills: Risks, Mitigation Priorities and States Reporting Requirements" Environmental Science & Technology: DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.05749.

  • Court Rules Water Quality Must Come First

    California has been suffering an extended drought that has endured for three years. Recently, heavy rains have alleviated this some of this, but there is still severe drought conditions in many parts of the state. During this drought, the government agencies responsible for protecting freshwater systems that serve as recreational waters and sources of drinking water to Californian residents have simply failed to do so, with disastrous results.

    California's waterways are infested with more toxic algal blooms than ever witnessed before; many native plant and animal species facing extinction; and the livelihood of thousands of fisherman, who depend on salmon catches as their sole source of income, hangs in the balance.

    But last week, a federal district court ruled that the US Environmental Protection Agency and California's State Water Control Board need to comply with the Clean Water Act, and must implement measures to address the devastating impact that waiving water quality standards in times of drought has had on water quality and natural ecosystems in the Bay-Delta, ultimately impacting the quality of water used as a source of food (fishing), recreation (swimming) and drinking water by local communities.

    California_Drought_Dry_Riverbed_2009 California lake bed drying up

    The court's decision was made in response to a lawsuit filed by the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC), Defenders of Wildlife, and The Bay Institute.

    "We filed this action after the State Board made 14 separate decisions over the last three years that allowed massive state and federal water diversion projects in the Bay-Delta to violate more than 24 water quality standards," said Kate Poole, Senior Attorney, Water and Wildlife Project Director, Water program at the NRDC.

    The decisions in question were responsible for redirecting an astronomical volume of water to the corporate agricultural sector, putting environmental integrity and drinking water quality at risk. According to the NRDC, the volume of water diverted is so large that it could provide Los Angeles with water for at least two years.

    In 2014 and 2015, 1.083 million acre-feet of water was diverted, while in 2016 California's State Water Control Board allowed a further 258,000 acre-feet of water to be diverted from rivers, while simultaneously lifting water conservation requirements throughout the state.
    The Clean Water Act was implemented to prevent negative impacts on water quality by requiring the EPA to assess proposed changes to water quality standards, ensuring that any proposed changes do not have a negative impact on beneficial water uses, such as salmon habitat and drinking water, before they go ahead and implement the changes. The Act is in place to prevent precisely this kind of deterioration to water quality.

    Both the EPA and California's State Water Control Board failed to do this before relaxing California's water quality protection standards over the past three years, but according to Poole, the NRDC intends to make sure they do so in future.

    Source: NRDC

  • A Closer Analysis of What Caused Flint's Water Woes

    As water officials at Flint, Michigan, continue to deal with the unfolding health crisis associated with elevated lead levels in the town's drinking water, scientists who initially discovered lead in the tap water of a Flint household have analyzed galvanized iron water pipes that were removed from the "ground zero" home — where the first child with high levels of lead in their blood was identified — for testing.

    There tests confirm that the lead particles that had built up on the internal surface of the galvanized iron pipes was in all probability the source of lead contaminants in the water.

    Lead levels in Flint's tap water spiked following a switch in the town's water supply in April 2014, when the city opted for the Flint River as its drinking water source. After the switch, water officials failed to treat the water line with a corrosion-control remedy to keep the lead-containing layers of rust stable within the water pipelines.

    Typical Rusted Water Pipe Typical Rusted Water Pipe

    Soon thereafter, residents began complaining that their water looked and smelt odd. Then, when LeeAnne Walters' family fell ill she contacted Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech engineer, requesting that he come an test their water.

    Thirty-two water samples were collected from the Walters' residence, all of which contained lead at levels that exceeded the 14 microgram per liter actionable standard set by the EPA. Four of the samples had lead concentrations that exceeded 5,000 micrograms per liter — the threshold at which lead is declared hazardous waste, and one sample had lead concentrations of 13,200 micrograms per liter.

    Edwards and his research team have since analyzed the galvanized iron water pipes that connected the lead pipes from the service line to the Walters' home. Their findings, which were recently published in the American Chemical Society journal, Environmental Science & Technology, show that high concentrations of lead in the household's tap water correlated with levels of zinc, tin and cadmium — components used in the internal lining of the pipes.

    According to the authors, the results suggest that because no corrosion inhibitors were added to the water extracted from the Flint River, the water caused the layers of rust (including the lead attached to it) to be released from the internal wall of the iron pipes.

    The scientists conclude that the combination of lead service pipes followed by galvanized iron water pipes supplying the home, is very likely to pose a health risk to residents living in other towns and cities that have this type of configuration.

    They recommend replacing the lead service pipes as a good first step, but suggest that lead accumulation on aging galvanized iron water pipes potentially poses both a short- and long-term health concern.

    Journal Reference:

    Kelsey J. Pieper, Min Tang, and Marc A. Edwards. Flint Water Crisis Caused By Interrupted Corrosion Control: Investigating "Ground Zero" Home Environ. Sci. Technol. (Feb 1, 2017), DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b04034

  • Is Clean Water Becoming Unaffordable in the US?

    If the cost of water continues to rise at the projected rate, the number of households that will not be able to afford water is likely to triple to around 36% within the next five years, a new study that focused on water affordability has revealed.

    According to the study, which was recently published in the scientific journal PLoS ONE, various factors, including climate change, aging infrastructure, and a decline in population numbers in urban areas, have led to resident's inability to afford the cost of water and wastewater service delivery becoming a growing crisis.

    "In cities across the United States, water affordability is becoming an increasingly critical issue," said Elizabeth Mack, an assistant geography professor at Michigan State University, who analyzed water consumption, pricing and demographic and socioeconomic data for the study.

    The US Environmental Protection Agency suggests that households should spend no more than 4.5% of their total income on water and wastewater services. With that being said, around 13.8 million households across the United States (nearly 12% of American households) may soon be unable to afford to pay their water bill, with poor families being hit the hardest, said Mack.

    This map includes "high-risk tracts" (in black), which are areas with high concentrations of families with incomes below $32,000 that currently cannot afford water bills. The "at-risk tracts" (in gray) are areas with high concentrations of families with incomes between $32,000 and $45,120 that are at-risk of being unable to afford rising water rates in the near future. This map includes "high-risk tracts" (in black), which are areas with high concentrations of families with incomes below $32,000 that currently cannot afford water bills. The "at-risk tracts" (in gray) are areas with high concentrations of families with incomes between $32,000 and $45,120 that are at-risk of being unable to afford rising water rates in the near future.

    According to the study, the states with the highest concentrations of families who earn less than $32,000 and who struggle to pay their water bills lie predominantly in the south, with Mississippi topping the list, although Ohio is ranked 9th and Michigan 12th on the list.

    Furthermore, the cost of water has increased by 41% since 2010, and should this trend continue at the same pace, it is estimated that five years from now the number of residents that will be unable to pay their water bills could soar to over 40 million, affecting more than a third of all American households.

    Aging infrastructure is a key driving factor in the escalating cost of water. It is estimated that the cost to replace antiquated water systems across the country will be over $1 trillion during the course of the next 25 years, and these costs need to be recouped from water users.

    Climate change is another key factor, as more severe weather and storm events necessitate improvements to wastewater treatment facilities in order to adapt. It is estimated that these infrastructural developments will cost over $36 billion by 2050.

    Furthermore, declining populations in large urban areas such as Philadelphia and Detroit mean that there are fewer people to share the huge costs associated with supplying water to households, further adding to the crisis. In Philadelphia, around 227,000 households (4 out of every 10 customers) have overdue water accounts, while in Detroit, 50,000 homes have had their water cut off due to non-payment since the beginning of 2014. In Seattle and Atlanta, a household consisting of 4 people typically forks out over $300 every month for their water and wastewater service.

    Ultimately, the study concludes, everyone concerned — including the government, water utilities and water consumers — will need to try and work together to address the burgeoning crisis of water affordability in the country.

    "Water is a fundamental right for all humans. However, a growing number of people in the United States and globally face daily barriers to accessing clean, affordable water," explains Mack, noting that the issue of water affordability in the US is relatively unstudied compared to other countries.

    "The hope is that enhanced awareness of this issue in the developed world will highlight the severity of the issue, which is not isolated to people in the developing world," Mack said.

    Journal Reference:

    Mack EA, Wrase S (2017) A Burgeoning Crisis? A Nationwide Assessment of the Geography of Water Affordability in the United States. PLoS ONE 12(1): e0169488. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0169488

  • Roundup of Water Contamination Incidents in 2016

    There has been much focus on drinking water contamination in Flint, Michigan, where dangerously high concentrations of lead were discovered in the city's drinking water supply. Yet, Flint is not the only city trying to cope with drinking water contamination issues. Below is an overview of some of the key water contamination incidents that occurred during 2016.

    February 2016: A non-profit organization unearthed more than 2,300 misplaced public complaints related to water contamination due to fracking operations in Pennsylvania. While a study conducted by the EPA concluded that fracking did not pose a severe threat to groundwater sources nearby, the level of complaints clearly indicates otherwise.

    April 2016: Nineteen public schools in Detroit were found to have elevated levels of copper or lead in their drinking water.

    credit: ttps://www.flickr.com/photos/seandreilinger/426373778 credit: ttps://www.flickr.com/photos/seandreilinger/426373778

    April 2016: Wastewater spills from fracking operations contaminated soil and water across North Dakota with contaminants such as lead, selenium, and ammonium, as well as other toxic inorganic chemicals.

    May 2016: Schools in Portland, Oregon set about replacing their water pipes after higher than normal levels of lead where found in drinking water. However, they failed to shut off the water supply in the interim, or caution learners and their teachers to refrain from drinking it.

    September 2016: Unusually high concentrations of Chromium 6, a known carcinogen, were detected in 29 out of 30 drinking water sources supplying the northeastern Ohio region. Many of the water samples had concentrations of Chromium 6 exceeding 0.02 parts per billion, which is the level considered safe by public health officials, while water samples from Columbus and Cleveland had Chromium 6 levels that exceeded 10 parts per billion.

    September 2016: A sinkhole at a fertilizer plant in Florida caused millions of gallons of water laden with toxins to contaminate an aquifer. Yet, while the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection holds the view that it is unlikely to contaminate nearby wells, Florida lies on top of porous karst formations, which is why sinkholes occur in the first place.

    October 2016: The city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania handed the management of the water supply to a private company due water contamination issues resulting from deteriorating infrastructure. But due to staff cutbacks and opting for cheaper, yet inferior anti-corrosion treatments, lead concentrations rose to above that recommended by federal safety standards.

    November 2016: Elevated levels of lead were found in drinking water at municipal schools in the Cleveland area, with one elementary school showing lead concentrations as high as 4,480 parts per billion — that is 4,465 ppb higher than the 15 ppb safety standard set by the EPA.

    December 2016: Nestlé wishes to switch to another source of groundwater for their bottled water, as a well they previously used was contaminated with perchlorate — a chemical that can impair thyroid functioning — originating from firework displays held near that source. Nestlé now dilutes the contaminated water from the original source with uncontaminated water from other sources in order to comply with safety standards.

    December 2016: Several private drinking water wells serving homes in Long Island, New York, that are supposedly located in a protected watershed, were found to have unsafe levels of MBTE, a fuel additive that has been banned in the area since 2004.

    December 2016: Residents of Chicago's North side were cautioned with a drinking water advisory after a car wash contaminated the local drinking water supply.

    December 2016: Dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals where found in the drinking water of an elementary school in Milwaukee, with one sample having lead levels six times higher than that considered safe, and copper levels nineteen times higher than that considered safe. Dangerously high levels of lead were found in water from nearly 200 water fountains at various locations, including sites attended by young children.

    December 2016: After testing water in 414 businesses and homes in St. Joseph, Louisiana, over 20% were found to have dangerously high lead concentrations.

    From this extensive list of contamination incidents, which in all likelihood is not complete, we can see that drinking water contamination is a real threat. From last years list of incidents we can see that lead is a common drinking water contaminant, affecting many communities, and in many cases, schools. Yet while lead is not readily detected due to it having no taste, color or odor, it poses a serious health threat. So what can you do to protect yourself and your family? Firstly, you can have your drinking water tested to see what toxins may be lurking; you can also make a sound investment in your family's health by purchasing a good quality water purifier that is able to remove lead and other harmful contaminants commonly found in drinking water.

  • Adapting Soil Conservation Strategies is Vital if we Wish to Improve Water Quality

    Despite concerted efforts to minimize soil erosion by improving farmland management for the production of crops, water quality in our freshwater systems is still being degraded by harmful inputs of soluble phosphorus.

    A study conducted by an international research team led by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), a UK-based research unit, has revealed that elevated concentrations of soluble phosphorus in rivers flowing into Lake Erie may be the result of conservation measures being implemented to reduce soil erosion and nutrient loss resulting from storm water runoff that carry away topsoil and particulate organic matter rich in nutrients.

    The_Lake_Erie_Shore_at_Reno_Beach-Howard_Farms

    The study, whose findings were recently published in Journal of Environmental Quality, shows that soluble phosphorus inputs originating from rivers flowing into the Western Lake Erie Basin has increased over the last 15-16 years. Soluble phosphorus is thought to be an important driver of harmful algal blooms that are occurring more frequently and with greater severity in Lake Erie.

    Phosphorus is an important nutrient for plant growth — both in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems; consequently, it is widely use to boost crop production. However, when phosphorus enters freshwater bodies such as rivers and lakes it also stimulates algal growth, including growth of harmful algae that release toxins which are detrimental to fish and other aquatic organisms and plants, and which can impair the quality of water used as a source of drinking water for humans.

    According to Professor Helen Jarvie, a Principal Scientist in Water Quality at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, and lead author of the paper:

    "We accounted for changing weather and rainfall patterns, and found increases in river flows alone contributed about one third of the marked increase in soluble phosphorus entering Lake Erie since 2002, despite reductions in fertilizer use and amounts of phosphorus stored in soil. The remaining two thirds must arise from other changes within the watershed," she points out.

    "We noted that, over time, conservation tillage - where fields are not ploughed, and crop residues remain on the fields before and after planting the next crop, to reduce soil erosion and runoff - has continued an increased trend of adoption since the mid-1980s. It is plausible that the transition from conventional to conservation tillage, along with less incorporation into the soil of broadcast phosphorus fertilizer applications, may have inadvertently caused accumulation of highly-soluble phosphorus at the soil surface," Jarvie explains.

    "This can increase losses of soluble phosphorus during rainfall-induced runoff events, and may also have been compounded by installation of subsurface drainage, which can rapidly transmit the soluble phosphorus from fields to rivers."

    According to the authors, the implications of these findings are important for conservation management and planning — not only for the Lake Erie Basin, but for watershed management on a much broader scale, as conservation tillage is generally accepted and recommended as a good soil management strategy to reduce erosion and loss of nutrients in croplands in the United States, the United Kingdom, as well as in countries across Europe.

    Towards the end of last century we saw a drastic improvement in water quality in Lake Erie largely due to the implementation of the Clean Water Act — which resulted in a reduction in nutrient inputs from sewage effluent — and improved farm management practices that reduced fertilizer runoff and soil loss, and the associated particulate phosphorus adhering to soil particles. But at the turn of the century this began to change, and over the last 15 years or so water quality has declined, with algal blooms occurring more frequently in the Western Lake Erie Basin, due to the increasing inputs of soluble rather than particulate phosphorus, which has a more damaging ecological impact than the particulate form.

    These inputs also affect drinking water quality. In 2014 residents of Toledo in Ohio where issued with a health advisory not to drink their water, affecting over 400,000 consumers. As a result, officials in both the US and Canada set a target of reducing phosphorus levels flowing into Lake Erie by 40%.

    According to Professor Andrew Sharpley, Professor of Soils and Water Quality at the University of Arkansas, and co-author of the paper, the take home message from this study is that when changing farm conservation management practices there may be unforeseen consequences, which need to be recognized. Reducing tillage of soils may have dramatically reduced soil erosion, but with fertilizer applications remaining unchanged, phosphorus essentially became trapped on the soil surface rather than being incorporated into the soils. As a result, phosphorus in its soluble form enters waterways via storm water runoff.

    So in this case we eventually see that rather than serving as a sink for phosphorus, the soil becomes a source of phosphorus entering freshwater drainage basins.

    The report concludes that in order to tackle this issue effectively we need to implement water quality and soil management practices that address both particulate and soluble phosphorus inputs from croplands, with additional conservation management measures needed to tackle phosphorus in its soluble form.

    Journal reference

    Helen P. Jarvie, Laura T. Johnson, Andrew N. Sharpley, Douglas R. Smith, David B. Baker, Tom W. Bruulsema and Remegio Confesor, 2017, 'Increased Soluble Phosphorus Loads to Lake Erie: Unintended Consequences of Conservation Practices?' Journal of Environmental Quality. Doi: 10.2134/jeq2016.07.0248

  • A Closer Analysis of What Caused Flint's Water Woes

    As water officials at Flint, Michigan continue to deal with the unfolding health crisis associated with elevated lead levels in the town's drinking water, scientists who initially discovered lead in the tap water of a Flint household have analyzed galvanized iron water pipes that were removed from the "ground zero" home — where the first child with high levels of lead in their blood was identified — for testing.

    These tests confirm that the lead particles that had built up on the internal surface of the galvanized iron pipes was in all probability the source of lead contaminants in the water.

    Lead levels in Flint's tap water spiked following a switch in the town's water supply in April 2014, when the city opted for the Flint River as its drinking water source. After the switch, water officials failed to treat the water line with a corrosion-control remedy to keep the lead-containing layers of rust stable within the water pipelines.

    flint es-2016-04034p_0006

    Soon thereafter, residents began complaining that their water looked and smelled odd. Then, when LeeAnne Walters' family fell ill, she contacted Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech engineer requesting that he come and test their water.

    Thirty-two water samples were collected from the Walters' residence, all of which contained lead at levels that exceeded the 14 microgram per liter actionable standard set by the EPA. Four of the samples had lead concentrations that exceeded 5,000 micrograms per liter — the threshold at which lead is declared hazardous waste, and one sample had lead concentrations of 13,200 micrograms per liter.

    Edwards and his research team have since analyzed the galvanized iron water pipes that connected the lead pipes from the service line to the Walters' home. Their findings, which were recently published in the American Chemical Society journal and Environmental Science & Technology, show that high concentrations of lead in the household's tap water correlated with levels of zinc, tin and cadmium — components used in the internal lining of the pipes.

    According to the authors, the results suggest that because no corrosion inhibitors were added to the water extracted from the Flint River, the water caused the layers of rust (including the lead attached to it) to be released from the internal wall of the iron pipes.

    The scientists conclude that the combination of lead service pipes followed by galvanized iron water pipes supplying the home, is very likely to pose a health risk to residents living in other towns and cities that have this type of configuration.

    They recommend replacing the lead service pipes as a good first step, but suggest that lead accumulation on aging galvanized iron water pipes potentially poses both a short- and long-term health concern.

    Journal Reference:

    Kelsey J. Pieper, Min Tang, and Marc A. Edwards. Flint Water Crisis Caused By Interrupted Corrosion Control: Investigating "Ground Zero" Home Environ. Sci. Technol. (Feb 1, 2017), DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b04034

  • Eco-friendly Eco-tourism

    Eco-tourism is a popular form of travel. It combines elements of travel with outdoor adventure, giving us the privilege to explore beautiful wild, unspoiled natural places, and to connect with nature, which is good for our soul. But is getting back to nature good for nature? Yes, it is!... But, sometimes you need to prepare properly.

    When we travel to far flung places, we need to take precautionary measures when drinking the local water. In developing nations sanitation is typically poor, and in many countries may even be lacking completely. Consequently water borne diseases are rife, and travelers are often struck with stomach bugs, which can put a dampener on their travels or even land them in hospital. While this is never pleasant, it can be life threatening if you are touring a remote destination, hundreds of miles away from the nearest hospital or medical doctor.

    The Problem with Bottled Water

    In many cases travelers opt for bottled water, believing this is the safest option. Yet, while bottled water may be safer than the local tap water – very often it is simply bottled local water, and therefore is not – it is particularly damaging to the environment.

    trash28255487842_3cbbf32dec_z

    Carrying an adequate supply of fresh water to quench your thirst and keep you re-hydrated while touring remote destinations is problematic in itself – more so if you are backpacking and have to physically lug sufficient water on your person. Very few people take the trouble to repack empty water bottles back into their backpack to dispose of later. Invariably the empty plastic bottles simply get turfed. If there are refuse bins available, the well-meaning traveler may discard their used bottle in a bin, but it still ends up on a landfill site somewhere if it doesn't blow out of the bin beforehand.

    Plastics take thousands of years to biodegrade, and because they break down in sunlight, may never break down completely when buried in a landfill. Even when plastics do eventually break down, they don't decompose in the same manner as natural products do – they don't add any nutrients to the soil, but rather break up into tiny pieces that can't be seen, contaminating soils with chemicals in the process. Plastic bottles may blow into rivers and eventually flow into the sea. Plastic pellets wreak havoc in the marine environment where they are ingested by marine animals, such as turtles and seabirds, that mistake them for food.

    Mountains of Plastic

    Then, there is litter associated with plastic bottles. An ecotourism experience can be totally ruined when you are hiking the road you believed was less traveled, only to discover a mountain of litter and waste from eco-tourists that traveled down that same road before you.
    The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru, South America is hailed at one of the top five treks in the world. This popular ecotourism trail is known for its breathtaking mountain scenery, cloud forests, sub-tropical jungle and its famous historic ruins. Although the government has now limited the number of daily visitors allowed on the trail to 500, this still generates large amounts of waste, which unfortunately is evident when trekking to Machu Picchu.

    Mount Everest is another landmark that not many of us get the opportunity to visit. One would think that the world's highest mountain, which commands respect, would get just that. But no, it too is littered with waste from climbers that struggled their own personal battles to make it up and down the mountain alive. Understandably, litter is no doubt the last thing on a climber's mind when they are solely focused on survival. Consequently, Mount Everest is strewn with old tents and ropes, discarded oxygen cylinders, camping stoves, food packaging and plastic bottles.

    Eco-friendly Solution

    So how does one keep rehydrated with a healthy supply of pure water in an eco-friendly manner when touring remote places?

    The answer is to carry a reusable personal water filter bottle, such as the Sport Berkey, that is capable of filtering any water supply to render pure healthy drinking water, wherever you may be in the world.

    The Go Berkey Kit is a robust, yet lightweight water purifying solution for travelers on the go. The combined water bottle/water purifier removes pathogenic microorganisms, heavy metals, chemicals, and sediment from any water supply, assuring you a safe supply of drinking water wherever there is water – no matter how suspect the quality, without generating any waste in the process. The Go Berkey Kit provides a healthy, eco-friendly solution for rehydrating in remote locations that prevents plastic water bottles from being discarded into the environment or landfills. Simply refill wherever there is water. (New for Jan 2017 - This kit now contains a primer tool)

    Travel safe without harming the environment by investing in your Go Berkey Kit today.

  • Health Concerns Related to Using Harvested Rainwater for Drinking

    There are usually two key issues that are often raised regarding the safety risks associated with using harvested rainwater as a source of drinking water: 1) Lead contamination; 2) Sludge/biofilm contamination.

    Lead Contamination

    The type of roofing material, particularly the use of lead flashing on roof structures, may result in water that is harvested from the roof surface becoming contaminated with toxic heavy metals that may be harmful to your health.

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    A scientific study conducted by Magyar et al, titled 'Influence of roofing material and lead flashing on rainwater tank contamination by metals', which was published in the Australian Journal of Water Resources (2014), found that lead contamination in rainwater harvesting storage tanks is widespread. The main contributor to this contamination is from lead flashings on rooftops, which prevent water from penetrating into the cracks and crevices of a roof junction. Consequently, it is recommended that if a roof surface is used for rainwater collection for drinking water, any lead flashing that is present should be painted with a non-toxic sealant to prevent lead from leaching into the harvested rainwater supply, or better still, it should be removed and replaced with a lead-free alternative.

    Contamination by Sludge and Biofilm

    While water diverters and sediment strainers can play a role in removing unwanted debris, particulate matter will still accumulate in the water storage tank over time. This debris will eventually form a layer of sludge at the base of the tank, which can potentially provide ideal conditions for harmful bacteria to breed (Magyar et al). However, others (Coombes & Spinks) argue that this sludge can be beneficial to the quality of harvested rainwater, helping to eliminate both lead and harmful pathogens. In an article aptly titled "Rainwater Health Debate", Smit & Coombes discuss the various arguments. According to the authors, who studied water quality of harvested rainwater across Australia over a 15 year period:

    "It turns out that a decade of independent research confirms the rainwater treatment train that includes the natural processes of flocculation, settlement, biofilms (including the sludge) and competitive exclusion of bacteria (where more resilient environmental bacteria eliminate more fragile potential pathogens)."

    According to the authors, biofilm that forms in rainwater storage tanks can be very effective at removing contaminants such as lead from the water stored in the tank. Their research shows that the layer of sludge is bound together by a tacky substance consisting of polysaccharides, which effectively absorbs lead and other pollutants from the water column. They recommend that rather than cleaning this layer of sludge out regularly, this biofilm layer should be left undisturbed so that it can continue to serve as a natural filtering agent.

    A well maintained rainwater harvesting system that is fitted with water diverters and mesh strainers is unlikely to have a thick growth of green or black slime with a foul odor as one would commonly find in a pond. Coombes points out that the communities of microbes present in biofilms are typically harmless bacteria commonly found in soils and the environment, which feed on nutrients, chemicals and other bacteria. Since nutrient levels in rainwater storage tanks are low, these microbes are essentially hungry and will readily consume whatever comes their way, including harmful bacteria and chemicals, improving water quality within the tank as they do so.

    Ensuring Rainwater is Safe to Drink

    However, besides lead and bacteria, other airborne pollutants such as industrial chemicals or pesticides can settle onto your roof surface and get washed into your water storage tank. To be on the safe side it is best to err on the side of caution. We recommend filtering any stored water using a good quality drinking water filter, such as a Berkey Filter, that is capable of removing bacteria, heavy metals such as lead, as well as industrial chemicals, pesticides and a wide range of other pollutants that could potentially contaminate your harvested water.

  • Water Reductions Responsible for Foul Tasting Water in California

    (This article was written per-California record rainfalls.) Water reductions at one of California's major reservoirs has resulted in consumers experiencing foul-tasting water.

    According to a statement by Catherine Alvert, Utilities spokesperson for the City of Palo Alto, which was recently published in Palo Alto Online: "Palo Alto and other local cities' residents who have been complaining about nasty-tasting water coming from their taps can blame it on water reductions from the Hetch Hetchy supply and blending from other sources." The Hetch Hetchy resevoir supplies drinking water to consumers in San Francisco Bay and surrounding areas, including residents of Palo Alto.

    According to Evert, the volume of water supplying the Hetch Hetchy dam has been reduced to 105 million gallons per day from its previous supply of 145 million gallons per day, and is being sourced from water held in surface reservoirs. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission didn't warn residents that this may affect the taste or smell of their water supply, but have since received several complaints in this regard, with many consumers questioning what was the situation with their water.

    According to James Keene, a City Manager for Palo Alto, using blended water sourced from local surface water supplies resulted in sediment being stirred up within a water pipeline, which has resulted in the unpleasant musty taste and smell of the water, which could potentially last for a few days while the water moves through the distribution network from the reservoirs and storage tanks to consumers in Palo Alto.

    Some residents in San Francisco also reported foul tasting water earlier this month according to a report in San Francisco News.

    While officials assured consumers that the strange taste and odor was not indicative of inferior water quality, they did issue a health advisory warning for highly sensitive consumers:

    "Some highly sensitive customers, such as those with compromised immune systems, can be affected by minor water-quality fluctuations, and they should consult with their physician to determine in general if they should be taking precautionary measures such as adding filtration devices, the city utilities department noted on its website."

    A good quality drinking water filter, such as the Berkey range of filters fitted with carbon or ceramic filter cartridges will be able to filter out the sediment that is causing the problem. Carbon filters are very effective at removing sediment as well as taste and odors that affect water aesthetics and make it unpleasant to drink.

    With the current drought and water shortage situation (which has improved significantly very recently), these kinds of issues may become more common. Investing in a water filter will alleviate any such issues that may arise from water reductions and blending of surface water sources. California residents can purchase either the Berkey Light or the Travel Berkey from the Berkey range of water filters for direct delivery to their door. Both of these water filters will effectively remove sediment as well as musty taste and odor from water, leaving consumers with pleasant tasting and smelling drinking water that is more appealing to consume. They will also remove a host of other contaminants commonly found in drinking water, which pose a health risk to humans.

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