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  • Overhydration: Too Much of a Good Thing

    So in last week's article we covered why water is essential for maintaining good health, but contrary to conventional wisdom, like all good things, when consumed in excess water can in fact be bad for you.

    While most people are aware of the risks associated with dehydration, the same cannot be said about overhydration. Athletes are particularly vulnerable to the health risks associated with overhydrating, as they are most likely to drink excessive amounts of water to replenish fluids lost while exercising in their efforts to prevent dehydration.


    According to Mitchell Rosner, a kidney specialist at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, consuming excessive amounts of water or sports energy drinks can cause exercise-associated hyponatremia (EAH) -- a condition that occurs as a result of the body having too much water in relation to the level of salt present. When the body's blood salt levels drop to dangerously low levels it can result in neurological disorders that can prove fatal.

    In the past endurance athletes were most susceptible to the effects of EAH, but doctors are now treating athletes from a much wider variety of sport disciplines. This has spurred the introduction of new guidelines for hydrating during sporting activities, which were recently published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine by a panel of experts from 4 countries, chaired by Rosner.

    "We have documented at least 14 deaths [from EAH] since 1981, including two deaths last summer in young athletes playing football," said Rosner. "The common feature in all cases is excessive water consumption during athletic events. This is driven by common misbeliefs that overhydration can improve performance and even prevent dehydration. It is worth noting that data demonstrates mild degrees of dehydration do not impair performance."

    In order to prevent EAH, Rosner suggests that athletes listen to their bodies for cues on when to drink.

    "We recommend using your thirst as a guide," he said. "If you drink when thirsty, you will not become hyponatremic and you will not suffer from significant dehydration."

    These recommendations apply to both water and sports energy drinks, as drinking either in excess will result in hyponatremia. While sports drinks contain low levels of salts that may slightly reduce the risk, they still consist mainly of water.

    According to Rosner, the initial symptoms can include headaches, nausea and fuzzy thinking, and more serious cases of EAH can result in severe confusion, seizures and coma. Should parents or sports coaches notice that a sportsman or woman is exhibiting signs of EAH, it is imperative that they take measures to prevent the athlete from drinking anymore fluids and seek medical assistance immediately.

    For athletes that are showing mild symptoms of EAH, limiting fluid intake while keeping a close eye on their condition should see them recover within a couple of hours. However, if an athlete is showing more serious symptoms, it is advisable to seek urgent medical attention.

    For athletes with mild symptoms, limiting fluids and closely monitoring their condition will help them recover within a few hours, Rosner said, but more severe symptoms such as confusion require urgent medical attention.

    It appears that the saying 'everything in moderation' applies to water consumption too, as too much of a good thing can be bad for you.

    Journal Reference:

    Hew-Butler T, et al. Statement of the Third International Exercise-Associated Hyponatremia Consensus Development Conference, Carlsbad, California, 2015. Clin J Sport Med. 2015 Jul;25(4):303-20. doi: 10.1097/JSM.0000000000000221.I

  • Detecting Toxic Algae Blooms: There's gonna be an app for that!

    Microalgae are tiny single-celled plants known phytoplankton that can be both a boon and a bane. They form the base of marine and freshwater food chains, providing an essential food source for fish and other freshwater and marine species. Additionally, they absorb roughly half of all carbon dioxide released on Earth through the process of photosynthesis. However, some species (e.g. cyanobacteria) produce phyto-toxins that can be harmful to fish and wildlife, as well as humans and domestic animals. When conditions are right, phytoplankton can flourish, resulting in a population explosion -- or algal bloom -- which can extend over vast areas, as is common in Lake Erie, where a 2014 outbreak resulted in a drinking water ban in Toledo, Ohio, which affected close to half a million residents.

    Now, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with financial assistance from NASA are developing a cellphone app that will allow them to track harmful algae species that pose a threat to the nation's drinking water supplies. This will not only have health benefits, but economic benefits too. Freshwater contamination by harmful algae results in an economic cost/loss of around 64 million US dollars annually.


    The EPA, NASA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the US Geological Survey (USGS) have put their heads together to come up with a solution. NASA has been using Earth observing satellites to detect and monitor algal blooms in coastal zones for some time now, but have now adapted this to enable them to monitor water quality of freshwater systems too. Soon water quality managers will be able to determine the quality of the water simply by looking at their cellphones.

    The research team, comprised of scientists from all four agencies, are currently collaborating on a joint project that will enable them to transform satellite data into an indicator that can be used to detect cyanobacteria blooms in freshwater systems that supply us with water. The EPA plan to integrate this data into an Android smart phone app that will allow water managers and environmental officers to determine the water quality of a specific waterbody at a glance.

    "With our app, you can view water quality on the scale of the US, and zoom in to get near-real-time data for a local lake," explains the EPA's Blake Schaeffer, Principal Investigator for the project. "When we start pushing this data to smartphone apps, we will have achieved something that's never been done – provide water quality satellite data like weather data. People will be able to check the amount of 'algae bloom' like they would check the temperature."

    How Does the App Work?

    Harmful cyanobacteria species emit chlorophyll and fluorescent light during their life cycle. These 'ocean color' signals can be detected by satellite systems, such as NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), Landsat, and the European Space Agency's Sentinel-2 and Sentinel-3, revealing both the location of the cyanobacteria and their abundance. The researchers will gather this data for freshwater systems and convert it into a format that is readily accessible via the cellphone app or web portals.

    By enabling water managers at treatment facilities to have an early warning system alerting them to developing harmful blooms that threaten water quality, they will be in a better position to take the necessary steps to prevent contamination by upping water treatment dosages where necessary to keep residents safe, while at the same time avoiding unnecessary over treatment, that can be costly. This information will give park managers early warning to potential health risks, and assist them to take action to keep recreational users of water bodies, such as swimmers and kyakers, safe.

    NASA's Administrator Charles Bolden says: “We’re excited to be putting NASA’s expertise in space and scientific exploration to work protecting public health and safety."

    It is anticipated that this project will also help scientists to gain a better understanding of why harmful algal blooms occur -- what are the environmental triggers that fuel their growth. By comparing algal outbreak color data with data on land cover change, they hope to get a clearer picture of what environmental factors spur these blooms. The end result will be: improved forecasts of algal bloom events, together with a clearer understanding of when an algal bloom is likely to be harmful or harmless.

  • Drink Plenty of Water as a Preventative Health Measure

    Water is not only essential to maintain our health and well being, it also plays an important role in preventative health. Doctors recommend that an adult should drink eight glasses of water a day to keep their bodies hydrated by replacing fluids that are naturally lost during the coarse of the day. The kidneys need water to flush waste products from our system. Drinking lots of clean fresh water helps the body eliminate toxins, preventing toxins from building up in the body, where they can cause aches and pains, illness or disease.

    Water is an essential ingredient for a healthy digestive system. Fresh water prevents excessive amounts of sugar and other chemicals from entering the body, and aids in maintaining regular bowel movements, ensuring that wastes are excreted from the body regularly.


    Water is needed to transport dissolved nutrients throughout our body. The nervous system and brain require these nutrients to function properly. Without a healthy supply of fresh clean water, the nervous system and brain are not able to function as efficiently. Very often mild dehydration presents common health problems such as headaches and migraines, and is associated with lack of concentration and poor comprehension, which can be dangerous if operating machinery or driving a vehicle.

    Water plays an important role in preventing the human body from overheating. By releasing perspiration, heat is transferred away from the body, cooling it down in the process. Rehydrating with clean, fresh water during and after exercise is important to replenish the water lost through sweating. A sport water bottle is mandatory during heavy workouts, but consider equipping yourself with a filtered version for optimal health.

    The skin is the bodies largest organ, made up of billions of cells that require lots of water to keep them revitalized. Drinking plenty of healthy water keeps the cells hydrated, and helps maintain skin elasticity, keeping your skin soft and supple. Chlorine in tap water dries out the hair, skin, and nails, leaving hair and nails brittle, and skin dull and lifeless. Chlorine can also cause skin, eye and respiratory irritations. A water filter fitted to your shower head will remove chlorine from the water, offering a much healthier alternative to regular tap water when showering. By removing the chlorine from your shower water, you will have healthy shiny hair, glowing skin, and bright eyes.

    Drinking a constant supply of fresh, clean water will not only keep your system functioning efficiently, it can also prevent health problems from occurring. Filtered water is recommended over regular tap water, as it is free from known pollutants that can cause disease such as gastrointestinal disease and maladies.

    Flush Out Toxins

    Drinking plenty of water is proven to reduce the risk of many forms of cancer, particularly colon, bladder, prostrate, and breast cancer. This is because it flushes out toxins and carcinogens, preventing them from being stored in body tissue and accumulating over time. However, it is essential that the water be uncontaminated for it to be effective at removing toxins from the body. Because unfiltered water often contains pollutants that are carcinogenic themselves, drinking filtered water is more effective at ridding the body of toxins that can weaken the immune system, cause cellular damage, and cancer.

  • A Third of the World's Major Groundwater Basins are in Distress

    Two new research studies conducted by a research team comprised of scientists from the University of California, Irvine; UC Santa Barbara; National Taiwan University; and NASA, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who assessed data supplied by NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites, have found that a third of the world's major groundwater reserves are rapidly becoming depleted due to human demands, despite there being little information regarding how much water they still contain.


    According to the reports, which were recently published in Water Resources Research, this means that a significant portion of the global human population is consuming groundwater at a rapid pace without any knowledge of when these groundwater supplies may run dry.

    "Available physical and chemical measurements are simply insufficient," said principal investigator Jay Famiglietti, who is a professor at UCI and also the senior water scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "Given how quickly we are consuming the world’s groundwater reserves, we need a coordinated global effort to determine how much is left."

    In the initial report, the scientists show that 13 out of 37 of the world's major aquifers assessed over a 10 year period between 2003-2013, were having water extracted at unsustainable levels due to their receiving little or no replenishment.

    Of these, 8 were considered to be "overstressed," as they were not being replenished as the water was drawn off for use, while 5 were considered "extremely" or "highly" stressed, according to the degree of replenishment -- although these aquifers were being rapidly depleted, they were being replenished, but at a much slower rate than what water was being used.

    The researchers found that the most overstressed groundwater basins were situated in the driest areas of the world, where populations were forced to draw heavily from groundwater reserves. It is anticipated that population growth together with climate change will exacerbate the problem in the future.

    "What happens when a highly stressed aquifer is located in a region with socioeconomic or political tensions that can’t supplement declining water supplies fast enough?" asked Alexandra Richey, lead author of both studies. "We’re trying to raise red flags now to pinpoint where active management today could protect future lives and livelihoods."

    The researchers determined that the world's most overstressed groundwater basin is the Arabian Aquifer System -- a source of water for over 60 million people, followed by the Indus Basin siutated in Pakistan and India, with North Africa's Murzuk-DjadoBasin the third most stressed. While the Californian Central Valley basin is heavily used by the agricultural sector and thus rapidly becoming depleted, it fared slightly better but was still considered highly stressed by the authors of the first study.

    "As we’re seeing in California right now, we rely much more heavily on groundwater during drought," explains Famiglietti. "When examining the sustainability of a region’s water resources, we absolutely must account for that dependence."

    In the second companion paper that was also published in Water Resouces Research, the researchers concede that estimates of the total volume of the world's groundwater vary greatly and are vague at best, leaving them to conclude that little is known about how much usable groundwater actually remains in the world, but this is likely to be much less than these outdated estimates.

    When the researchers compared the groundwater loss rates derived from the satellite data to the limited data on groundwater availability, they discovered major discrepancies when projecting "time to depletion". For example, in the Northwest Sahara Aquifer System -- an overstressed groundwater basin -- estimated time to depletion varied between 10 - 21,000 years.

    "We don’t actually know how much is stored in each of these aquifers. Estimates of remaining storage might vary from decades to millennia," said Richey. "In a water-scarce society, we can no longer tolerate this level of uncertainty, especially since groundwater is disappearing so rapidly."

    The study also points out that groundwater depletion is already showing signs of ecological impacts, including changes in river flow rates, reduced water quality, and land subsidence.
    Underground aquifers tend to be found in sediments or rock located deep beneath the surface of the Earth, making it difficult and expensive to drill into the bedrock to determine where the water bottoms out. But according to the authors, this is necessary and is a task that has to be undertaken if we wish to gain a better understanding of the volume of groundwater remaining on our Planet.

    Journal References:

    Richey, A. S., Thomas, B. F., Lo, M.-H., Reager, J. T., Famiglietti, J. S., Voss, K., Swenson, S. and Rodell, M. (2015), Quantifying renewable groundwater stress with GRACE. Water Resour. Res.. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1002/2015WR017349

    Richey, A. S., Thomas, B. F., Lo, M.-H., Famiglietti, J. S., Swenson, S. and Rodell, M. (2015), Uncertainty in global groundwater storage estimates in a total groundwater stress framework. Water Resour. Res.. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1002/2015WR017351

  • Heroin Analog Poses Risk as Carcinogenic Drinking Water Contaminant

    Drinking water is commonly disinfected with chlorine to kill any bacteria that could pose a health threat to those who drink it. This has substantially reduced, if not alleviated waterborne diseases in developed countries; however it has given rise to an emerging problem: These disinfectants produce by-products that are carcinogenic to humans. Health officials are wanting to learn more about the origins of these by-products, especially N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), an extremely potent carcinogenic, in order to reduce their concentrations in drinking water.

    In a report that was recently published in Environmental Science and Technology Letters, scientists now show that methadone -- a common painkiller and analog of heroin that is found in rivers and lakes as a result of wastewater discharge -- may be a precursor of NDMA present in drinking water.


    Around 40 years ago in the 1970s, researchers discovered that when used as a water disinfectant, chlorine is able to convert organic compounds in dead plant matter found in surface freshwater systems into trihalomethanes, which are known to be carcinogenic. Consequently, many municipal water treatment facilities switched to chloramines for disinfecting their drinking water supplies, as they reduce the production of trihalomethanes by as much as 90%, says Susan Richardson, an environmental analytical chemist from the University of South Carolina. But chloramines are not totally harmless; they react with organic nitrogen precursors that occur naturally in the environment to form N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA). Animal studies have shown that NDMA can cause cancer of the kidney, liver and respiratory system.

    The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set the standard for NDMA in drinking water to 0.7 ng/L, but according to Richardson, “a significant portion of the U.S. population is exposed to NDMA at concentrations above this level.”

    According to the study's lead author, David Hanigan, a graduate student of environmental engineering at Arizona State University, scientists are aware that treated sewage discharged into freshwater systems provides a potent source of these NDMA precursors, but it is difficult to identify them amongst the hundreds of thousands of other compounds found in wastewater. Previous studies that focused on a handful of pharmaceutical drugs to test whether they formed NDMA when exposed to chloramines, identified some precursors, including ranitidine, commonly used to reduce stomach acid. “But even though ranitidine has a high NDMA yield in the lab, it doesn’t occur in surface water,” notes Hanigan.

    So Hanigan, together with his research team, set about collecting real surface water samples from 10 US and Canadian rivers and sewage effluent from a wastewater treatment facility in Arizona so that they could look for potential NDMA precursors. Using liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry techniques to search for compounds that had the potential to form NDMA in the presence of chloramines, the scientists ran the data through computer software to isolate an ion that enabled them to confirm that methadone was present in the water samples. Methadone -- a prescription drug used to treat pain and heroin addiction -- is excreted from the body and eventually makes its way through sewage treatment plants to freshwater systems, where it can linger for months.

    When the scientists exposed the methadone to monochloramine, 60% of the methadone produced NDMA after reacting with the chloramines. According to Hanigan, this is significant, as in previous studies only five chemicals exhibited an NDMA yield over 50%, and none of those chemicals have been detected in sewage effluent.

    After modelling a typical American community consisting of 100,000 people that consume methadone in line with the national average rate and discharges treated sewage effluent diluted by 40% when mixed with water from the receiving river, the researchers estimated that drinking water downstream would contain approximately 5-ng/L NDMA, which is typically measured at US water treatment plants that use chloramine as a drinking water disinfectant.

    “This paper shows that methadone can be a major source of NDMA in drinking water,” says Richardson. "With EPA poised to potentially regulate NDMA in drinking water, the findings will help researchers determine how to prevent its formation."

    Some utilities treat water with activated carbon or ozone before it enters the treatment plant to remove organic precursors of NMDA.

  • Contaminants Can Seep into Drinking Water Via Leaky Pipes

    A new study conducted by engineers from the University of Sheffield, England, has proven conclusively that pollutants can enter water pipes via leaks to be transported throughout the distribution network.

    The high pressure usually associated with water mains can force water out of leaks in the pipes, but typically prevents foreign matter from entering. However, when the pressure drops significantly as a result of a damaged pipe section, any water that has accumulated around the outside of the faulty pipe may be drawn back in through any holes that are present.
    It was previously thought that when this occurred, only clean, uncontaminated water that had leaked out of the pipe would be drawn back in, and should any pollutants be present, they would be expelled as soon as the pressure built up again. This new study shows that groundwater surrounding the pipe, which may contain pollutants that can be harmful to human health, can be drawn into the water pipe, where it remains and is distributed throughout the network.


    A dynamic drop in water pressure occurs when there is an abrupt change in water flow speed. This can be the result of pump or valve failures, or due to a surge in demand for water, for example when a large volume of water is extracted by firefighters fighting a blaze.

    "Previous studies have shown that material around water pipes contains harmful contaminants, including viruses and bacteria from feces, so anything sucked into the network through a leak is going to include things we don't want to be drinking," said lead researcher, Professor Joby Boxall. "Many of us will have had a 'dodgy tummy' in the past that we couldn't quite explain, often putting it down to something we'd eaten. It now seems possible that some of these illnesses could have been caused not by food, but by water."

    The study made use of a purpose-built water network consisting of 141 meters (463 feet) of water mains piping maintained at a pressure similar to that used in UK water networks. A damaged section of pipe was surrounded by a box filled with grit into which the engineers injected a pigmented dye to serve as the contaminant.

    When the leaky section of pipe was subjected to a sudden drop in pressure, as much as 60ml of the colored water was sucked into it. The researchers were able to detect the dye when it reached the end of pipe network 70 meters (230 feet) further down the line, proving that pollutants remain in the water to be transported throughout the network.

    "Our research shows that contaminants that enter through a leaking pipe could be reaching consumers' taps, and although this will be at very low concentrations, it would fail the safety tests if detected," said co-researcher Dr Richard Collins. "We also believe that microorganisms, including pathogens, which enter the network in this way could attach to the inner surface of the pipe and multiply. If they are later dislodged by another change in flow, they could then reach our taps in higher concentrations."

    While we can cannot be certain how often dynamic water pressures drop low enough to result in drinking water contamination as water distribution systems around the world are not monitored frequently enough, limited studies that have been conducted in the Unite States indicate that such pressure drops occur regularly.

    The United Kingdom water regulator considers leaks with the UK water distribution network to be economically sustainable, meaning that the value of the lost water is less than what it would cost more to find and repair the leaks. The focus is now on reducing the drastic changes in water pressure that develop as a result of these leaks.

  • What Is The Secret of Black Berkey Filters?

    We often get asked, "How do the black berkey filters work?"  Below, you'll be find the 3 reasons the Black Berkeys are able to acheive the high filtration results that they do.


    The first line of defense is that Berkey purification elements are composed of a proprietary formulation of more than six different media types, all constructed into a very compact matrix containing millions of microscopic pores. These pores are so small that they produce what we refer to as a “Tortuous Path” that pathogenic bacteria, cysts, parasites, herbicides, pesticides, organic solvents, VOC’s, detergents, cloudiness, silt, sediment and sedimentary minerals, foul tastes and odors must travel through. These paths are so small that these pollutants physically cannot pass through them and become trapped, eliminating them from your drinking water. This process is known as microfiltration.



    Secondly, our media formulation uses unique adsorption and absorption properties. Adsorption works to create an ionic barrier similar to surface tension. This barrier is perfectly suited to the micro-porous water filter because it effectively allows the tiny pores to block water contaminants that are smaller than the pore size itself. This blocking process is how the Berkey water filter is able to remove submicron viruses that other brands of water filters cannot, without the use of obnoxious chemicals like iodine or chlorine. Next, the heavy metals ions (mineral molecules) such as cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, aluminum, and other dangerous heavy metals are extracted from the water through an Ion exchange process where they are attracted to and transformed by electrically bonding to the media.

    Flow Rate

    Finally, Berkey systems are so effective at removing contaminants from water because of the extremely long “contact period”. Other filtration systems rely on water pressure that forces water molecules through the elements at 60-90 PSI. These water molecules come into contact with the filter media for a mere fraction of a second. By comparison, water molecules passing through the structure of the Black Berkey elements are drawn gently by gravity and stay in contact with the media for a long period of time. This allows the filter media to be more efficient in capturing contaminants. This advanced technology was developed, refined, and proven through years of diligent, investigative research and testing performed by water purification specialists, researchers, and engineers. The flow rate or time of exposure through the Black Berkey purification elements has been calculated to yield the greatest volume of removal of viruses, toxic chemicals, and bacteria.

  • How to Reduce Your Water Footprint

    Our ecological footprint extends much further than just our carbon footprint. It includes the impacts of all our actions on the environment, and on ecological systems that support life. One of the areas that humans have the biggest environmental impact, is water. We not only pollute our valuable water resources, we very often waste these as well. If everyone made a concerted effort to save water, much of the water that is unnecessarily wasted could be conserved. These 12 tips on how to save water in the your home will get you started.


    Saving Water In the Home

    1. Turn the tap off when you brush your teeth. This will save plenty of water that would otherwise flow down the sink while you are diligently brushing away.
    2. Fit low-flow shower heads to showers, and use appliances that have water saving features. Fit your toilet with a water saving flush device, or place a large object, such as a brick, into the cistern to decrease the amount of water that is used with every flush.
    3. Instead of taking a bath, rather shower. The average size bath uses 30-50 gallons of water, while a four minute shower under a normal flow shower head consumes 20 gallons of water. By fitting a low-glow shower head to your shower, this can be reduced to only 10 gallons of water per four minute shower! If you shower 8 minutes which would be closer to the average length of shower, it would be 20 gallons. Considering that all family members bathe every day, you could save big time if everyone took a shower instead of bathing every day.
    4. Make sure that there are no dripping faucets, or toilets that run persistently. Replace worn washers and fix all leaking plumbing.
    5. Only run the washing machine when you a full load. This will not only save electricity and water, but will save on detergent, and at the end of the day will save you money. If you must only do half a load of washing, ensure that you change the setting of your washing machine to the half-full setting.
    6. Never pour toxic substances down the drain, sink, or sewer, and don't be tempted to pour them onto the ground. They can pollute groundwater, rivers and lakes, and can kill wildlife and pose a health risk to humans. Take toxic waste substances to a hazardous waste disposal site who will handle it in the appropriate manner.

    Saving Water In the Garden

    1. Create a water-wise garden using hardy plants that do not need to be watered too frequently.
    2. Use garden mulch to retain moisture in garden beds and prevent soils from becoming desiccated as water is evaporated from the soil. This will reduce the need to water as often.
    3. Recycle household grey water by diverting it onto flower beds, a vegetable patch, or simply to irrigate the lawn.
    4. Erect a rainwater tank to collect rainwater that can be used to water the garden. Rainwater that is harvested in the wet season can be used to irrigate the garden come the dry season.
    5. Try to use the methods mentioned above to avoid having to water the lawn, but if you really have to, water your garden early in the morning or later in the day when temperatures are cooler, and evaporation will be less.
    6. Try to use eco-friendly gardening methods – replace toxic chemical herbicides and pesticides, which can pollute groundwater and harm wildlife, domestic animals and humans, with natural alternatives that are gentler on the environment.

  • Environmental Exposure to Growth Hormones used in Beef Production Higher than expected

    A recent study conducted by an environmental scientist at Indiana University together with colleagues from universities in Washington and Iowa has found that growth hormones used in agriculture, that are potentially harmful to the environment and to human health, can persist in natural systems at higher levels and for longer periods than initially thought.

    "What we release into the environment is just the starting point for a complex series of chemical reactions that can occur, sometimes with unintended consequences," said Adam Ward, lead author of the study and assistant professor in the IU Bloomington School of Public and Environmental Affairs. "When compounds react in a way we don't anticipate -- when they convert between species, when they persist after we thought they were gone -- this challenges our regulatory system."

    The numerical modeling performed during the study can assist scientists with predicting potential effects of environmental processes on the fate of contaminants to enable them to better understand, and thus anticipate any unexpected effects.

    5209281614_2d7438dac5_z The study, which was recently published in Nature Communications, looks at the environmental fate of the contaminant trenbolone acetate (TBA), a potent synthetic hormone that mimics testosterone, which is used to promote growth in cattle raised for beef. TBA is inserted into the ears of cattle, which when metabolized producers the endocrine disruptor, 17-alpha-trenbolone.

    This research highlights potential flaws in the system for regulating hazardous materials in the US, which currently tends to focus on individual compounds, while typically failing to take complex and often unexpected chemical reactions that may occur when these compounds interact with other elements and compound in the environment into account.

    The study, which was recently published in Nature Communications, looks at the environmental fate of the contaminant trenbolone acetate (TBA), a potent synthetic hormone that mimics testosterone, which is used to promote growth in cattle raised for beef. TBA is inserted into the ears of cattle, which when metabolized producers the endocrine disruptor, 17-alpha-trenbolone, which has a similar chemical composition to TBA. This metabolite is excreted and can contaminate waterways when manure is washed into freshwater systems or when it is used to fertilize crops. Most of the beef cattle farmed in the US are given growth hormones such as TBA to encourage weight gain.

    TBA and its associated byproducts represent examples of 'emerging contaminants' that are of growing concern. These contaminants are endocrine disruptors that have been shown to be capable of disrupting the reproductive systems and reproductive behavior of aquatic organisms.

    Because the compound breaks down quickly in the presence of sunlight, it was initially believed that the environmental risk was low. However a recent study has shown that the byproducts revert back to 17-alpha-trenbolone when darkness falls, meaning that the compound is only temporarily removed when exposed to sunlight, and can persist in streams, returning to its original form at night, or in the shadows of murky waters, and in areas of the streambed where groundwater and stream water mix.

    Using mathematical models, the researchers show that TBA metabolite levels may be around 35% higher in water bodies than initially thought, and because they persist for longer, the levels of biological exposure are likely to be 50% higher than originally anticipated.
    According to Ward, that is a problem, because these compounds are potent endocrine disruptors that are known to have significant impacts on aquatic life even at low concentrations.

    "These compounds have the potential to disrupt entire ecosystems by altering reproductive cycles in many species, including fish," Ward said. "We expect impacts that extend through the aquatic food web."

    Studies conducted by the USGS and others have shown that endocrine disruptors are not only present in freshwater systems, but can also contaminate drinking water sources. While the focus of this study was TBA and its byproducts, according to Ward, these compounds represent many others, suggesting that a new approach to the regulation of hazardous substances may be needed to maintain environmental integrity and safe drinking water.

    "Our focus on individual compounds has been highly successful in getting us where we are today, which is some of the cleanest water in the world," said Ward. "The next step is thinking about unexpected reactions that occur in the environment and how we can manage the diverse group of potential products and their joint effect on the environment and human health."

    Journal Reference:

    Adam S. Ward, David M. Cwiertny, Edward P. Kolodziej, Colleen C. Brehm. Coupled reversion and stream-hyporheic exchange processes increase environmental persistence of trenbolone metabolites. Nature Communications, 2015; 6: 7067 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms8067

  • Trade-offs Between Water for Food and for Curbing Climate Change

    The world faces a constant dilemma – we require fresh water both as a source of drinking water and to produce food to support an ever increasing human population, yet water is also required to support the growth of natural vegetation, such as forests, which are essential for absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to help reduce the rate of global warming. But is there sufficiently abundant water available on Earth to adequately supply both these demands?

    Food Production and Biomass for Carbon Sequestration Compete for Water

    A recent study conducted by a team of researchers from Stockholm University, Sweden, has estimated the water consumption required to support a projected total world population of 9 billion people by 2050 and how much water will be required to support the biomass that is necessary to meet the carbon sequestration demands of our ever warming planet. During their analysis, the researchers looked at a number of thresholds that if water consumption remained within, the Earth's ecological systems would cope sufficiently. However, overstepping these threshold limits could result in sudden changes, which could be irreversible and have dire consequences for ecosystems and people dependent upon them. for example, if excessive amounts of freshwater are withdrawn from rivers, water levels can be reduced to levels that will result in ecological collapse of these aquatic ecosystems.


    Food and Carbon Sequestration Water Demands Exceed Earth’s Water Constraints

    The researchers projected that in order to provide sufficient water to achieve global food security, while at the same time maintaining the goad of carbon sequestration through forestry programs, an annual increase in water consumption of 780 miles³ (3,250 kms³) would be required. When this figure was added to the current annual global water consumption figures of 624 miles³ (2,600 kms³) it resulted in an unsustainable figure of 1,404 miles³ (5850 kms³) of water required annually, which according to their study, would be beyond the safe annual threshold limits of 1,200 miles³ (5000 kms³). Transgressing these threshold limits would threaten aquatic ecosystems and result in water shortages, which could result in social-ecological problems as people struggle to meet both their basic food and water requirements.


    Projected Biomass Water Consumption Aggravates Current Regional Water Shortages

    This study stresses the need for communities to understand that there is a trade-off between allocating water to produce food to feet the people of the world and allocating water to sustain biomass to remove atmospheric carbon dioxide in an effort to mitigate climate change. As food production cannot be reduced without reducing food availability and food security, this highlights the fact that in the long-term, greening projects alone will not be a realistic method to sufficiently counter the effects of carbon emissions, as they compete for food for valuable water resources. While greening projects certainly have their benefits, which aside from carbon sequestration, include restoring habitat in an effort to maintain biodiversity, we need to realize that the most feasible way to reduce carbon emissions is to stop emitting carbon; or at least to make a concerted effort to reduce these emissions at the source, rather than relying on carbon sequestration by photosynthesizing plants to reduce atmospheric carbon.

    Journal Reference

    The planetary water drama: Dual task of feeding humanity and curbing climate change, Geophysical Research Letters, doi: 10.1029/2012GL051688

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