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Big Berkey Water Filters

  • Buyer Beware: Not all Water Filters are Created Equal for Microcystin Removal

    Water filters that are designed to remove harmful contaminants from drinking water are not necessarily all created equal, a new study has revealed.

    Researchers from The Ohio State University assessed the ability of three popular water filter pitchers to remove microcystins from drinking water. Microcystins are toxins which accumulate in water during harmful algal blooms and pose both an environmental and public health risk. The ability to remove these toxins varied depending on the type of water filter, and while one excelled, two allowed the harmful toxins to pass through the filter to effectively pose a health risk to whoever consumed the drinking water.

    (Side note: For information on how the Berkey water filter performs removing this algae, please see Berkey's official statement on Algae Bloom and Microcystin Removal.)

    Toxic microcystin bacteria float, along with a dead fish, on the surface of this lake. Toxic microcystin bacteria float, along with a dead fish, on the surface of this lake.

    The study, which was recently published in Water Science Technology: Water Supply, found that the first water purifier, which consisted primarily of coconut-based active carbon, filtered the water the fastest but only removed a maximum of 50% of the microcycstin toxins from the water as it passed through the filter. However, the purifier with the slowest action, whose filter was constructed out of a blend of activated carbon, removed the microcystins to undetectable levels.

    "Because drinking-water treatment plants also use activated carbon, I figured that these home filters might also remove some microcystins, but I wasn't expecting results this good and such big differences among the pitchers," said Justin Chaffin, the study's lead author and a senior researcher and research coordinator at Ohio State's Stone Laboratory, a research hub located at Lake Erie serving scientists researching issues that affect the Great Lakes.

    The Danger of Microcystins

    Harmful cynobacterial blooms pose a health risk to consumers who drink water contaminated with the toxins. Microcystins are one of the most commonly found toxins that occur following harmful algal blooms, and pose a substantial risk to wildlife, pets and humans. Exposure to these toxins can result in anything from a mild rash on the skin to more serious health issues or even death due to kidney or liver damage.

    In 2014, microcystin contamination of the drinking water supply to Toledo, Ohio, left over 400,000 residents without water for days on end.

    "Since then, many residents drink bottled water and others rely on these filtration pitchers as backup, in case the water treatment plants miss a return of the microcystins," even though there have been no similar threats since then, said Chaffin. "At public events, residents kept asking me 'Does my water pitcher remove microcystins?' and my answer was always, 'I don't know'".

    So, in order to get answers to these questions, Chaffin set about designing a study that would test the effectiveness of water pitchers at removing these toxins. Although no brand names are mentioned in the study, the researchers divulge that they are commonly available in retail stores and range in price from around $15 to $50. Anyone interested in learning more can analyze the study results a little closer to compare features of the filters to help make an informed decision when purchasing a water filter, Chaffin suggested, alluding to the fact that you get what you pay for.

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    Common water pitcher filters. Image courtesy of

    "In general, the cheaper the pitcher, the worse job it did filtering out the toxins," Chaffin said.

    Pitcher Testing Results - Removal of Microcystin

    Using contaminated water collected from Lake Erie, the researchers diluted microcystins to various concentration levels before running the samples through the three common water purifying pitchers. They found that the purifier with filter media consisting of a blend of different activated carbon types, and which filtered the water the slowest, consistently proved more effective at removing the toxins from the water.

    The water purifiers work on the principle that contaminants bind to the activated carbon as the water passes through the filter. The researchers found that when microcystin concentrations were 3.3 micrograms per liter — equivalent to the microcystin levels reported during the do-not-drink advisory at Toledo in 2014 — microcystin levels were reduced by all water pitchers, but were only undetectable in the purifier that took the longest to filter the water.

    "Contact time really seems to matter. If you run the water through really fast, the microcystins and other organic molecules don't have time to bind to the carbon molecule and stick to the filter," Chaffin explained.

    Filter time varied between pitchers, with the most effective at removing the toxins taking over six minutes to filter a liter of water, the second best taking nearly four minutes to filter a liter of water, while the least effective purifier took just under two minutes to filter a liter. The purifier that was least effective had a filter constructed entirely out of cocunut-based active carbon, while the more effective purifiers filters consisted of a blend of different types of activated carbon.

    To test whether the toxins remained bound to the filters the researchers ran purified deionized water through each of the water filters, then tested the water for the presence of microcystins. They found none, suggesting that once removed, the toxins remain bound to the filter.

    However, Chaffin recommends that water filter pitchers be used as a safety net by consumers who are concerned that microcystins may pass through water treatment facilities undetected rather than to purify water when a do-not-drink advisory has been issued and bottled water is recommended.

    "But when there isn't a warning, these filters are much cheaper and better for the environment in the long run than bottled water," said Chaffin. "You aren't creating mountains of empty bottles."

    Water Pitchers Vs Berkey - Microcystin Removal

    The study found that water pitcher filters with filter media consisting of a blend of different activated carbon types, and which filtered the water the slowest, consistently proved more effective at removing the toxins from the water. This data further supports Berkeys official statement on microystin removal.

    The Black Berkey contact time is considered one of the longest, if not the longest in the filtration industry. Also, the Black Berkey filters use a combination of approx 6 different types of filter ingredients, which allow the filters to last for approx 6000 gallons per set of 2. In comparison, many of these water pitcher filters in this test need to be replaced every 100 gallons. Finally, the black berkeys match or outperform the chemical and contaminant removal rates of water pitcher filters across the board.

    Journal Reference

    Justin D. Chaffin, Erica L. Fox, Callie A. Nauman and Kristen N. Slodysko. The ability of household pitcher-style water purifiers to remove microcystins depends on filtration rate and activated carbon source. Water Science & Technology: Water Supply, (2018) In Press.

  • Beavers Dam Good at Cleaning Water

    Beavers dam building antics can help keep rivers clean and reduce the amount of valuable soil that is lost from farms with runoff, a new study has revealed.

    For the study, scientists from the University of Exeter analyzed the impact a family of captive beavers had on cleaning up a river. The beavers where confined in a 2.5 hectare enclosure on a stretch of river and used in a trial river cleanup coordinated by the Devon Wildlife Trust. The study demonstrates that the beavers significantly reduced the flow of nutrients and soil from nearby farmland into the river system. Just a single beaver family removed significant levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment from water as it flowed through enclosure.


    The beaver family have been living within the fenced off site on a West Devon river since 2011, have constructed 13 dams which has stemmed the flow of water, creating several deep ponds along what used to be a shallow stream.

    The scientists measured the nitrogen, phosphorus and suspended sediment levels in the water as it flowed into the site, and again as it flowed out after passing through the beaver's dams and ponds. They then compared the before and after measurements, and also measured how much nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment was trapped by the beavers dams in each pond.

    They found that the beaver's dams had trapped more than 100 tonnes of sediment, of which 70% consisted of soil originating from intensively farmed grassland fields further upstream. They found that the trapped sediment contained high levels of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) that pose both an environmental and health threat in high concentrations.

    "It is of serious concern that we observe such high rates of soil loss from agricultural land, which are well in excess of soil formation rates," said Professor Brazier. " However, we are heartened to discover that beaver dams can go a long way to mitigate this soil loss and also trap pollutants which lead to the degradation of our water bodies. Were beaver dams to be commonplace in the landscape we would no doubt see these effects delivering multiple benefits across whole ecosystems, as they do elsewhere around the world."

    A 2009 study estimated that soil loss from agricultural land in the United Kingdom equated to a financial cost of forty five million pounds, largely due to the negative impacts of nutrient and sediment pollution further downstream. Clearly beavers can play are positive role in keeping our waterways clean and healthy.

    The Devon Wildlife Trust has been running beaver trials in fenced off enclosures on local rivers for seven years, and in 2015 also began running a similar project using a wild population of beavers living on River Otter in East Devon.

    According to Peter Burgess, Director of Conservation and Development at the Devon Wildlife Trust, their partnership with the researchers from Exeter University is shedding light on the important contribution beavers can make in keeping freshwater systems healthy and sustainable for the benefit of both wildlife and humans. He finds it 'truly inspiring' to have their observations confirmed by robust scientific research.

    Journal Reference

    Alan Puttock, Hugh A. Graham, Donna Carless, Richard E. Brazier. Sediment and Nutrient Storage in a Beaver Engineered Wetland. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 2018; DOI: 10.1002/esp.4398

  • Current Water Treatment Methods May Pose a Health Risk

    The quality of drinking water in public distribution networks across the country has recently fallen under the spotlight following the Flint water crisis where an entire community was exposed to dangerously high levels of lead. There are concerns that Flint is not the only city with alarmingly high lead levels in its drinking water, spurring the initiation of an ongoing research project to assess the scope of the problem.

    Harmful Chemicals May be Generated in the Water Treatment Process

    Now, another study, which was recently published in the scientific journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, identifies other harmful chemical contaminants that are of concern, including some that are actually created during the treatment process that is supposed to render water safe to drink.

    During filtration, water passes through filters, some made of layers of sand, gravel, and charcoal that help remove even smaller particles. Filtration and later chemical treatment (e.g., chlorine) played a role in reducing the number of waterborne disease outbreaks in the early 1900s. During filtration, water passes through filters, some made of layers of sand, gravel, and charcoal that help remove even smaller particles. Filtration and later chemical treatment (e.g., chlorine) played a role in reducing the number of waterborne disease outbreaks in the early 1900s.

    During the water treatment process, water treatment plants commonly use oxidization methods to remove toxic compounds from the water during the water treatment process. This oxidizes these compounds, transforming them into chemicals that are supposedly less harmful, known as 'transformation products'. While previous studies have focused on byproducts formed during conventional water treatment processes such as chlorination, we still have very little understanding of products that form when newer treatment processes, such as oxidation using hydrogen peroxide and ultraviolet light, are implemented. This is particularly relevant for the treatment of recycled wastewater.

    "Typically, we consider these transformation products to be less toxic, but our study shows that this might not always be the case," says lead author Carsten Prasse, assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering at the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering and the university's Bloomberg School of Public Health. "Our results highlight that this is only half of the story and that transformation products might play a very important part when we think about the quality of the treated water."

    Prasse, together with his research team, examined phenols — some of the most commonly occurring organic chemicals in drinking water due to the fact that they are found in a wide range of products, including pesticides, dyes, pharmaceuticals, personal care and hygiene products, and also in chemicals that naturally occur in water.


    The team then conducted some chemical sleuth work, replicating the water treatment process typically used by treatment plants and borrowing a method used by biochemists, to determine what compounds the phenols transformed into.

    They found that after treatment, phenols formed 2-butene-1,4-dial — a harmful compound that can damage DNA in human cells. Prasse points out that furan, a toxin found in car exhaust fumes and cigarette smoke, also converts to 2-butene-1,4-dial when absorbed by the human body, which may explain why it is so harmful to our health.

    After testing the effects of 2-butene-1,4-dial on proteins found in mouse livers, the researchers discovered that it had an effect on 37 proteins, which are responsible for a variety of biological processes, including energy metabolism, and the synthesis of proteins and steroids in the body.

    They also found that 2-butene-1,4-dial bonded with an enzyme that played a critical role in 'cell suicide', which if inhibited could result in cells proliferating unchecked, fueling cancer growth. It also interfered with compounds responsible for controlling metabolism, which could result in health issues such as diabetes and obesity. According to Prasse, the link between pesticide exposure and obesity has already been established, and studies such as this may help explain this connection.

    Prasse hopes that these methods may be expanded to assess the prevalence of other compounds besides phenols in drinking water in the future.

    Treating water to make it safe to drink is extremely challenging as contaminants originate from a wide range of sources, including agriculture, wastewater, bacteria and plants, and while its relatively easy to remove chemical contaminants, it's not always clear what compounds are being formed in the treatment process, and whether these are harmful or not.

    It is estimated that by 2050 two-thirds of the world's human population will depend on drinking water that contains agricultural runoff and/or wastewater from factories and urban areas. So effective water purification methods that are safe will become even more essential in the future.

    "The next steps are to investigate how this method can be applied to more complex samples and study other contaminants that are likely to result in the formation of similar reactive transformation products," says Prasse. "Here we looked at phenols. But we use household products that contain some 80,000 different chemicals, and many of these end up in wastewater. We need to be able to screen for multiple chemicals at once. That's the larger goal."

    Journal Reference

    Carsten Prasse, Breanna Ford, Daniel K. Nomura, David L. Sedlak. Unexpected transformation of dissolved phenols to toxic dicarbonyls by hydroxyl radicals and UV light. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2018; 115 (10): 2311 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1715821115

  • EPA Funds Largest Citizen-Science Based Water Quality Research Project

    A grant from the US Environmental Protection Agency has given the engineering team from Virginia Tech who exposed the Flint water crisis the funding to allow them to conduct their detective work in other communities that may be affected by lead contamination.

    According to a report in The Roanoke Times, Marc Edwards, a civil engineering professor at Virginia Tech, has been awarded an EPA grant of nearly two million dollars to detect lead in public drinking water, and to implement measures to control lead levels in drinking water by getting members of the public involved with ongoing monitoring operations.

    According to Edwards, this funding will enable him and his team to coordinate the "largest engineering citizen-science project in American history."

    The EPA grant, which covers a three-year period, will provide the necessary support for his team, as well as collaborators from Louisiana State and North Carolina State Universities.

    Dr. Marc Edwards, an engineering professor at Virginia Tech, and an expert on municipal water quality who had been sent to study the water supply under a National Science Foundation grant Dr. Marc Edwards, an engineering professor at Virginia Tech, and an expert on municipal water quality who had been sent to study the water supply under a National Science Foundation grant

    Edwards has received wide recognition for his contribution to exposing the Flint water crisis resulting from lead contamination of the local drinking water supply. He plans to create a model that can be applied widely to enable communities to test their own drinking water.


    Edwards' laboratory already tests water samples from various parts of the country. However, the funding provided by this grant will give Edwards the financial resources to identify other communities suffering from water quality issues that puts the health of its residents at risk; particularly communities that have until now been neglected. The funding will also be used to test home water testing kits to identify the most effective solution for detecting water quality problems at home.

    LeeAnne Walters, an environmental activist who recently won the Goldman Environmental Prize for grassroots environmental activism, approached Edwards for assistance regarding Flint's water quality. Edwards together with his team of students and colleagues from Virginia Tech helped the local community test their water in the hope of identifying where the lead contamination was coming from.

    Edwards found that the city's drinking water supply became contaminated with dangerously high levels of lead after municipal officials switched to an alternative water source in 2014 in an effort to save the city money. This in turn led to a health crisis, after Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician from Michigan, found elevated levels of lead in children living in the city.

    The Flint case highlighted the problem of aging water systems across the country, and resulted in a state of emergency being implemented, together with public officials responsible for the crisis being criminally charged for their role.

    Edwards said that the Flint experience has provided his team with a model that they will continue to use moving forward, and that the EPA grant would be a big help, joking that the funding would help the project "to lose money a little less quickly."

  • Clear Water in Lakes May Actually Mean Poor Water Quality

    Don't judge a book by its cover, and by the same token, don't judge the quality of a lake by its clarity.

    Lakes dotted around agricultural hotspots typically tend to be bright green in color. This is largely due to phytoplankton and algal growth fueled by nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) present in agricultural fertilizers, which get washed into rivers and lakes with runoff.

    However, after analyzing water quality data collected from 139 lakes located in agricultural hotspots of Iowa over a 13 year period, scientists found that even though lakes had high concentrations of nutrients, they were remarkably clear.

    Aerial view of a small lake near the city of Clear Lake, Iowa, which represents typical landscapes surrounding the lakes in this study. About 92 percent of land within Iowa is in production agriculture and crops on these lands receive large amendments of nitrogen as anhydrous ammonia and phosphorus. Excessive algae growth caused by these nutrient inputs have turned many of the lakes in this region bright green. Surprisingly, a number of lakes in this study were clearer and appeared bluer than expected, yet are far from healthy. The study authors hypothesize that very high nitrogen levels, often >10 mg/L, suppress high chlorophyll (algae) concentrations. Aerial view of a small lake near the city of Clear Lake, Iowa, which represents typical landscapes surrounding the lakes in this study. About 92 percent of land within Iowa is in production agriculture and crops on these lands receive large amendments of nitrogen as anhydrous ammonia and phosphorus. Excessive algae growth caused by these nutrient inputs have turned many of the lakes in this region bright green. Surprisingly, a number of lakes in this study were clearer and appeared bluer than expected, yet are far from healthy. The study authors hypothesize that very high nitrogen levels, often >10 mg/L, suppress high chlorophyll (algae) concentrations.

    The study, which was recently published in the scientific journal Inland Waters, shows that the excessive fertilizer added to the lakes from agricultural runoff was so high that it killed chlorophyll containing phytoplankton and algae, which typically give polluted lakes the bright green color.

    According to lead author, Chris Filstrup, a research associate at the UMD Large Lakes Observatory and Minnesota Sea Grant, it is dangerous to mistake an increase in water clarity for an improvement in water quality, as in actual fact, the opposite is very often true. Water quality in clear lakes with high levels of nutrients is worse than that of lakes where more algae is present, yet nutrient levels are lower.

    Water clarity is often used to measure water quality, yet this study suggests this approach may not necessarily be appropriate for all regions.

    Nutrient levels rise to excessive levels after nitrogen and phosphorus from surrounding agricultural fields, animal feed lots, suburban gardens and urban landscaping gets washed into rivers and lakes with rain and melted snow. Yet, while these nutrients generally spur algal growth, they can in fact kill algae when concentrations become excessive.

    "In some of the Iowa lakes in our study we noted phosphorus levels 10 times what we'd expect to see in a northern Minnesota lake," said Filstrup. "We were astonished to see that the nitrogen levels were more than 30 times higher."

    When nutrient levels become so extreme they kill phytoplankton and algae present in the waterbody, making the lake appear clearer. In the same way that applying excessive amounts of fertilizer to soils can harm plants, rendering the soil barren, excessive amounts of nutrients in freshwater systems can kill water plants, effectively ridding lakes of algae, thus improving water clarity.

    "We thought that the low appearance of algae at high nitrogen concentrations might be due to imbalances of other nutrients, or too much shade for algae to grow, or that some algae are less green or that zooplankton eat more algae when there's a lot of nitrogen," said co-author John A. Downing, director of Minnesota Sea Grant, a scientist at the UMD Large Lakes Observatory and a professor in the UMD Department of Biology. "But none of those hypotheses panned out. The only explanation that makes sense, so far, is that high nitrogen is bad for algae."

    According to the scientists, the decrease in algae in these lakes is most likely caused by an interplay of nitrogen, phosphorus, sunlight and the landscape, which in combination can cause the excess nitrate particles to form reactive oxygen species that burst the cell walls and cell membranes of algae, damaging or killing them.

    According to Filstrup, its a bit like pouring hydrogen peroxide onto a wound. The hydrogen peroxide bursts the bacteria, making the wound fizz. A similar reaction occurs within lakes, but while there is no fizz, the reactive oxygen species that forms from nitrate can kill organic matter, including algae and phytoplankton.

    As the increased demand for agricultural crops continues to rise, along with the application of fertilizers to stimulate rapid growth of commercially produced crops, the scientists hope their study will provide some insight to other agricultural regions where extreme nutrient loading may be a cause for concern.

    Downing suggests that excessive application of nitrogen based fertilizers is not only a waste of money, it also leads to unhealthy freshwater systems, and ultimately also causes ocean dead zones such as that in the Gulf of Mexico. It is therefore important that we grow crops and manage animals wastes appropriately to avoid polluting and degrading the environment.

    Journal Reference

    Christopher T. Filstrup, John A. Downing. Relationship of chlorophyll to phosphorus and nitrogen in nutrient-rich lakes. Inland Waters, 2017; 1 DOI: 10.1080/20442041.2017.1375176

  • Suburban Drinking Water Wells in state of New York Polluted with Road Salt

    Road salt that is routinely applied to road surfaces in winter to make them less treacherous tends to linger in the environment, resulting in drinking water sources becoming contaminated. Now a new study which was recently published in the Journal of Environmental Quality, identifies geological and landscape characteristics associated with high salinity levels in water wells that supply a suburban area in Southeastern New York with drinking water.

    Salt being added to the roadway during a snowstorm. Salt being added to the roadway during a snowstorm.

    According to Victoria Kelly, Environmental Monitoring Program Manager at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, and lead author of the study, every year millions of metric tons of road salt is applied to roads across the country. This salt can seep into the soil where it can accumulate and contaminate groundwater. The aim of this study was to gain a better understanding of why some wells are more at risk to contamination by road salt than others so that we can inform managers responsible for protecting water quality.

    Kelly and her research team analyzed data from water samples collected from more than 950 private water wells supplying residents in the East Fishkill area of New York with drinking water. They found soduim levels in more than 50% of the wells was higher than the federal safety standard set by the EPA. They found that the distance of the well from the nearest road, as well as the amount of pavement nearby had a great influence on salinity levels of well water. Yet, the depth of the well and the type of road (back roads to interstate highways and everything in-between) had little influence, which was surprising.

    Chloride Concentrations in East Fishkill, N.Y. (image) Chloride Concentrations in East Fishkill, N.Y. (image)

    The researchers used GIS technology to map sodium and chloride levels of wells and to identify landscape surface features found in the area surrounding each well. They looked at local variables such as depth of well, distance from roads, elevation of the well in relation to roads nearby, impervious surface, geology of the surface soils, and type of soil to identify links between well salinity and infrastructure development.

    The study's finding echo similar studies that suggest impervious surfaces such as roads and pavements contribute to groundwater salinization and that it is ultimately a consequence of urban development. Chloride concentrations in wells located closer to roads was higher than those further away, but the type of road — whether a minor or major road — had no impact. The depth of the well had no significant impact on salt levels, and elevation in relation to roads nearby was only a factor when roads were located more than thirty meters from a nearby well.


    The study identified several hotspots where groundwater salinization was particularly high. The authors suggest that steep inclines and sharp turns in some roads could be a contributing factor as these would require a heavier application of road salt. Similarly, narrow streets which only older salt trucks can pass through could result in less efficient salt application due to outdated application technology.

    "Understanding the landscape features that lead to increased groundwater salinization can inform targeted salt application," explains Stuart Findlay, a freshwater ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and co-author of the study. "The time to act is now, as we know it can take decades or more for the salt currently in groundwater to flush out."

    The study only identified a single cold spot, located in an area where housing density was low, which reinforced the link between urbanization, road salt application and groundwater salinization.

    "In planning efforts to minimize road salt impacts, our findings tell us that smaller roads should not be overlooked and areas with a lot of pavement and porous, well-drained soils are most at risk of experiencing salinization", says Kelly. "Road salting is not one-size-fits-all undertaking. More targeted approaches will keep roads safe while reducing unintended consequences to drinking water supplies."

    Journal Reference

    Victoria R. Kelly, Mary Ann Cunningham, Neil Curri, Stuart E. Findlay, Sean M. Carroll. The Distribution of Road Salt in Private Drinking Water Wells in a Southeastern New York Suburban Township. Journal of Environment Quality, 2018; 0 (0): 0 DOI: 10.2134/jeq2017.03.0124

  • Public Happy to Pay for Improved Water Quality

    The recent lead contamination of drinking water supplied to residents living in the city of Flint, Michigan, has led to increased awareness of the need to protect watersheds.

    Ecosystem service initiatives financed by end-users (consumers) can provide landowners with a financial incentive to voluntarily take part in environmental enhancement efforts. After conducting a nationwide survey, a team of researchers from the University of Missouri-Columbia have now found that the average person would be more inclined to contribute to efforts to improve water quality than they would to other ecosystem services initiatives, such as habitat protection or flood control.

    "Our findings support the notion that ecosystem service programs need to happen at the local level," said Francisco Aguilar, associate professor of forestry in the School of Natural Resources, which is located in the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. "People in different areas of the country have different priorities, and that's hard to coordinate at a national level. If someone lives in a flood plain, they are going to be a lot more willing to pay for flood controls. Still, people from around the nation consistently seem to be willing to pay for water quality improvements."


    Aguilar together with his team surveyed over 1,000 households across the country for the study, asking participants to state their preference/s of which ecosystem services they would be prepared to pay for if included as part of their households utility bill. While the researchers found that participants generally tended to be more willing to contribute towards water quality initiatives rather than other ecosystem services, flood control and habitat protection varied extensively in terms of importance, depending on where the participant lived. A beautiful landscape was not valued as a vital ecosystem service, which the authors believe is because an aesthetically pleasing landscape does not easily translate into a service that provides financial benefits.

    According to co-author, Elizabeth Obeng, who worked on this research while completing her PhD at MU, a forest of trees can be viewed as a natural resource that provides valuable services to society. Trees not only release oxygen into the atmosphere, they can also help to control flooding. However, the same can't be said about an aesthetically pleasing landscape. It's hard to convince a landowner that there will be any return on their investment if they contribute to this cause.

    The survey also showed that a persons attitude towards the environment and their support of ecosystem service initiatives were more likely to affect their willingness to contribute rather than their income level. Consequently, the authors believe that behavioral factors, rather than demographics, are likely to play a more important role in determining whether a person would be willing to contribute to ecosystem enhancement initiatives.

    The report, which was recently published online in Ecosystem Services, will appear in the April (2018) print edition of the journal.

  • Microplastics in Bottled Water

    Orb Media, a D.C.-based group of investigative journalists, recently published Invisibles: The Plastic Inside Us, highlighting the global problem of microplastics - tiny bits of plastic measuring less than 5mm that are highly prevalent in the environment which are released when larger pieces of discarded plastic breakdown — in drinking water that flows from our taps.

    Now, in a follow-up investigation, they reveal that bottled water fares no better. In fact, after comparing the levels of microplastics in bottled water to that in tap water, they found that tap water was the healthier choice.

    For the study, a team of researchers from the State University of New York led by Sherri Mason tested 259 bottles of bottled water from nine countries. The researchers screened the contents of the bottles for plastic using the Nile Red method, a technique that was specifically developed to quickly detect plastic particles in seawater. The technique involves adding a red dye to the water, which adheres to free-floating bits of plastic, rendering them fluorescent under certain lighting conditions.


    After filtering the dyed bottled water samples, Sherri Mason and her team set about counting every piece of plastic measuring more than 100 microns — about the diameter of a strand of human hair. They found microplastics in 93% of the samples tested, with an average of 325 microplastic particles (10.4 > 100 micron; and 314 < 100 micron in size) per liter of bottled water tested.

    "For microplastic debris around 100 microns in size, about the diameter of a human hair, bottled water samples contained nearly twice as many pieces of microplastic per liter (10.4) than the tap water samples (4.45)," according to the new report.

    These figures are twice as high as the levels of microplastics detected in their previous study on tap water. Yet, many consumers believe that bottled water is cleaner and healthier than tap water, a belief which research has shown to be unfounded.

    Water Bottle Mineral Water Plastic Bottle Pet Water

    While this study and the resulting Orb Media report, Plus Plastic: Microplastics Found in Global Bottled Water, has not been published in a scientific journal, and therefore has not undergone the peer review process, in a BBC article covering this topic, scientific experts weighed in.

    According to Dr Andrew Mayes, a research scientist from the University of Anglia who pioneered the Nile Red method used to quantify plastic particles in the is study, the technique used involves "very high quality analytical chemistry" and he in fact considers these results to be "quite conservative".

    Michael Walker, a founding board member of the UK Food Standards Agency who also provides consulting services to the Office of the UK Government Chemist, agrees that the work is robust and the Nile Red method is sound.

    Both experts agree that while the particles measuring less than 100 microns had not been positively identified as plastics, there is a good likelihood that they are, given the fact that possible alternatives were not likely to be found in bottled water.

    But the question remains; where is this plastic originating from? The authors believe that the contamination is originating from the plastic bottles the water is packaged in or the bottling process itself. Considering that plastic bottle caps are made from polypropylene plastic (making up 54% of the plastic found in bottled water), one possibility could be that particles are shed into the contents as the bottle is opened.

    According to the Mayo Clinic, in terms of safety, bottled water is generally on a par with tap water. Bottled water is regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), while tap water is regulated by the US Environmental Protections Agency (EPA). So the decision to drink bottled water rather than tap water is largely a matter of personal preference.

    Perhaps the safest option would be to simply filter any water that you drink to remove any microplastics or other contaminants that may be lurking in your drinking water.

  • Exposure to Herbicide Evident in Pregnant Women

    A study conducted on a cohort of pregnant women living in Central Indiana has detected glyphosate — the chemical toxin used in Roundup and other herbicides — in over 90% of the mothers-to-be.

    In a report that was recently published in the scientific journal Environmental Health, the authors suggest that glyphosate levels are linked to shorter pregnancy terms, which can have negative lifelong impacts on the offspring.

    "There is growing evidence that even a slight reduction in gestational length can lead to lifelong adverse consequences," said Shahid Parvez, assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Health Science at Indiana University and lead author of the study.

    This is the first US study of its kind to analyze urine samples of pregnant women to directly assess their exposure to the chemical glyphosate.


    According to Parvez, the study's primary finding was that of the 71 moms-to-be that made up the study cohort, 93% were found to have glyphosate at detectable levels in their urine. Glyphosate levels were higher in women living in rural areas, and in women who drank more caffeinated drinks.

    While glyphosate exposure in pregnant women cannot be denied, Parvez says that the primary source of this exposure may not necessarily be drinking water, as they initially thought. None of the drinking water samples they tested had any trace of glyphosate present, indicating that glyphosate is most likely removed during the water treatment process. However, consumption of genetically modified foods, as well as caffeinated drinks are suspected of being two primary sources of glyphosate.


    Glyphosate is used extensively in the American Midwest as a result of soybean and corn production. Residues of the herbicide can be found contaminating the environment, as well as major crops, including food items that people across the country consume daily.

    "Although our study cohort was small and regional and had limited racial or ethnic diversity, it provides direct evidence of maternal glyphosate exposure and a significant correlation with shortened pregnancy," Parvez said.

    Parvez notes that the extent of glyphosate exposure in mothers-to-be and the link between exposure and shorter gestation terms are cause for concern and warrant further investigation. Parvez hopes to expand this study to include more diversity, both ethnically and geographically, in the next cohort of pregnant women examined to determine whether the outcome will be the same.

    To reduce the likelihood of exposure to toxic pesticides such as glyphosate, it is recommended that you filter your drinking water with a good quality drinking water filter that is capable of removing pesticide contaminants, and choose healthy organically grown fresh produce and food products wherever possible.

    Journal Reference

    S. Parvez, R. R. Gerona, C. Proctor, M. Friesen, J. L. Ashby, J. L. Reiter, Z. Lui, P. D. Winchester. Glyphosate exposure in pregnancy and shortened gestational length: a prospective Indiana birth cohort study. Environmental Health, 2018; 17 (1) DOI: 10.1186/s12940-018-0367-0

  • Berkey Water Filter Contaminants Removal Guide

    It's no secret that a secure, clean source of drinking water is critical for any household. And if you're reading this article, you're probably already familiar with the general concept behind Berkey water filters: Durable, high-performing, gravity filters, built for a variety of sizes and use cases.

    But just how "high-performing" are they? Well, if you take the time to study the packaging on a Berkey filter, you will see a list of no less than 203 toxins that Black Berkeys eliminate. That's nothing to shake a stick at! When you look at the list however, you'll see things like "Dibromochloromethane" and "Hexachlorocyclopentadiene." Since these aren't exactly household names, it can be difficult to know exactly what they are, and how they affect us.

    Well, in an effort to clear up a little bit of the confusion, our friend Dan at Homestead Launch put together a handy graphic reference guide, that explains where water contaminants come from. As you can see, water contamination comes from a variety of sources: biological, industrial, agricultural, medical facilities, and even water treatment plants.

    Fortunately, Berkey filters eliminate them all, and this guide provides a really easy and visual way to show that. Take a look!

    Homestead Launch Self Sufficient Guide

    Hopefully that helps explain the contaminants that are in our water supply (and that Berkey eliminates them!). If you have a friend that might be on the fence about getting a Berkey, this would be a great resource to share with them.

    (p.s. If interested, Homestead Launch is a partner of ours and helps people plan, purchase, and develop self-sufficient homesteads. You can learn more about their great services here:

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