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Big Berkey Water Filters

  • Drugs found in Cape Cod Water Wells

    The safety and quality of our nation's drinking water sources are increasingly being questioned, after residents in Flint, Michigan, as well as other regions have recently been found to have contaminated water supplied to their homes. Now a new study has found that pharmaceutical drugs and chemicals found in every-day consumer products can find their way into private drinking wells via wastewater discharged into septic systems. The findings add to growing health concerns related to unregulated chemical pollutants commonly found in household drinking water.

    While conducting the study, which was recently published online in Science of the Total Environment, scientists from the Silent Spring Institute discovered 27 unregulated chemical pollutants, including 12 different pharmaceutical drugs, chemical compounds used to manufacture flame retardants, non-stick coatings, and an artificial sugar-free sweetener.

    It is estimated that around 44 million people in the US depend on private wells for their drinking water. Yet, unlike public water wells, private drinking wells are not regulated by water officials; instead, residents are solely responsible for ensuring that water quality within their wells meets federal safety standards. Not only are private wells monitored less frequently, they are typically also shallower than public drinking wells, and thus more vulnerable to contamination from farming activities, construction, and local landfills. Consequently, contamination of drinking water in private wells continues to present an ongoing health risk to residents in many areas of the country.

    photo credit: photo credit:

    Households that get their drinking water from private wells typically also make use of private septic systems for treating their wastewater. It is estimated that around 25% of all US homes make use of a septic system for treating household wastewater. Earlier studies conducted at Cape Cod by Silent Spring scientists revealed that hormone-disrupting pharmaceuticals and chemicals can leach through soils to contaminate both surface water and groundwater. According to lead author, Dr Laurel Schaider, a scientist at the Silent Spring Institute, the next step was to determine whether these contaminants could find their way from groundwater into household drinking water sources.

    To find the answer to this key question, Dr Schaider and her research team took water samples from 20 private drinking water wells across Cape Cod and tested them for 117 pollutants. They found that around 70% of the wells tested positive for PFCs (perfluoroalkyl substances) — a class of fluorinated chemicals that are sometimes referred to as PFASs. PFCs are known endocrine-disrupters that are associated with developmental disorders and cancer. These chemicals are commonly found in every-day household products, such as non-stick frying pans, pizza boxes, stain-resistant rugs and carpets, and waterproof clothing.

    The scientists found that 25% of all wells tested contained chemicals used in flame retardants, and found a staggering 60% of the tested wells contained pharmaceutical drugs. The antibiotic, sulfamethoxazole, which is commonly prescribed for infections of the urinary tract, together with carbamazepine, a pharmaceutical drug that is prescribed for the treatment of bipolar disorders, seizures and nerve pain, were amongst the more common drugs encountered.
    The researchers also assessed nitrate concentrations in the wells, and discovered that water in wells that had higher nitrate levels also tended to have more contaminants, and these were found in higher concentrations. The researchers note that all water samples came from wells that were situated in areas that were served by septic wastewater treatment systems, and closer analysis revealed that these backyard septic systems were most likely the source of the contamination.

    According to Schaider, this study is the first to show that septic systems can be a source of PFCs in private drinking wells, and considering that 85% of Cape Cod residents use septic treatment systems, the risk associated with contaminated drinking water is a serious health concern.
    Nitrates are also a drinking water contaminant that pose a serious health risk at high concentrations. Yet, while the EPA has set standards for nitrate levels in drinking water, there are none for the chemical contaminants found during the course of this study. While the levels of pharmaceuticals found in this study were considered to be much lower than those typically prescribed for a therapeutic dose, that doesn't necessarily lessen the risk notes Schaider.

    "Drugs are intended for specific uses and can have side effects," she says. "And we don't give certain medications to pregnant women or children because the developing body is very sensitive."

    People may also be allergic to certain drugs, such as antibiotics; and endocrine disrupting chemicals, such as flame retardants and PFCs, may produce adverse effects at very low doses. Furthermore, little is known about the health effects of exposure to a concoction of different chemicals found in drinking water.

    "People often don't think about where their tap water comes from," says Schaider. "But it's really important that they do and that they take steps to make sure it's safe."

    Households that depend on private wells for their drinking water should have the water tested annually. While these tests typically assess nitrate and bacterial concentrations rather than unregulated chemicals originating from household wastewater, this study shows that high nitrate levels could indicate the presence of other chemical pollutants.

    The current safety standard for nitrate in drinking water is set at 10 parts per million (ppm). However, the researchers found PFCs and pharmaceuticals in well water that had nitrate concentrations of less than 1 ppm. If you get your drinking water from a private well that has nitrate concentrations that are below the health standard set by the EPA, yet greater than 1 ppm, you should consider filtering your drinking water with a filter system to remove any pollutants that may contaminating your water. But as prevention is better than cure, to prevent these chemicals from making their way into the environment in the first place, we should limit our use of medications that contain toxic chemicals, refrain from flushing unused pharmaceuticals down the loo or drain, and where possible, move backyard septic systems away from drinking wells and ensure that they are well maintained.

    Journal Reference

    Laurel A. Schaider, Janet M. Ackerman, and Ruthann A. Rudel. Septic systems as sources of organic wastewater compounds in domestic drinking water wells in a shallow sand and gravel aquifer. Science of the Total Environment. 2016. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.12.081

  • How to Clean Rust on Your Berkey System

    The term "Stainless Steel" is a slightly misleading name. A more accurate description would be "Harder to Stain Steel". While the Berkey uses a surgical grade 304 stainless steel, the largest single component of this stainless steel is still steel and steel can potentially rust over time.

    The chromium in stainless steel when exposed to oxygen in the atmosphere forms a thin invisible layer called chromium oxide. This invisible layer covering the entire surface gives stainless steel its ability to resist stains and rust. If this layer is damaged rust is formed on the surface at the point of that damage. We rarely hear of rusting issues, but the good news is that with a little cleaning and care the chromium oxide layer is self-healing, and your Berkey chambers can be refreshed back to their original brand-new condition.

    Big Berkey Surgical Grade 304 Steel Big Berkey Surgical Grade 304 Stainless Steel

    Take care to not damage the chromium oxide layer by avoiding the use of cleaners that contain chlorides (fluorine, chlorine, bromine, iodine, etc.). Cleaners containing alcohol, ammonia or mineral spirits can also damage the protective layer. Do not use steel wool or steel brushes as minute particles of these carbon steel articles may adhere to the stainless and begin to rust. Avoid any caustic cleaners containing any of the above. If these compounds were to be used extreme care must be used to remove any and all traces of the cleaner as these chemicals damage the chromium oxide layer and we do not want them in contact with our drinking water.

    Stainless steel and the chromium oxide layer actually thrive on proper cleaning. For everyday cleaning of non-oxidized soils, dust, dirt and fingerprints, a mild soap/detergent (dish detergent) and warm water solution should be used. Use the solution to remove the soil, rinsing with fresh water and a clean cloth, and dry completely. Another alternative is to clean with a recommended stainless steel cleaner such as Cerama Bryte Stainless Steel Cleaner.

    Removal of oxidized stains and even “surface rust” can be done by using a paste made from baking soda and water.  Many of our customers opt for this basic organic approach.  Or, a cleaner that contains oxalic acid, such as Bar Keeper's Friend Soft Cleanser is effective as well.

    If using baking soda and water, use a cloth or soft bristle brush, rub the baking soda in the direction of the grain. This may take a little effort but this will remove these soils. When cleaned, rinse with clean water on a clean soft cloth.

    If using Bar Keeper's Friend, use only the liquid cleanser (free of grit) and be sure rub in the direction of the metal grain lines with a damp soft sponge

  • World Water Woes

    Flint's water woes, highlight the consequences of neglect, inadequate monitoring, and poor water infrastructure. However, Flint is not an isolated case; many other cities both nationally and globally face similar challenges.

    It is not unusual for governments to forgo investing in critical water infrastructure, or to fail to take changing environmental conditions and/or growing consumer markets into account. For many places, such as Flint, Mumbai, Johannesburg and Sao Paulo, the consequences of this lack of foresight results in decrepit water systems that are inadequate, leaving consumers with a water supply that is unsafe to drink, if they have water at all.

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    Because governments around the world have procrastinated on taking action to combat climate change, countries now have to drastically reduce their greenhouse gas emissions if we have any hope of preventing environmental collapse. Many are still reluctant to do so. Droughts are increasing in their frequency and intensity, and are occurring in all regions of the world, threatening crops and drinking water supplies. In India and the US Midwest, depleted aquifers threaten crops, and thus food production. In Lake Taihu, China, and Lake Erie, US, nutrient pollution gives rise to toxic algal blooms that impacts the water quality of communities that depend on these lakes for their drinking water, often resulting in residents not being able to use water from their taps. A toxic algal bloom in Lake Taihu in 2007 left millions of residents in Wuxi, China without water for several days — a logistical nightmare considering the amount of residents affected.

    With water resources already under severe pressure, when water infrastructure breaks down, the fallout can be swift and crippling to society. Sao Paulo recently suffered the consequences of a severe 2-year drought, exacerbated by inadequate and poorly maintained water infrastructure, leaving Brazil's largest city — with a population of 20 million inhabitants — facing the prospect of having no water. The South African capital of Johannesburg suffered a similar fate in November 2015, when taps in some areas in the city ran dry.

    To prevent potential disaster, aging water systems need to be maintained, upgraded, and in some cases expanded. But this is costly, and many cities simply don't have the budget to undertake the much needed upgrades.

    Yet, while governments may aim to save operating costs, the consequences of not maintaining and upgrading water infrastructure to keep up with consumer demand and changing environmental conditions can be more costly to rectify than the any savings attained in their efforts to cut costs.

    Consumers can take measures to ensure they have a steady supply of safe drinking water at all times. Firstly, consumers can take measures to ensure a backup supply of water should the taps run dry by installing rainwater tanks to catch and store rainwater during the rainy season for use in the dry season. Secondly, investing in a good quality drinking water filter that can purify water will ensure that both water flowing out the tap, or stored rainwater used for drinking in times of drought, is free from harmful pollutants, ensuring that there is always a safe supply of drinking water on hand.

  • Chemical Reactions Between Fracking Fluids and Rock Release Toxic Contaminants into Water New Study Finds

    During hydro-fracking operations, hundreds of thousands of gallons of water are pumped into the ground under pressure to force open fissures and release the natural gas trapped within. During this process, a concoction of toxic chemicals are added to the water, resulting in heavily contaminated wastewater as a byproduct.

    Until now, it was believed that fracking wastewater was largely contaminated as a result of chemical interactions with naturally occurring saline brine water found in rocks. However, a new study has found that chemical reactions that occur between the freshwater injected into the ground and fractured shale rock could be a major cause of the contamination.

    The results of the study, which were recently published in the scientific journal Applied Geochemistry, shows that when freshwater used in fracking operations is exposed to rock deep underground, due to chemical reactions between the two, it transforms into a liquid that is highly saline and has high levels of toxic metals, and poses a risk of contaminating drinking water if not disposed of appropriately.

    Courtesy of: FRacking Pond. Photo courtesy of:

    For the study, the research team examined samples taken from three drilling cores from drilling sites situated in the Marcellus Shale deposit in New York and Pennsylvania to assess chemical reactions between water and rock that could release toxic metals such as barium during the hydro-fracking process.

    The Marcellus Shale deposit has extensive natural gas reserves, and as a result has been largely exploited by the oil and gas industry using hydro-fracking techniques to extract the natural gas from deep underground. Because the fracturing process takes place under high pressure about a mile underground where temperatures are high and oxygen levels low, chemical reactions between water and the fractured rock occur.

    In terms of extracting oil and gas from shale beds, hydro-fracking is considered to be an important technological advancement in the oil and gas industry. However, the wastewater produced as a result of these operations is highly saline and contains extremely high levels of barium — a toxic metal. Up until now it was assumed that this highly saline water containing high levels of barium resulted from freshwater (used in fracking operations) mixing with saline water naturally found underground that already contained barium. Yet the researchers found that a large percentage of barium within the shale is bound to clay minerals, and gets released into the fracking water as salinity levels increase over time.

    "Based on barium yields determined from laboratory leaching experiments of the Marcellus Shale and a reasonable estimate of the water/rock mass ratio during hydraulic fracturing, we suggest that all of the barium in produced water can be reconciled with leaching directly from the fractured rock," says senior author Mukul Sharma, a professor of Earth Sciences at Dartmouth College.

    By understanding how barium behaves during these processes, we can better understand the behavior of other environmental contaminants that occur as a result of the hydro-fracking process.

    "Importantly, barium behavior allows us to understand the behavior of radium, which is very abundant in produced water and is a very real environmental concern," explains Sharma. "There has been much discussion about injection of water with lots of toxic compounds during fracking. What is less known is that produced water is hazardous waste and chemical reactions between water and the rock are likely playing a role in its formation, not simply a mixing of freshwater with natural brines in the rock."

    Journal Reference

    Devon Renock, Joshua D. Landis, Mukul Sharma. Reductive weathering of black shale and release of barium during hydraulic fracturing. Applied Geochemistry, 2016; 65: 73 DOI: 10.1016/j.apgeochem.2015.11.001

  • Toxic Environmental Contaminants Contribute to Antibiotic Resistance

    ** Antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a growing health problem that has prompted health officials, NGOs and media agencies to increase public awareness of the hazards associated with antibiotic use and misuse.

    ** Now a University of Georgia ecologist has warned that there may be more to this issue than misuse of antibiotic drugs.

    J. Vaun McArthur, an ecologist based at the Odum School of Ecology and the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, believes that environmental contaminants (primarily heavy metals) could play a role in the rise of bacterial resistance. To test his hypothesis he studied the effects of environmental contaminants in streams surrounding the U.S. Department of Energy's Savannah River Site.

    The DoE's Savannah River Site is situated alongside the Savannah River, close to Aiken, South Carolina, and covers an area of 310 square miles. In the 1950s the site was closed to the general public and used to produce materials required for building nuclear weapons. The production of these materials has resulted in toxic waste materials that have contaminated certain areas within the site and impacted streams in the surrounding areas.


    McArthur and his fellow researchers collected water and sediment samples from eleven sites along nine streams and proceeded to test five different antibiotics on over 400 strains E. Coli bacteria collected from the streams. Metal contaminants measured at the various sites ranged from low to high.

    "The site was constructed and closed to the public before antibiotics were used in medical practices and agriculture," McArthur said. "The streams have not had inputs from wastewater, so we know the observed patterns are from something other than antibiotics."

    The results of the study, which were recently published in the journal Environmental Microbiology, found that 8 of the 11 sites tested had high levels of antibiotic resistance. The highest level of antibiotic resistance (in both sediment and water samples) were recorded at the northern-most location on Upper Three Runs Creek, and on two tributaries within the industrial area.

    While the Upper Three Runs Creek does flow through agricultural, residential and other industrial areas before entering the Savannah River Site, therefore exposing bacteria in the stream to antibiotics, sites marked U4 and U8 are contained within the site and do not have any known antibiotic input from external sources. There is, however, a long history of contamination from legacy waste at these sites.

    McArthur then screened the samples a second time using twenty-three antibiotics on samples collected from U4 and U8, as well as samples collected from a stream nearby that was considered to be free from industrial contaminants.

    According to McArthur, more than 95% of bacteria samples collected from these streams showed antibiotic resistance to more than 10 of the 23 antibiotics tested, including antibiotics typically used to treat common bacterial infections such as pink eye, sinus- and urinary infections. The highest levels of antibiotic resistance were recorded at locations U4 and U8 (the streams heavily contaminated with industrial waste).

    "These streams have no source of antibiotic input, thus the only explanation for the high level of antibiotic resistance is the environmental contaminants in these streams -- the metals, including cadmium and mercury," McArthur said.

    While McArthur acknowledges that wildlife that have been exposed to antibiotics may have contributed by adding waste to these streams, only streams that had a history of industrial waste being discharged into them had bacteria that were resistant to antibiotics — bacteria in the other six streams located in pristine areas within the site that received no industrial input succumbed to antibiotics.

    McArthur finds it disconcerting that industrially contaminated water from these antibiotic resistance streams flows into the Savannah River, which flows past residential communities living on the border of South Carolina and Georgia.
    According to McArthur: "The findings of this study may very well explain why resistant bacteria are so widely distributed."

    Journal Reference

    J.V. McArthur et al. Patterns of Multi-Antibiotic-Resistant Escherichia Coli from Streams with No History of Antimicrobial Inputs. Environmental Microbiology, (Nov 2015); doi:10. 1007/ s00248-015-0678-4

  • Water Dispensers in Schools Linked to Weight Loss in Kids

    ** Giving kids the option to drink water instead of milk or fizzy drinks can prevent weight gain and keep them healthy.

    ** Making water freely available in schools by placing water jets in school cafeterias resulted in a reduction in student weight, a new study that was conducted in public schools in New York City has found.

    For the study, researchers assessed over 1 million students from 1227 schools across New York City comparing weight loss at schools with water dispensers to those at schools without. The report, which was recently published online in the journal, JAMA Pediatrics, is the first to reveal the link between the school water program and student weight loss.

    "This study demonstrates that doing something as simple as providing free and readily available water to students may have positive impacts on their overall health, particularly weight management," says study senior investigator Brian Elbel, an associate professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone and NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service."Our findings suggest that this relatively low-cost intervention is, in fact, working."

    The school water program was implemented in New York City schools in 2009, where large, electrically-powered water jets that dispensed water out of clear jugs by the push of a lever, were installed into schools across the city. At a cost of $1000 each, roughly 40% of schools were issued a water jet during the course of this study, which ran from the 2008/9 school year through to 2012/3 school year.

    Water Dispenser in NYC School Water Dispenser in NYC School

    The researchers analyzed height/weight data of students recorded by schools annually to determine student fitness levels, and compared body mass index (BMI) and weight status of all the students before water jets were introduced. They then reassessed these measurements after water jets were installed. The results show a change for the better: Compared to students at schools that didn't have water jets, students from schools where water jets had been installed for at least 3 months showed a reduced BMI — a reduction of between 0.22 (girls) - 0.25 (boys). Students were also between 0.6% (girls) - 0.9% (boys) less likely to be overweight than children from schools that didn't have water jets installed.

    The researchers conclude that making water readily available to children may lead them to opt for water instead of high calorie beverages such as flavored milk, fruit juice or soda. While New York City schools prohibited the sale of sugary beverages before the study began, students are still free to bring these onto school premises from other outside sources.

    A previous study conducted by Dr Ebel found that after water jets were introduced to schools, water consumption tripled within 3 months, while milk consumption dropped.

    According to lead author, Amy Ellen Schwartz, reducing the consumption of high calorie sugary beverages while simultaneously encouraging kids to drink water, is an important step in promoting children's health and decreasing childhood obesity, and school's provide the perfect setting for such an intervention.

    Considering that just under 40% of New York City children are overweight, healthy lifestyle choices are essential to end this trend. To this end, the city has implemented various policies to combat childhood obesity and promote child health. Besides introducing water jets to public schools, the city is striving to improve nutrition standards by offering more fruit and vegetables and removing fizzy drinks from vending machines, and providing low-fat milk instead of full-cream milk.

    If your child attends a school that does not have water jets installed you can still ensure that he or she has water freely available at all times. Pack a handy Sport Berkey Filter Bottle into your child's school bag and they can have a ready supply of healthy filtered water wherever they are.

    Journal Reference:

    Amy Ellen Schwartz, Michele Leardo, Siddhartha Aneja, Brian Elbel. Effect of a School-Based Water Intervention on Child Body Mass Index and Obesity. JAMA Pediatrics, 2016; 1 DOI: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.3778

  • Flint, Michigan's Toxic Water Situation Will Persist for Some Time

    A study released by the The Hurley Medical Center, in Flint, Michigan, in September 2015, confirmed many parents’ fears: their children are being silently poisoned by lead. The report revealed that the number of children and infants with high levels of lead — a highly toxic heavy metal — in their systems has almost doubled since 2014, when the city opted to use the Flint River as a water source instead of the Detroit water system used prior to the switch.

    The crisis originally reached a head following a Michigan state emergency declaration last month, but since Saturday when President Obama declared the situation a national emergency, much of the US public is finally waking up.  Some residents have taken legal action by filing a class-action federal lawsuit against the city, state, and officials responsible for putting the health and safety of their families at risk by exposing them to drinking water that is highly toxic. There are no simple solutions and they expect the problem to persist at least a year or more as efforts to correct the issue are put into place.

    The lawsuit states: “For more than 18 months, state and local government officials ignored irrefutable evidence that the water pumped from the Flint River exposed [city residents] to extreme toxicity. The deliberately false denials about the safety of the Flint River water was as deadly as it was arrogant."

    Parents in the city of Flint have been taking their children to visit GPs and clinics for medical check ups for months, fueled by concerns that they are being poisoned. So, what are the symptoms and long-term consequences of lead exposure?

    According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), symptoms of lead poisoning can initially materialize as changes in child behavior and learning disabilities. While exposure to lead can cause high blood pressure and kidney damage in adults, children are particularly vulnerable as they tend to absorb greater levels of lead — sometimes as much as five times the amount of adults exposed to the same source. Once lead enters the body it is dispersed throughout the system and can accumulate in organs of the body including the brain, bones, liver and kidneys,

    "In particular, lead affects children’s brain development resulting in reduced intelligencequotient (IQ), behavioural changes such as shortening of attention span and increased antisocial behaviour, and reduced educational attainment," says the WHO. "Lead exposure also causes anaemia, hypertension, renal impairment, immunotoxicity and toxicity to the reproductive organs. The neurological and behavioural effects of lead are believed to be irreversible."

    Residents began complaining about the quality of their drinking water, noting that it was cloudy and smelled bad, almost as soon as Flint began drawing the city’s water from the Flint River, and complaints have escalated ever since. While water officials initially tried to pacify residents and declared the water safe to drink, the state later issued a warning notice to inform residents that their drinking water contained high levels of trihalomethanes, a water contaminant that forms as a byproduct following treatment with chlorine, and which is associated with various diseases including cancer. The city then advised residents that children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with a weak immune system should consult their doctors as to whether it was safe for them to drink the water or to rather use an alternative source of drinking water.

    For many residents who could not afford to use expensive bottled water as their sole source of drinking water indefinitely, their only option was to take their chances and revert back to tap water. However, most protested and petitioned for change. Water officials had originally planned to continue using the Flint River water source until later in 2016 while a new cost-effective pipeline was being constructed between Lake Huron (Detroit) and Flint, but in October, officials finally conceded to pressure from residents and reverted to the Detroit water system as Flint’s main source of water.

    Following the declaration of a state of emergency, Flint officials are rallying around in damage control mode. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has made 28,000 liters of bottled water available to residents via a local food bank. The city is offering to test residents water for free, and is also providing residents with water filters. Even celebrities such as Cher, and filmmakers such as Michael Moore and doing what they can to assist.

    There are still concerns that in certain areas of the city unfiltered water could still be unsafe to drink. There are also concerns about the long-term effects of this exposure. In an article published in The Washington Post Flint Mayor, Karen Weaver aired her concerns, stating that the long-term health risks could “lead to a greater need for special education and mental health services, as well as developments in the juvenile justice system” in future.

    The untold story is that this is not the last time we're going to hear about a municipal water crisis in the US such as this. Municipalities are always looking to save money, so we could easily see a similar event in the future.  But more likely, with the many aging city water distribution systems that lack funding for updating and pipe replacements, we will see many smaller contamination events that don't national news, but have a continued and growing impact across our US towns and cities.

    The bottom line is that lead contamination has serious long-term health effects. If you are concerned that your tap water may be contaminated, get it tested, and invest in a good quality drinking water filter that is capable of removing lead. The Big Berkey range of drinking water filters fitted with Black Berkey filters can reduce lead and other heavy metals by 99.9%+, and can also remove trihalomethanes and many other drinking water contaminants to ensure your family's safety.

  • Can a Mother's Exposure to Chemicals Make Their Baby Vulnerable to TB?

    A new study that was recently conducted by researchers from the University of Rochester Environmental Health Sciences Center has revealed that exposure to hazardous chemicals such as DDT and PCBs can suppress a babies response to vaccines for tuberculosis.

    The significance of these findings, which were recently published in the scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives, is not only limited to an infants response to the TB vaccine; nor is it limited to exposure to the notorious two chemicals mentioned above. According to lead author, Dr Todd Jusko, who is an assistant professor in the departments of Environmental Medicine and Public Health Sciences at the University of Rochester:

    "There are thousands of pollutants similar to PCBs and DDT with unknown health implications. Our work provides a foundation for how these types of chemicals affect the developing immune system in infants around the world."

    For this study, the researchers focused on two key chemicals: polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs); and DDE, which is the primary byproduct of the notoriously hazardous insecticide DDT. Both of these chemicals are considered extremely persistent pollutants as they do not readily break down in the environment, but rather persist to pose a health risk to both the environment and humans. Even though these chemicals were banned decades ago, they are still prevalent in the environment (notably soil and water) today.

    TB Under the microscope TB Under the microscope

    PCBs were routinely added to consumer products and other industrial products in the US until they were banned in 1979. But despite the ban, nearly everyone has detectable concentrations of PCBs in their blood — even people who reside in unindustrialized regions of the world. While DDT is now banned in the US, it is still in use in certain countries where malaria is a larger health issue.

    For this study, researchers took blood samples from 516 healthy moms and their infants living in eastern Slovakia — a region that is heavily polluted by environmental toxins — and assessed the immune responses of babies six months after being given a TB vaccine that was administered within four days of their birth.

    They found that harmful chemicals were present in over 99% of the blood samples. However, babies with the highest PCB concentrations in their blood had fewer antibodies to fight off TB. Although the presence of DDE did not have such a strong influence on the levels of vaccine antibodies as PCBs, it still significantly reduced a baby's response to the TB vaccine; and babies that were exposed to both of these chemicals had the poorest immune response.

    PCB, DDE, and other persistent chemical toxins are able to pass through the placenta, and are also passed from mother's to their babies during breastfeeding. The authors note that a child develops his or her immune system in the early stages of life, and even the slightest changes can result in a dysfunctional immune system in the long-term.

    TB is a serious infectious killer disease that affected nearly 10 million people globally in 2014 alone. For years, scientists have pondered why people respond to the TB vaccine differently, with the impact that environmental toxins have on a child's developing immune system tending to be overlooked as a potential reason. This study shows that common environmental toxins can reduce the immune response to an important vaccine that is used globally to treat TB. Mothers (and their children) can be exposed to PCBs, DDT and other harmful environmental contaminants in drinking water.

    Journal Reference
    Todd A. Jusko et al. A Birth Cohort Study of Maternal and Infant Serum PCB-153 and DDE Concentrations and Responses to Infant Tuberculosis Vaccination. Environmental Health Perspectives, December 2015 DOI: 10.1289/ehp.1510101

  • Arsenic Exposure Poses Increased Risk Infection & Respiratory Symptoms in Children

    Pregnant women who are exposed to high levels of arsenic during their pregnancy are more likely to give birth to babies who are predisposed to infections and respiratory related ailments in the first year of their lives, a new study which was recently published in Environmental Health Perspectives has revealed.

    For the study, which surveyed New Hampshire residents who get their water from private wells, the research team measured arsenic levels in urine samples taken from 412 pregnant women to gain a better understanding of how much arsenic each unborn baby was exposed to prior to their birth. Once the women had given birth, the researchers conducted telephonic surveys every 4 months to determine how many infections the children succumbed to and how severe these infections were, as well as the symptoms the child displayed within their first year.

    523977327_0eddaa4b3e_z credit:

    The results of the study indicate that babies that were exposed to arsenic while in their mother's womb had more infections that required visiting a doctor or that needed to be treated with prescription drugs. According to Shohreh Farzan, a scientist at Dartmouth University's Geisel School of Medicine and lead author of the study, babies exposed to high levels of arsenic in the womb were more likely to have infections of the upper and lower respiratory tract, together with respiratory symptoms (for example wheezing) that required medical attention.

    According to Margaret Karagas, a professor of epidemiology at the Giesel School of Medicine and co-author of the paper, the results of this study indicate that early exposure to arsenic may not only increase a child's risk to some types of infections, as well as the severity of those infections; but infants who succumb to these infections and respiratory symptoms could be at higher risk of developing allergies and respiratory conditions later in life.

    These findings echo observations of children exposed to high levels of arsenic in Bangladesh, where respiratory infections, impaired immune function and higher susceptibility to infection is higher in the general population due to widespread exposure to high levels of arsenic in well water that is used for drinking.

    The most common source of arsenic exposure is drinking water, particularly water drawn from private wells as these do not undergo the same level of testing as water that is supplied by a water utility, which must meet EPA standards for water quality. In the US, arsenic in well water is considered the biggest public health problem in terms of drinking water quality. In New Hampshire, approximately 10-15% of private wells are contaminated with arsenic at levels above the standard set by the EPA for drinking water. As these wells are not regularly monitored, many households may be unaware that they are being exposed to high levels of arsenic via their drinking water.

    The authors recommend that households that get their drinking water from private wells should have their water tested for arsenic. If high levels of arsenic are present, this can be filtered out with a good quality water filter that has the capability to remove the hazardous contaminant.  Berkey water filters remove this by 99.9%.

    Journal Reference

    Margaret R. Karagas, Emily Baker, Kari Nadeau, Richard Enelow, Donna Spiegelman, Susan A. Korrick, Zhigang Li, Shohreh F. Farzan. Infant Infections and Respiratory Symptoms in Relation to in Utero Arsenic Exposure in a U.S. Cohort. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2015; DOI: 10.1289/ehp.1409282

  • Sediment Contaminants: Tracking the Source of Erosion

    Sediment contaminants are a common occurrence but rarely covered in today's environmental discussions. After a particularly heavy downpour you may often find that the waters in your local stream or river have transformed from a clear bubbling brook into a fast-moving mass of opaque chocolate colored liquid.

    That chocolate brown coloration is the result of suspended sediments, which may range in size from minute granules of clay or mud to larger pebbles and stones, originating from eroded substrates further upstream.

    As the river meanders through its course, sediments are swept away by the flowing water in the process commonly known as erosion. These suspended sediments will eventually be deposited, but very often they are not wanted in the place where they land up. This is especially true for drinking water sources, as not only is sediment considered a drinking water contaminant that makes your tap water murkey and unpleasant to drink, these sediments often have other contaminants clinging to them, which can pose a health hazard in drinking water.


    Soil scientist David Lobb has been investigating the origin of sediments carried by rivers in the Tobacco Creek Watershed, which eventually flow into Canada's Lake Winnipeg, where this load is deposited. Lake Winnipeg is Canada's 2nd largest watershed having three major river systems emptying into it. It is therefore very susceptible to the effects of activities that take place further upstream and important that we consider the watershed in its entirety, and not simply look at water that is flowing out of the watershed explains Lobb.

    The ecological health of a watershed, together with issues affecting its water quality, are areas of growing concern as both can be negatively impacted by a wide range of human activities. For example, crop fertilizers, animal waste from livestock, or sewage effluent from wastewater treatment plants, can all cause nutrient loading in lakes that encourage algal growth that clog up waterways, smother other species and generally disrupt the ecology of freshwater lakes. They can also fuel harmful algal blooms of toxic blue-green algae.

    Lobb, together with fellow researchers from the Universities of Manitoba and Northern British Columbia used a technique known as color fingerprinting to gain a better understanding of where the sediments in Lake Winnipeg were originating from. The color of a sediment is a key indicator of where it was originally eroded.

    According to Lobb, while this method of fingerprinting is not quite as accurate as taking fingerprints from a crime scene, the available tools can accurately identify the source of the sediments. The technique is also easy, quick and cheap to implement.

    "In the most simple case, black sediment is from surface sources and light sediment is from subsurface," explains Lobb, "That's an oversimplification of a very precise process backed up by statistical models."

    Lobb notes that it's important to determine whether sediments originate from surface or subsurface soils. Sediments originating from eroded subsoils tend to be eroded from the bottom and sides of rivers and streams as the water flows over them, whereas sediments originating from surface soils (topsoil) is more likely to have been eroded from farm lands, forest floors or areas along the river banks.

    "We found that nature is more often to blame for a lot of the sediments we see in our streams," says Lobb, "Humans may not have as much of an effect on the amount of sediment flowing out of a watershed as we've been taught," says Lobb, "but we do have a profound effect on hydrology, and that can contribute to the erosion and sediment produced downstream."

    The sediment in the South Tobacco Creek originates mostly from subsurface soils that are eroded from the banks of streams and the extensive walls of rock that frame the creek as it makes its way through the 600-foot escarpment. While people typically assume that sedimentation is due to erosion of farm lands, river channel erosion, which is a natural process that is constantly occurring, is one of the major contributors of sedimentation, according to Lobb.

    The color-coding fingerprinting technique allows us to easily finger point the geographic origins of sediment, however it is not so easy to know what action to take once we have these answers, says Lobb. One angle that they will be focusing on in future is managing runoff from farm lands — placing it as a top priority on the same level as managing soil erosion and topsoil loss from farm lands — addressing this at both local farm-field scale and watershed scale.

    The question of scale is both complicated and important as watersheds tend to be dynamic entities that are continually changing. The health of one stretch of a river will also impact the health of another stretch. It is thus important to look at the watershed in its entirety, and for Lake Winnipeg, the watershed extends over an area that is 40 times larger than the area the lake covers.

    "The public is demanding actions and impacts on a watershed scale," says Lobb. "Therefore, practices and processes have to reflect that larger regional scale."

    Journal Reference

    Louise R.M. Barthod, Kui Liu, David A. Lobb, Philip N. Owens, Núria Martínez-Carreras, Alexander J. Koiter, Ellen L. Petticrew, Gregory K. McCullough, Cenwei Liu, Leticia Gaspar. Selecting Color-based Tracers and Classifying Sediment Sources in the Assessment of Sediment Dynamics Using Sediment Source Fingerprinting. Journal of Environment Quality, 2015; 0 (0): 0 DOI: 10.2134/jeq2015.01.0043

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