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  • Town's Drinking Water Treated with Non-Approved Chemical for 10 Years

    A CNN report has recently revealed that people living in the town of Denmark, South Carolina have been exposed to a water treatment chemical not certified safe for human consumption for more than 10 years.

    Following concerns of rust-colored water flowing out of their taps, residents began collecting water samples for testing and opting for bottled water or other safer options rather than drinking tap water, even with government assurances that their water was safe to drink.

    But CNN has revealed information that throws those assurances into question. In an effort to control the naturally-occurring iron bacteria present in the water that is responsible for the rust-like deposits and red stained water, the state was adding HaloSan to one of Denmark's four water wells. Yet, Halosan is a chemical that is not approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for disinfecting drinking water. According to Gerald Wright, mayor of Denmark, all four wells feed into one water distribution system that supplies residents across the city.

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    While this is currently under investigation, it remains unclear what health effects this unapproved chemical may have had on the 3,000 residents who have been exposed to it for a decade. But some residents are blaming the water for the diseases and illnesses they are suffering from.

    HaloSan is a chemical that is typically used to disinfect spas and swimming pools, but it is not approved for treating drinking water and until now, has never been used to disinfect drinking water before. But the South Carolina has been using it to treat drinking water supplied to residents of Denmark from 2008 to 2018, even though it shouldn't have done so.

    Based on the way in which the HaloSan treatment unit was advertised, South Carolina's Department of Health and Environmental Control were falsely led to believe that it was in fact EPA-approved for treating drinking water. However, a spokesperson for the EPA disputes this, saying it is not approved for treating drinking water.

    "HaloSan has not undergone the necessary evaluations as part of the pesticide registration process and, therefore, EPA cannot confirm the safe use of this product for the disinfection of drinking water," an EPA spokesperson told CNN.

    According to a 2007 EPA health risk assessment HaloSan can cause significant skin and eye irritations, and is associated with health effects such as: skin rashes, itching, burning, red/discolored skin, blistering, allergic reactions including skin welts/hives, bleeding and allergic contact dermatitis, as well as eye irritations, including eye pain and swollen eyes.

    It is a legal requirement that any "product intended to be used to disinfect drinking water must be registered by the EPA," and it must be scientifically proven that "the product can perform its intended function without undue harm to people or the environment."

    According to the EPA, even when the HaloSan is being used for its intended purpose in pesticides, the dosage needs to be regulated. It is unclear whether the dosage added to Denmark's water system was regulated, or if the water was filtered.

    When Marc Edwards, an engineer and water researcher at Virginia Tech, first learned that HaloSan had been added to Denmark's drinking water he was "dumbfounded".

    "I did a thorough search, and I've never seen it approved for a public water supply before," he said. "And the EPA approvals that I saw, none of them were for municipal potable water." Nor is there any evidence that the dosage added to the drinking water supply was regulated.

    "You have to make sure you don't put too much of it in the water. And there was no way that they could prove that they weren't exceeding the recommended dose," Edwards explained. "There's a maximum allowed amount, even for industrial applications. And they have no way of proving that, that level is not being exceeded."

    Yet, without knowing the concentration levels in water, its difficult to determine the potential health impacts, said Joe Charbonnet, science and policy associate at the Green Science Policy Institute, who expressed concerns that HaloSan could produce toxic chemical compounds when used as a drinking water disinfectant.

    It is very concerning that a potentially toxic chemical that is classified as a pesticide and routinely used in pesticides, is added to drinking water, and even more so that its use is unregulated, with no indication that the water was subsequently filtered. Just another good reason why consumers are well advised to invest in a good quality water filter that is capable of removing a wide range of potentially harmful contaminants that either occur naturally in water, make their way into drinking water supplies from industrial or agricultural sources, or are added to the water during the treatment process in order to kill bacteria and other harmful pathogens.

  • 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

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