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Big Berkey Water Filters

  • Fossil Groundwater, a Source of Drinking Water for Billions of People, Contaminated with Nuclear Radiation

    Some of the world's deepest wells tap into underground aquifers that store water believed to be over 12,000 years old. Yet, while that fossil groundwater is stored deep below the Earth's surface, it is not immune to contamination by modern day practices, as previously assumed.

    Groundwater is the term given to all forms of water that are stored below the surface of the Earth in spaces between soil particles and within fractures in underground rock formations. Groundwater provides an important source of water used for irrigation purposes, as well as drinking water serving billions of people globally.

    A recent study conducted by Scott Jasechko, a hydro-geologist at the University of Calgary, together with a team of international researchers, which was recently published in the scientific journal Nature Geoscience, has revealed the presence of radioactive nuclear material in fossil water stored in deep wells.


    For their study, the scientists dated groundwater samples collected from over 6,000 wells around the world. The researchers were able to determine how old the water was by measuring the radioactive carbon content in the samples. They learned that most of the groundwater stored below the Earth's surface (42-85% of all the freshwater held in soil and rock within a kilometer below the Earth's surface) consists of fossil groundwater resulting from precipitation that fell to Earth over 12,000 years ago.

    Prior to this study, scientists believed that fossil groundwater was immune from modern contaminants. However, this study has shown that this is not the case.

    "The unfortunate finding is that even though deep wells pump mostly fossil groundwater, many still contain some recent rain and snow melt, which is vulnerable to modern contamination," explains Jasechko. "Our results imply that water quality in deep wells can be impacted by the land management decisions we make today."

    Jasechko explains that precipitation that fell to Earth since the 1950s contains traces of tritium — a radioactive material that is found around the globe due to testing of nuclear weapons. Shockingly, traces of radioactive tritium were found in waters within deep wells, indicating that recent rainwater and snow melt can potentially mix with the ancient groundwater stored deep underground, and in so doing has the potential to contaminate fossil water believed to be untainted and pure.

    "Roughly half of the wells contained some fraction of recent groundwater less than 50 or 60 years old," Co-author James Kirchner, a Professor at of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, who uses the analogy of grandkids visiting their grandparents to explain the consequences: "It is a bit like going to a giant old people's home and suddenly realizing there are lots of kids running around. That is great, except if the little kids have the flu!"

    According to Jasechko, the results of this study have important ramifications on how humans should use groundwater stored deep below the Earth in future.

    "The upshot is that when we use fossil groundwater we should consider water quality risk in addition to sustainable use," says Jasechko. "We may do well to develop land management plans that protect fossil groundwaters from pollutants so that these resources are available for future generations."

    Journal Reference

    Scott Jasechko, et al. Global aquifers dominated by fossil groundwaters but wells vulnerable to modern contamination. Nature Geoscience (25 April, 2017). DOI:10.1038/ngeo2943

  • Controlling Lead Spread in Drinking Water Supplies

    Even though lead water pipes were banned in the US several decades ago, they are still used in water distribution networks that supply drinking water to millions of households across the country. Corrosion of these aging lead pipes risks leaching lead into the water supply, putting children at risk of neurological and developmental disorders resulting from exposure to this hazardous contaminant.

    The commonly proposed solution of digging up these old lead pipelines and replacing sections of them with pipes made from other metals, for example copper, risks dislodging lead particles from the walls of the pipes and releasing them into the drinking water supply. Also, replacing only a portion of the lead pipes connecting a home to the water mains instead of exchanging the connection entirely poses a further risk of lead contamination.


    Now, in an effort to maintain a safe drinking water supply, a team of water engineers from Washington University in St. Louis have developed a modeling tool that allows water technicians to track the path along which lead particles may be carried when water pipes are partially replaced in the supply line.

    "We all know lead is not safe, it needs to go," said Assistant Vice Chancellor of International Programs Pratim Biswas, the Lucy and Stanley Lopata Professor and the chair of Energy, Environmental and Chemical Engineering at the School of Engineering & Applied Science. "This is the first comprehensive model that works as a tool to help drinking-water utility companies and others to predict the outcome of an action. If they have the necessary information of a potential action, they can run this model and it can advise them on how best to proceed with a pipe replacement to ensure there are no adverse effects."

    The study, which was recently published in the scientific journal Environmental Science & Technology, the authors outline how their model is able to predict how far particles of lead and other dissolved substances might travel along the pipeline after they have been disturbed. Expanding on water-quality computer models they had developed for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) earlier, Biswas and his research team developed a new model that is able to predict the release of lead particulates while taking factors such as the age and the dimensions of the pipe, patterns of water usage, water chemistry, as well as any previous disturbances to the water pipe.


    After running several computer simulations to test their predictions, Biswas and his colleagues are now ready to make the model more widely available so that water utilities and even water consumers can make use of the tool. According to Biswas, a water utility can enter information pertaining to their water distribution system and receive recommendations as to how to proceed with a partial pipe replacement without compromising drinking water quality.

    The researchers have also developed a number of other models related to drinking water quality in water distribution networks, including models that enable utilities to accurately predict the concentration of disinfectants used in the water treatment process along the water distribution network, particularly in systems where there are dead-ends. They plan to make these models available for water utilities to download so that they can receive recommendations that will help them make decisions to ensure that the drinking water they supply to their consumers is safe to drink.

    All Berkey systems equipped with the black berkey filters will remove lead from the water.

    Journal Reference

    Ahmed A. Abokifa and Pratim Biswas. Modeling Soluble and Particulate Lead Release into Drinking Water from Full and Partially Replaced Lead Service Lines. Environ. Sci. Technol., 2017, 51 (6), pp 3318–3326 DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b04994

  • Neonic Pesticides Found in US Tap Water

    A new study conducted on US drinking water has found traces of insecticides that are widely used around the world in tap water supplied to US homes. This is the first time scientists have detected neonicotinoids — a commonly used type of pesticide — in drinking water.

    Previous studies have found neonicotinoid contamination in US streams and rivers, but this latest study — which was recently published in the scientific journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters — reveals that these highly toxic chemicals are finding their way into water sources that provide drinking water to US homes.

    neonic pesticides

    Water samples obtained by researchers from Iowa have revealed that concentrations of some toxic neonic chemicals remain unchanged even after treatment. However, they point out that drinking water supplies treated with a different filtration method saw neonic levels diminish substantially. The researchers say that they cannot currently comment on the potential health impact this may have on humans, but argue that additional studies are needed in this regard.

    Neonicotinoid pesticides, first introduced in the 1990s and now widely used across the globe, consist of systemic chemicals that are typically applied as a seed coating which kills insects but not other species. In the ten years between 2004-2014 sales of neonic pre-treated seeds tripled in the United States. However, while they have been touted to be harmless to other species, there is growing concern over the negative impact they are having on the environment, particularly their impact on bees. As a result, the European Union have placed a moratorium on the use of neonic pesticides on flowering crops since 2013.

    A 2015 study conducted by the US Geological Survey (USGS) revealed that neonic chemicals were widespread in water samples taken from 48 different US streams and rivers. This latest study, conducted by a team of scientists from the University of Iowa and the USGS, assessed drinking water treated by two different filtration plants. Water samples treated at the University of Iowa's treatment plant removed hardly any of the three primary neonic chemical contaminants: thiamethoxam, imidacloprid and clothianidin, while water samples treated at the Iowa City water treatment plant removed a substantially higher amount of these contaminants, removing 85%, 94% and 100% of these chemicals respectively. Drinking water treated by the less effective water filtration system had between 0.24-57.3 nanograms of individual neonic chemicals per liter.

    "These are very low levels, these are nanograms per litre which means parts per trillion, a very low concentration," said Prof Gregory LeFevre, a contributing author of the paper, in an interview with BBC News. "But at the same time there are concerns about what those low levels might do from an exposure standpoint."

    The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for regulating drinking water contaminants in the US, but currently neonic pesticides are not listed as a potential threat or cause for concern.

    Prof LeFevre points out that these results don't necessarily point to a violation of the system, but it is important that we are aware that they are present in drinking water, regardless of whether these levels are safe or not.

    The authors are more concerned that neonic insecticides may be transformed into other harmful products during the filtration process, which could pose a larger health threat to humans than direct exposure to neonic insecticides that are designed to selectively target insects.


    But the study does present evidence that filtration of drinking water using activated carbon filters is an effective and economical method of removing neonics from drinking water.

    "We were pleasantly surprised to see how well the activated carbon worked," said Prof LeFevre.

    The researchers believe that considering the extent of research that's been conducted focusing on the impacts of neonics on pollinators, particularly bees, as well as other species, it is vital that further research is conducted on neonic presence in drinking water in order to determine the level of human exposure globally.

    "Without really good toxicity data it is hard to ascertain the scale of this, but whenever we have pesticides in the drinking water that is something that raises a flag no matter what type of concentration it is," said Prof LeFevre.

    The Berkey water filter has not yet been tested for neonicatinoid removal, but is confirmed to be on the testing schedule.

    Journal Reference

    KL Klarich, NC Pflug, EM DeWald, ML Hladik, DW Kolpin, DM Cwiertny, and GH LeFevre. Occurance of Neonicotinoid Insecticides in Finished Drinking Water and Fate during Drinking Water Treatment. Environ. Sci. Technol. Lett., April 5, 2017. DOI: 10.1021/acs.estlett.7b00081

  • Streams Across the US Contain Potentially Harmful Mix of Chemical Toxins

    Many waterways across America contain a varied mix of contaminants, but we currently have very little understanding of how these chemical combinations are composed or what effect they may have on both ecological and human health.

    Now, a comprehensive new study funded by the USGS Toxic Substances Hydrology Program, which was recently published in the scientific journal, Environmental Science & Technology, is shedding some insight, showing that these chemical mixtures are in fact much more complex than previously thought and contain chemical compounds that are potentially harmful to both aquatic life and human health.

    Contaminants are being found in streams at alarming rates. Contaminants are being found in streams at alarming rates.

    Earlier studies conducted by researchers at the US Geological Survey (USGS) testing waterways across America for organic contaminants, or contaminants containing carbon, revealed evidence that US streams were contaminated with a complex blend of pollutants. In the latest report, Paul M. Bradley and his colleagues have released results from a more extensive follow-up study where scientists from the USGS and EPA analyzed water samples collected from 38 different streams for the presence of 719 organic chemicals.

    More than 50% of these chemical compounds were found in the stream waters tested, with each stream — even streams in pristine regions that were neither developed or inhabited — containing at least one organic compounds being tested for, with some containing as many as 162 organic contaminants. The researchers found caffeine; pesticides including glyphosate and byproducts associated with their breakdown; triclosan and other antibacterial products; and pharmaceutical products such as metformin — commonly used to treat diabetes — and antihistamines, as well as other chemical compounds.

    The study revealed that certain compounds found in this mix, which are biologically active by design, often occur together in stream waters. The scientists are concerned that complex interactions between these organic compounds could potentially pose a risk to aquatic organisms and food-webs, as well as humans, and therefore warrants further research to determine the extent of the threat. They have outlined some of the biological effects they observed in these water samples in a separate research paper, also published in Environmental Science & Technology.

    These two related studies highlight the consequences — both in terms of ecological and human health risks — posed by everyday contaminants entering streams and rivers. To reduce your exposure to many of the contaminants commonly found in drinking water sources, we highly recommend investing in a good quality drinking water filter that is able to remove many of these potentially harmful pollutants.

    Journal Reference

    Paul M. Bradley, et al. Expanded Target-Chemical Analysis Reveals Extensive Mixed-Organic-Contaminant Exposure in U.S. Streams. Environ. Sci. Technol, (April 12, 2017) DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.7b00012

    Justin M. Conley, et al. Occurrence and In Vitro Bioactivity of Estrogen, Androgen, and Glucocorticoid Compounds in a Nationwide Screen of United States Stream Waters. Environ. Sci. Technol, (April 12, 2017) DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b06515

  • Climate Change Will Degrade Drinking Water Quality in the Midwest

    Climate change has many different consequences, one of which is the likelihood that there will be more extreme shifts between droughts and floods — a weather pattern typically referred to as 'weather whiplash' by climatologists.

    A new study conducted by scientists from the University of Kansas, which was recently published in the scientific journal Biogeochemistry, reveals how weather whiplash in the agricultural regions of the American Midwest will cause drinking water quality to deteriorate, which will in turn force municipalities to find costly water treatment solutions in order to provide consumers with safe drinking water.


    According to the study, due to the predicted climate change related change in rainfall patterns, it is anticipated that in future the frequency of droughts and flooding will increase. The extreme seesawing between periods of extremely low rainfall and periods of extremely high rainfall changes how nutrients are stored in agricultural soils — particularly nitrogen used in fertilizers applied to agricultural crops.

    "Farmers put on their normal amount of fertilizer, but when we have a drought, plants don't grow as big and don't take up as much nitrogen," said Terry Loecke, assistant professor of environmental studies at the University of Kansas and lead author of the study.

    Rather than being taken up by plants, which are then harvested, the nitrogen remains in soils as there is no water to flush it away. Then when heavy rains fall, the soil — which acts like a sponge — releases nitrogen, which flows into streams and rivers with runoff.

    As many of these freshwater systems serve as an important source of drinking water for many communities across the Midwest, taxpayers are going to have to dig deeper into their pockets as the cost of building additional remedial treatment facilities to address high nitrogen levels is going to be high.

    The research team analyzed data from the 2012-2013 drought/flood cycle that impacted most of the American Midwest, resulting in elevated nitrogen levels in rivers and lakes in the region. They found the link between high nitrate levels and extreme fluctuations in rainfall was quite common.

    Due to the rapid rise in nitrate levels in the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers , the Des Moines Water Works was forced to build a new nitrate removal facility at a cost of US$4.1 million, which costs a further $7,000 a day to run.

    Amy Burgin, co-author of the study, points out that nitrates pose a considerable problem in drinking water, particularly in Des Moines, home to probably the most costly nitrate removal plant around. Over the last few years the plant has been operating anywhere between 25 to 150 days or more each year, which is proving to be extremely expensive as they don't have the funds available in their budget allocated for getting clean drinking water to consumers.

    In an attempt to recoup some of these additional denitrifications costs, the water utility recently sued several intensely farmed Iowa counties further upstream from city.  But Loecke and Burgin believe that surges in surface water nitrate levels like the ones affecting cities in Iowa will become more widespread across the agricultural Midwest due to the phenomenon of weather whiplash as this occurs more regularly in the future.

    Loecke believes that consumers across the Midwest will soon have to pay more for safe drinking water, like those from Des Moines. Cities aren't able to determine how often they will need to operate a nitrate-removal plant. When it's run a lot, it's a knocks their budget hard, and they have to pass these costs on to their consumers, and this is likely to spread out across the rest of the Midwestern region. Midwestern consumers must therefore anticipate paying more for clean drinking water in future.

    The authors hope that this study will help inform all those concerned, including the farming community, policymakers and municipal water departments, as well as consumers.

    "Municipal water services should be paying attention," Burgin said. "Iowa is the bull's-eye of this problem, and it's going to spread out from there -- this might not be at the forefront of a lot of Kansas minds right now. But given it's an agricultural state, it's a matter of time before we're in same boat. In Iowa, now it's hitting smaller municipalities. According to analysis by the Des Moines Register, 30% of them will have this problem -- and most don't have the tax bases to support huge nitrate-removal facilities."

    Journal Reference

    Loecke, T.D., Burgin, A.J., Riveros-Iregui, D.A. et al. Biogeochemistry (2017) 133: 7. doi:10.1007/s10533-017-0315-z

  • Can Your Drinking Water Get Hacked?

    Cyber attacks are a growing concern, that could potentially affect both commercial and governmental enterprises globally. Now government officials are cautioning water utilities to focus more attention on this rising threat.

    With more and more water utilities trying to cut down on their operating expenses by opting for fully automated systems, the threat is likely to increase in the years to come, BNA Bloomberg reports.

    The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) together with input from the Dept of Homeland Security (DHS) are busy developing training manuals to help smaller, rural water systems that lack the necessary resources to defend themselves against threat posed by cyber hackers.


    According to Helen Jackson from the DHS's Office of Cybersecurity and Communications, these threats to water distribution networks can come in various guises. For example, one type of threat is ransomeware — where computer hackers hijack and take control of computer controlled equipment and demand payment of a ransom to give back control of the equipment. Insider threats — where a computer system is compromised by someone who has access to the utility — is another. According to Jackson, a 2015 survey conducted by computer giant IBM revealed that more than 50% of all cyber security incidents in the corporate world involved insider threats.

    Once hackers gain access to a water utility's computer system, they have the ability to control factors such as chlorine flow rates as well as ratios of other chemical additives added to drinking water during the treatment process.

    YouTube Video:

    David Travers, director of water security at the EPA, feels that as water utilities become more automated they are becoming increasingly vulnerable to cyber threats and need to be more vigilant to protect themselves from potential hackers.

    "As we rely on a fully automated system, I think there's a certain degree of expertise that's lost", said Travers. "Now you have operators who may not know how to run the system" in the event of an outage.

    Travers urges water utilities to prepare for cyber threats by running hands-on tabletop simulation exercises that would increase the capacity of technicians to handle any such threat. Jackson echoes his sentiments, pointing to industry resources that can help utilities assess their cyber security risk.

    Water distribution networks have faced cyber security attacks before. More than 10 years ago in 2006, a computer hacker gained access to the computer system at a water filtration plant located near Harrisburg, PA, and attempted to use the computers network to distribute pirated software and emails. Upon investigation the FBI found that the computer in question controlled a vital system of the water plant and had the attack caused it to malfunction, service to consumers would have been disrupted. Then 10 years later, in 2016, hackers gained access to a water treatment plant and were able to manipulate chlorine levels.

    In this day and age, cyber security is a real threat, and needs to be taken seriously by water utilities. Should the security of your local water utility be breached, do you have a contingency plan to ensure you have access to safe drinking water?

  • Safety Standards of Common Herbicide Chemical (glyphosate) Urgently Need to be Reviewed

    Glyphosate — a chemical that is used in many weedkillers and also that the Black Berkey Filters remove — may be detrimental to environmental and public health, and the safety standards regarding its usage are in urgent need of review, a new study suggests.

    According to the authors of the study, which was recently published online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, the current standards are outdated and urgently need to be reviewed, taking cognizance of new scientific findings to address potential health risks the public may face when exposed to these hazardous chemicals.

    round up

    The European Chemicals Agency recently gave glyphosate the green light, ruling that is was not associated with an increased risk of cancer in humans. This outcome will strongly influence the European Commission's decision on whether or not to allow the use of this chemical once again.

    Back home in the United States, the use of glyphosate has rapidly increased over the last twenty years, with it currently being the most commonly used weedkiller across the country. Furthermore, global estimates of glyphosate use suggest that in 2014 alone, the amount of glyphosate used equated to around half a kilogram being sprayed on every one hectare of crops grown around the entire world.

    Glyphosate is used to kill weeds before planting crops and to control their regrowth after crops are planted. It is also applied to help induce the natural drying process of seeds before they are harvested. Chemical residues have been found in various crops, including barley, wheat, soybeans as well as a variety of other food crops. Herbicides can also leach through soils to into groundwater and aquifers or wash into surface waters with runoff, where they can potentially contaminate drinking water sources.

    However, according to the authors, the scientific evidence used in support of the current US safety standards is based on research that was conducted over thirty years ago, and which was not subjected to the peer review process. Since then new studies have been conducted on glyphosate, with over 1500 studies being published in the last ten years alone.

    "It is incongruous that safety assessments of the most widely used herbicide on the planet rely largely on fewer than 300 unpublished, non-peer reviewed studies while excluding the vast modern literature on glyphosate effects," the authors point out.

    Yet, despite its rapid expansion in use, there is currently no method of monitoring glyphosate levels in humans and very few studies have assessed the potential health risks to humans.

    However, recent studies conducted on animals suggest that low doses of glyphosate may be associated with an increased risk of damage to organs such as the kidney, liver and eyes, as well as the cardiovascular system. There is still some debate as to whether glyphosate can potentially disrupt hormone functioning or whether it poses and increased cancer risk.

    According to the authors, "weed-killers, which combine glyphosate with other 'so-called inert ingredients,' may be even more potent. But these mixtures are regarded as commercially sensitive by the manufacturers and are therefore not available for public scrutiny."

    The researchers are calling for:

    1. Improved monitoring of glyphosate (and glyphosate metabolite) levels in humans.
    2. Applying modern technology and testing methods to risk assessment of glyphosate and other combination herbicides.
    3. Research focusing on the health impact of occupation exposure to glyphosate (e.g. Agricultural workers, workers in manufacturing plants, as well as the impact on pregnant women and their infants).
    4. An evaluation of commercial combination herbicides that contain glyphosate.

    "After a review of all evaluations, we conclude that the current safety standards are outdated and may fail to protect public health and the environment," the researchers conclude.

    The black berkey filters that come standard with all our Berkey water filter systems will remove glysophate to levels that are below lab detectable limits.

    Journal Reference

    Vandenberg LN, Blumberg B, Antoniou MN, et al. Is it time to reassess current safety standards for glyphosate-based herbicides? J Epidemiol Community Health. Published Online First: 20 March 2017. doi: 10.1136/jech-2016-208463

  • Effect of Road Salt Additives and Alternatives on Aquatic Ecosystems

    A recent study by researchers from the Jefferson Project at Lake George looks at the ecological impacts of additives commonly added to road salt, as well as commonly used alternatives to road salt.

    The Jefferson Project is a collaboration between several organizations, which was initiated in the hopes of developing an technologically advanced environmental monitoring and prediction system that would help managers to better understand and conserve the Lake George aquatic ecosystem, and which could also be applied to other freshwater systems all over the world.

    Road salt additives and alternatives that are commonly used in or to replace sodium chloride — the most widely used type of road salt — are typically marketed as eco-friendly, low-salt alternatives to the most common form of road salt used to keep roads ice-free. But, it turns out that these additives and alternatives may not be so environmentally friendly after all.

    According to Rich Relyea, the director of the Jefferson Project at Lake George:

    "Additives and alternative salts are presumed to be less environmentally harmful because they let us use less sodium chloride, but what about the potential impact of the additives and salt alternatives themselves? We know almost nothing about the impact of these additives and alternatives on aquatic ecosystems," he says.

    According to the study, which was recently published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, organic additives routinely added to road salt alternatives — for example additives included in commercial road salt products such as Magic Salt and GeoMelt — serve as a fertilizer to freshwater systems, promoting algal growth and allowing algae eating organisms to thrive. While the road salt alternative, magnesium chloride, which is used in commercial road salt products such as Clear Lane, has been found to boost populations of tiny aquatic crustaceans that forage on algae, and which play an important role in food webs, supporting fish.

    Relyea and his colleagues undertook several experiments to determine the impact that various types of road salt had on aquatic food chains, and their results were quite surprising. Research published earlier this year showed how a common zooplankton species is able to genetically evolve within a time frame of just 6 weeks to be able to tolerate moderate concentrations of sodium chloride in water. While research published towards the end of last year revealed that sodium chloride is able to change sex ratios in developing frog populations. Further research has been conducted on the impacts of various types of road salt on juvenile trout living in streams and wetlands.

    In this latest research — a pioneering study comparing the impacts of road salt additives and alternatives on aquatic ecosystem — scientists outfitted 64 replicate aquatic ecosystems with key players in aquatic food webs, including phytoplankton, zooplankton, tiny crustaceans and snails. The team prepared five road salt "treatments":

    • Rock salt (sodium chloride)
    • Magnesium chloride
    • Sodium chloride with low levels of magnesium chloride added (similar to that found in the commercial road salt product Clear Lane®)
    • Sodium chloride combined with beet juice (similar to that found in GeoMelt®)
    • Magnesium chloride combined with a byproduct of the distillation process (similar to that found in Magic Salt).

    They then applied each of these treatments at three different concentrations commonly found in freshwater systems: 50, 100, 200 milligrams/liter of chloride, while using tap water containing 25 milligrams/liter of chloride as a benchmark control. After one month, they looked at the changes in these replicated ecosystems.

    According to the study, "microbes digested some of the sugars in the beet juice and distillation byproducts, causing an immediate drop in dissolved oxygen levels." Microbes are also likely to have transformed an unusable form of phosphorus in the additives to a form that is more readily available for algae to use, thus boosting algal growth. The authors found that these algal blooms allowed zooplankton populations to triple in size, which in a natural aquatic ecosystem could allow fish and other predators of zooplankton to increase in both size and numbers.

    "Organic additives are like adding food to the lake. They are broken down into nutrients and organisms eat them," said Matthew Schuler, a postdoctoral research associate and first author of the paper. "The additives in GeoMelt and Magic Salt act as a fertilizer for aquatic systems."

    Low levels of magnesium chloride similar to those used in Magic Salt, Clear Lane and in the magnesium chloride treatments caused aquatic amphipod populations to more than triple in number.

    "Our research shows that these chemicals can cause changes to the food web, but we can't tell you whether that is desirable or not," Relyea said. "More algae means more zooplankton and more fish, and the angler might like that. But more algae also means turbid water, and a homeowner may not like that. It's a subjective public question."

    Journal Reference

    Schuler, M. S., Hintz, W. D., Jones, D. K., Lind, L. A., Mattes, B. M., Stoler, A. B., Sudol, K. A. and Relyea, R. A. (2017), How common road salts and organic additives alter freshwater food webs: in search of safer alternatives. J Appl Ecol. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.12877

  • Methane in the Groundwater of Hood and Parker Counties Linked to Natural Sources

    A team of researchers from The University of Texas at Austin have indicated that high concentrations of methane found in drinking water wells at two counties located near Fort Worth are likely to originate from shallow naturally occurring gas deposits rather than gas leaks due to fracking operations in the deeper Barnett Shale.

    In a report that was recently published in the scientific journal Groundwater, the scientists build on earlier studies related to the quality of well water in the Barnett Shale, using chemical as well as geographic evidence to link the elevated methane levels of certain wells to naturally occurring shallow deposits.

    Natural gas consists primarily of methane gas, and is found in large deposits in shale rock formations deep underground. However, smaller deposits of methane can also be found much shallower, typically just a few hundred feet below the surface. These shallower deposits —such as the one found in this geological formation known as the Strawn Group— form as methane gas from deeper deposits moves upwards towards the surface.

    "Over geologic time, methane has accumulated into these shallower reservoirs," explains Jean‐Philippe Nicot, a research scientist at the Bureau of Economic Geology, a unit of the UT Jackson School of Geosciences. "These fresh-water wells are very close to these shallower reservoirs and may be the source of the methane."

    With around 20,000 gas wells or more, the Barnett Shale formation underlying Fort Worth is one of America's largest and highly productive gas fields. But the boom in natural gas production and fracking operations has also been linked to potentially hazardous methane levels in drinking water wells, particularly in Silverado, a neighborhood located in Parker County, just outside Fort Worth.

    Distribution of dissolved methane across the Barnett Shale play. Each small red dot represents a Barnett Shale gas well. The other colored dots represent groundwater sample locations.The map includes 18,022 gas wells and 457 sample locations, with some overlapping at this scale. The key in the bottom right shows the concentration of methane, if any, found in each water sample. The black square surrounds a high-methane area where researchers conducted in-depth analysis of groundwater samples. Distribution of dissolved methane across the Barnett Shale play. Each small red dot represents a Barnett Shale gas well. The other colored dots represent groundwater sample locations.The map includes 18,022 gas wells and 457 sample locations, with some overlapping at this scale. The key in the bottom right shows the concentration of methane, if any, found in each water sample. The black square surrounds a high-methane area where researchers conducted in-depth analysis of groundwater samples.

    The scientists sampled over 450 water wells from 12 counties located in the Barnett Shale to determine the extent and source of methane contamination of wells. They found that the groundwater supplying 85% of the wells had very low levels of methane (10 milligrams per liter of water), levels which are considered potentially dangerous due to the flammable nature of methane gas.

    In order to determine where the methane originated from, the scientists decided to examine the cluster a little closer, analyzing water samples from 58 wells, working from the center of the cluster (where Silverado residential area is located) outwards until methane was not detected in well water.

    "What we wanted to do was understand how much methane there is and determine the size of the high methane hotspot," Nicot said.

    Methane gas is produced in one of two ways: 1) thermogenically, when organic material is broken down in an environment that has a high temperature and high pressure, typically at great depths, although this methane can migrate upwards over time; or 2) biogenically, as a result of methane-forming microbial activity, which typically occurs at shallow depths.
    To determine whether the methane was from biogenic or thermogenic sources, as well as the depth the contamination originated from, the scientists used carbon isotope analysis combined with additional analysis.

    "Combining alkane, noble gas and nitrogen compositions and isotope ratios allowed us to distinguish natural gas sourced from the deep Barnett Shale from the shallow Strawn Group," explained Toti Larson, a researcher at the Jackson School's Department of Geological Sciences.

    While these findings suggest methane found in water wells of Hood and Parker counties most likely originates from the Strawn Group, the scientists point out that they cannot completely rule out the possibility that some of this methane may have originated from gas leaks that occurred during fracking operations.

    Journal Reference

    Jean‐Philippe Nicot, Patrick Mickler, Toti Larson, M. Clara Castro, Roxana Darvari, Kristine Uhlman, Ruth Costley. Methane Occurrences in Aquifers Overlying the Barnett Shale Play with a Focus on Parker County, Texas. Groundwater (March, 2017). DOI: 10.1111/gwat.12508

  • To Add Fluoride or Not to Add Fluoride

    Fluoridation of Drinking Water Continues to be a Contentious Issue

    In December 2016 many parts of San Jose, California, began adding fluoride to their drinking water supplies; a decision that was based on pressure from dentists, oral hygienists, and health officials within the Public Health Department of Santa Clara County. This change means that 230,000 residents of Santa Teresa, East San Jose and Almaden Valley now receive fluoridated drinking water, whether they wish to or not.

    This change occurred almost simultaneously with an Alabama Supreme Court ruling that allowed a Marshall County water utility to stop adding fluoride to drinking water over concerns that this additive is considered unhealthy. Water officials in the city of Arab ceased fluoridating its drinking water in August last year, after considering several scientific studies that highlighted the potential health threats that fluoride poses to those exposed to the additive in high doses. But shortly thereafter, the City Council ordered the water utility to continue adding fluoride to the city's drinking water supply — a move that has now been overturned by the supreme court ruling.

    baby drinking

    The Fluoride Action Network (FAN) has joined forces with a coalition of other medical, health and environmental groups that is urging the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban water utilities from adding fluoride to drinking water supplied to the public. The coalition recently presented the EPA with a petition supported by more than 2,500 pages documenting scientific studies that show the health effects associated with drinking water fluoridation.

    Read 12 Reasons Why we Need to End Water Fluoridation

    According to the petition, "the amount of fluoride now regularly consumed by millions of Americans in fluoridated areas exceeds the doses repeatedly linked to IQ loss and other neurotoxic effects; with certain sub-populations standing at elevated risk of harm, including infants, young children, elderly populations and those with dietary deficiencies, renal impairment and/or genetic predispositions."

    As fluoride is has been scientifically acknowledged as a neurotoxin, the Fluoride Action Network is calling on the EPA to use the power afforded to it under the auspices of the Toxic Substances Control Act to ban the widespread use of a potentially harmful chemical that may pose a public health risk, especially to vulnerable members of society.

    The petition also goes on to say that as ingesting fluoride offers very little health benefit, "there is little justification in exposing the public to any risk of fluoride neurotoxicity, particularly via a source as essential to human sustenance as the public drinking water and the many processed foods and beverages made therefrom."

    Read WHO Fluoride Study Finds Water Fluoridation Unnecessary

    Fluoride has been shown to lower IQs of children exposed to in their drinking water, and is also considered a neurotoxin that can cause developmental problems, and other symptoms associated with neurotoxicity in humans. Fluoride in drinking water has also been linked to an increased risk of underactive thyroid, as well as urinary stone disease — an excruciatingly painful disease of the urinary tract.

    Concerned About Fluoride in your Drinking Water?

    The EPA has handed over the supporting scientific evidence to the National Research Council for their scientists to review. While they deliberate and ponder over decisions that ultimately affect your health and that of your loved ones, you can take action:

    1. Read the full Petition here.
    2. Read a summary of the Petition here.
    3. Add your name and endorsement in support of the citizen's petition, click here.
    4. Find out how to remove fluoride from your drinking water here.

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