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  • Simple Filtration Method Can Stop Urban Storm Water from Killing Salmon

    A recent study has revealed that pollutants in stormwater runoff from parking lots, roads and other paved surfaces is killing adult salmon in West Coast urban streams. The study, which was recently published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, is the first to show how salmon mortality is linked to urban stormwater, and suggests that by filtering urban runoff using a simple inexpensive filtration system consisting of sand and soil filter media, the fish can be protected from the toxic effects of pollutants in runoff.

    According to Julann Spromberg, a NOAA Fisheries research scientist and lead author of the paper, untreated urban stormwater runoff is highly toxic to salmon, and the primary goal of this study is to come up with an inexpensive and practical solution for improving water quality. As salmon are good indicators of water quality, their survival is a good indicator of whether a water treatment method is effective or not.

    Credit: Credit:

    Biologists have been studying the impact that urban storm water has on salmon, concentrating largely on streams surrounding Puget Sound, Washington, where over half of the spawning adults returning to stormwater impacted streams each year die before they have had the chance to spawn.

    Coho salmon are listed as an endangered species in south western Washington, Oregon and California, and these significant annual losses of wild coho stocks to storm water toxins before they are able to spawn, could further endanger their populations.

    The proposed filtration columns function on the same principal as rain gardens, which are rapidly gaining in popularity in the Northwest. The authors suggest that this simple, ecologically sound, natural stormwater filtration method is an example of new green storm water management technologies that should be implemented in both new development and redevelopment projects in an effort to reverse the declining trend and help wild salmon stocks recover.

    The study, which exposed adult salmon from a hatchery in Washington to differing degrees of contaminated and uncontaminated water, including stormwater runoff from a major Washington highway, shows that coho salmon are ecological indicators of harmful water pollutants present in urban stormwater runoff. Fish that were exposed to runoff originating from the highway were killed within a 24 hour period. However, once the scientists filtered the polluted water through a 3ft column consisting of layers of sand, compost, gravel and bark, all of the exposed fish survived as they did when exposed to clean water. A water analysis revealed that the sand column filters reduced heavy metal pollutants by 58% and toxic hydrocarbons by 94%.

    Jen McIntyre, co-author and researcher at the storm water program at Washington State Univerity’s Puyallup Research and Extension Center, was most impressed with how effective the treatment was.

    "It's remarkable that we could take runoff that killed all of the adult coho in less than 24 hours - sometimes less than four hours - and render it non-toxic, even after putting several storms worth of water through the same soil mixture."

    The researchers initially attempted to create a potion resembling stormwater runoff by mixing together various contaminants such as heavy metals and crude oil that are known to be present in urban runoff. However, this artificial concoction did not have the same fatal impact on the fish as the runoff from the highway — the fish survived being exposed to it the same as they did to uncontaminated water — which suggests that urban runoff contains other unknown pollutants from motor oil, exhaust and dust emitted by tires and brakes due to wear and tear.

    According to the scientists, it could take some time to conduct further tests and analysis to pinpoint what exactly in the water is killing the salmon. Previous research in this regard indicates that coho salmon mortality is correlated to the extent of paved surface within a watershed, so it appears that the toxic ingredients in streams originate from urban runoff rather than agricultural or household toxins such as pesticides or pharmaceuticals.

    "The recurring coho spawner deaths have been a high-profile mystery for many years, and we're now much closer to the cause," concludes co-author Nat Scholz. "Although we haven't identified a smoking gun, our study shows that toxic stormwater is killing coho, and that the problem can be addressed."

    Journal Reference

    Julann A. Spromberg, David H. Baldwin, Steven E. Damm, Jenifer K. McIntyre, Michael Huff, Catherine A. Sloan, Bernadita F. Anulacion, Jay W. Davis, Nathaniel L. Scholz. Coho salmon spawner mortality in western US urban watersheds: bioinfiltration prevents lethal storm water impacts. Journal of Applied Ecology, 2015; DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12534

  • Insecticides Threaten US Freshwater Systems and Every Living Thing That Depends on Them

    While many people are aware of the devastating impact that pesticides are having on bees and other insect pollinators, there is far less awareness regarding the use of highly toxic insecticides (a form of pesticide) consisting largely of neonics, that are particularly persistent in the environment and poses perhaps the greatest threat to our freshwater systems and all forms of life that depend on these water bodies for their survival.

    A report titled: Water Hazard: Aquatic Contamination by Neonicotinoid Insecticides in the United States, that was recently published by the Center for Food Safety (CFS), reveals that freshwater systems throughout the US are contaminated with neonicotinoid insecticides, posing a hazard to freshwater invertebrates such as insects and crabs, as well as migratory birds and other wildlife that depend on them for a food source. The report particularly focus on the incorporation of neonicotinoid insecticides in seed coatings, of which as much as 95% can end up in the environment rather than on the crop it was intended to protect.

    photo by Shawn Caza: photo by Shawn Caza:

    Neonicotinoids are a type of insecticide that are known to have both an acute and chronic effect on honey bees and other insect pollinators, and are thought to play a primary role in the deterioration of bee health and the rapid decline in bee populations.

    Every year, neonicotinoid insecticides are applied to crops covering over 150 million acres of land, with seed coatings being the most widely used type of application. Once the nemonic insecticide has been applied, any remaining residues are washed off with runoff or leach through soils to contaminate soil and water sources offsite. Since these contaminants are highly mobile and are readily transported offsite, they are carried to areas such as wetlands and other sensitive aquatic systems where they were not intended to be used, with dire environmental consequences. Because neonic insecticides break down very slowly, they rapidly accumulate in the environment, especially in freshwater systems, endangering a variety of wildlife species — ranging from butterflies and bees to ladybugs, aquatic invertebrates and birds.

    The CFS report analyses case studies representative of California, Iowa and Maryland — all of which are experiencing far ranging neonicotinoid insecticide contamination that exceeds the recommended standard set the leading aquatic toxicology experts. It also draws attention to contamination other areas, such as New York, Wisconsin, Texas and South Dakota. The report discusses the key role that irrigation and field drainage play in transporting these contaminants to freshwater systems, and highlights the growing risk this poses to underground water sources and sensitive wetlands systems, and the valuable wildlife species that inhabit these ecosystems, including fish and migratory birds.

    This poses a very serious long-term risk to environment health, wildlife biodiversity, and to human health and well being. If not addressed urgently, we will very soon witness an ecological crisis akin to Silent Spring. Considering the extreme negative impacts that neonicotinoid pesticides have on insect pollinators, aquatic fauna and the greater environment, it is imperative that the use of these extremely hazardous toxins is suspended if we wish to prevent any further ecological damage.

    What you can do:

    1) Sign a petition demanding the EPA take immediate action to prevent further contamination of our freshwater systems to ensure environmental integrity and that our drinking water sources are pesticide free.

    2) Take measures to remove any pesticides that may be contaminating your drinking water and posing a health risk to you and your family by filtering your drinking water with a good quality home water filter like a Berkey that is capable of removing pesticides.


    Water Hazard: Aquatic Contamination by Neonicotinoid Insecticides in the United States. Center for Food Safety (CFS), September 2015.

  • Rethinking Watershed Management

    A recently published analysis of how land cover and climate change will affect watersheds across the United States, provides options for the management of runoff, storm water and floods that can be implemented by decision-makers to manage water quality.

    The study, which was recently published in the Journal of Geophysical Research Biogeosciences, was conducted by scientists from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who hope that the models and simulations produced will provide managers with practical ways to encourage land developers to implement water quality and conservation measures and to incorporate green infrastructure into their projects.


    Using data collected from satellite images, field stations, temperature gauges, stream gauges and water flow observations across the United States, the study connects the dots between land use and climate (notably temperature and rainfall/precipitation) to runoff and flooding within a watershed drainage system at a much larger scale than ever before.

    According to co-author, Timothy Randhir, of the Department of Environmental Conservation at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, this new information will give us a clearer understanding of the mechanisms and runoff processes in large watersheds.

    “We also want to highlight the importance of natural systems such as forest cover and open space when a town is considering new parking lots or shopping centers, for example. You can't just take away such ecosystem services and expect everything to be OK,” said Randhir. “All towns now have a big problem dealing with storm water, and with climate change it's going to get worse. In the past, the problems just flowed away to become some other town's problem, but that isn't going to work anymore.”

    Randhir hopes that this will encourage a new approach to the way managers manage water resources, moving away from the current reactive approach, where managers deal with stormwater and runoff issues after they have become problematic, to a more active approach where they take preventative measures before problems arise.

    “There seems to be a better understanding now that water flowing away from you doesn't just disappear, it affects someone else, and a problem in the system above you will affect you,” said Randhir. “This kind of systems thinking has to take over, and cooperation has to be used more often.”

    The report suggests recommendations on how to utilize tools such as improving infiltration or urban greening as mitigation measures to reduce flooding. According to Randhir, by combining green infrastructure with best management practices watersheds can made more resilient. It is in a town or city’s own best interests to encourage these measures by offering incentives to developers who install pervious surfaces that promote rainwater infiltration rather than impervious concrete that promote stormwater runoff; or water retention features such as drainage basins or rain gardens that capture runoff that is contaminated with heavy metals, grease and oil washed off road surfaces as well as sediments from soil surfaces.

    Land managers can also introduce incentives to farmers and private landowners to encourage them to take measures to prevent runoff on their properties. Randhir hopes that town and city managers make use of this new information to initiate changes to their land use practices. By doing so, flooding will be reduced, and water quality will improve for users downstream.

    Journal Reference

    Paul Ekness, Timothy O. Randhir. Effect of climate and land cover changes on watershed runoff: A multivariate assessment for storm water management. Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, 2015; DOI: 10.1002/2015JG002981

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  • Ban Plastic Microbeads in Order to Protect Aquatic Wildlife

    Plastic microbeads are increasingly becoming a problem for species inhabiting both freshwater and marine ecosystems, and reducing water quality of valuable freshwater resources that humans depend on for drinking water and recreation. Now a team of conservationists suggest that banning the use of plastic microbeads in beauty products that will end up in wastewater streams, to be discharged into rivers and lakes, to ultimately end up in the ocean, is the only solution to the problem.

    Plastic microbeads are used in a wide range of beauty products such as soaps, facial scrubs and shower gels that by design are washed down the plughole and into the wastewater system. These tiny plastic beads pass through wastewater treatment works to pollute freshwater and marine environments. Collectively, the amount of microbeads being incorporated into products is huge, and so too is the impact they are having on aquatic ecosystems.

    Plastic microbeads Plastic microbeads

    In a report that was recently published in the scientific journal Environmental Science and Technology, researchers from seven different institutions slam the use of plastic microbeads, which are used to give beauty products a granular texture that purportedly aids in tooth whitening (toothpaste) or removing dead skin (soaps, scrubs and shower gels) and recommend that manufacturers switch to non-toxic, biodegradable alternatives, which are readily available.

    "We're facing a plastic crisis and don't even know it," said co-author, Stephanie Green, a Conservation Research Fellow in the College of Science at Oregon State University.

    "Part of this problem can now start with brushing your teeth in the morning," Green explains. "Contaminants like these microbeads are not something our wastewater treatment plants were built to handle, and the overall amount of contamination is huge. The microbeads are very durable."

    In their analysis, the scientists conservatively estimate that around 8 trillion microbeads (which could cover over 300 tennis courts) are emitted into rivers, lakes and estuaries every day in the US alone. These eventually spill out into the sea to contaminate marine ecosystems. But this is only 1% of the microbeads that flow down our drains; the other 99% -- which total an estimated 800 trillion -- is removed with the sludge from wastewater treatment plants,. This typically gets spread over surface soils, where the microbeads can potentially wash into streams, rivers and the ocean through surface runoff.

    "Microbeads are just one of many types of microplastic found in aquatic habitats and in the gut content of wildlife," said lead-author, Chelsea Rochman, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California/Davis. "We've demonstrated in previous studies that microplastic of the same type, size and shape as many microbeads can transfer contaminants to animals and cause toxic effects," Rochman said. "We argue that the scientific evidence regarding microplastic supports legislation calling for a removal of plastic microbeads from personal care products."

    While plastic microbeads are a smaller contributor to the larger problem of plastic debris in freshwater bodies and oceans, they are arguably the easiest to control. As consumers and manufacturers become more aware of the problem of plastic microbeads, some manufacturers have committed to refraining from using plastic microbeads in personal care products that are designed to be 'rinse off', while some states have taken steps to regulate or even ban the sale of personal care products that contain plastic microbeads.

    The report points out that some of these bans include loopholes due to their choice of wording. For example, plastic microbeads are also used extensively in beauty products that are not designed to be 'rinse off', such as cleansers and deodorants, but could still potentially end up in our waterways, while some regulations allow the use of 'biodegradable' products, which allows the use of some plastic microbeads that do biodegrade, albeit only slightly. According to the report, when drafting new legislation, unambiguous wording must be used to "ensure that a material that is persistent, bioaccumulative, or toxic is not added to products designed to go down the drain."

    The authors conclude that: "The probability of risk from microbead pollution is high, while the solution to this problem is simple."  Thankfully there is a handy app that can help consumers choose products wisely. Use this microbead app to check if products contain plastic microbeads.

    Journal Reference
    Chelsea M. Rochman, Sara M. Kross, Jonathan B. Armstrong, Michael T. Bogan, Emily S. Darling, Stephanie J. Green, Ashley R. Smyth, Diogo Veríssimo. Scientific Evidence Supports a Ban on Microbeads. Environmental Science & Technology, 2015; 49 (18): 10759 DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.5b03909

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  • Chemicals Released During Natural Gas Operations Could Pose Health Risk to Humans

    Scientists are concerned that toxic mix of endocrine disrupting chemicals could pose more harm to humans than exposure to single chemical alone.

    Currently in the USA, over 15 million people reside within a mile of unconventional oil and gas extraction sites that utilize a combination of directional drilling and 'fracking' methods to release natural gas contained within the underlying rock. There is growing concern over the health impacts resulting from exposure to chemicals used during these operations, particularly the effect on human development, but until now scientific studies have been inconclusive.

    Now, after reviewing current studies on the health effects linked to unconventional oil and gas operations, a team of researchers led by scientists from the University of Missouri have concluded that these activities have the potential to release a complex mix of endocrine disrupting chemicals into the environment, which in combination with each other have the potential to form a toxic cocktail that could be detrimental to both human reproduction and human development.

    4142106708_5cfda863df_z Fracking Wastewater Pond - credit:

    The researchers reviewed over 100 peer-reviewed scientific research studies, examining them closely for links and patterns associated with chemicals used in unconventional oil and gas extraction and human development. They conclude that available studies suggest that exposure to these chemicals results in adverse health conditions, but point out that there is a lack of evidence-based studies related to unconventional oil and gas extraction processes.

    "We recommend a process to examine the total endocrine disrupting activity from exposure to the mixtures of chemicals used in and resulting from these operations in addition to examining the effects of each chemical on its own," said co-author, Susan Nagel, an associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and women's health in the School of Medicine at the University of Missouri. "Studying these complex mixtures of chemicals released during fracking is necessary since the chemical identities used in oil and natural gas operations are not always known. Additionally, there is strong evidence of endocrine disrupting chemical mixtures having additive effects, so this approach also may be more sensitive."

    Chemicals used during hydrofracking operations to extract natural gas from underground rock can penetrate fissures in the rock or leach through soil and contaminate underground aquifers -- a vital source of freshwater that supplies drinking water for much of the nation. Furthermore, tainted wastewater can also seep through soils to contaminate groundwater sources, or chemicals can contaminate other freshwater sources, such as rivers and streams, during the disposal process if not treated or disposed of appropriately.

    If you are one of the 15 million US residents who live near an unconventional oil and gas site, you may want to consider taking extra precautions to remove any toxic industrial chemicals that may be present in your drinking water. A good quality home water filter that is capable of removing industrial chemicals and other toxins offers a sound investment for your long-term health.

    Journal Reference:

    Christopher D. Kassotis, Donald E. Tillitt, Chung-Ho Lin, Jane A. Mcelroy, and Susan C. Nagel. Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals and Oil and Natural Gas Operations: Potential Environmental Contamination and Recommendations to Assess Complex Environmental Mixtures. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2015 DOI: 10.1289/ehp.1409535

  • Is Lawn Irrigation Squandering our Fresh Water?

    With fresh water supplies increasingly threatened by drought and climate change, there is greater focus on water conservation and efforts to reduce water wastage. Considering that both air temperature and population figures are expected to rise in the future, the need to conserve water becomes even more pressing.

    A recent survey of Florida homeowners revealed that on average, around 64% of fresh water supplied to homes was used to irrigate gardens and lawns, increasing to 88% during the hot, dry summer months. While homeowners understand the need to conserve water and want to comply with government imposed water restrictions that limit water usage for irrigation, they are pressured by Home Owners Associations (HOAs) that require them to have neat, green lawns or face penalties for non-compliance.

    photo by JJ Harrison ( photo by JJ Harrison (

    For the study, which was recently published in a special issue of the journal Technology and Innovation that focuses on the challenges posed to fresh water supplies by both environmental change and a rising human population, scientists from the University of Florida assessed the water conservation awareness and water saving practices of Florida homeowners living in Orange County who made use of automatic watering systems. This involved interviews and discussions with homeowners who where questioned on their lawn watering habits and current water conservation practices.

    According to lead author, Liz Felter, the study aimed to assess the perceptions of homeowners who used automated irrigation systems with regard to measures that could be implemented to reduce water used to maintain their lawns. The study also examined the role that 'social marketing' played in encouraging people to conserve water; obstacles that people faced when trying to conserve water; and the role peer pressure could play in successful rolling out a water conservation strategy.

    Upon evaluating the obstacles to water conservation, several themes emerged from discussions with the participants.

    "One of the major themes to emerge from the focus groups was a lack of knowledge on how to care for the grass," explained Felter. "Some sub-themes included confusion about watering restriction days, an inability to use the timer correctly, and pressure from the HOA to water excessively to achieve perfect grass."

    Upon evaluating standard water use practices, a major theme that emerged was that homeowners desired to abide by regulatory water restrictions, but this was countered by their desire to avoid being penalized by their respective HOAs for having poorly maintained lawns.
    The study concludes that the largest obstacle to water conservation is pressure exerted by HOAs on homeowners to have "perfect" lawns, which can only be attained by excessive watering, and that this is a barrier that needs to be addressed.

    The authors point out that, "even with the proper information and the ability to perform the new skills needed to reduce their water use, participants were concerned about repercussions from the HOA."

    In response to these conflicting ideals, the authors recommend that state officials responsible for imposing water restrictions meet with representatives from HOAs to discuss and plan future water requirements and usage. They also recommend community-based social marketing to encourage homeowners to save water.

    Journal Reference:

    Liz Felter, Tracy Irani, Paul Monaghan, Hannah Carter, Michael Dukes. IT’S GOING TO TAKE MORE INNOVATION THAN TECHNOLOGY TO INCREASE WATER CONSERVATION PRACTICES. Technology & Innovation, 2015; 17 (1): 5 DOI: 10.3727/194982415X14349917064757

  • Drinking Water Increasingly Threatened by Toxic Blue-green Algae

    A report that was recently published in the journal Current Environmental Health Reports highlights the health threat posed by cyanobacteria, or toxic blue-green algae, to both drinking water and recreational water users across the United States, noting that the risk is increasing due to a number of contributing environmental factors, yet is underappreciated and poorly monitored by water officials.

    Contributing Factors

    There are several environmental factors that contribute to the formation of toxic algae blooms in both freshwater and marine systems, including warmer temperatures, and higher carbon dioxide and nutrient levels. With temperatures and CO2 levels continuing to rise, together with nutrient loading of freshwater systems due to input from fertilizers, agricultural livestock waste, and wastewater/septic tank systems, rivers, dams, reservoirs and lakes are increasingly prone to toxic algal blooms. This is exacerbated by damming of rivers which accentuates the accumulation of nutrients as it prevents natural flushing of these systems.

    Algae Bloom and Microcystin Algae Bloom and Microcystin

    According to Oregon State University scientists, there are currently no federal or state drinking water regulations that require drinking water to be tested for cyanobacteria.  There is also no testing for disease outbreaks that occur as a result of consuming or coming into contact with contaminated water and they do not need to be reported. However, changes in land use and climate, together with increasingly toxic strains of cyanobacteria emerging, may soon force officials to focus more attention on this health issue.

    Problems associated with cyanotoxins usually peak in summer, fueled by higher temperatures, as we are currently seeing. The 2015 drought combined with reduced snow pack throughout the western states has resulted in large toxic algal blooms developing earlier than normal. Several rivers and lakes have been affected, including Oregon's Willamette and Klamath Rivers and Upper Klamath Lake -- the latter two have had health warning signs posted.

    Toxic blue-green algae are common all over the world. A national survey conducted by the EPA in 2007 found microcystin, a liver toxin that is potentially carcinogenic, in a third of all lakes sampled. Some strains of toxic blue-green algae produce neurotoxins which affect the central nervous system, while exposure to most forms can result in a skin rash or gastrointestinal upsets.

    Exposure to Toxic Cyanobacteria

    Exposure to toxic blue-green algae can be fatal to animals that consume contaminated water or shellfish. Pets and wild animals are often casualties, and on rare occasions, humans are too. Lake Erie is frequently affected by toxic algal blooms, and so too are the communities that depend on it for their water supply. In 2014 the water supply to Toledo, Ohio was temporarily shut off due to an outbreak of blue-green algae in Lake Erie, affecting around half a million inhabitants.

    "The biggest health concern with cyanobacteria in sources of drinking water is that there's very little regulatory oversight, and it remains unclear what level of monitoring is being voluntarily conducted by drinking water utilities," said Tim Otten, a postdoctoral scholar in the OSU Department of Microbiology, and lead author on the study.

    "At this point we only have toxicology data for a handful of these toxins, and even for those it remains unclear what are the effects of chronic, low-dose exposures over a lifetime," Otten said. "We know some of the liver toxins such as microcystin are probable carcinogens, but we've really scratched only the surface with regard to understanding what the health effects may be for the bioactive metabolites produced by these organisms."

    How to Ensure Drinking Water is Safe?

    Otten suggests that water regulators should heed the "precautionary principle" of protecting human health before damage is done.

    "In my mind, these bacteria should be considered guilty until proven innocent, and in drinking water treated as potential pathogens," he said. "I think cyanobacteria should be approached with significant caution, and deserve better monitoring and regulation."

    It is not possible to tell just by looking at an algal bloom whether it is toxic or safe, and laboratory testing is too time consuming to make swift decisions to ensure public safety. Unfortunately, until better monitoring becomes mandatory, the only obvious indicator of toxic algal blooms will be illness and/or death of fish, wildlife, livestock and pets that have consumed water that is contaminated. According to Otten, the future looks more promising, with DNA-based methods proving to be quicker and cheaper alternatives to traditional lab-based methods currently in use.

    The report points out that while modern water treatment facilities do a fairly decent job of rendering drinking water safe for us to drink, the lack of monitoring is problematic in their view. They advise the public not to drink untreated water from any surface freshwater source that could be contaminated with cyanobacteria. They also point out that recreational water users are also vulnerable due to swallowing or inhaling contaminated water while swimming, paddling, fishing, etc.

    Cyanobacterial toxins cannot be removed by boiling the water. Consumers who have concerns that their drinking water may be contaminated with toxic blue-green algae should look into a drinking water filter for removal.  For information on how the Berkey performs removing this algae, please see Berkey's official statement on Algae Bloom and Microcystin Removal.

    Journal Reference:

    Timothy G. Otten, Hans W. Paerl. Health Effects of Toxic Cyanobacteria in U.S. Drinking and Recreational Waters: Our Current Understanding and Proposed Direction. Current Environmental Health Reports, 2015; 2 (1): 75 DOI: 10.1007/s40572-014-0041-9

  • Galvanized Steel Pipes Leach Lead into Drinking Water

    When high concentrations of lead are detected in drinking water, they typically originate from lead pipes or from bronze and brass plumbing fittings that contain lead, but now a new study has revealed that galvanized steel pipes coated with a zinc coating that contains lead can also be a significant source of lead contamination in drinking water over the long-term.

    The study, which was recently published online in the scientific journal Environmental Engineering Science, notes that when copper pipes are fitted upstream from galvanized steel piping, lead release from zinc coating on galvanized pipes downstream can be exacerbated.

    "Water valves with spigots" by Paul Goyette - Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - "Water valves with spigots" by Paul Goyette - Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

    The researchers analyzed drinking water samples taken from homes fitted with galvanized steel water pipes at various cities across the US. Some of the water samples had lead concentrations higher than 100 micrograms per liter. When the scientists ran simulated lab tests, lead concentrations in water flowing through galvanized steel piping was as high as 172 micrograms per liter -- over 10 times as high as the action level determined by the EPA.

    Health Risks Associated with Lead Contamination

    Lead is highly toxic to humans and animals. When it enters the body it can cause lead poisoning, and in high doses it can cause convulsions, coma, and can be fatal. It is dangerous at even low concentrations as it accumulates in the body tissue causing long-term damage to health. Lead can enter the body through ingestion of lead particles or dissolved lead in drinking water.

    Children are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning, and can suffer the following effects even when exposed to low levels of lead:

    • damage to nervous system and brain
    • learning disabilities, attention deficits, and behavioral problems
    • slow physical and mental development
    • impaired vision and motor coordination
    • poor hearing
    • headaches

    While adults are not as susceptible to lead poisoning at low level exposure to lead, exposure to higher concentrations, or long-term exposure to lead over an extended period, can pose the following health risks to adults:

    • high blood pressure
    • kidney problems
    • neurological problems
    • disrupts reproductive system – can decrease fertility in both men and women
    • can cause problems with developing fetus during pregnancy leading to slow development, birth defects, or still births
    • disrupts digestive system
    • difficulty concentrating, memory loss
    • painful muscles and joints

    According to Environmental Engineering Science's Editor-in-Chief, Domenico Grasso:

    "The Edwards' laboratory is well known for uncovering risks associated with concentrations of lead in urban water supplies. This latest important paper from this research group has identified galvanized pipes as a potentially significant source of lead."

    Removing Lead from Drinking Water

    The good news is that a Berkey Water Filter fitted with the standard Black Berkey filters can remove lead (as well as other heavy metals) by as much as 99.9%, and can also remove other common drinking water contaminants, such as VOCs, chemicals, bacteria and viruses from your drinking water. Water filtered through a Berkey Filter is rendered safe to drink, protecting your family from potentially hazardous substances that may be present in your drinking water.

    Journal Reference

    Clark Brandi N., Masters Sheldon Vaughn, and Edwards Marc A. Lead Release to Drinking Water form Galvanized Steel Pipe Coatings. Environmental Engineering Science. Ahead of print. doi:10.1089/ees.2015.0073.

  • Are Septic Tanks Polluting US Waterways?

    Septic tanks are supposed to break down fecal waste to prevent E.coli and other harmful pathogens from entering the environment, particularly freshwater systems. However, a new study has revealed that this is not the case.

    The study conducted by Michigan State University water scientist, Joan Rose, together with her team of fellow water detectives, showed that US rivers and lakes are being contaminated with pollutants seeping from septic tank systems.


    The study, which was published online in the August edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the largest study ever conducted on watersheds, and serves as a benchmark for assessing water quality and the impact that septic sewage systems have on freshwater systems, and the implications to both the environment and human health.

    "All along, we have presumed that on-site wastewater disposal systems, such as septic tanks, were working," said Rose, Homer Nowlin Chair in water research. "But in this study, sample after sample, bacterial concentrations were highest where there were higher numbers of septic systems in the watershed area."

    Conventional wisdom has led us to believe that microbes in the soil break down human waste and that soil particles serve as natural filters, removing contaminants from the wastewater as it seeps through. Soak-away septic systems such as a pit dug in soil below an outhouse or a septic tank that discharges out to a drainage field have been in use for centuries. However, according to Rose, these treatment methods fail to keep harmful pathogens such as E. coli from entering freshwater systems that supply us with drinking water.

    "For years we have been seeing the effects of fecal pollution, but we haven't known where it is coming from," she said. "Pollution sources scattered in an area - called non-point - have historically been a significant challenge in managing water quality."

    The research team used a novel method akin to that used by Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) detectives -- aptly named "CSI for water" by Rose -- to assess water samples from 64 Michigan river systems for traces of 2 human fecal bacterial contaminants: E. coli and B-theta, and to track the origins of these non-point pollutants back to their source.

    Many states across the US, including Michigan, South Carolina and Florida, depend on septic tanks for the treatment of human waste, as do most lake resorts and resort towns located near lakes across the country. While the regulations for septic tank wastewater management differ from state to state, stricter measures need to be enforced to ensure freshwater systems are not contaminated as a result of septic tank seepage.

    "This study has important implications on the understanding of relationships between land use, water quality and human health as we go forward," Rose emphasized. "Better methods will improve management decisions for locating, constructing and maintaining on-site wastewater treatment systems. It's financially imperative that we get it right."

    Considering the health hazards posed by bacterial contamination of our drinking water sources, consumers are encouraged to take measures to protect their health and that of their family by investing in a good quality home drinking water filter that is capable of removing bacteria such as E. coli as well as other contaminants that are commonly found in drinking water.

    Journal Reference

    Marc P. Verhougstraete, S.L Martin, A.D. Kendall, D.W. Hyndman & J.B. Rose. Linking fecal bacteria in rivers to landscape, geochemical, and hydrologic factors and sources at the basin scale. PNAS, August 2015. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1415836112

  • Can Tap Water Go Bad?

    Is there such a thing as water fresh from the tap?

    If you drink water that's been standing for a day or so does it taste any different? We think so. When tap water is left to stand, the chlorine that was added during the treatment phase to kill any microorganisms slowly dissipates allowing any bacteria that may be present to multiply if the water is not refrigerated. Bacteria are all around us, and can enter the water via the glass, your lips, or from airborne pet- and household-dust.

    Furthermore, according to an article published recently on Time, if you leave a glass of water standing for more than twelve hours, carbon dioxide in the surrounding air is absorbed by the water standing in the glass, and can cause it to start to go flat with a drop in pH.  This may also result in a stale taste. This is one of the reasons we recommend that if one doesn't use their berkey for more than 3 days, that they then dump the water out and start fresh. However, while it may not taste ideal, it is still safe to drink at this point. But why drink inferior quality water when there is no need?

    Now, let’s focus on those germs again. If you keep using the same glass day in and day out without giving it a good wash before topping it up each time, the glass is more likely to get contaminated, and even more so if you share it with your significant other. But if you replace the glass with a clean one every day or so, you won't give those germs a chance to multiply. That's assuming you practice good hygiene and wash your hands properly, etc, etc. If not, you can introduce bacteria onto the glass when you pick it up. Those germs can quickly multiply at room temperature, posing a potential health risk if ingested.

    What About Plastic Water Bottles?

    Plastic water bottles are known to contain the chemical bishpenol-A (BPA), an endocrine disruptor that interferes with the body's hormones, posing serious health risks. It has been associated with many forms of cancer, as well as heart disease, to name a few. When bottled water is left in the sun, BPA can leach out of the plastic and contaminate the water stored within the bottle. Also, plastic water bottles were intended for one time use rather than to be refilled and reused. If you purchase bottled water rather recycle the plastic bottles than reuse them to store drinking water. The best option is to use a BPA-free water bottle that can safely be refilled time and time again -- better still if this if fitted with a filter to remove any impurities that may be lurking in the water.

    How Long Can Water Be Stored?

    Water can be stored in air-tight BPA-free containers for up to 6 months, at which point the chlorine will start to dissipate, allowing microalgae and microorganism to thrive. Stored water is more likely to become contaminated when stored in a warm environment that is conducive to microbe growth, particularly if the storage vessel was not cleaned or sealed properly beforehand. To prepare for emergencies, it is a good idea to invest in a good quality home water filter that will remove any nasties from your water and serve you well all year round.

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