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Big Berkey Water Filters

  • Is Distilled Water Safe to Drink?

    Distilled water basically refers to any water that has undergone purification using the process of distillation — where water is heated to boiling point and the water vapor (steam) that forms is collected. Any contaminants such as chemicals and metals that may be present in the water remain behind. As a result, the water vapor collected is much purer than the original water.

    But is distilled water safe to drink? Well, yes and no. It depends on how you look at it, and what you consider safe.

    Because distillation is effective at removing most contaminants, it is usually safe to drink water that has been treated in this manner. The water produced will be purer and safer than the original water source. However, distilled water may not always be safe to drink. It depends largely on the quality of the source water being treated. For example, treating non-potable water that contains high levels of industrial contaminants may produce distilled water that still contains harmful pollutants at levels high enough to pose a risk to human health.

    Side Note: If you would like to see how a comparison of the berkey water filter vs distilled water, this article will help you.

    An example of double distillation An example of double distillation

    Distillation Removes Beneficial Minerals

    While the quality of distilled water will certainly be much higher than the original source water, the major drawback to drinking distilled water is that many of the essential minerals that are naturally present in water, such as magnesium and calcium, are unstable and are therefore released during the distillation process. As a result, distilled water may lack beneficial minerals typically found in spring- and mineral water, or other natural water sources. Lets look at the implications of this a little closer.

    Effect on Taste

    Because the vitamins and minerals have been stripped during the distillation process, distilled water tends to have very little taste, or worse still, if sold in plastic bottles, often tastes like plastic. This is because minerals that are normally present in drinking water help to keep the water tasting fresh. Furthermore, it may absorb harmful chemicals used to manufacture plastic such as BPA, an endocrine disrupter associated with neurological disorders, infertility, blood disorders and cancer to name a few. Some distilled water producers package their products in glass containers to avoid this.

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    Causes Mineral & Electrolyte Deficiencies in the Body

    Drinking distilled water can deprive your body of beneficial minerals that are essential for our health and wellbeing, as minerals lost, for example in perspiration, are not replenished when you drink water; you are simply rehydrating. Also, because electrolytes — which are important for waste elimination and healthy body functioning — move from your body (where they are in a high concentration) to the mineral-free water (where they are in a low concentration, or rather non-existent), your electrolyte levels will gradually decrease, eventually leading to an electrolyte imbalance.

    Increased Acidity

    Because distilled water contains no minerals, it readily assimilates other compounds. For example, when it mixes with air it can absorb carbon dioxide, which will cause the water to become more acidic. While consuming acidic water in itself is not necessarily dangerous, experts agree that alkaline water is better for us and that consistently drinking acidic water can pose several health risks, including osteoporosis and cancer.

    Changes the pH of Blood and Body Tissue

    Distilled water has a pH of 7.0, while the pH level of blood needs to be between 7.35 and 7.45. Should blood pH levels drop below that, the blood and body tissues can become excessively acidic — a condition known as acidosis. Significant imbalances in minerals, electrolyte and pH levels can result in nutrient deficiencies, muscle cramps, fluid retention, fatigue, headaches, impaired heart rate, as well as other potentially harmful health effects.

    According to the World Heath Organization (WHO), any drinking water that has been demineralized during treatment — including water treated by reverse osmosis, nano-filtration, desalination and deionization — will have the same health pitfalls as distilled water, unless that water is remineralized.

    So, while distillation is a simple, cost-effective method of purifying water, making it safe to drink in the short-term, long-term consumption is not recommended as your body will lose essential minerals and electrolytes that are important for normal healthy body functioning.

    The most effective way of removing contaminants from drinking water without stripping the water of essential minerals is filtration. Using a high-end portable home water filter, such as those in the Berkey range, you can effectively remove a wide range of harmful contaminants while still retaining the minerals and nutrients that not only give water its fresh, awesome taste, but which your body needs for good health.

    If you would like to see how a comparison of the berkey water filter vs distilled water, this article will help you.

  • Do Berkey Water Filters Remove Pharmaceutical Drugs & Hormones?

    Pharmaceutical drugs and hormones are classified as emerging drinking water contaminants that have been acknowledged as an area of growing concern by the EPA. Emerging contaminants are pollutants that are ubiquitous in water sources at low levels, but very little is known about the effects that these substances have on aquatic life or human health.

    Quick Answer: Yes, the Berkey water filter equipped with the standard black berkey filters WILL remove pharmaceuticals drugs and hormones that are found in the drinking water.  Here's a quick overview table of what's been tested.

    A listing of pharmaceuticals that the Berkey water filter has been tested to remove. A listing of pharmaceuticals that the Berkey has been tested to remove.

    There is growing concern over the presence of pharmaceutical drugs, personal care products and hormones in drinking water, and what the long term affect of exposure to these substances can have on our health. Many studies have found various types of drugs, including prescription drugs and over-the-counter medication such as aspirin and ibuprofen, as well as hormones in streams, rivers and lakes across the country.

    Of the 250 million pounds of pharmaceutical waste that is estimated to be flushed annually, a large percentage originate from hospitals and care facilities, which generate large volumes of pharmaceutical waste, as well as households and veterinary sources, for example from farm animal waste when livestock is treated with growth hormones or veterinary medication. Until recently, flushing pharmaceutical waste was common practice, and while this may no longer occur directly, drugs (medication) and hormones (for example from contraceptives) are added to wastewater indirectly when they are excreted by the body. Yet, while wastewater does get treated at a wastewater treatment plant before being discharged into the environment, wastewater treatment facilities do not have the capacity to remove most of these contaminants. As wastewater often gets discharged into rivers and lakes that provide us with drinking water, these contaminants may be present in the water you drink.

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    How can you remove these pharmaceuticals from your drinking water?

    If you are concerned about the health effects of exposure to emerging contaminants which in all likelihood are present in your drinking water, you can invest in a good quality home water filter that is capable of removing these contaminants. However, because home water filters are not regulated or routinely tested before being marketed to consumers, not all filters are equal.

    However, while home water treatment filters are not regulated, manufacturers can undergo voluntary testing to ensure their product/s meet national standards and minimum requirements established by the NSF to ensure home water filters are capable of treating drinking water to a safe standard.

    The black berkey filters have been tested for removing these emerging contaminants, including pharmaceuticals and hormones such as ibuprofen, triclosan, caffeine and progesterone that are commonly found in drinking water.  The Berkey filters were tested for 17 different drugs and hormones, with each being removed to greater than 99.5% to meet NSF Standard 42 and NSF Standard 53 for chemical reduction.

  • Where to Find the Water Quality Report for your City, and how to Interpret these Results

    As people become more environmentally and health conscious, they are moving away from the trend of consuming bottled water. Bottled water not only generates gazillions of plastic bottles that end up in landfills, but it is also expensive, and very often the quality of bottled water is no better than tap water, so purchasing it as an alternative source of drinking water is a complete waste of money. As a result, many consumers are moving away from bottled water and demanding that the water delivered to the taps in their homes is of a high quality and is safe to drink.

    As more and more consumers ditch bottled water in favor of tap water, they are raising their concerns with the relevant water authorities and showing a greater interest in the water quality report for the water provided to them. Every citizen has the right to know what contaminants they may be exposed to in their drinking water, and at what levels.

    Safe Drinking Water Act

    In 1996, the Safe Drinking Water Act was implemented, which not only gave the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to set drinking water standards for water supplied to Americans across the country, but also gave the public better access to data related to the quality of their drinking water. The EPA monitors water utilities countrywide to ensure that the water they distribute to consumers meets their strict water quality standards. Drinking water must be adequately treated to ensure it is safe to drink, and if any harmful contaminants are detected, the public needs to be duly notified. The Safe Drinking Water Act also requires that water provided to each community across the country must have an annual water quality report, the aim of which is to assist consumers make informed choices when choosing their source of drinking water. However, these reports can be confusing to the layperson who has little understanding of technical jargon typically included within.

    Water Quality Report

    Water Pollution is Rife Across America

    Around 4 million people reside in areas where the drinking water is of poor quality and unsafe to drink. Many of these consumers are from poor rural communities who do not have the resources to purify their water to make it safer. The Environmental Working Group (EWG), which monitors the water quality of 30 million water sources across the country, has released an online tool to help consumers ascertain the quality of their drinking water. After entering their ZIP code into the online database, they will be presented with an extensive report listing all the contaminants detected in their drinking water.

    Common contaminants include lead, radioactive pollutants such as Chromium-6, as well as pesticides and fertilizers which get washed into water sources via agricultural runoff. The online database allows consumers easy access to water quality data that can have serious implications on their health. For example, it shows that around 218 million people across the country are exposed to Chromium-6 in their drinking water — many of whom may be blissfully unaware of the health threat they are facing when drinking water that flows out of their taps.

    Understanding your Water Quality Report

    Every community by law should receive a regular water quality report bu mail that outlines the test results after water samples from your area have been tested in a laboratory. If not received by mail, it should be posted online on your towns website. This report will outline what contaminants were tested for, highlighting any that are deemed problematic, giving their concentrations.

    Depending on the type of pollutant, the concentration of any contaminants present are typically indicated in milligrams per liter (mg/L), parts per million (ppm), or parts per billion (ppb), and in some other cases, units specific to the contaminant in question.

    Water Quality Parameters

    The water quality report typically includes three categories of water quality parameters:

    1) General water quality indicators

    2) Health risk parameters

    3) Nuisance parameters

    General Water Quality Indicators

    General indicators are parameters that indicate harmful pollutants may be present in the water. For example, turbid water is an indicator that pathogenic bacteria may be present. Water pH levels are another general indicator of water quality — if the pH is too high or too low it could potentially be corrosive, which could lead to heavy metals such as lead or copper being leached from pipes as the water passes through water pipes in the distribution network. General water quality indicators include:

    1. pH value- can leach harmful metals from pipes and result in a metallic taste or give water a slimy texture that tastes like soda.
    2. Turbidity — when water clarity is compromised it can indicate the water contains other contaminants, such as bacteria, that sneaked through with the sediments.
    3. Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) - this refers to dissolved minerals, such as iron and manganese, that can cause water to be hard or result in staining, and can also adversely affect the taste of the water.

    Health Risk Parameters

    Health risk parameters, on the other hand, are parameters that can directly affect your health if present in high enough concentrations. The report will include contaminants such as atrazine (causes liver and heart damage), benzene (disorders of the blood and immune system, as well as depression), coliform (responsible for contagious diseases such as diarrhea and hepatitis), lead (impairs nervous system and causes learning and cognitive disfunction), nitrates (causes blue baby syndrome), and radon (associated with lung cancer).

    Nuisance Parameters

    The third type of contaminant found listed on your drinking water quality report is nuisance parameters. While these won't adversely affect your health, they can affect the taste and/or smell of your water, rendering it unpleasant to drink. In some cases these contaminants can also make the water hard, reducing the effect of soap and detergents and causing scaly deposits to accumulate in plumbing over time, while others, for example iron, can stain laundry. Water hardness may be expressed as mg/L or as grains per gallon (gpg), which is equivalent to roughly 17mg/L.

    Decoding the Alphabetic Soup Listed on the Report

    The water quality report will invariably include technical abbreviations that the layperson will not understand, including:

    1. MCL, or Maximum Contaminant Level, refers to highest concentration of a contaminant acceptable for safe drinking water as per the EPA drinking water standards.
    2. MCLG, or Maximum Contaminant Level Goal, is the level of a contaminant in drinking water below which there is no known or expected risk to human health.

    What are your Options if You're not Happy with Your Tap Water?

    The water quality report gives you important insight into the quality of your drinking water, listing all the contaminants detected by the lab and at what levels. The report will alert you if there are any contaminants present that exceed the EPA's limits set for safe drinking water. This information can help you decide whether you water is safe to drink or whether you should be looking for an alternative, more healthy solution.

    While the water supplied by your water utility may be safe to drink, there may be minerals present that could make it taste bad. If you are not entirely satisfied with the quality of your tap water, all is not lost. You could invest in a home water filter like a Berkey system that will remove contaminants that give your water an unpleasant taste, as well as any potentially harmful contaminants that may be lurking.

    Also, you can compare what contaminants are found on your water quality report and compare it to the list of contaminants that the Black Berkey filters remove.

  • California's Underground Water Storage Plans Could be Risky

    Note: Yes, the black berkey filters that come standard with our berkey water filter systems do filter out and remove chromium 6 from the water. These berkey test results for chromium 6 can be found here.)

    With $2.5 billion allocated for water management projects within the state, California is considering alternative water storage options that will render the state more resilient to extreme droughts, which are expected to increase in the future with climate change. Many of the proposed new water storage solutions include underground storage as apposed to water storage in surface dams, which are more prone to water loss through evaporation.

    However, while having a diverse range of water management options is likely to help buffer the state from water losses during periods of prolonged drought, scientists at Stanford University are concerned about potential groundwater contamination from hazardous chemicals originating from both industrial and natural sources.

    Drought Affects on Folsom Lake, California Drought Affects on Folsom Lake, California

    Their biggest concern is chromium, which occurs naturally in rocks and soils, and depending on soil chemistry can be in one of two forms: 1) chromium-3, which is harmless; and 2) chromium-6, which is toxic and poses a risk to human health, causing symptoms such as throat-, nose-, eye- and skin irritations, and has also been linked to lung cancer.

    A new scientific study, which was recently published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, analyzed an extensive database of groundwater records, including water samples taken from drinking water wells, to map chromium hotspots around the state.

    While chromium does occur naturally, it is also released into soils by human activities. But, while people are becoming more aware of contamination from human sources — thanks to activists such as Erin Brockovich, who won a class action lawsuit she filed against Pacific Gas & Electric for chromium-6 contamination in 1993 — Scott Fendorf, a soil chemist at Stanford and co-author of the study, says "that's just not the only threat to groundwater. If you're thinking larger, the natural contaminants are really widespread," particularly in California, where the soil chemistry gives rise to chromium-rich rocks, he adds.

    Test Beaker Hand Agua Measure

    The researchers tested water from just under 16,000 wells spread across the state, and discovered that all of them had trace levels of chromium-6 present. However, some of the wells had chromium-6 present at levels that exceeded the maximum levels of 10 parts per billion recommended by the state as safe for drinking water.

    The sources of the chromium-6 contamination originates from several sources, including industrial (e.g. metal plating), agricultural (fertilizers), and natural sources.

    Chromium-6 is found in rocks located in areas where continental and oceanic plates meet, such as found in California along the San Andreas Fault where the North American Plate and the Pacific Plate come together. Serpentinite, with its distinct green coloration (indicating the presence of chromium-6), is a type of rock that is commonly found in these zones.

    But Fendorf believes that human activities can aggravate the formation of naturally occurring chromium-6. For example, applying chemicals to remove toxic industrial contaminants from soils — a cleanup method known as in-situ chemical oxidation — can transform the more benign chromium-3 into the much more hazardous chromium-6. According to Fendorf, over-extraction of water from underground aquifers for crop irrigation can also contribute to increased levels of chromium-6.

    "The water table is made of many stacked layers, alternating between sections of loose, wet gravel and sand and tightly-packed layers of fine clay," Fendorf explains. "The clay acts as a sponge with all this naturally chromium-rich dirty water in it," and when you starting overdrawing, you put pressure on the clays and start pushing dirty water into the main water that you're pumping out."

    While Fendorf's study shows that the more concentrated pockets of chromium contamination originate from industrial and agricultural sources, the impact of natural chromium affects a much wider area across the state and impacts a much larger proportion of drinking water sources.

    But even though chromium occurs throughout the state of California, neither state nor federal agencies have agreed on an acceptable safety level for the contaminant in drinking water. In 2014, California — which has historically recommended its own safety thresholds with regard to environmental regulations — set the maximum recommended safety level for chromium-6 in drinking water at 10 parts per billion due to potential risks associated with exposure. However, a 2017 court ruling suspended this recommendation as it failed to take the cost industries and agencies needed to incur to comply with these safety regulations into account.

    Currently, the EPA has set the safety threshold for chromium-6 at 100 parts per billion, while the states recommendations is half that amount at only 50 parts per billion. While they are currently revising these safety thresholds, you and your family may be exposed to dangerous levels of chromium-6 in your drinking water.

    Journal Reference

    Debra M. Hausladen, Annika Alexander-Ozinskas, Cynthia McClain & Scott Ferndorf. Hexavalent Chromium Sources and Distribution in California Groundwater. Environ. Sci. Technol., 2018, 52 (15), pp 8242–8251; DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.7b06627

  • Hungry Antibiotic Loving Bacteria Could Help Rid Environment of Antibiotic Contaminants

    Antibiotic drugs can be a lifesaver for anyone suffering from a bacterial infection such as meningitis or pneumonia. Antibiotics kill bacteria, and thus help fight infection. But some types of bacteria can develop a resistance to these drugs, while others not only become resistant but also utilize antibiotics as a source of food.

    Until now, scientists have not fully understood how drug resistant bacteria manage to safely consume antibiotics, but a study that was published in the scientific journal Nature Chemical Biology earlier this year reveals important steps in this process. The study's findings could help establish new methods to remove antibiotics from soil and water, thus ridding the environment of antibiotic contaminants which promote drug resistance, undermining our ability to cure bacterial infections effectively.

    "Ten years ago we stumbled onto the fact that bacteria can eat antibiotics, and everyone was shocked by it," said senior author Gautam Dantas, an associate professor of pathology and immunology, of molecular microbiology, and of biomedical engineering at the Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis. "But now it's beginning to make sense. It's just carbon, and wherever there's carbon, somebody will figure out how to eat it. Now that we understand how these bacteria do it, we can start thinking of ways to use this ability to get rid of antibiotics where they are causing harm."

    Antibiotics in the environment contribute to drug resistance. But researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have figured out how some soil bacteria turn the drugs into food. The information could lead to new ways to clean up antibiotic-contaminated soil and waterways. Antibiotics in the environment contribute to drug resistance. But researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have figured out how some soil bacteria turn the drugs into food. The information could lead to new ways to clean up antibiotic-contaminated soil and waterways.

    When these resistant bacteria get into soil, waterways and ultimately drinking water sources, they can cause antibiotic resistance in people who are exposed to them. Antibiotic resistance is an increasingly common problem that adversely affects medical treatment of infectious diseases, eroding the advances made in medical care since antibiotics were discovered, and ultimately putting people's lives at risk.

    Modern day agricultural and industrial practices which saturate the environment with antibiotic drugs are fueling the growth of antibiotic resistance. In China and India, the two largest producers of antibiotic drugs, pharmaceutical companies often discharge antibiotic-laden wastewater into local waterbodies. Back home in the US, farmers routinely feed antibiotics to their livestock to help them grow healthy and strong, resulting in animal waste that is laded with these drugs.

    Because bacterial communities readily exchange genetic material, when soil and water become polluted with antibiotics, bacteria living in these habitats respond by sharing their antibiotic resistant genes with their neighbors.

    The researchers wanted to gain a clearer understanding of how some bacteria in the environment are not only resistant to antibiotics, but also feed on the drugs. They examined four types of soil bacteria that were distantly related and which flourished on a diet consisting solely of penicillin — the first antibiotic ever discovered, which until recently was widely used but is prescribed less often now due to antibiotic resistance. They found three sets of genes that were activated when the bacteria consumed penicillin, but which became inactive when the bacteria consumed sugar. The three genetic sets correspond to the three steps the bacteria take to convert what should be a lethal drug into a nutritious meal.

    According to the authors, "all of the bacteria start by neutralizing the dangerous part of the antibiotic. Once the toxin is disarmed, they snip off a tasty portion and eat it."

    Gaining a clearer understanding of the steps the bacteria take to convert antibiotics into a source of food may help scientists bioengineer bacteria and put them to work ridding soil and waterbodies that are contaminated with antibiotics in an effort to combat the rise in drug resistance.

    Because soil dwelling bacteria that typically consume antibiotics are not so easy to work with, the researchers suggest that with some genetic tweaking, "a more tractable species such as E. coli potentially could be engineered to feed on antibiotics in polluted land or water."

    "With some smart engineering, we may be able to modify bacteria to break down antibiotics in the environment," said Terence Crofts, a post-doctoral researcher and primary author of the study.

    While bacteria are effective at removing antibiotics from soil, their rate of consumption is slow. Consequently, if we have any hope of eradicating antibiotics from hotspots such as sites located near sewage plants' or pharmaceutical manufacturers' discharge outlets, any bioengineering project with this goal in mind would need to encourage the bacteria to consume antibiotics faster.

    "You couldn't just douse a field with these soil bacteria today and expect them to clean everything up," Dantas said. "But now we know how they do it. It is much easier to improve on something that you already have than to try to design a system from scratch."

    Journal Reference

    T.S. Crofts, et al. Shared strategies for β-lactam catabolism in the soil microbiome. Nature Chemical Biology. Vol.14, 556-564; (2018)

  • Detroit Schools Turn Off Drinking Water Over Lead Contamination Concerns

    Public schools in Detroit are shutting off their drinking water due to concerns of copper and lead contamination, after high levels of these heavy metals were found in samples taken from several school buildings, Detroit Free Press recently reported.

    The district superintendent, Nikolai Vitti, has indicated that schools will make water coolers and bottled water available to students when they return to classes this week.

    Recent tests conducted on public water supplies in 24 schools in Detroit found at least one drinking water source, i.e. tap or water fountain, at 16 of the schools had elevated levels of lead and/or copper at concentrations deemed to be unsafe.

    african-american-boy-take-a-drink-of-cool-water-from-one-of-the-schools-water-fountains-725x482

    According to Vitti, 18 other schools have already had their drinking water sources shut off due to water contamination issues identified prior to this latest scare. More than fifty other schools were also tested, but while there is no indication that the water supply at these schools is tainted with copper or lead, officials are erring on the side of caution as they await the results of tests conducted on water samples taken from these schools.

    "Out of an abundance of caution and concern for the safety of our students and employees, I am turning off all drinking water in our schools until a deeper and broader analysis can be conducted to determine the long-term solutions for all schools," Vitti said in a public statement.

    There are more than 100 public schools within the Detroit district, but authorities have not released any details with regard to the water tests or given any indication as to what could have contributed to the high levels of lead and copper in the drinking water of affected schools.

    However, the Great Lakes Water Authority and the Detroit Water and Sewage Department, who are jointly responsible for supplying drinking water to the city, released a joint statement blaming the schools' aging water infrastructure for the water quality issues they are experiencing, saying they do not affect consumers across the city as the treated drinking water they supply surpasses all drinking water standards for safety and quality. According to the statement, there are no lead water pipes connected to the schools' plumbing; copper and lead can leach into drinking water if pipes that contain these metals corrode.

    Exposure to heavy metals such as lead and copper in drinking water can pose a number of serious health issues, the EPA regulates that water systems need to be fixed when concentrations of these heavy metals exceed safety levels, which is set at zero for lead.

    Children are particularly vulnerable to negative health effects of lead, as these occur at a much lower exposure level in children compared to adults. Even small doses can have a serious impact on the health of a child — exposure to lead at low levels can damage the nervous system, cause learning difficulties and impair hearing and formation and healthy functioning of blood cells in children, while higher levels can cause cognitive and behavioral disorders, and delayed puberty.

    This precautionary move to protect learners from potential contamination follows the ongoing water crisis in Flint, where residents have been exposed to dangerous levels of lead in their drinking water putting the broader community at risk.

    If you are concerned about the quality of water your child is exposed to while attending classed, you can take measures to ensure they remain safe. Invest in a portable water filter bottle or water purification kit that will remove lead, copper and other dangerous heavy metals as well as other harmful contaminants your child may be exposed to on a daily basis.

  • Heavy Metals in Drinking Water Linked to Morbidity

    Heavy metals can accumulate in lakes that supply drinking water to consumers, posing a serious health risk. A recent water quality study conducted by a team of Russian scientists in lakes in Russia's Murmansk region has linked heavy metal contamination with morbidity in the region. The study found that nickel, copper, lead and cadmium accumulate in lake water, and were also present in the livers and kidneys of residents who rely on this drinking water supply.

    The study, which was recently published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, was conducted in the industrialized cities of Apatity, Monchegorsk and Olenegorsk, as well as the more remote villages of Lovozero and Alakurtti, where residents depend on surface water for their drinking water supply.

    800px-Copper_mining_and_sulfuric_acid_plant1a34319v Copper mining and sulfuric acid plant, Copperhill], Tenn

    Using fish as an indicator of water contamination (since the way in which humans and fish accumulate and store heavy metals in the body is very similar), scientists assessed heavy metal accumulation in the kidneys and livers of fish.

    The scientists also looked at tissue samples taken from 110 deceased local residents aged between 35-60 who had lived in the affected areas for at least a decade, but had not been exposed to heavy metals through their occupations or suffered from viral hepatitis or chronic alcoholism. The authors point out that for 24 of the 110 deceased patients, no disease was diagnosed before the patient died.

    According to the study: "Based on the results of histological, clinical and postmortem examination of patients in the liver and kidneys, a high content of toxic metals, especially cadmium, was found. It is a well-known fact that exposure to highly toxic compounds can destroy the endocrine system, increase the frequency of congenital malformations and alter the hormonal environment of the parents."

    Previous studies on communities living in the Arctic have demonstrated that lower air temperatures can ramp up the harmful effects of exposure to toxins by as much as five times, even at levels considered safe.

    "It seems obvious that the permissible concentrations of harmful substances should not be the same in both subtropical Sochi and Arctic Norilsk, simply because of the massive differences in the processes of degradation and assimilation of these contaminants," say the authors. "However- they are indeed the same."

    While the impact of this contamination has not been fully assessed, some negative effects are already evident. Indigenous Arctic populations, for example, have seen a sharp rise in the ratio of newborn girls to newborn boys being born. There are also other disturbing statistics, said Boris Morgunov, Director of the Institute of Ecology at the Higher School of Economics and co-author of the study.

    800px-Karabash_plant Copper melting plant in Karabash, Chelyabinsk region, Russia.

    The main pollutants affecting water quality in the region are chromium and nickel, due to the presence of large copper-nickel smelting plants. Scientists found high concentrations of these pollutants within a 30 kilometer radius of the smelters, with background levels at distances of up to 100 kilometers, attributed to pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and dust particles carried further afield in smoke emissions. The study's results show that heavy metals were not removed during water treatment processes, and that some metals, particularly manganese and iron, were more concentrated in water pipes.

    The researchers also found that cadmium, nickel and chromium tended to accumulate mostly in the livers of fish, while nickel and cadmium also accumulates in the kidneys. The concentrations of these toxins, particularly nickel, are significantly lower in fish living in lakes that are located further away from industrial cities. Yet, despite this distance, cadmium concentrations in fish kidneys was extremely high.

    According to the study: "In areas of the Kola Peninsula which are contaminated by nickel-cobalt smelting, the most serious diseases (nephrocalcinosis and fibroelastosis) were detected in the kidneys of fish. In comparison to the lake water, the concentration of iron in water in the pipelines in Monchegorsk is more than three times higher, and in Apatity - more than five times. The concentrations of many elements in the water taken from the aqueduct were no lower than in the lake water, which indicates a poor water purification system."

    How toxic metals in drinking water impact human health

    According to the study, residents living in the study areas had significantly higher concentrations of copper in their liver tissue compared to the control population. Post mortem results from one community showed that concentrations of heavy metals (cadmium, cobalt, copper and lead) found in liver samples were twice as high as those found in the control population, while cadmium levels in kidney tissue was more than five times greater.

    Morbidity was higher in cities that obtained drinking water from lakes that had the highest concentrations of heavy metals. The biggest health threat resulting from drinking contaminated water is the development of malignant tumors — the number of reported cases ranged between 10.4-18.1 per 1000 in three of the cities assessed.

    Considering that cities and regions around the world are becoming increasingly industrialized, and that heavy metal pollutants can be transported further afield with emissions, many more surface water supplies may be affected, and by extension, also the communities who depend on them for a source of drinking water. Investing in a good quality drinking water filter such as a berkey water filter, that can remove toxic heavy metals, as well as other pollutants can protect you and your family from these invisible, but potentially harmful, threats.

    Journal Reference

    T.I. Moiseenko eta al. Ecosystem and human health assessment in relation to aquatic environment pollution by heavy metals: case study of the Murmansk region, northwest of the Kola Peninsula, Russia. Environmental Research Letters, Vol 13:6, 2018. DOI:10.1088/1748-9326/aab5d29

  • Hurricane Season Brings Water Quality Fears

    It's hurricane season once again, with Hurricane Florence bringing home that reality loud and clear as she unleashed her fury across the Carolinas. Besides the wind and rain, and the destruction and flooding associated with those two evils, there is always the threat that rising waters can cause hazardous waste to leach out of holding pits or soils on contaminated sites and potentially pollute groundwater and surface waters that serve as a source of drinking water.

    Recent reports are highlighting the extent of the problem, listing potential threats, which include hazardous waste from superfund sites, chemical factories, coal ash ponds collapsing, and potentially also nuclear power plants, as well as animal waste from hog farms.

    A pig farm waste pit A pig farm waste pit

    North Carolina has a large concentration of hog farms, and where there are pigs there is plenty of pig waste. This animal waste is held in open pits dotted across parts of North Carolina that lie slightly inland from the coast. These pits are already overflowing due to heavy rainfall and flooding, with also drinking water sources potentially becoming contaminated with feces-laden wastewater.

    Pilots for Waterkeeper Alliance document the effects of Hurricane Florence's flooding on concentrated animal feeding operations in North Carolina on September 17th, 2018. (Photo: Rick Dove, Waterkeeper Alliance) Pilots for Waterkeeper Alliance document the effects of Hurricane Florence's flooding on concentrated animal feeding operations in North Carolina on September 17th, 2018.
    (Photo: Rick Dove, Waterkeeper Alliance)

    According to a study conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Waterkeeper Alliance, in 2016 there were North Carolina had more than 4,000 animal waste holding pits containing pig and/or chicken manure.

    It is estimated that North Carolina generates around 10 billion gallons of wet animal waste every year. Picture 15,000 Olympic-size swimming pools filled with pig poo mingling with rising flood waters. Not a pretty sight.

    Kemp Burdett from Cape Fear River Watch is very concerned about the swine lagoons breaching, and said he was "bracing for catastrophic impact" in Florence's aftermath.

    "When you have a swine lagoon breach, it is going to have catastrophic impact on the river," Burdette said in an interview with CNN. "We are going to see serious water quality problems."

    While some farmers have made efforts to reduce the animal excrement in their pits by spraying it onto their fields, this is not likely to be of much help should severe flooding occur. But, even with the best intentions and precautions it may be impossible to prevent animal waste from escaping the holding pits and leaking into the environment. Some runoff is inevitable.

    According to Burdette, should animal waste be released by floodwaters, the region could suffer long-term water quality issues. But added to that, there is a very real risk to the animals themselves. Should they succumb to rising floodwaters, their carcasses can get washed away and end up in rivers, posing a further risk of contamination.

    According to Soren Rundquist, Director of Spatial Analysis at EWG, during periods of heavy rainfall floodwaters will wash whatever has been sprayed onto the fields away, together with whatever overflows from the waste holding pits.

    "Everything that's been sprayed on the fields is going to leave with the runoff anyway," Rundquist told CNN. "So pumping might move it from over here to over there, but it doesn't have a practical effect."

    Besides the threat posed by animal waste, both North and South Carolina have several Superfund sites earmarked for cleanup by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), with at least nine of those locations posing a real concern to the EPA, who will be monitoring them during and after the storm for any indication that things are amiss.

    If you believe your water source may be at risk from pig waste contamination or other forms of water contamination, please consider employing a filter system like a berkey water filter.

  • Water Footprint of Fracking Operations Rises Dramatically

    The volume of water that is used in each well to extract oil during the hydraulic fracturing process has surged dramatically since 2011, rising by an alarming 770% by 2016 across all the main oil and gas production regions across the US, a new study has revealed.

    In addition to the surge in water usage, the study also shows that the volume of wastewater laden with brine and potentially harmful chemicals generated during fracking operations has risen by as much as 1440% over the same time-frame.

    If fracking operations intensify at the current rate, the industry's water footprint is likely to increase 50-fold by 2030, fueling concerns regarding the sustainability of these operations, particularly in the drier regions of the country or areas that are already water stressed.

    "Previous studies suggested hydraulic fracturing does not use significantly more water than other energy sources, but those findings were based only on aggregated data from the early years of fracking," said Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment."After more than a decade of fracking operation, we now have more years of data to draw upon from multiple verifiable sources. We clearly see a steady annual increase in hydraulic fracturing's water footprint, with 2014 and 2015 marking a turning point where water use and the generation of flowback and produced water began to increase at significantly higher rates," Vengosh said.

    According to Vengosh, the efficiency of unconventional gas and oil extraction has improved over the years as overall production has increased. However, the volume of both the water used during the oil and gas extraction process, and the wastewater generated as a result, has increased significantly, driving the industry's water footprint upwards.

    Af Peter Aengst - The Wilderness Society, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36792426 Af Peter Aengst - The Wilderness Society, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36792426

    For the study, which was recently published in the scientific journal Science Advances, the researchers reviewed six years of water use, wastewater generation and oil and gas production data collected from non-profit, government and industry sources for over 12,000 oil and gas wells located across the major tight oil and shale gas producing regions in the US. Using this historical data set, they modeled future water usage and first-year wastewater production volumes, looking at two different scenarios.

    Their models reveal that should oil and gas prices, which are currently low, start to rise again with a simultaneous rise in production to volumes similar to those seen during fracking's peak, cumulative water usage and wastewater production could rise as much as 20-fold in regions where unconventional oil is extracted and as much as 50-fold in regions where unconventional gas is extracted. According to lead author, Andrew Kondash, the models show that even if oil and gas prices and production rates remain the same as they are now, the volume of water used and wastewater produced will still increase sharply by 2030.

    The wastewater produced as a byproduct of the fracking process contains water that was injected into the wells under pressure during the fracking process in order to crack open fissures in the rock to release the oil and gas. When this water is pumped out again it contains a large percentage of brines that together with the oil and gas are extracted from rocks and soil deep underground. These brines have a high salt content and can also contain harmful chemicals and radioactive elements, which makes treating and disposing of them safely difficult. To get around this issue, many oil and gas companies inject the wastewater back into the ground via wastewater wells. Yet while this may prevent the wastewater from contaminating local freshwater supplies, it has been associated with an increase in earthquakes at some locations.

    "New drilling technologies and production strategies have spurred exponential growth in unconventional oil and gas production in the United States and, increasingly, in other parts of the world," Kondash said. "This study provides the most accurate baseline yet for assessing the long-term environmental impacts this growth may have, particularly on local water availability and wastewater management."

    The lessons learned locally in the United States can help other countries, such as Mexico, Argentina and China, make informed decisions when planning and implementing fracking operations to exploit their natural gas resources in the future.

    Journal Reference

    Andrew J. Kondash, Nancy E. Lauer, Avner Vengosh. The Intensification of the Water Footprint of Hydraulic Fracturing. Science Advances, August 17, 2018. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aar5982

  • Chemical Additives that Prevent Pipes from Clogging may Release Harmful Bacteria

    Water utilities that supply drinking water to residents in many cities across the country often add chemical softening agents in an effort to prevent mineral buildup in the pipes which if left unchecked can result in clogging. Now a new study shows that these chemical additives may increase the risk of harmful pathogens being released into drinking water as it weakens the grip that harmful bacteria, such as those that cause Legionnaires' disease, exert on the interior of pipes.

    Biofilms similar to those found on the glass of home aquariums are common in water pipes that make up water delivery systems and attach themselves to the mineral scale that accumulates on the walls of the pipes. These biofilms mostly consist of harmless microbes that rarely cause disease.

    Typical Rusted Water Pipe Typical Rusted Water Pipe

    "The groundwater that supplies many cities may be high in magnesium and calcium," said Helen Nguyen, a professor of civil engineering and co-author of the study. "When combined with other elements, they can form thick deposits of mineral scale that clog up engineered water systems. Because of this, water treatment plants add chemicals called polyphosphates to dissolve the minerals to keep the scale buildup under control."

    Another study conducted by co-author Wen-Tso Liu, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, shows that even when water utilities treat the water with antimicrobial additives, the bacteria that adhere to the mineral deposits on pipes can multiply to harmful levels in water that stagnates in indoor plumbing.

    In this new study, which recently appeared in the scientific journal Biofilms and Microbiomes, a team of engineers from the University of Illinois show that anti-scaling chemicals added to the water system encourage growth of biofilms, causing them to become softer and thicker.

    "Increased biofilm thickness means more bacteria, and the softening increases the chance that pieces will detach and foul the water supply under normal flow pressure," explains Nguyen. "Tap water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency up to the property line, not the tap. So, in buildings where water has been stagnating for a while, this could become a public health issue."

    The top image shows a thin and stiff biofilm formed from untreated water, and the bottom image shows a thick and soft biofilm that formed as a result of polyphosphate treatment. The top image shows a thin and stiff biofilm formed from untreated water, and the bottom image shows a thick and soft biofilm that formed as a result of polyphosphate treatment.

    The problem is really a catch-22 situation, as without the addition of an anti-scaling agent, scale will build up on the interior of water pipes, leading to clogging and a reduced flow. According to Nguyen, one solution would be to simply replace clogged pipes as and when necessary. But she points out that this would be extremely costly for both public water utilities and property owners considering the size of water network across the United States.

    Nguyen suggests that rather than removing pipes, trying to eradicate all the microbes in the system or changing regulations, a more cost effective and appropriate solution will present itself with a clearer understanding of water chemistry. This study has provided more insight into the relationship between water chemistry and the communities of micro-organisms that exist in plumbing, and will help determine the most appropriate chemicals to use and the correct concentrations, said Nguyen.

    The research team now plans to undertake related studies which focus on the effects that anti-corrosion chemicals have on biofilms as well as water quality, together with studies that look at how biofilms can be physically removed from pipes in-situ (i.e. without removing the pipes).

    A Berkey water filter will filter out any dangerous bacteria that this may cause, and will help to protect you and your family.

    Journal Reference

    Yun Shen, Pin Chieh Huang, Conghui Huang, Peng Sun, Guillermo L. Monroy, Wenjing Wu, Jie Lin, Rosa M. Espinosa-Marzal, Stephen A. Boppart, Wen-Tso Liu, Thanh H. Nguyen. Effect of divalent ions and a polyphosphate on composition, structure, and stiffness of simulated drinking water biofilms. npj Biofilms and Microbiomes, 2018; 4 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41522-018-0058-1

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