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  • 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

  • Intense Wildfires Impact Water Quality and Treatment Processes in Forested Watersheds

    As fires continue to rage in California, leaving a trail of destruction and devastation in their wake, one has to question what impact this will have on local water resources. In a presentation given at a meeting hosted by the American Chemical Society earlier this year, researchers reported that wildfires burning in forested watershed have the potential to negatively impact drinking water sources by releasing substances from soils which can make their way into local water sources, resulting in contamination.

    Forested watersheds provide nearly two-thirds of America's drinking water, and globally supply drinking water to billions of people across the world. When forested watersheds are healthy, they absorb rainwater and melted snow, reduce storm runoff, remove pollutants, and play a key ecological role providing critical habitat for fish, birds and other wildlife. Forested watersheds are also provide recreational activities, such as fishing, swimming, kayaking, which in turn help support the local economy.

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    Water quality of these source waters can change significantly after a wildfire has ripped through a forested watershed, which can affect water treatment processes. Changes to the quality of source water include increased inflow of sediments, dissolved organic carbon and nutrients, which may reduce the capacity of water treatment utilities to be able to deliver drinking water that meets safety standards set by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In order for water utilities to be adequately prepared for wildfire events, they need to understand what these impacts are, and how best to deal with them.

    For the past seven years Fernando Rosario-Ortiz together with a team of fellow researchers from the University of Colorado, Boulder have been analyzing the impact that wildfires have on soil, and how soil is transformed by wildfires. The researchers simulated wildfire events of various magnitudes in a laboratory study, where they heated soil samples to different temperatures before analyzing the results.

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    "Up to a point, the warmer the soil gets, the more carbon- and nitrogen-containing compounds are released from soils," Fernando Rosario-Ortiz explains. "These compounds, which are generally characterized as dissolved organic carbon, can react with chemicals used to purify water and be transformed into disinfection byproducts, which you don't want in drinking water." Disinfection byproducts are considered a drinking water contaminant, and as such their levels are regulated by the EPA. "But we were surprised to find that as a wildfire increases in severity, the amount of dissolved organic carbon released by the soil decreases, and instead you could end up with more sediments in the source waters," says Rosario-Ortiz.

    Rosario-Ortiz and his team are now focusing on how wildfires change how organic compounds are released from soils into water.

    "We found that there is an enhanced release of compounds with a lower average molecular weight, containing both more oxygen and nitrogen functionalities, compared with typical conditions," Rosario-Ortiz reports, adding that the results from this study will help us to gain a clearer understanding of the overall effects that wildfires have on water quality and ultimately on the production of safe drinking water.

    As the number of wildfires, and their severity, continues to increase due to factors such as climate change, extended periods of extreme droughts and an associated increase in fuel loads, this research is likely to provide important insights for drinking water utilities reviewing water treatment options following a severe wildfire event.

    If your water is originating from a region impacted by forest fires, we would recommend a berkey water filter, which can remove dangerous contaminants from your drinking water.

  • Improving the way in which Water Quality of Recreational Waterbodies is Measured and Monitored

    Currently, the standard method used to determine water quality is to measure the concentration of fecal bacteria, known as enterococci. Now, a new study which was recently published in the American Society for Microbiology's journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, has shown that the concentration of these bacterial communities are largely influenced by the amount of mammalian feces present in water as well as the number of enterococci that attach themselves onto particulate matter floating on the surface.

    "We also found that ecosystem specific characteristics, such as freshwater sediment and freshwater transport to the estuary are important influences on enterococci concentrations in coastal recreational and shellfish harvest waters," said Dr. Stephen Jones, Research Associate Professor at the University of New Hampshire and co-author of the paper.

    According to the investigators, recreational water bodies can harbor a wide array of pathogenic bacteria. However, bacteria that thrive on human feces pose the biggest risk to human health, as the transmission effectively passes directly from human to human via fecal pollutants without any inter-species barrier to transmission.

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    However, the researchers point out that "other fecal sources that contain enterococci and possibly human pathogens can be chronic or intermittent sources of both, making beach water quality management and remediation efforts more complex."

    The researchers collected weekly water samples from beaches at Wells, Maine over the summer months in 2016. Two years earlier, two of the town's beaches intermittently exceeded the state standard set for enterococci concentrations, resulting in advisories being posted to warn people that the waters at these beaches may pose a health risk — not very good publicity for a town who's beaches are a major drawcard. But within two years, the beaches at Wells were conforming to health standards set by the state of Maine.

    In addition to the main beaches, the researchers also sampled seawater at a beach close to the estuary outlet as well as water from freshwater rivers and streams within the coastal watershed. The also took sediment samples from these sampling points to enable them to conduct a molecular assessment of the microbial communities living in the water, soils and sediments of these different ecosystems using DNA sequencing techniques. Parameters such as salinity, acidity, water temperature and weather conditions were also recorded.

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    The above methodology is now being used by various agencies within the state of Maine to more accurately assess water quality in areas where water quality is known to be dubious, and the researchers have been sharing their techniques with resource managers and fellow scientists in order to improve the way in which water quality of recreational water bodies is measured and monitored. The US Environmental Protection Agency's water quality regulations for estuaries and coastal beaches are based on enterococci as an indicator of fecal pollution.

    Dr. Jones points out that enterococci are highly adaptable organisms that do not only thrive in the colon, but also in various ecosystems outside the body including soil, and sediments of rivers, lakes and coastal waters. This study assesses the multiple sources of fecal pollution as well as the diverse range of environmental reservoirs that harbor these pathogenic bacteria, and the constantly changing environmental conditions, to determine how all these factors influence enterococci concentrations on coastal beaches.

    "No other study has taken such an encompassing and robust approach towards addressing the issue of the factors that influence enterococci concentrations in coastal waters," said Jones.

    Journal Reference

    Derek Rothenheber and Stephen Jones. Enterococci Concentrations in a Coastal Ecosystem are a Function of Fecal Source Input, Environmental Conditions, and Environmental Sources. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 2018 DOI: 10.1128/AEM.01038-18

  • Devastating Ocean Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico Likely to be Around for a While

    Improving the water quality in the Gulf of Mexico is likely to take decades, a new study released by scientists from the University of Waterloo has revealed. And, just recently a state of emergency was declared in Florida as the algae bloom is having a large impact on the state.  As the Washington Post reports:

    "The red tide has made breathing difficult for locals, scared away tourists, and strewn popular beaches with the stinking carcasses of fish, eels, porpoises, turtles, manatees and one 26-foot whale shark."

    The results of the study, which was recently published in Science, indicate that policy goals set for decreasing the size of the dead zone in the northern Gulf of Mexico are probably unrealistic without major shifts in agricultural management practices as well as improvements to how freshwater systems are managed.

    Large concentrations of nitrogen transported from streams and rivers across the US corn belt into the ocean is believed to have fueled algal blooms in the northern Gulf of Mexico, which strip oxygen from the water as they die off, resulting in an extensive hypoxic 'dead zone' where marine life struggle to survive due to the very low oxygen levels.

    800px-Sediment_in_the_Gulf_of_Mexico_(2) Rivers throughout the region ran high, likely carrying more sediment than usual into the Gulf. The rivers also carry nutrients like iron from soil and nitrogen from fertilizers. These nutrients fuel the growth of phytoplankton, tiny, plant-like organisms that grow in the ocean surface waters. Phytoplankton blooms colour the ocean blue and green and may be contributing to the colour seen here.

    According to Kimberley Van Meter, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Waterloo and lead author of the study:

    "Despite the investment of large amounts of money in recent years to improve water quality, the area of last year's dead zone was more than 22,000 km2--about the size of the state of New Jersey."

    After analyzing agricultural data spanning more than two centuries, the researchers found that nitrogen has accumulated in the soil and groundwater over the years due to intensive agricultural practices, and as a result of this reservoir, the rate of nitrogen flow to the coast is not likely to abate anytime soon, but rather will continue for decades.

    Water quality in the northern Gulf of Mexico has increasingly deteriorated since the 1950's, primarily due to the widespread application of commercial fertilizers to crops as well as intensive livestock farming across the Mississippi River Basin. Commercial fertilizers and manure both contain high levels of nitrogen — a plant nutrient that is used to boost crop production. However, when nitrogen is present in high concentrations it can pose both an environmental and human health risk.

    When farmers do take measures to reduce their nitrogen input it takes a long time before this has any beneficial affect on water quality.

    "We are seeing long time lags between the adoption of conservation measures by farmers and any measurable improvements in water quality," said Prof. Nandita Basu, an associate professor in the departments of Earth and Environmental Sciences and Civil and Environmental Engineering at Waterloo, and co-author of the study.

    After modeling several scenarios, the study shows that even with best-case scenarios, where conservation measures are implemented with immediate effect, it is likely to take around 30 years for the excess nitrogen that has accumulated within agricultural soils and underground water reservoirs to be depleted.

    According to Basu, this problem is not limited to the Mississippi River Basin. As the global population grows, and with it the need for intensive agricultural practices to be able to produce enough food to meet the increased food demands, nitrogen is accumulating in soils and groundwater across the world, threatening coastal ecosystems the world over.

    The scientists are currently expanding their analysis to include phosphorus, another plant nutrient that is a major contributor to algal blooms in inland freshwater systems such as the Great Lakes.

    Journal Reference:

    K. J. Van Meter, P. Van Cappellen, N. B. Basu. Legacy nitrogen may prevent achievement of water quality goals in the Gulf of Mexico. Science, 2018; eaar4462 DOI: 10.1126/science.aar4462

  • Breaking it Down: What are the Chemical Byproducts of the Water Treatment Process?

    Synthetic chemicals are found everywhere in our modern everyday life. They are in the clothing we wear, as well as in cosmetics, personal care products and medications that we use everyday. But we tend to give little thought to what happens to these chemicals when we flush them away, assuming they are harmless once they disappear down the sink.

    The reality is that most wastewater treatment facilities do not have the capacity to remove synthetic organic chemicals such as those used in personal care products, pharmaceuticals and opioids. So, what happens to them?

    Because wastewater treatment plants are not capable of removing these chemicals, trace amounts remain in the effluent that wastewater treatment facilities discharge into streams, rivers and lakes. Although these concentrations are extremely minute, mere nanograms or micrograms, very little is known about how the risk they pose to the environment or to human health.

    Credit: Sarah Bird/Michigan Tech Credit: Sarah Bird/Michigan Tech

    What is more worrying, is that even less is known about the environmental and human health risk posed by chemical byproducts formed during the water treatment process, where thousands of potentially harmful byproducts can be formed in just a few minutes.

    A new study, which was recently published in the American Chemical Society's journal Environmental Science and Technology, has sought to shed more light on the mechanisms that enable the formation of chemical byproducts during the wastewater treatment process looking at acetone as a case study to determine the chemical byproducts that are created as acetone breaks down during advanced oxidation wastewater treatment process.

    Chemically speaking, acetone has rather a simple structure, which makes it the ideal candidate for modeling chemical reaction pathways — the various ways a chemical can break down into free-radicals and chemical byproducts — in order to predict what byproducts and free-radicals can form.

    "When we do water treatment using advanced chemical oxidation, those oxidants destroy target organic compounds but create byproducts," explains Daisuke Minakata, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Michigan Technological University and lead author of the study. "Some byproducts may be more toxic than their parent compound. We need to understand the fundamental mechanisms of how the byproducts are produced and then we can predict what to be produced from many other chemicals. We found more than 200 reactions involved in acetone degradations based on computational work."

    The researchers then compared the results predicted by their model to ten byproducts observed in an earlier experimental study, and found that the modeled results were similar to those observed in the experimental study.

    Advanced oxidation is an important water treatment method that is effective at removing contaminants. However, many communities, particularly those living in arid regions, are facing water scarcity and are forced to recycle treated wastewater for reuse. Should synthetic organic chemicals together with the byproducts that form during the oxidation process remain in the water, animals and people who consume that water will also consume the chemicals present in the water.

    In other areas, wastewater from communities living upstream is discharged into rivers and lakes. Communities living further downstream may depend on that water as a source of drinking water. As conventional water treatment processes are incapable of effectively removing all the organic chemicals, these consumers are exposed to the chemicals that remain in the water.

    According to the authors: "Advanced oxidation can effectively target specific organic chemicals to remove them from water. Modeling reaction pathways is critical to help water treatment managers understand how best to wield the knife, as it were."

    For the study, the team calculated the chemical reaction pathways using Michigan Tech's Superior supercomputer, however the model is limited to organic contaminants that have a simple structure like acetone. Organic chemicals tend to have much more complex structures, making their reaction pathways nigh impossible for even a supercomputer like Superior to compute.

    According to the authors: "Understanding the mechanisms of chemical byproduct formation isn't just important for water treatment; it's also advancing what we know about chemical reactions in the atmosphere and inside our bodies."

    Journal Reference:

    Divya Kamath, Stephen P. Mezyk, Daisuke Minakata. Elucidating the Elementary Reaction Pathways and Kinetics of Hydroxyl Radical-Induced Acetone Degradation in Aqueous Phase Advanced Oxidation Processes. Environmental Science & Technology, 2018; DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.8b00582

  • Pesticides Feminizing Male Frogs, Impairing Reproduction

    A new study conducted by a team of Swedish and British scientists has revealed that linuron, an endocrine-disrupting chemical used in pesticides, impairs the fertility of male frogs and causes tadpoles to develop ovaries rather than testicles, resulting in a skewed sex ratio where females frogs are more common than males.

    Biodiversity is decreasing at an alarming rate globally, with amphibians being one of the most rapidly disappearing groups of animals. Current estimates suggest that nearly 40% of all documented amphibian species are threatened, largely due to habitat degradation and habitat loss, but other contributing factors include climate change, pollution and disease.

    Many different pesticides are used in agriculture to control weeds and insect pests. These chemicals can leach through soils into groundwater or get washed off the surface of the soil with runoff, to contaminate ponds and other surface waterbodies where frogs congregate to breed. Some pesticides contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals which can disrupt hormone functioning of animals who are exposed to them.

    Xenopus_tropicalis02

    For the study, which focused on the endocrine disrupting affects of linuron on the West African clawed frog, the researchers exposed tadpoles to concentrations of the chemical similar to what they measured in ponds where the tadpoles naturally occurred. They found that when tadpoles where exposed to linuron they were more likely to develop ovaries than testicles. The scientists also found that the sex ratio became skewed, with a higher percentage of females in the population compared to males.

    The researchers also found that once the tadpoles became adult frogs, fertility in males became impaired and some gender-specific features became more like that of female frogs. The researchers suggest a likely explanation for their observations is that chemicals used in pesticides inhibit the functioning of the male hormone testosterone, causing frogs to effectively become feminized.

    The study was conducted in the Department of Environmental Toxicology at Uppsala University, whose laboratory specializes in testing the chemical affects on frogs throughout their lifecycle. By testing the affects of the pesticide on the West African clawed frog, the scientists have developed a system that can be used to test the affect of endocrine disrupting chemicals on other amphibians as well as other animal species. The results of this study highlight the importance of looking at the impacts throughout an animal's lifecycle to determine the affect of pesticide chemicals and other contaminants on the reproductive capacity of amphibians.

    According to ecotoxicologist, Cecilia Berg, who lead the study, Sweden has not approved the use of the chemical linuron, however it is used in other countries in Europe, as well as in North America.

    "The results of the study are important, since they contribute knowledge that risk assessment authorities in the EU can use as a basis for assessing the health and environmental risks of pesticides. The European Commission is currently taking several measures to improve pesticide risk assessment. A new report from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), for instance, points to the need to assess the risks of pesticide use to amphibians - something that isn't being done today," Berg says.

    Considering that the pesticide is also used in the North America, the potential environmental health risks apply in the US too.  We recommend that the public use a water filter such as a berkey to remove potentially health damaging pesticides from their water to remove any potential disclosure.

    Journal Reference

    F. Orton, M. Säfholm, E. Jansson, Y. Carlsson, A. Eriksson, J. Fick, T. Uren Webster, T. McMillan, M. Leishman, B. Verbruggen, T. Economou, C. R. Tyler, C. Berg. Exposure to an anti-androgenic herbicide negatively impacts reproductive physiology and fertility in Xenopus tropicalis. Scientific Reports, 2018; 8 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-27161-2

  • Desire to Live Longer Drives Bottled Water Market

    While many people who buy bottled water realize that it may not be healthy for them or the environment, they do so because of their fear of dying, a new study has revealed.

    According to the study, which was recently published in the Journal Applied Environmental Education & Communication, bottled water marketing campaigns target our deepest psychological vulnerability, triggering our subconscious fear of dying, which drives consumers to purchase billions of liters of bottled water every year.

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    "Bottled water advertisements play on our greatest fears in two important ways," says Stephanie Cote, who conducted the research while a graduate student at Waterloo. "Our mortality fears make us want to avoid risks and, for many people, bottled water seems safer somehow, purer or controlled. There is also a deeper subconscious force at work here, one that caters to our desire for immortality."

    According to a Euromonitor report, in 2013 Canadians alone purchased nearly two and a half billion liters of bottled water. Despite rigorous and ongoing campaigns aimed at curbing bottled water consumption, this figure is expected to increase to three billion liters for 2018, equating to a monetary value of $3.3 billion Canadian dollars.

    In the US, the figure is far higher. In 2016, Americans consumed 12.8 billion gallons of bottled water. The global consumption of bottled water is staggering. In 2012, 288 billion liters of bottled water were consumed across the world, and this was projected to increase to 391 billion liters by 2017. Bottled water advertising campaigns are clearly very effective.

    For the study, the researchers applied Terror Management Theory (TMT), a concept commonly used in social psychology, which argues that in an effort to repress both our conscious and subconscious fear of dying we develop defenses that can influence certain behaviors, including our consumption choices, financial security and status.

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    The team analyzed the content used in bottled water advertising campaigns, including web content, images and video content that imparted explicit and implicit meanings, while at the same time assessing the effectiveness of anti-bottled water drives. They found that anti-bottled water campaigns struggled to compete with advertising messaging put out by big corporates.

    "Our results demonstrate that corporate campaigns appeal to people who measure their personal value by their physical appearance, fitness levels, material and financial wealth, class, and status," said Sarah Wolfe, a researcher in Waterloo's Faculty of Environment, and co-author of the paper. "Pro-bottle water advertisements rely heavily on branding, celebrity, and feel-good emotions that trigger our group identities and patriotism."

    In order for anti-bottled water drives to be more effective, there clearly needs to be a change tactics with messaging that extends beyond the economical, environmental and ethical benefits of drinking tap water. Consumers need to receive a clear message that it is not only healthier and way more cool to drink filtered tap water than bottled water, people who do so are likely to live longer.

    It has been shown that in most cases bottled water is no purer than tap water. Furthermore, plastic water bottles can leach out contaminants such as BPA, as well as release microplastic fibers into the water. The reality is that anyone wanting to live a long, healthy life should be drinking filtered municipal water using a system like the berkey water filter rather than bottled water, and should not be swayed by big corporations with even bigger advertising budgets.

    Journal Reference

    Stephanie Cote, S. E. Wolfe. Evidence of mortality salience and psychological defenses in bottled water campaigns. Applied Environmental Education & Communication, 2017; 1 DOI: 10.1080/1533015X.2017.1399836

  • Wastewater from Oil and Gas Operations not Ideal for Suppressing Dust on Roads

    Thirteen US states allow wastewater from oil and gas operations to be applied to roads as a dust suppressant or deicing mechanism. However, a study that was recently published in Environmental Science & Technology suggests that using oil and gas wastewater as a dust suppressant is far from ideal and that there is a need for a safer, non-toxic yet affordable alternative.

    The researchers assessed state regulations pertaining to the use of wastewater for deicing and dust suppression and found that thirteen states permitted its use for this purpose, while four others could allow it to be spread on road surfaces under regulations related to land spreading.

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    The oil and gas wastewater used for deicing and dust suppression on roads originates from conventional vertically drilled oil and gas wells as apposed to fracking fluids used in the hydraulic fracturing oil extraction process.

    "Oil and gas wastewaters are known to have high salt, organic and radioactivity concentrations," said lead author, Travis Tasker, a graduate student in environmental engineering at Penn State. "When we found out that this wastewater was being spread on roads, we wanted to evaluate its potential to cause biological toxicity and accumulate in road material or migrate into water resources."

    Oil and gas wastewater is loaded with salt, containing high levels of sodium, magnesium, calcium and strontium, which make it effective at suppressing dust and deicing roads. It also contains other toxic contaminants — such as radium, a known carcinogen — that can be harmful to the environment and/or human health, especially in large concentrations.

    "We would like to do experiments to test how effective the wastewaters are at suppressing dust in comparison to other commercial products," said Nathaniel Warner, assistant professor of environmental engineering, Penn State. "If the salts in the wastewaters are just as effective, then new regulations or additional treatment prior to spreading could help reduce the concentration of other contaminants of concern that exist in wastewaters, but not in commercial products."

    The research team sampled wastewater spread on roads in towns in Pennsylvania and then did laboratory simulations to determine where the pollutants in the wastewater would end up. The lab experiments showed that while rain washed salts off the road surface, some heavy metals such as lead did not wash away but rather remained behind, And in the case of radium, some of it is washed away during rain events, but some remained on the road surface.

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    Radium, heavy metals and organic materials are all contaminants that could potentially pollute surface water and groundwater systems, and ultimately drinking water supplies. Salt is also a drinking water contaminant when it occurs at high concentrations.

    Yet while conventional methods used to treat wastewater can remove a number of these contaminants, it cannot reduce the level of salt. The researchers recommend that if wastewater is used as a deicing or dust suppressing agent on roadways it should at least be treated to remove radium and organic materials before it is applied to road surfaces. However, they would prefer to see alternative cost-effective alternatives being developed to replace wastewater use on roads, as the alternatives currently available are too costly for many municipalities to afford, meaning they either have to use oil and gas wastewater to treat roads or not treat the roads at all.

    Journal Reference

    T. L. Tasker, W. D. Burgos, P. Piotrowski, L. Castillo-Meza, T. A. Blewett, K. B. Ganow, A. Stallworth, P. L. M. Delompré, G. G. Goss, L. B. Fowler, J. P. Vanden Heuvel, F. Dorman, N. R. Warner. Environmental and Human Health Impacts of Spreading Oil and Gas Wastewater on Roads. Environmental Science & Technology, 2018; DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.8b00716

  • Cheaper to Remove Rather than Repair Dams, Study Finds

    A study that was recently conducted by researchers from Portland State University has found that removing aging dams across the country instead of repairing them could save billions of dollars, but cautions that more research is needed surrounding the factors that are driving efforts to remove dams across the country.

    The study, which was recently published online in the scientific journal River Research and Applications, assessed currently available nation-wide data on dams and compared characteristics and trends of dams which have been demolished to those which have been left standing.

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    If the current trend in dam demolition continues, the researchers estimate that anywhere between 4,000 - 36,000 dams will have been demolished by 2050.

    According to the study, the maximum cost of demolishing 36,000 dams is estimated to be around US$25.1 billion, which is significantly cheaper than the estimated cost of repairing these dams.

    According to estimates proposed by The American Society of Civil Engineers, it will cost more than US$45 billion to upgrade and repair around 2,170 dams considered high-risk to life and property should they fail. However, the cost of rehabilitating all the derelict dams in the US to bring them up to a condition deemed safe is higher still, estimated to be around US$64 billion.

    "I think it's time for a re-invigorated public process around managing the risks dams and aging dam infrastructure pose to public safety throughout the U.S.," said Zbigniew Grabowski, a Ph.D. candidate in PSU College of Liberal Arts and Science's Earth, Environment & Society program and lead author author of the study. "It's difficult to assess the actual public safety hazards and the most cost-effective ways of mitigating those hazards because the data on dams and dam removals has not been systematically compiled in a way that allows for robust analysis by government agencies or independent researchers."

    The researchers found that a disproportionately higher number of hydropower and water-supply dams were removed, suggesting more discussion is needed over the factors that drive dam removal.

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    According to Grabowski, the decision to remove or rehabilitate a dam often hinges on cost-benefit tradeoffs between the environmental, social and economic impact of the dam in question. But, he says that we should also focus on public safety when making these decisions, as from a safety perspective it simply may not make sense to repair many of these dams.

    The study suggests several recommendations to improve the decision-making process, including:

    1.  Data collection methods used to track records of dams that are rehabilitated or removed need to be standardized and made available to the public to allow researchers to undertake more effective comparative research and for decision-makers at local, state and national levels to be able to make more informed management decisions.

    2.  Researchers and officials responsible for dam policy need to look at the broader picture when making decisions regarding the future of dams by taking a multi-disciplinary approach that draws knowledge from disciplines such as ecological restoration, dam safety engineering, technology and social science, while also considering communities that are affected by the presence or removal of dams.

    Journal Reference

    1. Zbigniew J. Grabowski, Heejun Chang, Elise L. Granek. Fracturing dams, fractured data: Empirical trends and characteristics of existing and removed dams in the United States. River Research and Applications, 2018; DOI: 10.1002/rra.3283

  • Road Salt Found in Drinking Water Wells at Adirondack Park

    A study conducted by the Adirondack Watershed Institute at Paul Smith's College has found salt in 63 drinking wells located downslope of roads and highways where road salt is routinely applied. More than 50% of the wells sampled were polluted with salt at levels deemed to pose a health risk (> 20 parts per million — the EPA safety standard for sodium in drinking water), with the concentrations as high as 748 parts per million detected in drink recorded.

    "The actual number of wells that are contaminated is way, way more than what we sampled," said Dan Kelting, institute executive director. "So it is a much bigger issue."

    Excessive intake of sodium is associated with serious health issues, including an increase in blood pressure, which in turn poses an increased risk of suffering from heart disease and heart failure, stroke and other vascular diseases, as well as kidney problems.

    Funding for the study was provided by AdkAction, a non-profit organization representing the residents of Adirondack Park, and the Fund for Lake George.

    Drinking water samples were collected from 358 wells located within the Adirondack Park by volunteers and tested for salt. Most of the samples came from the eastern region of the park, particularly areas surrounding North Creek and the Saranac Lakes.

    Of the 112 samples collected from wells located downslope that received runoff from roads where very little to no salt was applied, only 10% had elevated levels of sodium.

    Of the 132 drinking water wells located upslope of roads treated with salt and which therefore received no runoff from roadways, salt levels were below the EPA recommended level of 20 ppm, with the maximum level being 17 ppm and the median just 3 ppm.

    Nearly 193,000 tons of road salt is applied to roadways in the Adirondacks every year in an effort to prevent vehicles from skidding on the slippery iced road surfaces in winter. According to Kelting, nearly seven million tons of salt has been spread on local roads since 1980, ultimately being washed off these surfaces with runoff into waterways and drinking water wells.

    Most of this road salt — around 110,000 tons per year — is spread over state roadways, which make up about a quarter of the roads in the Adirondacks. These tarred roads have higher speed restrictions than local sand or plowed roads, where speed limits are lower.

    Kelting says the results of the study have been forwarded to state officials, and the Health Department has offered and begun free testing of drinking water wells to homeowners who are affected by the runoff.

    Besides posing a health risk to humans, salt can also have a negative ecological impact in freshwater ecosystems. Because salty water is denser than normal freshwater it tends to sink when it flows into a lake. This prevents water in lakes from mixing once ice melts in spring, which in turn can affect oxygen and nutrient levels in lakes, with dire consequences for aquatic life such as fish.

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