Big Berkey Water Filters

  • Plastic Microbeads: Tiny Plastics that Pose a Big Problem

    Discarded plastics – in the form of plastic bags, plastic packaging, and plastic consumer goods –  are notorious environmental pollutants that degrade natural systems, kill wildlife, and ultimately pose a health risk to humans too. While plastic bags and other plastics are widely acknowledged as being extremely important environmental pollutants, tiny plastic microbeads are a lesser known evil, that are now being acknowledged as problematic.

    plastic beads

    Plastic microbeads are minute plastic particles that are added to hundreds, if not thousands, of beauty products sold all over the world, including certain shower gels, facial and body scrubs, and even some brands of toothpaste. These microscopic plastic beads flow down the plughole of your shower, bath or bathroom basin, and enter the sewage system. While drinking water treatment facilities are equipped with specialized filtration systems that can remove microbeads, wastewater treatment facilities do not have the capacity to filter these tiny particulates from the wastewater as it enters the plant, and being plastics, by their very nature they persist in the treated effluent when it is discharged into a river. These microbeads are carried suspended in the river water and are finally released into the ocean, where they are contributing to an ever growing problem of plastic marine debris. Wildlife in both freshwater and marine ecosystems absorb or consume microbeads, which are then passed up the food chain when a predator consumes prey that has ingested or absorbed these tiny plastic particles. Considering that humans ultimately sit at the top of marine and freshwater food pyramids, it stands to reason that we too are more than likely absorbing plastic microbeads when we consume contaminated fish, shellfish or waterfowl.

    Plastic microbeads do not break down in the environment and consequently persist in both freshwater lakes and the oceans. Now that this problem has been acknowledged, environmental groups are putting pressure on manufacturers of personal care products to remove plastic microbeads from their products. While many manufacturers have taken steps to replace microbeads with environmentally friendly alternatives consisting of natural materials that are readily biodegradable, such as ground peach pips or walnut shells, the phasing out process is somewhat slow. Consequently, there are still personal care products on store shelves that contain plastic microbeads, which are adding to the plastic soup in our waterways and oceans.

    Now, if like me, you are concerned that you are contributing to the problem by using your favorite exfoliating shower gel or facial scrub, you can now download a smartphone App that can alert you to whether a product contains plastic microbeads or not, via a simple traffic light interface that allows you to see the products eco-friendly status at a glance. The App was originally developed by two Dutch NGOs – the North Sea Foundation and the Plastic Soup Foundation – to allow consumers in Holland to check whether personal care products contained plastic microbeads by scanning the barcodes. In 2013 the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) together with Fauna & Flora, an environmental NGO based in the UK, got onboard to develop the App further so that it could be used internationally to help address the problem.

    How to use the App

    1. Download the Beat the Microbead App
    2. Once you have downloaded the App, you need to select your country.
    3. Use your smartphone to scan the barcode of the selected personal care product.
    4. The App reads the product's barcode, and will indicate whether the product contains microbeads via a color coded output as follows:

    • Red: The product contains plastic microbeads.
    • Orange: The product does still contain plastic microbeads, however the supplier has pledged to replace these with an eco-friendly alternative within a specified period.
    • Green: The product does not contain plastic microbeads.


    The Beat the Microbead App gives consumers the power to make environmentally sound choices when purchasing personal care products. Consumer boycotting of products that contain plastic microbeads will force manufacturers that are unwilling to replace microbeads with biodegradable alternatives to think otherwise.

    Source: Surfrider Foundation

  • Fracking Chemicals Interfere with Normal Hormone Functioning

    Endocrine-disrupting chemicals linked to infertility, birth defects and cancer detected in water near fracking sites

    Hydraulic fracturing is a controversial method of extracting natural gas and oil trapped in layers of rock deep beneath the surface. This method of drilling employs a toxic potion of chemicals, many of which are known hormone disrupters according to a scientific study that was recently published in The Endocrine Society's journal Endocrinology.

    Endocrine-disrupting chemicals – also known as EDCs – are hazardous chemicals that have the ability to disrupt the normal functioning of the endocrine system. EDCs may be present in manufactured goods, including certain food products, soil, water and air. Studies have shown that exposure to EDCs can cause cancer, infertility or birth defects.

    Damage Done By Fracking - Credit: Toban B

    “More than 700 chemicals are used in the fracking process, and many of them disturb hormone function,” said Susan Nagel, an author of the study based at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, who is concerned that as fracking operations expand, communities may face increasing health risks due to increased exposure to endocrine-disrupting substances.

    The researchers assessed twelve potential endocrine-disrupting chemicals used in fracking operations, measuring their power to block or mimic the functions of both male and female human reproductive hormones.

    To assess whether fracking operations led to increased endocrine-disrupting activity, the research team analyzed and compared water samples collected from sites in a densely drilled area in Garfield County, CO, containing over 10,000 active gas wells where spills have been reported, to water samples collected from sites in Garfield County, CO and Boone County, MO that are not densely drilled and where no spills have occurred.

    The results of the tests showed that water samples collected from densely drilled sites contained higher concentrations of EDCs that could disrupt hormone functioning in the human body, interfering with how the body responds to androgens – hormones that include testosterone and estrogen, both of which play an essential role in reproduction. EDC levels in water samples collected from drilling sites ranged from moderate to high, while samples collected from the Colorado River – which is essentially the drainage basin of the fracking sites – contained moderate levels of EDC activity. By comparison, samples collected from sites with low drilling activity contained low levels of EDC activity.

    Most concerning, is the fact that spills which occur during natural gas drilling operations can contaminate water resources, including surface water, groundwater and drinking water sources, yet fracking is exempt from federal regulations that protect water quality. “We found more endocrine-disrupting activity in the water close to drilling locations that had experienced spills than at control sites. This could raise the risk of reproductive, metabolic, neurological and other diseases, especially in children who are exposed to EDCs,” cautions Nagel.

    The study, “Estrogen and Androgen Receptor Activities of Hydraulic Fracturing Chemicals and Surface and Ground Water in a Drilling-Dense Region”, was published online, ahead of print.

    Journal Reference:

    Christopher D. Kassotis, Donald E. Tillitt, J. Wade Davis, Annette M. Hormann, and Susan C. Nagel. Estrogen and Androgen Receptor Activities of Hydraulic Fracturing Chemicals and Surface and Ground Water in a Drilling-Dense Region. Endocrinology, December 2013.

  • Using Acid Mine Wastewater to Reduce Radioactivity of Fracking Wastewater

    A new study led by scientists from Duke University has revealed that radioactivity of fracking wastewater may be reduced by blending it with wastewater recovered from acid mine drainage. Wastewater from both fracking and acid mine drainage are known to pose a potential health risk both to the environment and to humans. However, laboratory test results from the study, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology in December 2013, have shown that when wastewater from these two sources are blended in the correct proportions it is possible to bind some of the contaminants found in fracking water into solids that facilitates their removal prior to the water being discharged into rivers.

    “This could be an effective way to treat Marcellus Shale hydraulic fracturing wastewater, while providing a beneficial use for acid mine drainage that currently is contaminating waterways in much of the northeastern United States,” said Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment. “It's a win-win for the industry and the environment.”

    Oil and Gas Drilling

    The above picture is of an oil and gas wastewater facility. Blending wastewater from fracking operations with wastewater from acid mine drainage could also provide a usable source of recycled water that can be used during hydro-fracking operations, which would in turn reduce the pressure on freshwater resources that are currently being unsustainably utilized and rapidly depleted.

    The hydraulic fracturing process involves pumping millions of tons of water into drilled gas wells under high pressure, which forces open fissures in the shale deposits, releasing the natural gas contained within so that it can be extracted. However, some of the water that is pumped into the well returns to the surface together with the natural gas being extracted. This fluid, commonly referred to as 'flowback fluid', typically consists of high concentrations of naturally occurring salts, metals (such as strontium and barium), and radioactive substances such as radium.

    A previous study conducted by the Duke research team revealed that the standard methods used to treat fracking wastewater only partially remove these potentially hazardous pollutants from fracking waste, resulting in radioactive wastewater being released into freshwater systems where they tend to accumulate in sediments of rivers and streams near the point of discharge.

    Acid mine drainage, which is potentially extremely toxic to fauna and flora as well as humans, seeps out old disused coal mines, contaminating many freshwater systems within the Appalachian Basin, negatively impacting the quality of water in hundreds of rivers and streams throughout West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

    As a large portion of Marcellus shale gas exploration is occurring in areas that were historically used to mine coal, experts proposed that acid mine drainage could offer an alternative and  more sustainable water source to use in fracking operations and reduce the pressure on limited freshwater sources, which are currently under strain.

    In order to test this theory, Vengosh and his fellow researchers blended various mixtures of Marcellus Shale hydro-fracking wastewater together with acid mine drainage – all samples where provided to them by operators drilling for gas in the western Pennsylvania area.

    After two days, the researchers assessed the chemical and radiological make-up of 26 of the blended mixtures, using geochemical modeling techniques to simulate both the physical and chemical reactions that took place after the fracking and acid mine drainage waste-waters were blended. The scientists then verified their results with x-ray diffraction and by taking radioactivity measurements from the solids that formed as a result of the mixing.

    “Our analysis suggested that several ions, including sulfate, iron, barium and strontium, as well as between 60 and 100 percent of the radium, had precipitated within the first 10 hours into newly formed solids composed mainly of strontium barite,” Vengosh said.


    It was now possible to separate the radioactive solids from the fluids so that they could be disposed of at an appropriate hazardous waste disposal site, and with the radioactive material safely removed, the water would pose less of an environmental and health risk if discharged when discharged into waterways. Moreover, because the blending process also removed salts, salinity levels were also reduced, making the wastewater now suitable to be recycled for use in the hydro-fracking process.

    “The next step is to test this in the field. While our laboratory tests show that is it technically possible to generate recycled, treated water suitable for hydraulic fracturing, field-scale tests are still necessary to confirm its feasibility under operational conditions,” Vengosh said.

    This sounds almost too good to be true - could two wrongs possibly make a right?

    NOTE: While the above research holds some promise for removing radioactive contaminants from the wastewater, it cannot remove pollutants from water that is not returned to the surface – i.e. frac-water full of chemicals and radioactive material that leaches through the ground to contaminate groundwater and drinking water in wells. If your water comes from a source that could be contaminated, rather take the necessary precautions to remove these potentially harmful pollutants by filtering your drinking water with a good quality water filter.

    Journal Reference:

    "Radium and Barium Removal through Blending Hydraulic Fracturing Fluids with Acid Mine Drainage," Andrew J. Kondash, Nathaniel R. Warner, Ori Lahav, Avner Vengosh. Environmental Science & Technology, Dec. 24, 2013, http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/es403852h

  • West Virginia Water Ban Leaves 300,000 Residents Without Water

    With more than 300,000 West Virginia residents left without drinking water since a week ago today, after a chemical spill contaminated their drinking water supply. Environmental assessors have now estimated that approximately 7,500 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol – a hazardous chemical that is used during the processing of coal – leaked into the Elk River from a ruptured storage tank. This is substantially higher than the original estimates of between 2,000 – 5,000 gallons, and no doubt will take longer to contain and flush out of the water supply.

    The chemical spill occurred at the premises of Freedom Industries – a producer of specialty chemicals used in the mining, cement and steel industries – located on the Elk River, a mere 1.5 miles upstream from an intake that supplies water to West Virginia American Water – the state's largest water supplier, which supplies residents in Charleston and nine surrounding counties with drinking water.

    Carrying bottle water

     

    Residents have been cautioned not to drink the water from their taps, nor to use the water for bathing or showering or for any other use except flushing their toilets.

    FEMA has already trucked in over a million liters of water to supply stricken residents, and this figure is expected to rise to around 3 million liters.

    According to a report in The New York Times on Saturday, over one hundred people have visited local hospitals with health issues ranging from skin and eye irritations to feeling nauseous or vomiting.

    A team of chemical safety experts aligned with the Chemical Safety Board (CSB), a federal agency whose mandate is to investigate chemical spills, will visit the stricken areas in West Virginia today to assess the cause of the chemical spill and to make safety recommendations in order to prevent a similar accident in the future.

    This spill, as unfortunate as it is, highlights why it is so important for us to prepare for any situation that will leave us without safe drinking water. Water can become contaminated due to natural causes, natural or man-made disasters, or from accidental spills or intentional acts of sabotage or terrorism. When hundreds of thousands of people are affected, it becomes a logistical nightmare to distribute sufficient water to cater for everyone's needs simultaneously, especially when affected people are spread over a large area. While aid may be sent swiftly, it may still take some time to get through, and can result in pandemonium as people desperately scramble for limited supplies of essential items, particularly a vital resource such as drinking water.

    A good quality home water filter not only provides a source of healthy drinking water on a daily basis, it offers a safety net in the event of a water crisis. However, even the water filtration industry was caught off-guard by this chemical. 4-methylcyclohexane methanol is not on the EPA monitored list, and not surprisingly, there are no labs currently equipped to test for it. It is why last week we released our statement regarding us simply not knowing whether the Berkey can remove this chemical or not. If you know of a lab in the WV area that becomes equipped to test for this chemical, please let us know in the comment section below.

  • Filtering Drinking Water for Improved Health

    If, like me, your New Year's resolution is to live a healthy lifestyle that includes a healthy diet and a regular exercise routine, you will want to start by flushing all the toxins that have accumulated in your system after the festive season's overindulgence of fine foods and party fare. Right up at the top of your health 'to do' list, along with healthy eating and regular exercise, should be 'drink plenty of water'. This will not only help flush toxins from your system, but offers many additional health benefits too.

    drink water

    Every living thing on this earth requires water to survive, humans are no exception. Like other living organisms, we are made up of trillions of cells, and each and every cell in our body is made up of 70% water. Water is essential for our health and well being. It is also an essential component of our body fluids. Water transports nutrients to the cells in our body, and eliminates waste products from the body. It is released as perspiration to keep us cool and prevent the body from overheating. Without water, we would die. Doctors recommend drinking eight classes of water a day for good health. This is to keep the cells that make up our body rehydrated, and to flush out toxins from the body, for optimal health.

    However, it is all very well flushing out toxins by drinking lots of water, but if the water you drink contains pollutants, you are simply adding more toxins to your body to replenish the toxins you are eliminating. For optimal health your body requires pure, uncontaminated water, free of toxins and impurities. The safest way to guarantee that your body is being rehydrated and cleansed with toxin-free water is to use a home water filter to remove any impurities that may be lurking.

    Private wells and boreholes usually contain untreated water, therefore drinking water from these sources may contain both naturally occurring pollutants leached from the soil, and contaminants that have entered the water through runoff. Drinking water supplied by public systems has to adhere to strict safety guidelines as set by the US Environmental Protection Agency, and consequently drinking water from public sources is treated to remove pollutants. However, this water only has to have contaminants removed to meet the required standards set for human health, and while this typically reduces pollutants to within acceptable levels, some contaminants still remain. Furthermore, very often the chemical disinfectants that are used to treat the water, present health problems of their own.

    People with compromised immune systems – aids and cancer patients, and people with immunodeficiencies – are especially at risk from exposure to even low levels of drinking water contaminants, and drinking regular tap water may cause serious illness. In these cases filtered water should not be considered an option, but rather a necessity. The elderly; and infants, who do not yet have a fully developed immune system, are also vulnerable to illnesses caused by bacteria, microbes, and viruses in drinking water. Other drinking water contaminants such as heavy metals (lead, mercury), pesticides, and other chemicals can cause long-term health issues when exposed to consistently over a long period, with some pollutants known to cause developmental problems and learning disorders in children.

    There are various types of drinking water filters available, and your choice will depend on the impurities that you need to remove from your drinking water. Carbon filters are suitable for many applications, but when choosing a carbon filter you will need to take special note of the quality of testing results. The better the testing results, the more effective the filter will be at removing tiny pollutants, invisible to the naked eye, which can very often be the most damaging to our health.

  • West Virginia Chemical Spill and Berkey Removal

    The chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol that was leaked in West Virginia is an organic chemical. This is a relatively unknown chemical that is not on the EPA’s organic chemical list to test for and for this reason we have not specifically tested this organic chemical compound. Therefore, we are unable to positively state that the Berkey system will remove 4-methylcyclohexane methanol.

    What we do know is that the EPA organic compounds that Berkey has tested for show the lowest removal rate was 86% removal, and that the majority tested greater than 99% removal. However, we reiterate that without specific testing we cannot make any claim of removal of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol. We can only state that the data suggests that the black berkey filters would likely be very efficient at removing the chemical, given that it is an organic chemical/compound.

    The manufacturer of Berkey ALWAYS recommends that you use the cleanest source of water available for filtering; however we understand that during emergencies a clean source of water may not be available.

    Summary of Accident

    Chemical that was leaked

    Compound Summary

    Compound Synonyms

  • Unregulated Chemicals are Commonly Found in US Drinking Water

    According to a report released by Environmental Health News, a recent study of US drinking water utilities across the nation has revealed that traces of 18 chemical contaminants – all of which are currently unregulated – occurred in water samples drawn from more than a third of the nations water utilities. The chemical toxins included eleven perfluorinated chemicals, two solvents, a herbicide, and antibacterial compound, a metal toxin, as well as an anti-depressant and caffeine.

    glass water

    Scientists from the US Geological Survey (USGS) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) analyzed both treated and untreated water samples drawn from 25 water utilities that voluntarily took part in the assessment. The researchers detected 21 toxins overall, most of which occurred in low concentrations, in drinking water samples obtained from nine or more water utilities. Only three of these contaminants are regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, meaning that for the remaining 18 there are no safety limits in place, and utilities do not have to monitor them.

    “The good news is the concentrations are generally pretty low,” said Dana Kolpin, a research hydrologist with the USGS who participated in the study. “But there’s still the unknown,” he cautioned. “Are there long-term consequences of low-level exposure to these chemicals?”

    In most cases, very little information is available regarding the health risks associated with exposure to low doses of these contaminants. However, PFOA (also known as C8) – a perfluorinated compound detected in the samples – has been associated with a range of health issues, including cancer, in West Virginian communities who have been exposed to the toxin as a result of their drinking water being contaminated by a local chemical plant. The scientist tested for 251 contaminants, including viruses, bacteria, microbes and chemicals; of which 117 were not found in any of the treated water samples. However, water from at least 9 out of the 25 utilities (>33%) tested showed traces of 21 contaminants, while  traces of 113 contaminants where found in water samples from eight or less (< 33%) of the water utilities tested.

    While research shows that wastewater commonly contains emerging contaminants, little has been reported in terms of which of these persist in drinking water. The EPA currently has four of the toxins detected in the water samples listed on the water contaminant candidate list (CC3): strontium, a heavy metal; metolachlor, a herbicide; and the perfluorinated compounds, PFOA and PFOS.

    “We’re hoping through this work the EPA will do a much more intensive contaminant candidate list and develop new methods and requirements for drinking water plants,” said Edward Furlong, a scientist with the USGS who participated in the study.

    Studies have shown that both metolachlor and strontium pose serious health risks to humans, including cancer and stunted bone growth respectively. Based on findings related to Ohio-Valley communities whose drinking water was contaminated with PFOA from a local DuPont chemical plant, C8 Probable Link Reports suggest that there PFOA in drinking water is associated with a number of health issues, including high cholesterol, thyroid disease, kidney and testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis and pregnancy-induced hypertension.

    PFOS, which was an additive in Scotchgard until being phased out in 2002, is associated with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children and with thyroid health problems in men. The perfluorinated chemical compounds that were most abundant are commonly used in a range of industrial processes, such as in the production of non-stick food packaging and cookware and stain-resistant fabrics. Alarmingly, PFOA and PFOS – two of the most abundant perfluorinated chemical compounds found in drinking water – are also found in the blood of nearly all people living in the US.

    The perfluorinated chemical compounds occurred in both the treated and untreated drinking water samples at similar levels, suggesting that water treatment methods do not remove these contaminants successfully. The only plant that successfully removed these contaminants used activated carbon during the water treatment process. According to Susan Glassmeyer, a research chemist with the EPA, activated carbon, UV and ozone are typically better at removing these contaminants from water than chlorine, which is the most common treatment used, however, these methods tend to be prohibitively costly.

    “People resent having to pay anything for water,” said Glassmeyer. “There’s the thought that there’s a God-given right to have as much as we want but, if you want the cleanest water, these techniques take money.”

    Also, chemical compounds can sometimes be transformed into new compounds during the water treatment process. “Chlorination and other treatments technologies will remove some contaminants, but will react with others,” said Laurel Schaider, a research associate at the Harvard School of Public Health. “Some compounds may appear to be removed but may be transformed to a chemical we know even less about.” A high quality drinking water filter equipped with an can effectively filter out unwanted contaminants to make your water safe to drink.

  • Climate Change Increases Global Water Scarcity Risk

    People living in many regions around the world are currently feeling the impact of water scarcity. As populations continue to grow in the future, so too will the pressure on freshwater resources increase further still. However, in stark contrast to this, water supply is projected to undergo some drastic changes due to a shift in rainfall patterns and evaporation. Scientists estimate that 40% more people – who would otherwise be unaffected if climate change was not a factor – are now in danger of experiencing absolute water scarcity due to climate change. The results of the study which models a wide range of impacts was published online in a special edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences focused on presenting initial results from the Inter-Sectoral Impact Model Intercomparison Project (ISI-MIP), an unparallelled community-driven project that brings research on issues related to climate change to a whole new level.

    “The steepest increase of global water scarcity might happen between 2 and 3 degrees global warming above pre-industrial levels, and this is something to be experienced within the next few decades unless emissions get cut soon,” says lead-author Jacob Schewe of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “It is well-known that water scarcity increases, but our study is the first to quantify the relative share that climate change has in that, compared to – and adding to – the increase that is simply due to population growth.”

    Water Availability Will Vary Greatly from Region to Region

    It is estimated that between 1-2% of the global population live in regions that currently face absolute water scarcity. Climate change together with population growth would cause this figure to rise to approximately 10% should temperatures rise by 3 degrees Celsius. The researchers define absolute water scarcity as  <500 m3 of water available per person per year – at these low levels super efficient water management and water use methods need to be applied in order for the supply to be adequate. By comparison, globally the average annual water consumption per capita equates to approximately 1200 m3, and is typically substantially higher than this in many developed countries around the world.

    Global_Water_Scarcity

    Because the effects of climate change differ in different regions of the world, there are likely to be substantially large differences on the impact of climate change in terms of water availability experienced in different regions of the world. While certain regions, such as the Middle East, Mediterranean, southern China, and southern USA are likely to experience a marked decrease in water availability, other areas, such as western China, Southern India, and certain areas in Eastern Africa may experience a substantial increase in water availability.

    Water Security Vital for Food Security

    With agriculture being one of the biggest consumers of water globally, it goes without saying that water security is essential for food security for many nations around the world – a scarcity of either can threaten human development. However, an increase in rainfall can also be a challenge as surplus water can result in waterlogged soils, flooding, and can cause water-related infrastructure to malfunction or fail. Furthermore, many industries utilize vast quantities of waterduring various production processes, consequently water shortages could hamper economic development in regions where it is scarce.

    This research is a collaborative effort between various international researchers who used 11 global hydrological computer models combined with 5 global climate computer models to simulate various scenarios in terms of how climate change will affect water scarcity. The combined ISI-MIP procedure systematically analyzes the results produced by the different computer generated simulations to determine where there are similarities and where there are not. The data presented here represent the average of the multi-model results – certain models showed even more drastic decreases in water availability.

    Unparalleled Multi-model Approach Provides Risk-management Perspective

    “The multi-model assessment is unique in that it gives us a good measure of uncertainties in future impacts of climate change – which in turn allows us to understand which findings are most robust,” says co-author Pavel Kabat of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). “From a risk management perspective, it becomes very clear that, if human-made climate change continues, we are putting at risk the very basis of life for millions of people, even according to the more optimistic scenarios and models.”

    He stressed that the work is not over, and that there is still a need for further research focusing on future water requirements of various sectors such as agriculture, energy and industry, as well as how new technology together with a reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions can improve water availability.

    Journal Reference:

    Schewe, J., et al. (2013): Multi-model assessment of water scarcity under climate change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (early online edition); DOI:10.1073/pnas.1222460110

  • Freshwater Reservoirs Discovered Under the Seabed

    New freshwater resources have been found in the most unlikely places. Scientists have discovered vast reservoirs of freshwater submerged beneath the ocean floor, presenting an opportunity to avert an anticipated global water crisis due to increased demand and decreased supply.

    In a report that was recently published in the scientific journal, Nature, the scientists estimate that approximately half a million cubic kilometers of low-salinity water lies buried below the seafloor on the continental shelves surrounding many countries around the world.

    These freshwater reserves have been found off the coasts of Australia, South Africa, North America and China, and could potentially be used to supplement water supplies of expanding coastal cities in these regions.

    cook islands

    “The volume of this water resource is a hundred times greater than the amount we’ve extracted from the Earth’s sub-surface in the past century since 1900,” says lead author Dr Vincent Post of the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training (NCGRT) and the School of the Environment at Flinders University. “Knowing about these reserves is great news because this volume of water could sustain some regions for decades.”

    Freshwater Aquifers Common In Ocean

    While scientist have been aware that freshwater reserves existed beneath the seabed, they initially believed this only occurred on rare occasions under special conditions. However, this research reveals that freshwater as well as brackish aquifers are in fact quite commonly found beneath the seabed. According to Dr Post, these aquifers were formed over the last hundreds of thousands of years, when sea levels tended to be much lower than their present levels and the coastline extended further out to sea. Rainwater that fell to the ground would filter through the soil, filling up the water  table to develop underground aquifers in areas that have since been covered by seawater due to rising sea levels.

    “It happened all around the world, and when the sea level rose when ice caps started melting some 20,000 years ago, these areas were covered by the ocean,” explains Dr Post. “Many aquifers were – and are still – protected from seawater by layers of clay and sediment that sit on top of them.”

    According to Dr Post, these aquifers are much the same as aquifers found below land, which people all over the world rely on as a source of drinking water, and because they have low salinities, it is entirely feasible for them to be able to provide a source of potable water to surrounding areas. “There are two ways to access this water – build a platform out at sea and drill into the seabed, or drill from the mainland or islands close to the aquifers,” he explains.

    These Aquifers Are A Finite Resource

    While offshore drilling is typically quite costly, Dr Post notes that this freshwater resource should be considered and assessed in terms of cost, sustainability and environmental impact compared to other water resources such as desalination or building new reservoirs on land.

    “Freshwater under the seabed is much less salty than seawater,” Dr Post explains. “This means it can be converted to drinking water with less energy than seawater desalination, and it would also leave us with a lot less hyper-saline water.

    “Freshwater on our planet is increasingly under stress and strain so the discovery of significant new stores off the coast is very exciting. It means that more options can be considered to help reduce the impact of droughts and continental water shortages.”

    However, while these offshore freshwater sources may offer coastal regions new sources of drinking water to tied them through droughts and other crises, it is important that the seabed is managed effectively to prevent contamination of these resources.

    “Sometimes boreholes are drilled into the aquifers for oil and gas exploration or production, or aquifers are targeted for carbon dioxide disposal. These activities can threaten the quality of the water,” cautions Dr Post, who also warns that this source of water is by its very nature non-renewable as they lie buried beneath the seabed and won't be replenished with rainwater until sea levels drop once more, which will not be for a very, very long time.

    Journal Reference

    Vincent E.A. Post, Jacobus Groen, Henk Kooi, Mark Person, Shemin Ge, W. Mike Edmunds. Offshore fresh groundwater reserves as a global phenomenon. Nature, 2013; 504 (7478): 71 DOI: 10.1038/nature12858
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  • Environmental Toxins Linked to Children's Heart Defects

    Congenital heart defects in children may be caused by their mothers being exposed to certain environmental contaminants while they are pregnant, according to a new study.

    Congenital heart defects develop in the fetus when either the heart or blood vessels surrounding the heart don't develop as they should while the child is in the mothers womb. In some cases, defects are the result of abnormal chromosomes, but in most cases the cause remains unknown.

    Heart Defects

    A recent study examined the incidence of congenital heart defects occurring in Alberta, Canada between 2004-2011 in relation to environmental toxins, notably chemical atmospheric emissions recorded over that period by the Canadian government agency responsible for tracking environmental pollutants.

    The research is part of a long term study that aims to assess whether a pregnant woman's exposure to organic compounds and toxic heavy metals in atmospheric emissions can increase the risk of their children developing heart defects before birth.

    “Although still in the early stage, this research suggests some chemical emissions — particularly, industrial air emissions — may be linked to heart abnormalities that develop while the heart is forming in the womb,” said lead researcher Deliwe P. Ngwezi, M.D., a Ph.D., student and research fellow in pediatric cardiology at the University of Alberta in Canada.

    The researchers examined three different categories of chemicals, however only one category displayed a positive correlation to the increased incidence of congenital heart defects. The chemicals in this group consist of a mixture of organic compounds and heavy metals, including: benzene, hexachlorobenzene, butadiene, chloroform, carbon disulphide, tetrachloroethane, ethylene oxide, sulphur dioxide, methanol, toluene, cadmium, mercury and lead.

    In Canada, the incidence of congenital heart defects has decreased gradually since 2006 when the government enforced tighter regulations to reduce industrial air pollutants from being emitted into the atmosphere. According to Ngwezi, “the heart defect decreases were mainly associated with heart defects resulting in holes between the upper and lower heart chambers (septal defects) and malformations of the cardiac outflow tracts (conotruncal defects).”

    “For now, consumers and healthcare providers should be educated about the potential toll of pollutants on the developing heart,” she said. “As we have observed in the preliminary results, when the emissions decrease, the rates of congenital heart defects also decrease.” It is hoped that this study will draw attention to the growing evidence linking environmental pollutants with birth defects.

    We are exposed to environmental pollutants on a daily basis through the air we breathe, water we drink and food we eat. Air pollutants can be carried great distances before settling on surface water bodies or soils, where they can ultimately make their way into drinking water sources and further impact our health. To reduce your exposure to these pollutants it would be prudent to invest in a good quality water filter, such as a Big Berkey fitted with Black Berkey filter cartridges, which will at least remove these toxins from your the water you drink.

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