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water pollution

  • Sochi Water Woes

    Reports of bright orange contaminated water spewing from hotel taps in Sochi leaves us pondering whether this could have any adverse effects on the Olympians as well as spectators and press visiting the 2014 Winter Olympics.

    With a budget of over fifty billion US dollars for constructing the stadiums and sports facilities needed to host the 2014 Winter Olympics, one would have thought that the organizers would have focused more attention on issues surrounding the provision of safe drinking water to visiting athletes and tourists alike. Instead of taking the opportunity (and available funding) to clean up the local water supply, they have rather opted to provide visitors with a supply of bottled water to satisfy their thirst. But competitors, tourists and journalists alike all need clean water for bathing or showering, as well as for cooking, and bottled water just won't do the trick.


    The city of Sochi gets its water supply from the Mzymta River, which has become increasingly more polluted and contaminated as a result of runoff from landfills used to dispose construction and industrial waste that has accumulated during the construction of Sochi's Olympic Village.

    According to reports, officials have opted to pay heavy fines rather than making an effort to clean up Sochi's water supply. Clay fill has been used to cover debris and industrial waste in the landfill sites, including tires, foam, spray cans, chunks of cement, as well as other hazardous waste materials. While the authorities have been aware of the problem for years, they have not been forthcoming in sharing this with the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

    Russian citizens rely heavily on bottled water supplies from local suppliers such Alibaba, Sochi Water, and KAY National Spring Water. But there is concern as to the safety of this 'natural spring water', which may be collected locally or from further afield, for example from springs at Uludag Mountain in Turkey.

    With visitors having been warned that they should not use the orange tainted water flowing from hotel taps for washing or bathing, it could be a nightmare for athletes and a very long holiday for tourists. With revelations that the hotel showers are monitored with cameras to prevent water shortages, most guests will be even more reluctant to wash while in Sochi, not that they are likely to want to take lengthy showers in bright orange water anyhow.

    The issues with showering and bathing aside, there is a bigger health threat associated with drinking or eating food that has been prepared or cooked with contaminated water. This is not only impacting visiting tourists and reporters, but will not doubt also have an impact on the visiting athletes too, and could in all probability affect their ability to perform at their optimal level.

    This is a stark reminder that even when visiting developed countries some precautions need to be taken to ensure that you will have access to safe drinking water. Big Berkey Water Filters supply a variety of water filters that could be useful in this and other situations, including a shower filter that screws into the shower head, a Travel Berkey water filter, and a portable Go Berkey Kit that could prove handy when traveling around a foreign country with a questionable water supply.

  • EPA Launches New Website Revealing Local Pollution and Water Quality Conditions

    On the eve of the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Clean Water Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched a new, user friendly website to allow anyone to look up water quality and pollution violations of their local waterways and drinking water sources.

    How's My Waterway

    How's My Waterway? Presents EPA Water Quality Data in Plain Language

    How's My Waterway? was developed to interpret and present the data EPA collects from the states and territories every two years on 34 different pollution categories and the state of local waterways, as well as summarize any resulting action plans.

    "EPA's national information system on water quality assessments -- ATTAINS -- is a technical database designed for specialized scientific and technical uses. For many years, EPA has compiled valuable nationwide information in ATTAINS on the condition of healthy and polluted waterways, gathered through Clean Water Act assessment and reporting by States and territories...

    ...Without being experts in water quality or databases, people have needed an easier way to learn about their local waters, their pollution problems and why they matter, and what's being done to improve conditions. Faced with a baffling array of scientific information and a complex technical database, an average citizen might say, 'All I really want to know is, how's MY waterway? And please tell me in words I understand."

    While not a native mobile device app, How's My Waterway? is a website designed with mobile users in mind. It's clean, simple interface loads quickly on tablets and mobile devices. Should a user want more information, the technical reports upon which How's My Water Way? is based are linked from within each relevant section.

     How's my Water - Washington DC

    "America's lakes, streams and rivers are national treasures. Communities and neighborhoods across the U.S. want to know that their local lakes, rivers and streams are healthy and safe to enjoy with their families", said Nancy Stoner, acting assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Water. This new app provides easy, user-friendly access to the health of a waterway, whether it is safe for swimming and fishing, and what is being done about any reported problems. People can get this information whether researching at a desktop or standing streamside looking at a smart phone. Change begins with awareness and How's My Waterway? is a solid step in the right direction.

  • Millions of Pounds of Industrial Toxins Pollute Rivers and Drinking Water Annually

    The Ohio River provides drinking water for 3 million people. In 2010, the Ohio river was also the dump site for 32 million pounds of toxic chemicals, according to a new report based on the Environmental Protection Agency's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). As we reported in our last article regarding aging sewer systems polluting our beautiful beaches, human pollution is affecting our waterways in much the same way and many times in a worse manner.

    In all, industrial polluters dumped 226 million pounds of toxic chemicals into U.S. waterways in 2010. Polluters in just the top 5 states Indiana, Virginia, Nebraska, Texas and Georgia were responsible for 40% of all toxins released into U.S. waterways, according to the non-profit advocacy organizations Environment America and Frontier Group which analyzed the data.

    Toxic Water Pollution By River Watershed

    Polluters have been self-reporting toxin releases since 1987, but 2010 is the first year for which EPA classified releases by watershed.

    Top 10 Waterways for Total Toxic Discharges, 2010
    Rank Waterway Toxic discharges (lb.)
    1 Ohio River (IL, IN, KY, OH, PA, WV) 32,111,718
    2 Mississippi River (AR, IA, IL, KY, LA, MN, MO, MS, TN, WI) 12,739,749
    3 New River (NC, VA) 12,529,948
    4 Savannah River (GA, SC) 9,624,090
    5 Delaware River (DE, NJ, PA) 6,719,436
    6 Muskingum River (OH) 5,754,118
    7 Missouri River (IA, KS, MO, ND, NE) 4,887,971
    8 Shonka Ditch (NE) 4,614,722
    9 Tricounty Canal (NE) 3,386,162
    10 Rock River (IL, WI) 3,370,392

    source: Wasting Our Waterways

    Top polluters across the country included food and beverage manufacturing, heavy metals manufacturing, chemical plants, and petroleum refineries. One company, AK Steel, released 30 million pounds of toxins into waterways in Indiana and Ohio.

    Toxic River Pollution to Drinking Water Contamination

    These toxins persist in the environment and, because most larger U.S. towns and cities draw drinking water from rivers and lakes, they can be piped right into our homes. The New York Times reported in 2009 that the tap water of 1 in 10 Americans either contained dangerous chemicals or failed drinking water health standards. This is just another reason why we believe owning a home water filter like the berkey water filter is critical to protecting one's health.

    Lax Clean Water Act Enforcement Leads To Polluter Playground

    Environment America and Frontier Group did not estimate how much of the total toxins released represent illegal pollution or exceedences of Clean Water Act permits. According to the groups, lax enforcement is a major reason that 40 years after the Clean Water Act became law, America's waterways remain a "polluter's paradise." The report explains:

    "States (who are primarily responsible for enforcing the law in most of the country) have often been unwilling to tighten pollution limits on industrial dischargers and have often let illegal polluters get away with exceeding their permitted pollution levels without penalty or with only a slap on the wrist.

    The Clean Water Act intended pollution discharge permits to be gradually tightened to force innovation toward safer industries and progress toward universally drinkable and swimable waterways. Not only is this not happening, as of 2009 almost 1 in 5 discharge permits for major industrial facilities was expired.

    "The Clean Water Act's original objective was to clean up all of America's waterways by 1985, 27 years ago," said Rob Kerth, analyst for Frontier Group and co-author of the report. "Many people born in 1985 have kids of their own now, yet still millions of pounds of toxic chemicals are being dumped into our waterways."

    We covered this a couple of years ago in response to a new york times piece on the failure of the Clean Water Act, and it's sad to say not much has changed and doesn't look to be anytime soon.

  • America's Aging Sewer System Threatens Beachgoers and Swimmers

    Your Berkey water filter has been shown to effectively purify even untreated water. But unfortunately, your water filter can’t protect you from water contamination if you swim in it.

    Water Quality State and county authorities issued 24,091 beach closing and advisory days in 2010 due to pollution, primarily from sewage and animal waste, which could expose swimmers to a host of waterborne illnesses.

    Sewage Contamination From Cities and Farms

    According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the advocacy organization that calculated the beach-closing statistic, pollution from leaky sewer pipes or overflows during heavy rains are a primary source of human sewage pollution in waterways.

    In many urban areas, rain runoff from roofs and roads is directed into the same pipes that carry household sewage to the local water treatment plant. During very heavy storms, the system can be overwhelmed and rainwater and untreated sewage simply overflows into local waterways. In more rural areas, poorly contained animal agriculture operations allow rain to wash waste into waterways.

    Surfers and Swimmers Get Sick from Contaminated Beach Water

    The latest issue of Surfer magazine reports: “Most official county advisories warn to avoid contact with the water for 72 hours after a heavy rain, a three-day buffer to allow the collective runoff to thin to healthy levels.”

    Many surfers don’t wait that long, either because they don’t realize they should or they think they tougher than the bacteria in the water. “Surfers sometimes believe that they are immune to ocean-related illness, because they have been surfing that same spot for years, or that the water quality is not as bad as it is hyped up to be,” explains Paloma Aguirre, spokesperson for the San Diego-based environmental organization WiLDCOAST.

    Even Sandcastles Can Harbor Beach Bacteria

    According to NRDC, it’s not just surfers who are at risk. Swimmers and other beach-goers, especially pregnant women, children, the elderly and those with a weakened immune system need to heed warnings and stay out of the water when bacteria levels rise. Not only that, minimizing exposure to beach sand after an advisory is issued may be just as important.

    “Bacteria concentrate in sand as water rises and recedes with the tides, leaving both the wet sand and the dry sand just beyond it more heavily contaminated than the water. Because of this, it is most important to keep beach sand out of the mouths of toddlers. Keeping your hands out of it or washing them after playing in the sand is also a good idea,” explains the NRDC website.

    Pollution Illnesses on The Rise

    Pollution at U.S. beaches exposes swimmers to a range of waterborne illnesses and may cause stomach flu, skin rashes, pinkeye, ear, nose and throat problems, dysentery, hepatitis, respiratory ailments, neurological disorders and other serious health problems.

    It is hard to determine the number of gastroenteritis cases or other diseases caused by swimming in polluted water. There is no national reporting system in the United States to help epidemiologists track national trends, but the Centers for Disease Control estimate that illness from contaminated beach water is on the rise. One study conducted by the agency concluded that 10 percent of Great Lakes beachgoers get sick after swimming.

    Fixing Sewers and Protecting the Public from Pollution

    RDC and other public health advocates are calling for a variety of reforms that include increased funding for sewer treatment plant upgrades and sewage system repair. The public could also be better protected by improving water quality testing speed, accuracy, and public notification systems.

    Read more:

    Fixing Leaky Pipes Could Triple U.S. Water Bills
    Green Infrastructure Protects Rivers Around the United States
    E. Coli Contamination of Drinking Water

  • Karst Conservation Is Essential To Protect Our Drinking Water

    Karst's are above or underground caverns, usually made of limestone or calcium carbonate, that over time tend to collect water and create aquifers. When such aquifers are found near residential areas, they make ideal sources of water as the water is assumed to be pure and the supply often endless. However recent studies show that this may be a serious misjudgment as human contamination transported by groundwater runoff is increasingly having an impact on these once pristine sources of drinking water.  Without continued proactive karst conservation legislation, many of these delicate ecosystems will eventually be destroyed and lost forever.

    Across every continent, except Antarctica, are found above ground and underground caverns. When water dissolves this very soluble rock, the result is a cavern, a waterfall, a lake, a sinkhole, or any number of topographical changes. This is referred to as karst topography.

    Recent testing of some karst aquifers have revealed groundwater contamination. Groundwater flows into the underground through conduits allowing little opportunity for filtration or sorption of contaminants before reaching the karst. Reports of karst contamination is appearing more frequently in the news and sometimes resulting in the need to abandon the use of these karst springs and aquifers as a source of drinking water entirely. Some recently impacted regions in the US have been Kentucky, Virginia, and just this past May, Tennessee.

    How Karts Are Contmainated By Groundwater

    Basin type draining tends to collect anything and everything off the surface of the land and this can leave the water unfit for human use as fecal contamination containing e coli bacteria, pesticides, herbicides, and chemicals used by industry can sometimes find their way into these aquifers. The best way to protect a karst aquifer from pollution is to practice karst conservation, requiring humans to limit industry and other polluting activities over the groundwater basin.

    In the meantime, there are new risks that we face from karst drinking water. First, individuals coming across a karst in nature may assume that the clear water is safe to drink. This is becoming less and less the case. The other concern is for those who have relied on a karst for decades to supply them with water. A karst aquifer can provide pure drinking water for 100 years, but can become contaminated very quickly once exposed to chemicals or contaminants.

    As the population grows and pollution continues, the risks of contamination also increase, and thus routine testing of these karst aquifers should become a mandatory requirement. Fortunately, there are some glimmers of hope as citizens begin to better understand the sensitivity of these essential ecosystems and endorse karst conservation. Just this month, in British Colombia, karst conservation legislation was introduced to do just that.

    Do not assume a clear pool in a natural setting is automatically sanitary. If you are hiking, it is best to take your own water along, even if you will be a long way from any sign of life. Another option is to take along a portable water filter such as the sport berkey that will remove bacteria and contaminants.

    If your primary daily water source is from a Karst, a recommended precaution is to filter it prior to ingestion. Even if the water has been tested and deemed safe for drinking in the past, an unknown contamination could occur quickly and put your family's health at risk. Berkey water filters are one way to accomplish this. They are able to filter out bacterial contamination and other chemicals to undetectable levels while also leaving in the important beneficial minerals that karst aquifer's regularly possess.

  • Uranium Mine Contaminating Groundwater of Jefferson County, Colorado

    The Denver Post has recently reported that an abandoned uranium mine located in Jefferson County, Colorado is contaminating both surrounding groundwater and a creek that serves the Denver's Ralston Water Reservoir. Beneath the Schwartzwalder Mine, Uranium concentrations were found to exceed human health standards by more than 1000 times! Fortunately, the Ralston Reservoir is on temporary leave from serving Denver's drinking water system, but local residents who are on wells in Jefferson County are rightfully nervous about this new development. However, it's not such a new development.

    Colorado regulators were aware of this contamination at least as early as July 2009, with uranium seepage likely underway for a considerable time beforehand, yet neither local residents nor the Denver water authority was notified of the problem. Negotiations with the owner for the clean-up of the mine and contaminated areas have been underway for some time, but a resolution has yet to be reached.  In the meantime, Uranium continues to seep into the surrounding environment.

  • Poisoned Waters - A Documentary Worth Watching

    We see a couple commercials on the TV about some corporation that's involved in an eco-friendly project and our conscious sets at ease.  The mindset becomes, "we're on the right environmental path, we're starting to make change." The stark reality is that it's going to take much more for us to right these wrongs as we are still on an environmental downward trend in the US and even more so in developing countries.  While we each have our own part to play in this life, and some may be able help turn the tide more than others, it's imperative that we at least all fully understand the severe ramifications of our choices and actions.

    Below are promotional clips from an upcoming PBS documentary called Poisoned Waters that is looking like a must see presentation on the environmental impacts of water pollution. It runs for 2 hours and debuts on PBS this upcoming Tuesday, April 21st at 9PM. It will also be available on the PBS website in it's entirety after the premiere.

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