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  • Methane in the Groundwater of Hood and Parker Counties Linked to Natural Sources

    A team of researchers from The University of Texas at Austin have indicated that high concentrations of methane found in drinking water wells at two counties located near Fort Worth are likely to originate from shallow naturally occurring gas deposits rather than gas leaks due to fracking operations in the deeper Barnett Shale.

    In a report that was recently published in the scientific journal Groundwater, the scientists build on earlier studies related to the quality of well water in the Barnett Shale, using chemical as well as geographic evidence to link the elevated methane levels of certain wells to naturally occurring shallow deposits.

    Natural gas consists primarily of methane gas, and is found in large deposits in shale rock formations deep underground. However, smaller deposits of methane can also be found much shallower, typically just a few hundred feet below the surface. These shallower deposits —such as the one found in this geological formation known as the Strawn Group— form as methane gas from deeper deposits moves upwards towards the surface.

    "Over geologic time, methane has accumulated into these shallower reservoirs," explains Jean‐Philippe Nicot, a research scientist at the Bureau of Economic Geology, a unit of the UT Jackson School of Geosciences. "These fresh-water wells are very close to these shallower reservoirs and may be the source of the methane."

    With around 20,000 gas wells or more, the Barnett Shale formation underlying Fort Worth is one of America's largest and highly productive gas fields. But the boom in natural gas production and fracking operations has also been linked to potentially hazardous methane levels in drinking water wells, particularly in Silverado, a neighborhood located in Parker County, just outside Fort Worth.

    Distribution of dissolved methane across the Barnett Shale play. Each small red dot represents a Barnett Shale gas well. The other colored dots represent groundwater sample locations.The map includes 18,022 gas wells and 457 sample locations, with some overlapping at this scale. The key in the bottom right shows the concentration of methane, if any, found in each water sample. The black square surrounds a high-methane area where researchers conducted in-depth analysis of groundwater samples. Distribution of dissolved methane across the Barnett Shale play. Each small red dot represents a Barnett Shale gas well. The other colored dots represent groundwater sample locations.The map includes 18,022 gas wells and 457 sample locations, with some overlapping at this scale. The key in the bottom right shows the concentration of methane, if any, found in each water sample. The black square surrounds a high-methane area where researchers conducted in-depth analysis of groundwater samples.

    The scientists sampled over 450 water wells from 12 counties located in the Barnett Shale to determine the extent and source of methane contamination of wells. They found that the groundwater supplying 85% of the wells had very low levels of methane (10 milligrams per liter of water), levels which are considered potentially dangerous due to the flammable nature of methane gas.

    In order to determine where the methane originated from, the scientists decided to examine the cluster a little closer, analyzing water samples from 58 wells, working from the center of the cluster (where Silverado residential area is located) outwards until methane was not detected in well water.

    "What we wanted to do was understand how much methane there is and determine the size of the high methane hotspot," Nicot said.

    Methane gas is produced in one of two ways: 1) thermogenically, when organic material is broken down in an environment that has a high temperature and high pressure, typically at great depths, although this methane can migrate upwards over time; or 2) biogenically, as a result of methane-forming microbial activity, which typically occurs at shallow depths.
    To determine whether the methane was from biogenic or thermogenic sources, as well as the depth the contamination originated from, the scientists used carbon isotope analysis combined with additional analysis.

    "Combining alkane, noble gas and nitrogen compositions and isotope ratios allowed us to distinguish natural gas sourced from the deep Barnett Shale from the shallow Strawn Group," explained Toti Larson, a researcher at the Jackson School's Department of Geological Sciences.

    While these findings suggest methane found in water wells of Hood and Parker counties most likely originates from the Strawn Group, the scientists point out that they cannot completely rule out the possibility that some of this methane may have originated from gas leaks that occurred during fracking operations.

    Journal Reference

    Jean‐Philippe Nicot, Patrick Mickler, Toti Larson, M. Clara Castro, Roxana Darvari, Kristine Uhlman, Ruth Costley. Methane Occurrences in Aquifers Overlying the Barnett Shale Play with a Focus on Parker County, Texas. Groundwater (March, 2017). DOI: 10.1111/gwat.12508

  • To Add Fluoride or Not to Add Fluoride

    Fluoridation of Drinking Water Continues to be a Contentious Issue

    In December 2016 many parts of San Jose, California, began adding fluoride to their drinking water supplies; a decision that was based on pressure from dentists, oral hygienists, and health officials within the Public Health Department of Santa Clara County. This change means that 230,000 residents of Santa Teresa, East San Jose and Almaden Valley now receive fluoridated drinking water, whether they wish to or not.

    This change occurred almost simultaneously with an Alabama Supreme Court ruling that allowed a Marshall County water utility to stop adding fluoride to drinking water over concerns that this additive is considered unhealthy. Water officials in the city of Arab ceased fluoridating its drinking water in August last year, after considering several scientific studies that highlighted the potential health threats that fluoride poses to those exposed to the additive in high doses. But shortly thereafter, the City Council ordered the water utility to continue adding fluoride to the city's drinking water supply — a move that has now been overturned by the supreme court ruling.

    baby drinking

    The Fluoride Action Network (FAN) has joined forces with a coalition of other medical, health and environmental groups that is urging the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban water utilities from adding fluoride to drinking water supplied to the public. The coalition recently presented the EPA with a petition supported by more than 2,500 pages documenting scientific studies that show the health effects associated with drinking water fluoridation.

    Read 12 Reasons Why we Need to End Water Fluoridation

    According to the petition, "the amount of fluoride now regularly consumed by millions of Americans in fluoridated areas exceeds the doses repeatedly linked to IQ loss and other neurotoxic effects; with certain sub-populations standing at elevated risk of harm, including infants, young children, elderly populations and those with dietary deficiencies, renal impairment and/or genetic predispositions."

    As fluoride is has been scientifically acknowledged as a neurotoxin, the Fluoride Action Network is calling on the EPA to use the power afforded to it under the auspices of the Toxic Substances Control Act to ban the widespread use of a potentially harmful chemical that may pose a public health risk, especially to vulnerable members of society.

    The petition also goes on to say that as ingesting fluoride offers very little health benefit, "there is little justification in exposing the public to any risk of fluoride neurotoxicity, particularly via a source as essential to human sustenance as the public drinking water and the many processed foods and beverages made therefrom."

    Read WHO Fluoride Study Finds Water Fluoridation Unnecessary

    Fluoride has been shown to lower IQs of children exposed to in their drinking water, and is also considered a neurotoxin that can cause developmental problems, and other symptoms associated with neurotoxicity in humans. Fluoride in drinking water has also been linked to an increased risk of underactive thyroid, as well as urinary stone disease — an excruciatingly painful disease of the urinary tract.

    Concerned About Fluoride in your Drinking Water?

    The EPA has handed over the supporting scientific evidence to the National Research Council for their scientists to review. While they deliberate and ponder over decisions that ultimately affect your health and that of your loved ones, you can take action:

    1. Read the full Petition here.
    2. Read a summary of the Petition here.
    3. Add your name and endorsement in support of the citizen's petition, click here.
    4. Find out how to remove fluoride from your drinking water here.
  • Managing Animal Waste to Prevent Water Contamination

    Water quality in our streams, rivers and dams is not only important so that people can enjoy the recreational opportunities these freshwater bodies offer, it is also essential for healthy food production as well as clean drinking water.

    Contaminants originating from animal waste are a potential source of contamination to our freshwater systems. These include nutrients such as nitrates, and to a lesser extent, veterinary drugs and hormones used in animal husbandry. But, no matter whether you are farmer who manages a large agricultural enterprise, a smallholder who keeps a few farm animals, or a homeowner with a vast menagerie or even just a few domestic pets, you can implement measures to prevent contamination of local water sources.

    740px-Hestemøj

    As the agricultural sector is considered a potential source of freshwater contaminants, these operations are now regulated, with certain rules imposed for managing animal feeding lots to ensure animal manure is collected and managed appropriately.

    Yet, while large livestock operations are an obvious source of potential contamination, the reality is that any property where animals (livestock or domestic pets) are kept is a potential source of water contamination. The size of the operation is not necessarily a good barometer of its impact, as smaller operations that are not managed properly can have a bigger impact than larger operations where manure is well managed. Therefore, it is clear that anyone who raises or keeps animals on their property can play an important role in preventing contamination of our water resources if they implement a suitable animal waste management program.

    Animal waste management is by no means a new concept in the agricultural sector. Farm managers have been collecting manure produced by their livestock and utilizing this byproduct as a fertilizer for decades, if not centuries. Manure is high in nutrients that can improve the quality of soils, and are beneficial for growing crops, improving crop yields. Consequently, many smallholders also utilize manure as a valuable fertilizer to grow crops.

    However, when manure is not properly managed, these nutrients can leach through soils into groundwater or wash into surface waters with runoff, where they can accumulate, becoming more concentrated over time. This results in nutrient loading, which can lead to algal blooms and eventually lowered oxygen levels in freshwater bodies. Nitrates in high concentrations are also a drinking water contaminant that can have grave health impacts, particularly on infants and pregnant women, and has also been linked to several types of cancer.

    It is therefore essential that everyone who keeps animals develops a sound manure management plan. This will not only prevent unwanted water contamination, but can also result in more efficient farming operations. To be successful, an animal waste management plan needs to address the issues of manure generation, storage and disposal on the farm. First, you need to estimate how much manure is generated on your farm. Then you need to decide whether you are going to store the manure on site for composting, or send it off site for composting or disposal. One common method of disposal is to spread it over croplands. But if this method is used, it is best to determine the nutrient requirements of your crop and spread the manure accordingly. Also, bear in mind that the nutrients present in manure are not all available to the plants immediately. So, when using manure as a nutrient source it should be viewed as part of the overall nutrient cycling that takes place on the property, serving as a valuable soil enhancer when used appropriately.

    Homeowners can also do their bit by managing the animal waste produced on their property, and following appropriate practices when fertilizing their gardens and lawns to minimize nutrient runoff. Regardless of whether you are a farmer, smallholder or homeowner, you can implement small measures to help improve water quality in your watershed, making the water safer for your community.

  • Study Finds 6,600 Fracking Spills in Just Four States

    Every year between 2-16% of fracking wells spill hydraulic fracking fluids consisting of chemical-laden water, hydrocarbons, and other contaminants, a new study has found.

    In a report that was recently published in the scientific journal, Environmental Science & Technology, the researchers identified 6,648 fracking spills across the states of Colorado, Pennsylvania, North Dakota and New Mexico over a ten year period. The report provides key insights into the volume and frequency of the spills, as well as what caused them.

    For the study, the research team analyzed state-level spill records, characterizing spills that were associated with 31,481 hydraulically fracked oil and gas wells in the above states over a ten year period from 2005 to 2014.

    "State spill data holds great promise for risk identification and mitigation," said Lauren Patterson, policy associate at Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and lead author of the study. "However, reporting requirements differ across states, requiring considerable effort to make the data usable for analysis."

    This is a screengrab from the study's interactive map shows a decade's worth of spills of more than 5,000 gallons of pollutants from pipeline leaks at North Dakota hydraulic fracturing sites. Source: Science for Nature and People Partnership This is a screengrab from the study's interactive map shows a decade's worth of spills of more than 5,000 gallons of pollutants from pipeline leaks at North Dakota hydraulic fracturing sites. Source: Science for Nature and People Partnership

    According to the data, North Dakota experienced the most spills with 4,453 reported incidents, with 1,293 incidents reported for Pennsylvania, 476 for Colorado, and 426 for New Mexico respectively. The high number of incidents reported for North Dakota can in part be attributed to the more stringent reporting requirements for this state, which requires reporting of smaller spills (from 42 gallons) whereas New Mexico and Colorado only require spills of 210 gallons and over to be reported.

    "As this form of energy production increases, state efforts to reduce spill risk could benefit from making data more uniform and accessible to better provide stakeholders with important information on where to target efforts for locating and preventing future spills," Patterson added.

    Frac_job_in_process

    The study's results are far higher than the 457 spills reported by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a total of eight states from 2006 to 2012, as the EPA only reported spills that occurred during the actual fracking process, not taking spills that occurred during other stages of hydrofracturing operations into account.

    "Understanding spills at all stages of well development is important because preparing for hydraulic fracturing requires the transport of more materials to and from well sites and storage of these materials on site," Patterson said. "Investigating all stages helps to shed further light on the spills that can occur at all types of wells -- not just unconventional ones."

    According to the report, half of the spills occurred when fluids were being stored or moved through pipelines, as a result of pipe or valve failure. However, in some cases it was not possible to identify the reason for the spill, as not all states require this information to be recorded.

    In all four states, the initial three year period when drilling and hydrofracking operations — and consequently production rates — are highest, posed the greatest spill risk. The report shows that a significant percentage of spills — between 26% (Colorado) and 53% (North Dakota) — occurred at wells that had previously experienced a spill, suggesting that sites that had previously experienced a spill may warrant closer attention.

    According to Kate Konschnik, Director of the Environmental Policy Initiative at Harvard Law School, analyses such as this are essential for defining and mitigating the risk posed to water sources and human health. It is critical that reporting criteria is regulated across states so that the correct data is available and accessible to both the industry and the states, as well as researchers in the scientific community.

    Journal Reference

    L. Patterson, K. Konschnik, H. Wiseman, et. al. 2017. "Unconventional Oil and Gas Spills: Risks, Mitigation Priorities and States Reporting Requirements" Environmental Science & Technology: DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.05749.

  • Court Rules Water Quality Must Come First

    California has been suffering an extended drought that has endured for three years. Recently, heavy rains have alleviated this some of this, but there is still severe drought conditions in many parts of the state. During this drought, the government agencies responsible for protecting freshwater systems that serve as recreational waters and sources of drinking water to Californian residents have simply failed to do so, with disastrous results.

    California's waterways are infested with more toxic algal blooms than ever witnessed before; many native plant and animal species facing extinction; and the livelihood of thousands of fisherman, who depend on salmon catches as their sole source of income, hangs in the balance.

    But last week, a federal district court ruled that the US Environmental Protection Agency and California's State Water Control Board need to comply with the Clean Water Act, and must implement measures to address the devastating impact that waiving water quality standards in times of drought has had on water quality and natural ecosystems in the Bay-Delta, ultimately impacting the quality of water used as a source of food (fishing), recreation (swimming) and drinking water by local communities.

    California_Drought_Dry_Riverbed_2009 California lake bed drying up

    The court's decision was made in response to a lawsuit filed by the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC), Defenders of Wildlife, and The Bay Institute.

    "We filed this action after the State Board made 14 separate decisions over the last three years that allowed massive state and federal water diversion projects in the Bay-Delta to violate more than 24 water quality standards," said Kate Poole, Senior Attorney, Water and Wildlife Project Director, Water program at the NRDC.

    The decisions in question were responsible for redirecting an astronomical volume of water to the corporate agricultural sector, putting environmental integrity and drinking water quality at risk. According to the NRDC, the volume of water diverted is so large that it could provide Los Angeles with water for at least two years.

    In 2014 and 2015, 1.083 million acre-feet of water was diverted, while in 2016 California's State Water Control Board allowed a further 258,000 acre-feet of water to be diverted from rivers, while simultaneously lifting water conservation requirements throughout the state.
    The Clean Water Act was implemented to prevent negative impacts on water quality by requiring the EPA to assess proposed changes to water quality standards, ensuring that any proposed changes do not have a negative impact on beneficial water uses, such as salmon habitat and drinking water, before they go ahead and implement the changes. The Act is in place to prevent precisely this kind of deterioration to water quality.

    Both the EPA and California's State Water Control Board failed to do this before relaxing California's water quality protection standards over the past three years, but according to Poole, the NRDC intends to make sure they do so in future.

    Source: NRDC

  • A Closer Analysis of What Caused Flint's Water Woes

    As water officials at Flint, Michigan, continue to deal with the unfolding health crisis associated with elevated lead levels in the town's drinking water, scientists who initially discovered lead in the tap water of a Flint household have analyzed galvanized iron water pipes that were removed from the "ground zero" home — where the first child with high levels of lead in their blood was identified — for testing.

    There tests confirm that the lead particles that had built up on the internal surface of the galvanized iron pipes was in all probability the source of lead contaminants in the water.

    Lead levels in Flint's tap water spiked following a switch in the town's water supply in April 2014, when the city opted for the Flint River as its drinking water source. After the switch, water officials failed to treat the water line with a corrosion-control remedy to keep the lead-containing layers of rust stable within the water pipelines.

    Typical Rusted Water Pipe Typical Rusted Water Pipe

    Soon thereafter, residents began complaining that their water looked and smelt odd. Then, when LeeAnne Walters' family fell ill she contacted Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech engineer, requesting that he come an test their water.

    Thirty-two water samples were collected from the Walters' residence, all of which contained lead at levels that exceeded the 14 microgram per liter actionable standard set by the EPA. Four of the samples had lead concentrations that exceeded 5,000 micrograms per liter — the threshold at which lead is declared hazardous waste, and one sample had lead concentrations of 13,200 micrograms per liter.

    Edwards and his research team have since analyzed the galvanized iron water pipes that connected the lead pipes from the service line to the Walters' home. Their findings, which were recently published in the American Chemical Society journal, Environmental Science & Technology, show that high concentrations of lead in the household's tap water correlated with levels of zinc, tin and cadmium — components used in the internal lining of the pipes.

    According to the authors, the results suggest that because no corrosion inhibitors were added to the water extracted from the Flint River, the water caused the layers of rust (including the lead attached to it) to be released from the internal wall of the iron pipes.

    The scientists conclude that the combination of lead service pipes followed by galvanized iron water pipes supplying the home, is very likely to pose a health risk to residents living in other towns and cities that have this type of configuration.

    They recommend replacing the lead service pipes as a good first step, but suggest that lead accumulation on aging galvanized iron water pipes potentially poses both a short- and long-term health concern.

    Journal Reference:

    Kelsey J. Pieper, Min Tang, and Marc A. Edwards. Flint Water Crisis Caused By Interrupted Corrosion Control: Investigating "Ground Zero" Home Environ. Sci. Technol. (Feb 1, 2017), DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b04034

  • Is Clean Water Becoming Unaffordable in the US?

    If the cost of water continues to rise at the projected rate, the number of households that will not be able to afford water is likely to triple to around 36% within the next five years, a new study that focused on water affordability has revealed.

    According to the study, which was recently published in the scientific journal PLoS ONE, various factors, including climate change, aging infrastructure, and a decline in population numbers in urban areas, have led to resident's inability to afford the cost of water and wastewater service delivery becoming a growing crisis.

    "In cities across the United States, water affordability is becoming an increasingly critical issue," said Elizabeth Mack, an assistant geography professor at Michigan State University, who analyzed water consumption, pricing and demographic and socioeconomic data for the study.

    The US Environmental Protection Agency suggests that households should spend no more than 4.5% of their total income on water and wastewater services. With that being said, around 13.8 million households across the United States (nearly 12% of American households) may soon be unable to afford to pay their water bill, with poor families being hit the hardest, said Mack.

    This map includes "high-risk tracts" (in black), which are areas with high concentrations of families with incomes below $32,000 that currently cannot afford water bills. The "at-risk tracts" (in gray) are areas with high concentrations of families with incomes between $32,000 and $45,120 that are at-risk of being unable to afford rising water rates in the near future. This map includes "high-risk tracts" (in black), which are areas with high concentrations of families with incomes below $32,000 that currently cannot afford water bills. The "at-risk tracts" (in gray) are areas with high concentrations of families with incomes between $32,000 and $45,120 that are at-risk of being unable to afford rising water rates in the near future.

    According to the study, the states with the highest concentrations of families who earn less than $32,000 and who struggle to pay their water bills lie predominantly in the south, with Mississippi topping the list, although Ohio is ranked 9th and Michigan 12th on the list.

    Furthermore, the cost of water has increased by 41% since 2010, and should this trend continue at the same pace, it is estimated that five years from now the number of residents that will be unable to pay their water bills could soar to over 40 million, affecting more than a third of all American households.

    Aging infrastructure is a key driving factor in the escalating cost of water. It is estimated that the cost to replace antiquated water systems across the country will be over $1 trillion during the course of the next 25 years, and these costs need to be recouped from water users.

    Climate change is another key factor, as more severe weather and storm events necessitate improvements to wastewater treatment facilities in order to adapt. It is estimated that these infrastructural developments will cost over $36 billion by 2050.

    Furthermore, declining populations in large urban areas such as Philadelphia and Detroit mean that there are fewer people to share the huge costs associated with supplying water to households, further adding to the crisis. In Philadelphia, around 227,000 households (4 out of every 10 customers) have overdue water accounts, while in Detroit, 50,000 homes have had their water cut off due to non-payment since the beginning of 2014. In Seattle and Atlanta, a household consisting of 4 people typically forks out over $300 every month for their water and wastewater service.

    Ultimately, the study concludes, everyone concerned — including the government, water utilities and water consumers — will need to try and work together to address the burgeoning crisis of water affordability in the country.

    "Water is a fundamental right for all humans. However, a growing number of people in the United States and globally face daily barriers to accessing clean, affordable water," explains Mack, noting that the issue of water affordability in the US is relatively unstudied compared to other countries.

    "The hope is that enhanced awareness of this issue in the developed world will highlight the severity of the issue, which is not isolated to people in the developing world," Mack said.

    Journal Reference:

    Mack EA, Wrase S (2017) A Burgeoning Crisis? A Nationwide Assessment of the Geography of Water Affordability in the United States. PLoS ONE 12(1): e0169488. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0169488

  • Roundup of Water Contamination Incidents in 2016

    There has been much focus on drinking water contamination in Flint, Michigan, where dangerously high concentrations of lead were discovered in the city's drinking water supply. Yet, Flint is not the only city trying to cope with drinking water contamination issues. Below is an overview of some of the key water contamination incidents that occurred during 2016.

    February 2016: A non-profit organization unearthed more than 2,300 misplaced public complaints related to water contamination due to fracking operations in Pennsylvania. While a study conducted by the EPA concluded that fracking did not pose a severe threat to groundwater sources nearby, the level of complaints clearly indicates otherwise.

    April 2016: Nineteen public schools in Detroit were found to have elevated levels of copper or lead in their drinking water.

    credit: ttps://www.flickr.com/photos/seandreilinger/426373778 credit: ttps://www.flickr.com/photos/seandreilinger/426373778

    April 2016: Wastewater spills from fracking operations contaminated soil and water across North Dakota with contaminants such as lead, selenium, and ammonium, as well as other toxic inorganic chemicals.

    May 2016: Schools in Portland, Oregon set about replacing their water pipes after higher than normal levels of lead where found in drinking water. However, they failed to shut off the water supply in the interim, or caution learners and their teachers to refrain from drinking it.

    September 2016: Unusually high concentrations of Chromium 6, a known carcinogen, were detected in 29 out of 30 drinking water sources supplying the northeastern Ohio region. Many of the water samples had concentrations of Chromium 6 exceeding 0.02 parts per billion, which is the level considered safe by public health officials, while water samples from Columbus and Cleveland had Chromium 6 levels that exceeded 10 parts per billion.

    September 2016: A sinkhole at a fertilizer plant in Florida caused millions of gallons of water laden with toxins to contaminate an aquifer. Yet, while the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection holds the view that it is unlikely to contaminate nearby wells, Florida lies on top of porous karst formations, which is why sinkholes occur in the first place.

    October 2016: The city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania handed the management of the water supply to a private company due water contamination issues resulting from deteriorating infrastructure. But due to staff cutbacks and opting for cheaper, yet inferior anti-corrosion treatments, lead concentrations rose to above that recommended by federal safety standards.

    November 2016: Elevated levels of lead were found in drinking water at municipal schools in the Cleveland area, with one elementary school showing lead concentrations as high as 4,480 parts per billion — that is 4,465 ppb higher than the 15 ppb safety standard set by the EPA.

    December 2016: Nestlé wishes to switch to another source of groundwater for their bottled water, as a well they previously used was contaminated with perchlorate — a chemical that can impair thyroid functioning — originating from firework displays held near that source. Nestlé now dilutes the contaminated water from the original source with uncontaminated water from other sources in order to comply with safety standards.

    December 2016: Several private drinking water wells serving homes in Long Island, New York, that are supposedly located in a protected watershed, were found to have unsafe levels of MBTE, a fuel additive that has been banned in the area since 2004.

    December 2016: Residents of Chicago's North side were cautioned with a drinking water advisory after a car wash contaminated the local drinking water supply.

    December 2016: Dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals where found in the drinking water of an elementary school in Milwaukee, with one sample having lead levels six times higher than that considered safe, and copper levels nineteen times higher than that considered safe. Dangerously high levels of lead were found in water from nearly 200 water fountains at various locations, including sites attended by young children.

    December 2016: After testing water in 414 businesses and homes in St. Joseph, Louisiana, over 20% were found to have dangerously high lead concentrations.

    From this extensive list of contamination incidents, which in all likelihood is not complete, we can see that drinking water contamination is a real threat. From last years list of incidents we can see that lead is a common drinking water contaminant, affecting many communities, and in many cases, schools. Yet while lead is not readily detected due to it having no taste, color or odor, it poses a serious health threat. So what can you do to protect yourself and your family? Firstly, you can have your drinking water tested to see what toxins may be lurking; you can also make a sound investment in your family's health by purchasing a good quality water purifier that is able to remove lead and other harmful contaminants commonly found in drinking water.

  • Adapting Soil Conservation Strategies is Vital if we Wish to Improve Water Quality

    Despite concerted efforts to minimize soil erosion by improving farmland management for the production of crops, water quality in our freshwater systems is still being degraded by harmful inputs of soluble phosphorus.

    A study conducted by an international research team led by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), a UK-based research unit, has revealed that elevated concentrations of soluble phosphorus in rivers flowing into Lake Erie may be the result of conservation measures being implemented to reduce soil erosion and nutrient loss resulting from storm water runoff that carry away topsoil and particulate organic matter rich in nutrients.

    The_Lake_Erie_Shore_at_Reno_Beach-Howard_Farms

    The study, whose findings were recently published in Journal of Environmental Quality, shows that soluble phosphorus inputs originating from rivers flowing into the Western Lake Erie Basin has increased over the last 15-16 years. Soluble phosphorus is thought to be an important driver of harmful algal blooms that are occurring more frequently and with greater severity in Lake Erie.

    Phosphorus is an important nutrient for plant growth — both in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems; consequently, it is widely use to boost crop production. However, when phosphorus enters freshwater bodies such as rivers and lakes it also stimulates algal growth, including growth of harmful algae that release toxins which are detrimental to fish and other aquatic organisms and plants, and which can impair the quality of water used as a source of drinking water for humans.

    According to Professor Helen Jarvie, a Principal Scientist in Water Quality at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, and lead author of the paper:

    "We accounted for changing weather and rainfall patterns, and found increases in river flows alone contributed about one third of the marked increase in soluble phosphorus entering Lake Erie since 2002, despite reductions in fertilizer use and amounts of phosphorus stored in soil. The remaining two thirds must arise from other changes within the watershed," she points out.

    "We noted that, over time, conservation tillage - where fields are not ploughed, and crop residues remain on the fields before and after planting the next crop, to reduce soil erosion and runoff - has continued an increased trend of adoption since the mid-1980s. It is plausible that the transition from conventional to conservation tillage, along with less incorporation into the soil of broadcast phosphorus fertilizer applications, may have inadvertently caused accumulation of highly-soluble phosphorus at the soil surface," Jarvie explains.

    "This can increase losses of soluble phosphorus during rainfall-induced runoff events, and may also have been compounded by installation of subsurface drainage, which can rapidly transmit the soluble phosphorus from fields to rivers."

    According to the authors, the implications of these findings are important for conservation management and planning — not only for the Lake Erie Basin, but for watershed management on a much broader scale, as conservation tillage is generally accepted and recommended as a good soil management strategy to reduce erosion and loss of nutrients in croplands in the United States, the United Kingdom, as well as in countries across Europe.

    Towards the end of last century we saw a drastic improvement in water quality in Lake Erie largely due to the implementation of the Clean Water Act — which resulted in a reduction in nutrient inputs from sewage effluent — and improved farm management practices that reduced fertilizer runoff and soil loss, and the associated particulate phosphorus adhering to soil particles. But at the turn of the century this began to change, and over the last 15 years or so water quality has declined, with algal blooms occurring more frequently in the Western Lake Erie Basin, due to the increasing inputs of soluble rather than particulate phosphorus, which has a more damaging ecological impact than the particulate form.

    These inputs also affect drinking water quality. In 2014 residents of Toledo in Ohio where issued with a health advisory not to drink their water, affecting over 400,000 consumers. As a result, officials in both the US and Canada set a target of reducing phosphorus levels flowing into Lake Erie by 40%.

    According to Professor Andrew Sharpley, Professor of Soils and Water Quality at the University of Arkansas, and co-author of the paper, the take home message from this study is that when changing farm conservation management practices there may be unforeseen consequences, which need to be recognized. Reducing tillage of soils may have dramatically reduced soil erosion, but with fertilizer applications remaining unchanged, phosphorus essentially became trapped on the soil surface rather than being incorporated into the soils. As a result, phosphorus in its soluble form enters waterways via storm water runoff.

    So in this case we eventually see that rather than serving as a sink for phosphorus, the soil becomes a source of phosphorus entering freshwater drainage basins.

    The report concludes that in order to tackle this issue effectively we need to implement water quality and soil management practices that address both particulate and soluble phosphorus inputs from croplands, with additional conservation management measures needed to tackle phosphorus in its soluble form.

    Journal reference

    Helen P. Jarvie, Laura T. Johnson, Andrew N. Sharpley, Douglas R. Smith, David B. Baker, Tom W. Bruulsema and Remegio Confesor, 2017, 'Increased Soluble Phosphorus Loads to Lake Erie: Unintended Consequences of Conservation Practices?' Journal of Environmental Quality. Doi: 10.2134/jeq2016.07.0248

  • A Closer Analysis of What Caused Flint's Water Woes

    As water officials at Flint, Michigan continue to deal with the unfolding health crisis associated with elevated lead levels in the town's drinking water, scientists who initially discovered lead in the tap water of a Flint household have analyzed galvanized iron water pipes that were removed from the "ground zero" home — where the first child with high levels of lead in their blood was identified — for testing.

    These tests confirm that the lead particles that had built up on the internal surface of the galvanized iron pipes was in all probability the source of lead contaminants in the water.

    Lead levels in Flint's tap water spiked following a switch in the town's water supply in April 2014, when the city opted for the Flint River as its drinking water source. After the switch, water officials failed to treat the water line with a corrosion-control remedy to keep the lead-containing layers of rust stable within the water pipelines.

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    Soon thereafter, residents began complaining that their water looked and smelled odd. Then, when LeeAnne Walters' family fell ill, she contacted Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech engineer requesting that he come and test their water.

    Thirty-two water samples were collected from the Walters' residence, all of which contained lead at levels that exceeded the 14 microgram per liter actionable standard set by the EPA. Four of the samples had lead concentrations that exceeded 5,000 micrograms per liter — the threshold at which lead is declared hazardous waste, and one sample had lead concentrations of 13,200 micrograms per liter.

    Edwards and his research team have since analyzed the galvanized iron water pipes that connected the lead pipes from the service line to the Walters' home. Their findings, which were recently published in the American Chemical Society journal and Environmental Science & Technology, show that high concentrations of lead in the household's tap water correlated with levels of zinc, tin and cadmium — components used in the internal lining of the pipes.

    According to the authors, the results suggest that because no corrosion inhibitors were added to the water extracted from the Flint River, the water caused the layers of rust (including the lead attached to it) to be released from the internal wall of the iron pipes.

    The scientists conclude that the combination of lead service pipes followed by galvanized iron water pipes supplying the home, is very likely to pose a health risk to residents living in other towns and cities that have this type of configuration.

    They recommend replacing the lead service pipes as a good first step, but suggest that lead accumulation on aging galvanized iron water pipes potentially poses both a short- and long-term health concern.

    Journal Reference:

    Kelsey J. Pieper, Min Tang, and Marc A. Edwards. Flint Water Crisis Caused By Interrupted Corrosion Control: Investigating "Ground Zero" Home Environ. Sci. Technol. (Feb 1, 2017), DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b04034

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