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  • Flint Just the Tip of the Iceberg - Country's Lead Problem Extends Beyond Flint

    The recent fallout over the high levels of lead in Flint's drinking water, has highlighted not only the problems this Michigan city is facing in terms of its drinking water quality, but also wider concerns regarding the country's aging drinking water distribution network.

    With Earth Day approaching, Jerald Schnoor, a Professor of both Occupational and Environmental Health and Civil and Environmental Engineering at The University of Iowa, has called on government to provide funding to upgrade the nation's water distribution system by replacing deteriorating lead water pipes that distribute drinking water across the country.

    Typical Rusted Water Pipe Typical Rusted Water Pipe

    In an article recently published in the ACS' Journal of Chemical Education, Schnoor addresses the problem head-on and proposes recommendations on how best to tackle the issue.

    For many cities across the US — particularly cities in the eastern parts of the country — the water distribution infrastructure was established long before the health risks associated with lead exposure due to lead contamination in drinking water became apparent. Many of these cities' water distribution networks consist of lead pipes, lead solder and lead faucets that were installed over 50 years ago — and in some cases over 100 years ago — posing a potentially significant health risk to the communities they serve. Furthermore, the plumbing inside older homes typically consist of lead piping and pipe joints sealed with lead solder, as well as brass tap fittings that contain a high lead component. All these plumbing fixtures and fittings can potentially provide a source of soluble lead which can leach into the household's drinking water. The problem is exacerbated if the water passing through these pipes is corrosive, which can cause the pipes to become corroded, resulting in fine lead particles being deposited into the drinking water.

    Modern research has since shown that ingesting lead can have dire health effects in both children and adults, and can result in numerous long term cognitive and other health issues. Yet these legacy lead water pipes remain, delivering drinking water that is potentially contaminated with lead to communities across the country.

    While water utility companies typically try to take preventative measures to limit lead getting into drinking water by adding chemical additives, according to Schnoor, this approach cannot ensure that drinking water will remain safe all along the network until it flows out of a household tap.

    Schnoor suggests that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) needs to address the flaws in the Safe Drinking Water Act to ensure that drinking water quality not only meets safety standards when it leaves the water treatment facility, but that it remains safe to drink when it flows from the consumer's taps. To get a clearer picture of true water quality, sampling needs to be undertaken more frequently, and include points further along the distribution network, including 'dead-ends' within the network and at customer's taps (including both filtered and unfiltered water samples).

    According to Schnoor: "Lead pipes are a hazardous legacy, much like the waste sites of old."

    He suggests that a national fund be set up to finance the replacement of the outdated water infrastructure, including the service pipelines that link to the home, as well as the internal plumbing within the home, even though this is the homeowners property — for example, funds will need to be set aside to assist economically disadvantaged families living in an old house that is in need of a plumbing upgrade.

    Journal Reference

    Jerald L. Schnoor. Recognizing drinking water pipes as community health hazards. J. Chem. Educ., 2016, 93 (4), pp 581–582. April 12, 2016. DOI: 10.1021/acs.jchemed.6b00218
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  • Wastewater Treatment Facilities Release Significant Amounts of Microplastics into Rivers

    Microplastics are an emerging pollutant in our oceans, becoming an increasingly worrying environmental problem. Yet, while these tiny plastic beads originate from land-based sources, making their way to the ocean via rivers, very little is known about their abundance and impact on our freshwater systems. According to a new study, these tiny bits of plastic escape through wastewater treatment filtration mechanisms, and are discharged into rivers where they can pose a risk of contaminating drinking water and food sources.

    Microplastics are defined as tiny bits of plastics with a width of less than 0.20 inches (5 mm) — that are now recognized as an emerging ocean pollutant that is harmful to marine organisms.
    Yet while most of the debris that enters our oceans — including plastics — gets transported there via rivers, we have very little understanding about how these microplastics enter rivers or how they affect river ecosystems, says Timothy Hoellein, an assistant professor at Loyola University Chicago.

    Many communities rely on rivers as a source of drinking water, notes Hoellein; they are also important habitats that support a variety of wildlife. Fish and freshwater invertebrates ingest these tiny bits of plastic, which then move up the food chain, ultimately ending up in the fish we eat. It has already been recognized that microplastics floating in the oceans harbor toxic pollutants as well as bacteria that can pose a health risk to animals and humans who ingest them. Microplastics in rivers pose a similar threat.

    "Rivers have less water in them (than oceans), and we rely on that water much more intensely," Hoellein said.

    In a previous study, Hollein found that water samples from a site downstream from a wastewater treatment facility had higher concentrations of microplastics than water samples from a site further upstream. Now, a new study of ten Illinois urban rivers conducted by Hoellein and his research team supports these initial findings. While the study estimates that around 90% of the incoming microplastics is being arrested by the wastewater treatment facilities, due to the exorbitant amount entering the treatment plants, the 10% that escapes into rivers (estimated between 15,000 - 4.5 million particles per day per plant) is still significant.
    In 8 out of the 10 rivers studied, microplastics originated from wastewater treatment facilities. The new study found that these micoplastic particles harbored bacteria that posed a greater health threat than bacteria found in the river water from which they were extracted.

    "[Wastewater treatment plants] do a great job of doing what they are designed to do - which is treat waste for major pathogens and remove excess chemicals like carbon and nitrogen from the water that is released back into the river," Hoellein said. "But they weren't designed to filter out these tiny particles."

    The study also shows that microplastics remain in the environment for long periods of time, and very often are transported a long way from their original source. As these microplastics are transported downstream they are introduced into different ecosystems, making their way through multiple foodwebs in each of these systems.

    According to Hoellien, scientists are currently trying to ascertain what percentage of plastic remains in rivers, and what percentage makes its way to the ocean. By studying microplastics in our rivers, scientists hope to gain a better understanding of the complete lifecycle of these tiny, but dangerous, bits of plastic — from where they originate on land, to how much ends up in our oceans.

    "The study of microplastics shouldn't be separated by an artificial disciplinary boundary," he said. "These aquatic ecosystems are all connected."

  • Do we Really Need to Disinfect Drinking Water?

    Some countries in Western Europe hold a different view to the US when it comes to treating drinking water with residual disinfectants to render it safe to drink. But which of these two perspectives is right? An article recently published in Science compares these two different approaches and tries to answer this question.

    In order to eliminate microbes such as E. Coli and other bacterial contaminants in drinking water, countries such as the US, UK and others require drinking water to be treated with a residual chemical disinfectant such as chlorine. However, these disinfectants typically result in the formation of byproducts that are corrosive, have an unpleasant taste and smell, and can be carcinogenic.

    Furthermore, there is very little evidence to prove that treating drinking water with residual disinfectants actually prevents outbreaks of water-borne diseases. A comparative analysis of recent water-borne disease outbreak data from the United States and the United Kingdom compared to the Netherlands shows that even though it doesn't use residual disinfectants to treat drinking water, the risk of water-borne disease is lowest in the Netherlands.

    water-pipe

    The authors point out that the Netherlands has been proactive in keeping its water infrastructure up to date, replacing more than 50% of its water piping in recent years. By comparison, water infrastructure in both the UK and the US is old and outdated, consisting of aging, leaking pipes with reduced water pressure, which increases the risk of contamination by bacterial pathogens. With the rate of leakage in the Netherlands estimated at a mere 6%, compared to 16% in the US and 25% in the UK, the lower leakage rates in the Netherlands may account for the lowered risk of bacterial contamination.

    While the authors suggest that more data is needed to provide conclusive evidence, the European approach suggests that it is possible to supply safe drinking water without disinfecting with a residual chemical treatment. Obviously this is assuming the infrastructure that delivers the water is well maintained, with minimal leakage, thus reducing access points for bacterial drinking water contaminants to enter the system. That may be a tough nut to crack in the US and UK, but may worth the attempt in progressive minded towns and cities with recent infrastructure builds.

    A segment of Science's weekly podcast with Fernando Rosario-Ortiz, related to this research can be viewed at: http://traffic.libsyn.com/sciencemag/SciencePodcast_160226.mp3

    Journal Reference:

    Fernando Rosario-Ortiz et al. How do you like your tap water? Science. 26 February 2016. VOL 351 ISSUE 6276 (pp 912-914).

  • Watershed Biogeochemistry is Influenced by Stormy Weather

    A new study led by researchers from Yale University suggests that severe storm events cause excessive amounts of organic matter to circumvent headwater systems, resulting in this material being pushed downstream where it flows into larger rivers, inland basins and coastal waters, having profound effects on water quality throughout the watershed.

    The study, which was recently published in the scientific journal Ecology, has found that this phenomenon not only affects water quality, but also the ecology and chemical processes that take place within these ecosystems. Dissolved organic material — which consists of a mixture of various compounds that leach into freshwater systems that gives streams and rivers their color — is also a source of nutrients and contaminants, and it has a large influence on light penetration into the water and the release of carbon dioxide from the water, which consequently affects abundance of phytoplankton — primary producers at the bottom of aquatic food chains that are directly and indirectly a key food source for a wide range of organisms.

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    Until now, scientists have believed that organic matter is naturally processed in the upper stretches close to its origins, broken down by freshwater organisms dwelling in these headwaters into new compounds, which are then carried downstream and processed by organisms living further downstream, with a similar process occurring right throughout the freshwater system — a process that scientists refer to as the "River Continuum Concept".

    However, this new study highlights the fact that this process doesn't take heavy storm events into account, which send "pulses" of organic material into waterways. Not only are large amounts of debris pushed downstream during these events, because the flow rate is much faster during heavy storm events, they are pushed beyond the headwaters before the above reactions have had time to take place — a theory referred to as the "pulse-shunt concept."

    "We predict that a lot of this organic matter is actually shunted past the small streams and the reactions occur in the larger rivers or even in the coastal ocean," said lead author, Peter Raymond, a professor of ecosystem ecology at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES). "We also offer a new conceptual theory for watershed biogeochemistry that demonstrates this through first principles and is transferable to other watersheds and other nutrients."

    Previous studies estimated that around 60% of organic matter originating from terrestrial sources occurs over 15 days, including days where heavy rainfall or snow melt occurred.
    According to Raymond, even though heavy weather occurs infrequently, more organic matter is transported from the landscape during heavy storm events than in smaller events, as the concentration of the material increases in relation to the size of the event. However, he points out that the 'shunt', or flow rate, during these more severe events results in more material flowing downstream as there is insufficient time for it to be processed by organisms further upstream. As a result, we see a "double additive effect" where more of this organic material is exported to coastal waters," explains Raymond.

    According to the authors, these shifts in the transportation of dissolved organic matter could potentially affect water clarity, dissolved oxygen concentrations, and could also be a source of mercury to inland freshwater systems.

    This clearly has implications for drinking water quality too. While turbidity and dissolved solids can affect the appearance of drinking water, making it unpleasant to drink, the suspended organic matter can also harbor contaminants such as mercury, making it unsafe to drink.

    Journal Reference

    PA Raymond, JE Saiers & WV Sobczak. Hydrological and biogeochemical controls on watershed dissolved organic matter transport: pulse-shunt concept. Ecology. Vol 97(1). Jan 2016; DOI: 10.1890/14-1684

  • Drugs found in Cape Cod Water Wells

    The safety and quality of our nation's drinking water sources are increasingly being questioned, after residents in Flint, Michigan, as well as other regions have recently been found to have contaminated water supplied to their homes. Now a new study has found that pharmaceutical drugs and chemicals found in every-day consumer products can find their way into private drinking wells via wastewater discharged into septic systems. The findings add to growing health concerns related to unregulated chemical pollutants commonly found in household drinking water.

    While conducting the study, which was recently published online in Science of the Total Environment, scientists from the Silent Spring Institute discovered 27 unregulated chemical pollutants, including 12 different pharmaceutical drugs, chemical compounds used to manufacture flame retardants, non-stick coatings, and an artificial sugar-free sweetener.

    It is estimated that around 44 million people in the US depend on private wells for their drinking water. Yet, unlike public water wells, private drinking wells are not regulated by water officials; instead, residents are solely responsible for ensuring that water quality within their wells meets federal safety standards. Not only are private wells monitored less frequently, they are typically also shallower than public drinking wells, and thus more vulnerable to contamination from farming activities, construction, and local landfills. Consequently, contamination of drinking water in private wells continues to present an ongoing health risk to residents in many areas of the country.

    photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cavale/ photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cavale/

    Households that get their drinking water from private wells typically also make use of private septic systems for treating their wastewater. It is estimated that around 25% of all US homes make use of a septic system for treating household wastewater. Earlier studies conducted at Cape Cod by Silent Spring scientists revealed that hormone-disrupting pharmaceuticals and chemicals can leach through soils to contaminate both surface water and groundwater. According to lead author, Dr Laurel Schaider, a scientist at the Silent Spring Institute, the next step was to determine whether these contaminants could find their way from groundwater into household drinking water sources.

    To find the answer to this key question, Dr Schaider and her research team took water samples from 20 private drinking water wells across Cape Cod and tested them for 117 pollutants. They found that around 70% of the wells tested positive for PFCs (perfluoroalkyl substances) — a class of fluorinated chemicals that are sometimes referred to as PFASs. PFCs are known endocrine-disrupters that are associated with developmental disorders and cancer. These chemicals are commonly found in every-day household products, such as non-stick frying pans, pizza boxes, stain-resistant rugs and carpets, and waterproof clothing.

    The scientists found that 25% of all wells tested contained chemicals used in flame retardants, and found a staggering 60% of the tested wells contained pharmaceutical drugs. The antibiotic, sulfamethoxazole, which is commonly prescribed for infections of the urinary tract, together with carbamazepine, a pharmaceutical drug that is prescribed for the treatment of bipolar disorders, seizures and nerve pain, were amongst the more common drugs encountered.
    The researchers also assessed nitrate concentrations in the wells, and discovered that water in wells that had higher nitrate levels also tended to have more contaminants, and these were found in higher concentrations. The researchers note that all water samples came from wells that were situated in areas that were served by septic wastewater treatment systems, and closer analysis revealed that these backyard septic systems were most likely the source of the contamination.

    According to Schaider, this study is the first to show that septic systems can be a source of PFCs in private drinking wells, and considering that 85% of Cape Cod residents use septic treatment systems, the risk associated with contaminated drinking water is a serious health concern.
    Nitrates are also a drinking water contaminant that pose a serious health risk at high concentrations. Yet, while the EPA has set standards for nitrate levels in drinking water, there are none for the chemical contaminants found during the course of this study. While the levels of pharmaceuticals found in this study were considered to be much lower than those typically prescribed for a therapeutic dose, that doesn't necessarily lessen the risk notes Schaider.

    "Drugs are intended for specific uses and can have side effects," she says. "And we don't give certain medications to pregnant women or children because the developing body is very sensitive."

    People may also be allergic to certain drugs, such as antibiotics; and endocrine disrupting chemicals, such as flame retardants and PFCs, may produce adverse effects at very low doses. Furthermore, little is known about the health effects of exposure to a concoction of different chemicals found in drinking water.

    "People often don't think about where their tap water comes from," says Schaider. "But it's really important that they do and that they take steps to make sure it's safe."

    Households that depend on private wells for their drinking water should have the water tested annually. While these tests typically assess nitrate and bacterial concentrations rather than unregulated chemicals originating from household wastewater, this study shows that high nitrate levels could indicate the presence of other chemical pollutants.

    The current safety standard for nitrate in drinking water is set at 10 parts per million (ppm). However, the researchers found PFCs and pharmaceuticals in well water that had nitrate concentrations of less than 1 ppm. If you get your drinking water from a private well that has nitrate concentrations that are below the health standard set by the EPA, yet greater than 1 ppm, you should consider filtering your drinking water with a filter system to remove any pollutants that may contaminating your water. But as prevention is better than cure, to prevent these chemicals from making their way into the environment in the first place, we should limit our use of medications that contain toxic chemicals, refrain from flushing unused pharmaceuticals down the loo or drain, and where possible, move backyard septic systems away from drinking wells and ensure that they are well maintained.

    Journal Reference

    Laurel A. Schaider, Janet M. Ackerman, and Ruthann A. Rudel. Septic systems as sources of organic wastewater compounds in domestic drinking water wells in a shallow sand and gravel aquifer. Science of the Total Environment. 2016. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.12.081

  • How to Clean Rust on Your Berkey System

    The term "Stainless Steel" is a slightly misleading name. A more accurate description would be "Harder to Stain Steel". While the Berkey uses a surgical grade 304 stainless steel, the largest single component of this stainless steel is still steel and steel can potentially rust over time.

    The chromium in stainless steel when exposed to oxygen in the atmosphere forms a thin invisible layer called chromium oxide. This invisible layer covering the entire surface gives stainless steel its ability to resist stains and rust. If this layer is damaged rust is formed on the surface at the point of that damage. We rarely hear of rusting issues, but the good news is that with a little cleaning and care the chromium oxide layer is self-healing, and your Berkey chambers can be refreshed back to their original brand-new condition.

    Big Berkey Surgical Grade 304 Steel Big Berkey Surgical Grade 304 Stainless Steel

    Take care to not damage the chromium oxide layer by avoiding the use of cleaners that contain chlorides (fluorine, chlorine, bromine, iodine, etc.). Cleaners containing alcohol, ammonia or mineral spirits can also damage the protective layer. Do not use steel wool or steel brushes as minute particles of these carbon steel articles may adhere to the stainless and begin to rust. Avoid any caustic cleaners containing any of the above. If these compounds were to be used extreme care must be used to remove any and all traces of the cleaner as these chemicals damage the chromium oxide layer and we do not want them in contact with our drinking water.

    Stainless steel and the chromium oxide layer actually thrive on proper cleaning. For everyday cleaning of non-oxidized soils, dust, dirt and fingerprints, a mild soap/detergent (dish detergent) and warm water solution should be used. Use the solution to remove the soil, rinsing with fresh water and a clean cloth, and dry completely. Another alternative is to clean with a recommended stainless steel cleaner such as Cerama Bryte Stainless Steel Cleaner.

    Removal of oxidized stains and even “surface rust” can be done by using a paste made from baking soda and water.  Many of our customers opt for this basic organic approach.  Or, a cleaner that contains oxalic acid, such as Bar Keeper's Friend Soft Cleanser is effective as well.

    If using baking soda and water, use a cloth or soft bristle brush, rub the baking soda in the direction of the grain. This may take a little effort but this will remove these soils. When cleaned, rinse with clean water on a clean soft cloth.

    If using Bar Keeper's Friend, use only the liquid cleanser (free of grit) and be sure rub in the direction of the metal grain lines with a damp soft sponge

  • World Water Woes

    Flint's water woes, highlight the consequences of neglect, inadequate monitoring, and poor water infrastructure. However, Flint is not an isolated case; many other cities both nationally and globally face similar challenges.

    It is not unusual for governments to forgo investing in critical water infrastructure, or to fail to take changing environmental conditions and/or growing consumer markets into account. For many places, such as Flint, Mumbai, Johannesburg and Sao Paulo, the consequences of this lack of foresight results in decrepit water systems that are inadequate, leaving consumers with a water supply that is unsafe to drink, if they have water at all.

    credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/108886459@N03/ credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/108886459@N03/

    Because governments around the world have procrastinated on taking action to combat climate change, countries now have to drastically reduce their greenhouse gas emissions if we have any hope of preventing environmental collapse. Many are still reluctant to do so. Droughts are increasing in their frequency and intensity, and are occurring in all regions of the world, threatening crops and drinking water supplies. In India and the US Midwest, depleted aquifers threaten crops, and thus food production. In Lake Taihu, China, and Lake Erie, US, nutrient pollution gives rise to toxic algal blooms that impacts the water quality of communities that depend on these lakes for their drinking water, often resulting in residents not being able to use water from their taps. A toxic algal bloom in Lake Taihu in 2007 left millions of residents in Wuxi, China without water for several days — a logistical nightmare considering the amount of residents affected.

    With water resources already under severe pressure, when water infrastructure breaks down, the fallout can be swift and crippling to society. Sao Paulo recently suffered the consequences of a severe 2-year drought, exacerbated by inadequate and poorly maintained water infrastructure, leaving Brazil's largest city — with a population of 20 million inhabitants — facing the prospect of having no water. The South African capital of Johannesburg suffered a similar fate in November 2015, when taps in some areas in the city ran dry.

    To prevent potential disaster, aging water systems need to be maintained, upgraded, and in some cases expanded. But this is costly, and many cities simply don't have the budget to undertake the much needed upgrades.

    Yet, while governments may aim to save operating costs, the consequences of not maintaining and upgrading water infrastructure to keep up with consumer demand and changing environmental conditions can be more costly to rectify than the any savings attained in their efforts to cut costs.

    Consumers can take measures to ensure they have a steady supply of safe drinking water at all times. Firstly, consumers can take measures to ensure a backup supply of water should the taps run dry by installing rainwater tanks to catch and store rainwater during the rainy season for use in the dry season. Secondly, investing in a good quality drinking water filter that can purify water will ensure that both water flowing out the tap, or stored rainwater used for drinking in times of drought, is free from harmful pollutants, ensuring that there is always a safe supply of drinking water on hand.

  • Chemical Reactions Between Fracking Fluids and Rock Release Toxic Contaminants into Water New Study Finds

    During hydro-fracking operations, hundreds of thousands of gallons of water are pumped into the ground under pressure to force open fissures and release the natural gas trapped within. During this process, a concoction of toxic chemicals are added to the water, resulting in heavily contaminated wastewater as a byproduct.

    Until now, it was believed that fracking wastewater was largely contaminated as a result of chemical interactions with naturally occurring saline brine water found in rocks. However, a new study has found that chemical reactions that occur between the freshwater injected into the ground and fractured shale rock could be a major cause of the contamination.

    The results of the study, which were recently published in the scientific journal Applied Geochemistry, shows that when freshwater used in fracking operations is exposed to rock deep underground, due to chemical reactions between the two, it transforms into a liquid that is highly saline and has high levels of toxic metals, and poses a risk of contaminating drinking water if not disposed of appropriately.

    Courtesy of: https://www.flickr.com/photos/128012869@N08/ FRacking Pond. Photo courtesy of: https://www.flickr.com/photos/128012869@N08/

    For the study, the research team examined samples taken from three drilling cores from drilling sites situated in the Marcellus Shale deposit in New York and Pennsylvania to assess chemical reactions between water and rock that could release toxic metals such as barium during the hydro-fracking process.

    The Marcellus Shale deposit has extensive natural gas reserves, and as a result has been largely exploited by the oil and gas industry using hydro-fracking techniques to extract the natural gas from deep underground. Because the fracturing process takes place under high pressure about a mile underground where temperatures are high and oxygen levels low, chemical reactions between water and the fractured rock occur.

    In terms of extracting oil and gas from shale beds, hydro-fracking is considered to be an important technological advancement in the oil and gas industry. However, the wastewater produced as a result of these operations is highly saline and contains extremely high levels of barium — a toxic metal. Up until now it was assumed that this highly saline water containing high levels of barium resulted from freshwater (used in fracking operations) mixing with saline water naturally found underground that already contained barium. Yet the researchers found that a large percentage of barium within the shale is bound to clay minerals, and gets released into the fracking water as salinity levels increase over time.

    "Based on barium yields determined from laboratory leaching experiments of the Marcellus Shale and a reasonable estimate of the water/rock mass ratio during hydraulic fracturing, we suggest that all of the barium in produced water can be reconciled with leaching directly from the fractured rock," says senior author Mukul Sharma, a professor of Earth Sciences at Dartmouth College.

    By understanding how barium behaves during these processes, we can better understand the behavior of other environmental contaminants that occur as a result of the hydro-fracking process.

    "Importantly, barium behavior allows us to understand the behavior of radium, which is very abundant in produced water and is a very real environmental concern," explains Sharma. "There has been much discussion about injection of water with lots of toxic compounds during fracking. What is less known is that produced water is hazardous waste and chemical reactions between water and the rock are likely playing a role in its formation, not simply a mixing of freshwater with natural brines in the rock."

    Journal Reference

    Devon Renock, Joshua D. Landis, Mukul Sharma. Reductive weathering of black shale and release of barium during hydraulic fracturing. Applied Geochemistry, 2016; 65: 73 DOI: 10.1016/j.apgeochem.2015.11.001

  • Toxic Environmental Contaminants Contribute to Antibiotic Resistance

    ** Antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a growing health problem that has prompted health officials, NGOs and media agencies to increase public awareness of the hazards associated with antibiotic use and misuse.

    ** Now a University of Georgia ecologist has warned that there may be more to this issue than misuse of antibiotic drugs.

    J. Vaun McArthur, an ecologist based at the Odum School of Ecology and the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, believes that environmental contaminants (primarily heavy metals) could play a role in the rise of bacterial resistance. To test his hypothesis he studied the effects of environmental contaminants in streams surrounding the U.S. Department of Energy's Savannah River Site.

    The DoE's Savannah River Site is situated alongside the Savannah River, close to Aiken, South Carolina, and covers an area of 310 square miles. In the 1950s the site was closed to the general public and used to produce materials required for building nuclear weapons. The production of these materials has resulted in toxic waste materials that have contaminated certain areas within the site and impacted streams in the surrounding areas.

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    McArthur and his fellow researchers collected water and sediment samples from eleven sites along nine streams and proceeded to test five different antibiotics on over 400 strains E. Coli bacteria collected from the streams. Metal contaminants measured at the various sites ranged from low to high.

    "The site was constructed and closed to the public before antibiotics were used in medical practices and agriculture," McArthur said. "The streams have not had inputs from wastewater, so we know the observed patterns are from something other than antibiotics."

    The results of the study, which were recently published in the journal Environmental Microbiology, found that 8 of the 11 sites tested had high levels of antibiotic resistance. The highest level of antibiotic resistance (in both sediment and water samples) were recorded at the northern-most location on Upper Three Runs Creek, and on two tributaries within the industrial area.

    While the Upper Three Runs Creek does flow through agricultural, residential and other industrial areas before entering the Savannah River Site, therefore exposing bacteria in the stream to antibiotics, sites marked U4 and U8 are contained within the site and do not have any known antibiotic input from external sources. There is, however, a long history of contamination from legacy waste at these sites.

    McArthur then screened the samples a second time using twenty-three antibiotics on samples collected from U4 and U8, as well as samples collected from a stream nearby that was considered to be free from industrial contaminants.

    According to McArthur, more than 95% of bacteria samples collected from these streams showed antibiotic resistance to more than 10 of the 23 antibiotics tested, including antibiotics typically used to treat common bacterial infections such as pink eye, sinus- and urinary infections. The highest levels of antibiotic resistance were recorded at locations U4 and U8 (the streams heavily contaminated with industrial waste).

    "These streams have no source of antibiotic input, thus the only explanation for the high level of antibiotic resistance is the environmental contaminants in these streams -- the metals, including cadmium and mercury," McArthur said.

    While McArthur acknowledges that wildlife that have been exposed to antibiotics may have contributed by adding waste to these streams, only streams that had a history of industrial waste being discharged into them had bacteria that were resistant to antibiotics — bacteria in the other six streams located in pristine areas within the site that received no industrial input succumbed to antibiotics.

    McArthur finds it disconcerting that industrially contaminated water from these antibiotic resistance streams flows into the Savannah River, which flows past residential communities living on the border of South Carolina and Georgia.
    According to McArthur: "The findings of this study may very well explain why resistant bacteria are so widely distributed."

    Journal Reference

    J.V. McArthur et al. Patterns of Multi-Antibiotic-Resistant Escherichia Coli from Streams with No History of Antimicrobial Inputs. Environmental Microbiology, (Nov 2015); doi:10. 1007/ s00248-015-0678-4

  • Water Dispensers in Schools Linked to Weight Loss in Kids

    ** Giving kids the option to drink water instead of milk or fizzy drinks can prevent weight gain and keep them healthy.

    ** Making water freely available in schools by placing water jets in school cafeterias resulted in a reduction in student weight, a new study that was conducted in public schools in New York City has found.

    For the study, researchers assessed over 1 million students from 1227 schools across New York City comparing weight loss at schools with water dispensers to those at schools without. The report, which was recently published online in the journal, JAMA Pediatrics, is the first to reveal the link between the school water program and student weight loss.

    "This study demonstrates that doing something as simple as providing free and readily available water to students may have positive impacts on their overall health, particularly weight management," says study senior investigator Brian Elbel, an associate professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone and NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service."Our findings suggest that this relatively low-cost intervention is, in fact, working."

    The school water program was implemented in New York City schools in 2009, where large, electrically-powered water jets that dispensed water out of clear jugs by the push of a lever, were installed into schools across the city. At a cost of $1000 each, roughly 40% of schools were issued a water jet during the course of this study, which ran from the 2008/9 school year through to 2012/3 school year.

    Water Dispenser in NYC School Water Dispenser in NYC School

    The researchers analyzed height/weight data of students recorded by schools annually to determine student fitness levels, and compared body mass index (BMI) and weight status of all the students before water jets were introduced. They then reassessed these measurements after water jets were installed. The results show a change for the better: Compared to students at schools that didn't have water jets, students from schools where water jets had been installed for at least 3 months showed a reduced BMI — a reduction of between 0.22 (girls) - 0.25 (boys). Students were also between 0.6% (girls) - 0.9% (boys) less likely to be overweight than children from schools that didn't have water jets installed.

    The researchers conclude that making water readily available to children may lead them to opt for water instead of high calorie beverages such as flavored milk, fruit juice or soda. While New York City schools prohibited the sale of sugary beverages before the study began, students are still free to bring these onto school premises from other outside sources.

    A previous study conducted by Dr Ebel found that after water jets were introduced to schools, water consumption tripled within 3 months, while milk consumption dropped.

    According to lead author, Amy Ellen Schwartz, reducing the consumption of high calorie sugary beverages while simultaneously encouraging kids to drink water, is an important step in promoting children's health and decreasing childhood obesity, and school's provide the perfect setting for such an intervention.

    Considering that just under 40% of New York City children are overweight, healthy lifestyle choices are essential to end this trend. To this end, the city has implemented various policies to combat childhood obesity and promote child health. Besides introducing water jets to public schools, the city is striving to improve nutrition standards by offering more fruit and vegetables and removing fizzy drinks from vending machines, and providing low-fat milk instead of full-cream milk.

    If your child attends a school that does not have water jets installed you can still ensure that he or she has water freely available at all times. Pack a handy Sport Berkey Filter Bottle into your child's school bag and they can have a ready supply of healthy filtered water wherever they are.

    Journal Reference:

    Amy Ellen Schwartz, Michele Leardo, Siddhartha Aneja, Brian Elbel. Effect of a School-Based Water Intervention on Child Body Mass Index and Obesity. JAMA Pediatrics, 2016; 1 DOI: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.3778

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