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  • Well Water Containing Artificial Sweeteners Likely Contaminated by Septic Wastewater

    If that natural spring water tastes refreshingly sweet it may not be as pure and healthy as it seems. A recent study conducted by a team of scientists from the University of Waterloo shows that artificial sweeteners are a good indicator of contamination by wastewater seeping from a septic sewage system.

    The researchers analyzed water samples collected from private groundwater wells in a rural area within the Nottawasaga River Watershed, testing for the presence of four artificial sweeteners, which if present, would indicate that human wastewater originating from local septic tanks had seeped into the groundwater.


    Because artificial sweeteners leave our bodies relatively unchanged and do not get completely removed when wastewater is treated, they serve as an ideal marker for the presence of human wastewater, which typically contains artificial sweeteners in high concentrations.

    While the artificial sweeteners are themselves pretty harmless to humans, wastewater can contain harmful contaminants such as viruses, E. Coli, ammonium and nitrate, as well as pharmaceuticals and personal care products that can contain potentially hazardous toxins. Also, it is not known whether artificial sweeteners can be harmful to aquatic life.

    For the study, which was recently published in the Journal of Environmental Quality, the researchers tested 59 private drinking water wells. They found that 30% of the wells tested had a least one of the artificial sweeteners present, indicating contamination with human wastewater. It is estimated that between 3-13% of drinking water wells could consist of at least 1% septic wastewater effluent.

    The researchers also analyzed groundwater samples seeping from the banks of the Nottawasaga River. They found 32% of the samples had sweeteners present, indicating that groundwater flowing into the Nottawasaga River is impacted to some degree by human effluent from septic wastewater systems.

    Septic tanks are a common form of wastewater treatment for homes in rural areas where no municipal sewage system is available. A septic tank separates the solid waste into a chamber where it undergoes treatment by bacteria, after which the liquid effluent seeps through a septic drainage field that breaks down the waste further.

    An earlier study conducted by the research group found artificial sweeteners in the Grand River and also in treated drinking water supplied from this source.

    "We were not really surprised by the most recent results given what we've found in past studies," said lead author John Spoelstra, an adjunct professor in earth and environmental sciences at Waterloo and a Research Scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada. "Septic systems are designed to discharge effluent to groundwater as part of the wastewater treatment process. Therefore, contamination of the shallow groundwater is a common problem when it comes to septic systems."

    Journal Reference

    Spoelstra, J., N.D. Senger, S.L. Schiff. (2017) Artificial sweeteners reveal septic system effluent in rural groundwater. Journal of Environmental Quality. doi: 10.2134/jeq2017.06.0233.

  • Water Pollution Included Among the Top 10 Things Americans Fear Most

    Researchers at Chapman University have completed their fourth annual survey to determine what Americans fear most. For the survey, respondents were presented with a questionnaire covering a broad spectrum of fears including fears related to the environment, health, finances, natural disasters, the government and terrorism, as well as personal anxieties such as fear of ghosts, spiders, public speaking or heights, amongst others.

    Besides the usual fears surveyed in previous years, the 2017 Chapman University Survey of American Fears also looks more closely at the extent to which American people fear extremism.


    The 2017 survey, which surveyed 1,207 American adults from diverse backgrounds from all around the country, consists of four main categories: personal fears, paranormal fears, natural disasters, and fears related to extremism.

    According to the results of the 2017 survey, the top 10 fears that American's face are:

    1.  Corruption of government officials (was also top fear for 2015 and 2016)
    2.  American Healthcare Act/Trumpcare (new fear)
    3.  Pollution of rivers, lakes and the ocean (new to the top 10)
    4.  Contamination of drinking water (new to the top 10)
    5.  Financial insecurity in the future
    6.  High medical expenses
    7.  America will be drawn into a third world war (new fear)
    8.  Atmospheric warming and climate change impacts
    9.  North Korea firing missiles (new fear)
    10.  Air pollution

    Environmental Fears Predominate

    Surprisingly, four environmental fears are included on the top 10 fears for 2017, including pollution of freshwater and marine systems (ranked 3rd overall) and fear of contamination of drinking water (ranked 4th), which are both new to the top 10, as well as fear of global warming and climate change (ranked 8th) and air pollution (ranked at number 10).

    "The 2017 survey data shows us that while some of the top fears have remained, there has also been a pronounced shift to environmental fears," said Christopher Bader, Ph.D., professor of sociology at Chapman University, who led the team effort. "We are beginning to see trends that people tend to fear what they are exposed to in the media. Many of the top 10 fears this year can be directly correlated to the top media stories of the past year."

    Pollution of Freshwater and Marine Waters

    According to the survey, fifty three percent of Americans fear the pollution of streams, rivers and oceans. The sudden increase in people citing this as a fear during the 2017 survey is attributed to the recent reversal of many environmental policies that were introduced by the Obama Administration.

    Concerns Related to Quality of Drinking Water

    Half of the respondents (50.4%) fear drinking water contamination, which may be partly attributed to lead poisoning of Flint residents due to drinking water contamination, which received extensive coverage by the media, but may also be due to widespread contamination by hazardous chemicals such as PFCs.

    Fear of Climate Change & Atmospheric Pollution

    Forty eight percent of respondents interviewed are fearful of climate change, while nearly forty-five percent fear air pollution — which not only poses a health risk, but also contributes to global warming and climate change. The dramatic increase in the number of respondents who now fear climate change and air pollution may be due to President Trump's withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord.

    A detailed overview of the survey including a comprehensive list of the things Americans currently fear most is available on The Chapman University website.

    Video below:

  • Environmental Activist Erin Brockovich Takes on Corporates Over Water Contamination Issues

    Environmental activist Erin Brockovich met with residents of West Michigan last month to encourage those who have been affected by water contamination to join a class action lawsuit that is being filed against the companies that have caused the contamination.

    When it comes to taking on the big guys, Erin Brockovich has proved her mettle. In 1991 she investigated and reported on the effect of water contamination on the health of residents of Hinkley, a small Californian town. The groundbreaking story was made into a thrilling Hollywood movie, named after her, with the lead role played by Julia Roberts.

    Erin Brockovich Erin Brockovich

    "I got involved in a situation many years ago in Hinckley with people," Brockovich said in an interview with Fox News. "I believed them I did not think they were making up stories, my common sense was telling me something wasn't right."

    After conducting a lengthy investigation, Brockovich exposed the extent and impact of groundwater contamination, and ultimately helped the residents of Hinkley win a staggering $333 million lawsuit — the largest in US history.

    So what got Brockovich so interested in West Michigan?

    "I was home and fired up my morning computer because I get emails from 126 countries and territories and I had over 50 the first go-around coming from different sections of the county but they were all about Wolverine and PFAs," Brockovich told Fox News.

    Many West Michigan residents who have been adversely affected by hazardous PFA chemicals (Berkey PFA Removal Tests), that have seeped into their drinking water supply from Wolverine's chemical disposal sites have sought Brockovich's help. And Brockovich, who is aware of the scope and scale of the problem, is keen to assist them with their fight.

    "In Alabama, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Minnesota, now Michigan, Colorado, California. It`s a bad actor and it`s a big problem and it`s wide spread," she explains in the Fox interview.

    Concerned West Michigan residents affected by water contamination hope that Brockovich's input with a lawsuit filed on the 1st December 2017 will provide them with answers they so desperately seek.

    "When they have the truth they at least have something tangible that they can work with, that they can talk to doctors about, that they can learn about and that is how we best protest ourselves - through information and awareness," explains Brockovich.

    But the question remains, will a big payout from Wolverine Worldwide and 3M resolve the issue? It's not going to make people better and it's not going to bring back loved ones who have succumbed to illnesses linked to the contamination.

    But Brockovich stands firm. For her, it's not about the money, it's largely about companies taking accountability for their actions or lack thereof, and compensating victims to some degree. Brockovich has fought this battle before and won, and plans to stand beside the residents of West Michigan as they take on the big corporations in their David versus Goliath quest.

    It's time that residents take a stand against corporations that pollute critical water sources and endanger people's health. And even though no amount of money in the world will bring back deceased loved ones, it can force polluters to clean up their act. Hitting corporations with hefty law suits is not only bad for public relations but more importantly it hits them where it hurts them most — it hurts them financially, and ultimately affects their profits.



  • Simple Color-changing Water Test Could Keep Kids Safe from Fluoride

    A simple water test that utilizes visual color change to detect whether fluoride is present in drinking water could help prevent skeletal fluorosis, a debilitating bone disease that is common in developing countries in Africa and Asia.

    While low levels of fluoride are toted as being beneficial for dental health, exposure to fluoride at higher levels can lead to skeletal fluorosis — a disease that results in irreversible crippling deformities of the joints and spine, particularly in children, as their skeletons are still developing.


    When water flows over certain naturally occurring minerals in soil or rocks, it may dissolve fluoride. As a result, high concentrations of naturally occurring fluoride are found in some drinking water sources in certain parts of China, East Africa, India and North America.

    In developed countries, fluoride concentrations in drinking water are checked and controlled by water treatment facilities before it is piped to households. However, in undeveloped countries where water treatment and distribution networks are lacking, people depend on untreated well water, which very often is tainted with fluoride at levels that are deemed unsafe.

    Fluoride concentrations in groundwater tend to fluctuate widely according to the weather, with higher concentrations typically occurring after periods of high rainfall.

    Now, a team of researchers from the Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies at the University of Bath, together with scientists from the university's Innovation and Research Centre (WIRC), have developed a quick, simple and selective color-changing test that is able to detect high levels of fluoride in drinking water. The researchers hope to develop the color-change test into a low-cost disposable test strip that is accessible, accurate and easy for anyone to use. The team believe that in the future this could make a real difference to the health and welfare of people who are routinely exposed to fluoride.

    The Bath research team have partnered with the Nasio Trust — an NGO that protects and supports at risk children in Eastern Africa — to develop their water testing system to make it easier to use on the ground.

    "For decades, people living in Oldonyosambu area of Arusha Tanzania East Africa, have been drinking water with naturally occurring levels of fluoride that can reach over sixty times the US recommended level. This has had a severe impact on the lives of people in this poor community, causing crippling skeletal fluorosis, chronic pain and poor cognitive development in children," said Director of the Nasio Trust, Nancy Hunt, who hopes that the newly formed partnership will help them identify water sources with high fluoride levels so that they can take measures to make the water safe for people of Oldonyosambu to drink, and in so doing, ultimately improve the long-term health outlook of this community.

    The researchers are also seeking additional partners who can assist them with taking this technology to the next level and help develop the test. The team also plan to adapt the technology so that it can be used to detect other hazardous water contaminants such as cadmium, lead and mercury in the future.

    Journal Reference

    Carlos M. López-Alled, Adrian Sanchez-Fernandez, Karen J. Edler, Adam C. Sedgwick, Steven D. Bull, Claire L. McMullin, Gabriele Kociok-Köhn, Tony D. James, Jannis Wenk and Simon E. Lewis "Azulene–boronate esters: colorimetric indicators for fluoride in drinking water", Chemical Communications, (2017) DOI: 10.1039/c7cc07416f

  • Half of all fracking sites are located close to private drinking water wells

    A new study has revealed that almost half of all fracking wells are located less than 3 kilometers from a groundwater well supplying drinking water to domestic households.

    Given this finding, you may want to question whether your drinking water is safe for consumption. If you are one of the 45 million Americans who rely on groundwater supplied by private drinking water wells rather than treated water supplied by a public drinking water utility you should really be asking this question. While the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has regulations in place to ensure that water supplied by public water utilities is safe, these rules don't apply to private drinking wells. Instead the onus rests on owners of private wells to ensure that their drinking water is free from harmful contaminants.


    A 2016 report on the impact of fracking sites on public water supplies conducted by the EPA found that a drinking water supply sited near a fracking site was more likely to be negatively impacted by a contamination event, yet until now, the impact on private drinking wells had not been assessed.

    Two researchers from the University of California Santa Barbara set out to rectify that by compiling an extensive database of privately owned drinking wells, then compared the locations of these wells to fracking sites. After scientifically analyzing fifteen years of data (2000-2014) that included 27,000 wells across 14 different states, the researchers discovered that around half of all fracking wells operating in 2014 were located within 2-3 kilometers of a privately owned groundwater well. These findings were recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    "This co-location emphasizes the need to determine the frequency that hydraulic fracturing activities impact groundwater well water quality. This knowledge is important to maintaining high-quality water in many domestic wells," said Scott Jasechko, an assistant professor at UCSB's Bren School of Environmental Science & Management and co-author of the paper. "Our results underscore the importance of increased water monitoring efforts near both hydraulically fractured and conventional oil and gas wells in ascertaining the risk of contamination and in protecting water well quality."

    The researchers mapped out the locations of wells and fracking sites on a series of maps, including one that tracked hot spots — areas that were more vulnerable to contamination. According to the authors, to be more effective and efficient, the limited resources that are available for assessing and addressing contamination should be channeled to these hotspots, which also include conventional oil and gas wells as well as fracking wells at some sites.

    "We can use these hotspot analyses9 to focus resources, so that we can learn more about oil and gas contamination mechanisms: How often do they occur, and do they have an impact on groundwater?" explained Debra Perrone, an assistant professor of environmental studies at UCSB.

    According to Jasechko, the results of this study highlights the need to expand monitoring of private drinking wells in order to identify private water supplies that could potentially be impacted and to proactively contain, isolate and remediate any water that has been potentially contaminated before it can harm people using this supply. He recommends that stronger policies, including regular quality testing, are put in place to protect private groundwater wells located in close proximity to fracking wells.

    In many cases, these types of studies are limited by the amount of data that is available. This was not the case for this study, however, the researchers acknowledge that the lack of consistent data proved problematic, as there were huge differences in the methods used to collect data across both states and industries.

    To this end, Perrone suggests that one recommendation they have in terms of policy is to introduce a national standard for collecting data pertaining to construction of groundwater wells. She also recommends that a national standard for collecting data from both conventional oil and gas wells and unconventional gas extraction wells be implemented to increase transparency across jurisdictional boundaries.

    Journal Reference

    Scott Jasechkoa & Debra Perrone. Hydraulic fracturing near domestic groundwater wells. PNAS. (2017) DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1701682114

  • It's Time to Re-evaluate How we Value Water

    A new study led by researchers from the University of Oxford highlights the rapidly mounting pressure to measure, monitor and manage water on both a local and global scale, and proposes a new four-tiered approach to valuing water to ensure sustainable development and to help improve policy and water usage.

    Water is recognized as a valuable and vital resource for people and cultures, as well as industry, agriculture and the environment. Having access to safe drinking water is essential for human survival and for the long term survival of civilizations. This is reflected in the huge global financial investments in water treatment and sanitation, which is estimated to be approximately US$114 billion annually in capital expenditure alone.


    However, there is a growing need to re-assess the value of water. Not only is water essential for sustaining all forms of life on Earth, it also plays a key role in ensuring sustainable development. For example, all 17 of the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals recognize the importance of water in achieving the sustainability objectives. These include developing sustainable cities, achieving peace and justice, and alleviating poverty and world hunger.

    Yet, global water security is increasingly becoming an area of growing concern. Droughts, floods and pollution all have a negative impact on water resources and communities. The World Economic Forum has listed water related threats within the top five global risks for a number of years now. A 2015 water security study conducted by Oxford researchers estimated costs associated with flooding, inadequate water supply, water shortages and poor sanitation to be around US$500 billion annually. The World Bank recently highlighted the economic and social impact of water scarcity, demonstrating that a drought costs a city four times as much as a flood event, while in rural Africa, a just one drought can trigger a downward spiral resulting in ongoing poverty and deprivation across generations.

    As economists, scientists and humanitarian aid groups recognize these trends, it is time for us to re-assess the value of water globally. Recognizing that the value of water extends far beyond the monetary value, the UN/World Bank High Level Panel on Water recently launched the Valuing Water initiative, which aims to guide policy and investment decision-making and encourage better governance in terms of managing water resources.

    The paper, which was recently published in Science, outlines a framework that places a value on water according to the Sustainable Development Goals rather than simply placing a monetary value on water or recognizing the cultural benefits of this precious natural resource. To this end, they recommend that water should be valued and managed through a four-prong approach that simultaneously highlights the need for measurement, valuation, trade-offs and capable institutions for allocating and financing water.

    "Our paper responds to a global call to action: the cascading negative impacts of scarcity, shocks and inadequate water services underscore the need to value water better", said Dustin Garrick, a researcher at Oxford University's Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, who is the lead author of the paper. "There may not be any silver bullets, but there are clear steps to take. We argue that valuing water is fundamentally about navigating trade-offs. The objective of our research is to show why we need to rethink the value of water, and how to go about it, by leveraging technology, science and incentives to punch through stubborn governance barriers. Valuing water requires that we value institutions."

    According to Richard Damania, Global Lead Economist with the World Bank Water Practice and co-author of the paper, the study shows that water is key to development and therefore it is a resource that needs to be managed sustainably. He points out that multiple water management policies will be required in order to achieve multiple goals, and that current policies are outdated and inadequate for meeting current and future water related challenges.

    "Without policies to allocate finite supplies of water more efficiently, control the burgeoning demand for water and reduce wastage, water stress will intensify where water is already scarce and spread to regions of the world - with impacts on economic growth and the development of water-stressed nations," Damania warned.

    Earlier this month the University of Oxford hosted a one day forum, Valuing Water for Sustainable Development, where new approaches to how water is valued, financed and allocated were discussed. Conference presentations focused on several aspects of water management, including:

    1. Challenges to placing a value on water
    2. New tools to address these challenges
    3. Financial solutions to improve water infrastructure globally
    4. Making use of water markets to address water scarcity and shocks

    Oxford's Smith School of Enterprise and Research have released several video interviews with researchers who made presentations at the conference, which can be viewed here.

    Journal Reference

    Garrick, D.E., Hall, J.W., Dobson, A., Damania, R., Grafton, R.Q., Hope, R., Hepburn, C., Bark, R., Boltz, F., De Stefano, L., O'Donnell, E., Matthews, N. and Money, A. (2017) Valuing Water for Sustainable Development. Science. Vol 358. Issue 6366

  • Climate Change May Diminish UV Penetration Allowing Pathogens to Thrive in Waterbodies

    One of the impacts of climate change is extreme weather events that often bring heavy rainfall and flooding to some areas. Heavy rainfall increases organic runoff into freshwater and coastal waters, and according to a study that was recently published in Scientific Reports, may inhibit the sun's ability to penetrate these waterbodies. As UV light is able to kill pathogens, the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays provide important ecosystem services, ridding rivers, lakes and coastal waters of pathogens. If this ability is diminished, there is a greater likelihood of waterborne pathogens becoming more prolific.


    Research has shown that globally aquatic systems are becoming browner due to the increase in organic material being washed into them from surrounding terrestrial systems — a phenomenon known as "browning". Using a model developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), this latest study is the first to quantify the impact that dissolved organic material has on limiting the sun's UV rays from disinfecting waterbodies and killing pathogens that lurk in them.

    This not only poses a potential health risk for people who are exposed to pathogens when using waterbodies for recreation, but also poses a potential drinking water safety risk — even if the water has been treated. According to Craig Williamson, an ecologist at Miami University and lead author of the paper, dissolved organic matter doesn't only inhibit the ability of the sun to disinfect water, it also renders the water treatment process less effective. Considering that every year between 12-19 million people already fall ill in the US alone due to exposure to waterborne pathogens, this will in all likelihood cause that figure to rise.

    For the study, the researchers analyzed water samples collected from lakes in the US and other countries to determine the level of dissolved organic matter present in each of the samples and the wavelengths of ultraviolet light absorbed by the organic matter present.

    Then using the Tropospheric Ultraviolet-Visible model — which simulates how UV light is scattered and absorbed as it passes through Earth's atmosphere — the scientists estimated how much of the sun's UV rays reaches the surface of these lakes at different times of the year. They also assessed the amount of reflection and refraction of light from the surface of each lake to determine how much UV light penetrates together with the depth it reaches.

    According to the report, "the Tropospheric Ultraviolet-Visible model also calculates the expected disinfecting power of UV light in a particular body of water based on its dissolved organic matter and other characteristics, a measurement known as 'solar inactivation potential (SIP)'. In some cases, researchers calculated the SIP across different parts of, or for different time periods in, the same lake."

    From there the researchers were able to quantify the impact that dissolved organic matter had on water quality of lakes, as well as drinking water supplies. For example, modeling of water samples collected prior to and following a severe storm from a site on Lake Michigan — a source of drinking water for over 10 million consumers — showed a 22% reduction in SIP due to the additional dissolved organic matter that flowed into the waterbody from just this one storm.

    "Water clarity is dropping in many regions due to factors such as browning, and this research demonstrates that this change is likely decreasing natural disinfection of potentially harmful pathogens," said Kevin Rose, a freshwater ecologist at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and coauthor of the paper.

    Journal Reference

    Craig E. Williamson et al. Climate change-induced increases in precipitation are reducing the potential for solar ultraviolet radiation to inactivate pathogens in surface waters. Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 13033 (2017) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-13392-2

  • Contaminated Drinking Water Responsible for Thirteen Deaths, Thousands of Illness Cases in US

    If your drinking water is clear it doesn't necessarily mean it is clean. Clear water may harbor invisible pathogens that can be harmful to your health. A new report that was recently published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has revealed that during 2013-2014, 42 health related outbreaks associated with drinking water contamination due to the presence of chemicals, pathogens or other toxins (excluding lead) were recorded in 19 US states.

    The outbreaks, which have increased from thirty-two reported during 2011-2012, caused more than a thousand people to fall ill, with 124 patients requiring hospitalization, and resulted in 13 deaths.

    According to the CDC, a large percentage (57%) of these outbreaks was caused by Legionella, which was also responsible for 88% of cases requiring hospitalization and all of the deaths reported. Legionella, a pathogenic bacteria that can cause the deadly Legionnaire's disease, can also cause legionellosis, which although not as deadly, causes symptoms such as coughing, difficulty breathing, high fever, aching muscles and headaches in those affected.

    Scanning electron micrograph of Leptospira interrogans. Scanning electron micrograph of Leptospira interrogans.

    Legionella bacteria can enter the water supply via various channels, for example, through damaged pipes or as a result of flooding. And while water utilities typically treat drinking water with chlorine before it is distributed along the network, there may be cases where the dosage isn't high enough to ensure water reaching the end of the supply line is adequately treated. So if Legionella bacteria are present and are not sufficiently suppressed at the water treatment plant, their numbers can grow again by the time the water reaches the end of the water distribution network, causing people at the end of the supply line to fall ill.

    Cryptosporidium and Giardia parasites, which both cause an infected person to become ill with diarrhea, were responsible for five and three outbreaks respectively, according to the report, while harmful algal blooms or chemicals were responsible for five of the outbreaks.

    The CDC noted that 75% of the reported illnesses were associated with community water supplies that are regulated according to government safety standards.

    Environmental Exposure

    Over the same 2013-2014 period, the CDC received 15 reports of disease outbreaks as a result of environmental exposure to contaminated water from 10 US states, resulting in 226 people falling ill, 69 of which required hospitalization, resulting in 9 deaths. A further 12 outbreaks resulting from 'undetermined exposure to contaminated water' was recorded for eight US states, resulting in 63 people falling ill, 39 of which required hospitalization, and 8 deaths.

    For the disease outbreaks relating to both environmental and undetermined exposure, Legionella was again found to be the largest cause of illness (63%), hospitalizations (94%) and death (100%), while Giardia accounted for most of the illness cases associated with exposure to contaminated natural water bodies.

    Experts warn that even if your drinking water looks clean, it may harbor microscopic pathogens that can be harmful to your health. It is wise to have your water tested so that you know what is in it. But even if you do, there is always that chance that your water supply may become infected after it shows up as clear. To be on the safe side, it is better to filter your drinking water with a good quality drinking water filter that is capable of removing tiny bacteria and viruses, including Legionella and Giardia that may be lurking in your water supply.

    Journal Reference

    Katharine M. Benedict, et al. Surveillance for Waterborne Disease Outbreaks Associated with Drinking Water — United States, 2013–2014. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (November 10, 2017) Vol. 66 / No. 44 (1216-1221). US Department of Health and Human Services/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    R. Paul McClung, et al. Waterborne Disease Outbreaks Associated With Environmental and Undetermined Exposures to Water — United States, 2013–2014. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (November 10, 2017) Vol. 66 / No. 44 (1222-1225 ). US Department of Health and Human Services/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • Exposure to Arsenic can Result in Cancer Decades Later

    Arsenic in drinking water is known to pose a health risk to humans, including the risk of cancer. Now a new study has revealed that the carcinogenic effects of arsenic exposure via drinking water may lie dormant for years before cancer develops.

    For the study, which was recently published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers tracked mortality rates of Chilean people living in a region where they were exposed to drinking water contaminated with arsenic. The study presents evidence of increased bladder, kidney and lung cancer as much as forty years after exposure to high levels of arsenic ceased.


    Inorganic arsenic is a naturally occurring drinking water contaminant that is found in high concentrations in drinking water in many countries around the world, posing a severe public health threat to millions globally. Health issues associated with extended exposure to arsenic in drinking water include bladder, kidney and lung cancer as well as skin cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other negative health effects.

    In 1958, the drinking water supply for the northern Chilean city of Antofagasta experienced a dramatic rise in arsenic concentrations. In 1970 the local water treatment plant upgraded their facility to include a mechanism for removing arsenic from the drinking water, which led to a dramatic drop in arsenic exposure. As Antofagsta is recognized as the driest place on the planet inhabited by humans, everyone residing there at the time had no other option but to drink the water supply provided by the city, even though it was know to contain high levels of arsenic.

    The study examines the health and mortality of residents exposed to arsenic over time, and identifies 'a clear relationship between and cancer mortality rates'. The researchers found that mortality rates from bladder, kidney and lung cancer started to rise about ten years after residents where exposed to high levels of arsenic, only peaking more than twenty years after measures were put in place to reduce residents exposure to arsenic, with associated cancer mortality rates remaining high for as much as 40 years after residents were exposed to the highest levels of arsenic.

    While the researchers hope to continue monitoring this population, from the results of the study to date, they have already concluded that the delay between arsenic exposure and the onset of arsenic-related cancers makes it a human carcinogen with one of the longest dormancy periods. These findings are not only important in terms of the light they shed on latency patterns of carcinogenic contaminants, they may also have a direct implication on public health.

    The lengthy latency period following exposure to arsenic means that arsenic-related health effects may only materialize years later, which in effect means that the incidence of these types of cancers are likely to remain high amongst populations exposed to high level of arsenic long after these exposures have ended.

    However, it may be possible to take proactive measures to improve the health outcomes of people who have been exposed to high levels of arsenic in the past.

    According to the authors, "possible long-term interventions to reduce mortality and morbidity after high exposures end include disease screening, reducing important co-exposures, heavy metal detox treatments, health services resource planning, and increasing public awareness of arsenic health effects."

    Journal Reference

    Allan H. Smith, Guillermo Marshall, Taehyun Roh, Catterina Ferreccio, Jane Liaw, Craig Steinmaus. Lung, Bladder, and Kidney Cancer Mortality 40 Years After Arsenic Exposure Reduction. JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, djx201,

  • PFOA Contamination of Drinking Water More Widespread than Initially Reported

    After testing drinking water from public water systems around the country last year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concluded that 1% of the water samples tested were contaminated with the carcinogenic chemical PFOA which was used in Teflon coatings commonly found on non-stick household products. Besides being associated with cancer, the chemical can damage the immune systems of children and can cause other serious health issues even at low levels. But according the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the company that analyzed the water samples says that it is more likely that over 20% of those samples were contaminated with PFOA.

    A Teflon Coated Pan A Teflon Coated Pan

    The disparity lies in the fact that the EPA only requires public water utilities to report PFOA contamination when it is present above a minimum level, and this level is ten times higher than most laboratories can detect implementing the testing method proposed by the EPA.

    The laboratory that originally analyzed the water samples reanalyzed over 10,000 samples collected between 2013-2015, including samples that contained low levels of PFOA which the EPA were not notified about. They found more than 20% of the water samples contained PFOA. While they didn't assess how many other public water systems this affects, and by extension how many more consumers are exposed to the contaminant via their drinking water, they report that the number of people affected is certainly far higher than the 7 million the EPA acknowledges are affected.

    Chemical manufacturers have pushed for higher reporting limits, voicing their concern that testing labs would struggle to measure a clean sample as the labs themselves were highly contaminated. By pushing the reporting levels for PFOA higher, the EPA is in effect providing a loophole for polluters to get away with contaminating drinking water sources, as the agency only needs to set a legal safety standard if the contamination is considered sufficiently widespread.

    In 2015, after analyzing PFOA data from water samples collected in New Jersey using a far lower level of detection and reporting, the EWG pointed out that using the EPA's level of detection would have missed 75% of the PFOA contamination found by the state.

    But according to the EWG: "Even with the new analysis, all of the PFOA detections nationwide exceed what the best current, independent science says is safe. That level is 1 part per trillion (ppt), which EWG has adopted as a health-based drinking water standard.

    "Based on widespread exposure already occurring through food and other routes, government scientists in New Jersey and Germany say there may actually be be no safe level of drinking water exposure to PFOA and similar compounds in the family of highly fluorinated chemicals known as PFCs or PFASs. Yet the EPA has not set a legal limit for these chemicals, only a non-binding health advisory level of 70 ppt for PFOA and its close chemical cousin PFOS, formerly an ingredient in 3M's Scotchgard."

    Yet some officials are taking the health threat seriously and are taking a proactive approach to protecting consumers from PFOA. New Jersey will be setting a legal safety limit of 14 parts per trillion for PFOA in drinking water, which although still rather high is the highest in the country.

    While PFOA and PFOS chemicals have been phased out due to their associated health risks and are no longer manufactured or used in America, they still persist in the environment. Also, the chemicals used to substitute them have not been adequately tested prior to being rushed into the market to fill the void, and according to the EWG, they too are a source of toxic drinking water contaminants.

    The EWG says that while the PFC contamination risk is not going to go away anytime soon, the EPA has shown no inclination to review and enforce safer limits for drinking water. The EWG advises other states across the nation to follow the lead set by Vermont and New Jersey, and take action to limit contamination of their drinking water by PFOA and other hazardous PFCs.

    The Black Berkey elements that come standard with our Berkey systems do reduce Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFOA, PFOS, PFAA contaminates).  Berkey water filter Perfluorinated Chemical test results can be found here.

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