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Tag Archives: water pollution

  • Millions of Pounds of Industrial Toxins Pollute Rivers and Drinking Water Annually

    The Ohio River provides drinking water for 3 million people. In 2010, the Ohio river was also the dump site for 32 million pounds of toxic chemicals, according to a new report based on the Environmental Protection Agency's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). As we reported in our last article regarding aging sewer systems polluting our beautiful beaches, human pollution is affecting our waterways in much the same way and many times in a worse manner.

    In all, industrial polluters dumped 226 million pounds of toxic chemicals into U.S. waterways in 2010. Polluters in just the top 5 states Indiana, Virginia, Nebraska, Texas and Georgia were responsible for 40% of all toxins released into U.S. waterways, according to the non-profit advocacy organizations Environment America and Frontier Group which analyzed the data.

    Toxic Water Pollution By River Watershed

    Polluters have been self-reporting toxin releases since 1987, but 2010 is the first year for which EPA classified releases by watershed.

    Top 10 Waterways for Total Toxic Discharges, 2010
    RankWaterwayToxic discharges (lb.)
    1Ohio River (IL, IN, KY, OH, PA, WV)32,111,718
    2Mississippi River (AR, IA, IL, KY, LA, MN, MO, MS, TN, WI)12,739,749
    3New River (NC, VA)12,529,948
    4Savannah River (GA, SC)9,624,090
    5Delaware River (DE, NJ, PA)6,719,436
    6Muskingum River (OH)5,754,118
    7Missouri River (IA, KS, MO, ND, NE)4,887,971
    8Shonka Ditch (NE)4,614,722
    9Tricounty Canal (NE)3,386,162
    10Rock River (IL, WI)3,370,392

    source: Wasting Our Waterways

    Top polluters across the country included food and beverage manufacturing, heavy metals manufacturing, chemical plants, and petroleum refineries. One company, AK Steel, released 30 million pounds of toxins into waterways in Indiana and Ohio.

    Toxic River Pollution to Drinking Water Contamination

    These toxins persist in the environment and, because most larger U.S. towns and cities draw drinking water from rivers and lakes, they can be piped right into our homes. The New York Times reported in 2009 that the tap water of 1 in 10 Americans either contained dangerous chemicals or failed drinking water health standards. This is just another reason why we believe owning a home water filter like the berkey water filter is critical to protecting one's health.

    Lax Clean Water Act Enforcement Leads To Polluter Playground

    Environment America and Frontier Group did not estimate how much of the total toxins released represent illegal pollution or exceedences of Clean Water Act permits. According to the groups, lax enforcement is a major reason that 40 years after the Clean Water Act became law, America's waterways remain a "polluter's paradise." The report explains:

    "States (who are primarily responsible for enforcing the law in most of the country) have often been unwilling to tighten pollution limits on industrial dischargers and have often let illegal polluters get away with exceeding their permitted pollution levels without penalty or with only a slap on the wrist.

    The Clean Water Act intended pollution discharge permits to be gradually tightened to force innovation toward safer industries and progress toward universally drinkable and swimable waterways. Not only is this not happening, as of 2009 almost 1 in 5 discharge permits for major industrial facilities was expired.

    "The Clean Water Act's original objective was to clean up all of America's waterways by 1985, 27 years ago," said Rob Kerth, analyst for Frontier Group and co-author of the report. "Many people born in 1985 have kids of their own now, yet still millions of pounds of toxic chemicals are being dumped into our waterways."

    We covered this a couple of years ago in response to a new york times piece on the failure of the Clean Water Act, and it's sad to say not much has changed and doesn't look to be anytime soon.

  • Karst Conservation Is Essential To Protect Our Drinking Water

    Karst's are above or underground caverns, usually made of limestone or calcium carbonate, that over time tend to collect water and create aquifers. When such aquifers are found near residential areas, they make ideal sources of water as the water is assumed to be pure and the supply often endless. However recent studies show that this may be a serious misjudgment as human contamination transported by groundwater runoff is increasingly having an impact on these once pristine sources of drinking water.  Without continued proactive karst conservation legislation, many of these delicate ecosystems will eventually be destroyed and lost forever.

    Across every continent, except Antarctica, are found above ground and underground caverns. When water dissolves this very soluble rock, the result is a cavern, a waterfall, a lake, a sinkhole, or any number of topographical changes. This is referred to as karst topography.

    Recent testing of some karst aquifers have revealed groundwater contamination. Groundwater flows into the underground through conduits allowing little opportunity for filtration or sorption of contaminants before reaching the karst. Reports of karst contamination is appearing more frequently in the news and sometimes resulting in the need to abandon the use of these karst springs and aquifers as a source of drinking water entirely. Some recently impacted regions in the US have been Kentucky, Virginia, and just this past May, Tennessee.

    How Karts Are Contmainated By Groundwater

    Basin type draining tends to collect anything and everything off the surface of the land and this can leave the water unfit for human use as fecal contamination containing e coli bacteria, pesticides, herbicides, and chemicals used by industry can sometimes find their way into these aquifers. The best way to protect a karst aquifer from pollution is to practice karst conservation, requiring humans to limit industry and other polluting activities over the groundwater basin.

    In the meantime, there are new risks that we face from karst drinking water. First, individuals coming across a karst in nature may assume that the clear water is safe to drink. This is becoming less and less the case. The other concern is for those who have relied on a karst for decades to supply them with water. A karst aquifer can provide pure drinking water for 100 years, but can become contaminated very quickly once exposed to chemicals or contaminants.

    As the population grows and pollution continues, the risks of contamination also increase, and thus routine testing of these karst aquifers should become a mandatory requirement. Fortunately, there are some glimmers of hope as citizens begin to better understand the sensitivity of these essential ecosystems and endorse karst conservation. Just this month, in British Colombia, karst conservation legislation was introduced to do just that.

    Do not assume a clear pool in a natural setting is automatically sanitary. If you are hiking, it is best to take your own water along, even if you will be a long way from any sign of life. Another option is to take along a portable water filter such as the sport berkey that will remove bacteria and contaminants.

    If your primary daily water source is from a Karst, a recommended precaution is to filter it prior to ingestion. Even if the water has been tested and deemed safe for drinking in the past, an unknown contamination could occur quickly and put your family's health at risk. Berkey water filters are one way to accomplish this. They are able to filter out bacterial contamination and other chemicals to undetectable levels while also leaving in the important beneficial minerals that karst aquifer's regularly possess.

  • Uranium Mine Contaminating Groundwater of Jefferson County, Colorado

    The Denver Post has recently reported that an abandoned uranium mine located in Jefferson County, Colorado is contaminating both surrounding groundwater and a creek that serves the Denver's Ralston Water Reservoir. Beneath the Schwartzwalder Mine, Uranium concentrations were found to exceed human health standards by more than 1000 times! Fortunately, the Ralston Reservoir is on temporary leave from serving Denver's drinking water system, but local residents who are on wells in Jefferson County are rightfully nervous about this new development. However, it's not such a new development.

    Colorado regulators were aware of this contamination at least as early as July 2009, with uranium seepage likely underway for a considerable time beforehand, yet neither local residents nor the Denver water authority was notified of the problem. Negotiations with the owner for the clean-up of the mine and contaminated areas have been underway for some time, but a resolution has yet to be reached.  In the meantime, Uranium continues to seep into the surrounding environment.

  • 20% of Municipalities Violate Safe Drinking Water Act - NYT Reports

    This week, the New York Times reported on it's disturbing findings of an investigation into the US municipal water systems that serve millions of Americans. It highlights failures and obvious enforcement gaps in current government regulations that we've assumed are protecting our drinking water, including the realization that 20 percent of the nation’s water treatment systems have violated key provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

    Water Quality (Un)enforcement

    The discovery that municipalities fail water quality reports is nothing new, but what's a little surprising is that the majority of  municipalities that received violations were never penalized for their failures in meeting water safety requirements. Many were given a pass under the impression that fining would be counterproductive to cash-strapped municipalities. This has serious ramifications to our public health and needs to be regarded as such.

    Contaminants in our Drinking Water

    As I've written about in earlier articles, this is partly a byproduct of the public's assumption that our drinking water is safe with no spotlight being placed on the regulators. The American people are coping with many other personal and financial issues, and unless it makes headlines, they are unaware of the continuing destruction of our water sources thanks to human pollution.  As the NYT points out, water treatment facilities are struggling with the current identified list of monitored contaminants, but this is only half the story. The cold hard fact is that there exists an inability for private and government organizations to keep pace in identifying and filtering out the swelling number of chemicals that continue to show up in our water supply. As long as we continue to increase our use of chemicals in products and manufacturing, then it's a safe bet to assume that the chemicals and contaminants found in our water will continue to increase in lockstep.


    We Must Improve Our Drinking Water Quality Regulations

    In this New York Times report, many of the water contaminants that show links to cancer were the very same contaminants that these towns were found to be in violation of.  In one referenced example, "the E.P.A. has reported that more than three million Americans have been exposed since 2005 to drinking water with illegal concentrations of arsenic and radioactive elements, both of which have been linked to cancer at small doses." As was mentioned in our lead in our drinking water post, schools are far from exempt from this poor water quality problem, as a more recent article by the NYT on Dec 8th covers; Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on EPA School Water Quality We need to continue to increase out awareness of how we affect the water supply through pollution and daily living habits, but we must also be aware that water we had originally assumed was healthy for consumption may require a run through a quality water filter prior to drinking.

  • Poisoned Waters - A Documentary Worth Watching

    We see a couple commercials on the TV about some corporation that's involved in an eco-friendly project and our conscious sets at ease.  The mindset becomes, "we're on the right environmental path, we're starting to make change." The stark reality is that it's going to take much more for us to right these wrongs as we are still on an environmental downward trend in the US and even more so in developing countries.  While we each have our own part to play in this life, and some may be able help turn the tide more than others, it's imperative that we at least all fully understand the severe ramifications of our choices and actions.

    Below are promotional clips from an upcoming PBS documentary called Poisoned Waters that is looking like a must see presentation on the environmental impacts of water pollution. It runs for 2 hours and debuts on PBS this upcoming Tuesday, April 21st at 9PM. It will also be available on the PBS website in it's entirety after the premiere.

  • High Levels of Phosphates Affecting Chesapeake Bay

    True wisdom teaches us that life is all about balance.  When we stop and take a moment to appreciate nature, we recognize that we are surrounded by this wisdom.  Unfortunately, the human species has played a significant role in disrupting this balance in ways that we are still continuing to discover.   The following news story provides an example of how a common item we use in our kitchen everyday is contributing to this disruption.


  • Arsenic Found in Vietnam and Cambodian Rivers

    While my main focus at BigBerkeyWaterFilters is reporting on water conditions in the United States, I also look for big impact stories that seem to miss the US news networks entirely. Many of these water stories are low on the totem pole in the eyes of the US media and simply do not make print or the airwaves, however these international accounts are invaluable for making us aware of water conditions around the world. How these countries are coping and adjusting to these conditions is a helpful lesson for us, allowing for the perspective we need to make the suitable changes in how we treat and respect our water here at home.

    A public announcement, spurred on by a joint effort between UNICEF and the health organizations of two governments recently stated that the Mekong River, which runs through Cambodia and Vietnam, is contaminated with arsenic at a harmful level. More than 21% of the Vietnamese population is at risk, exposed to higher than the EPA and the WHO (World Heath Organization) maximum acceptable levels of arsenic at 10 ppb (parts per billion). When asked about the source of contamination, the chief of UNICEF’s water safety branch stated that “Arsenic contamination in the Mekong is understood to have been caused by recent sedimentation”, and that “it is not known if this has been caused by other reasons as well such as industrial pollution since there has been no scientific study or evidence to support that.” In some regions along the Mekong River, the arsenic levels were found to be above 300 ppb causing the Vietnamese health ministry to warn residents that contamination at these extreme levels have the ability to result in cancer within 3-4 years.

    Arsenic Contaminated Areas in Mekong and Red Rivers


    Earlier Studies Support Findings

    While these findings were made public recently over the last couple weeks, there have been numerous studies of both the Mekong River and the Red River highlighting these surfacing dangers. One of the more prominent research papers was performed by a group of university and environmental group scientists published September 2006 titled "Magnitude of arsenic pollution in the Mekong and Red River Deltas — Cambodia and Vietnam". In that paper, researchers concluded that arsenic contamination was prevalent with chronic poisoning of 10 million people in the red river delta region and .5-1 million people in the Mekong river region. Similar to the UNICEF and government findings, these scientists believed that this arsenic was of natural origin and caused by reductive dissolution of arsenic bearing iron buried in aquifers. Hair samples of citizens within these regions confirmed these higher arsenic concentration accumulations. A potential source of this new found health hazard point to the population’s growing reliance on ground wells set in the 12-45M depth range where seepage is occurring at a high rate. This sort of arsenic contamination of wells occurs in some regions of the US also but tends to localized. Unfortunately, the danger is not isolated to wells in Cambodia and Vietnam as the bottled water, fish, and rice farms of both countries were found to be affected.

    Many residents of the two countries have been aware or suspected of the arsenic contamination prior to these official statements and have been abandoning wells and searching for alternate water sources for a number of years. The Vietnamese government and UNICEF have provided personal water filters to rural home residents, but the amount of individuals that remain unprotected is not clear. Cambodia has chosen to paint contaminated water wells red as part of their action plan. As to information concerning long term arsenic filtration and removal; the proposals and strategy are not well known and hard to determine. This is of great concern to the primarily poor residents affected by this problem since contamination is likely to continue or increase according to research that’s been conducted.

  • Indianapolis - Polluted River Water, Pt's 1 & 2

    A water treatment plant in Indianapolis has been dumping sewage overflow into the White River for over 40 years now.  This is a river that people swim and fish in...even though there are warning signs posted.  Pay attention to the amount of E-Coli they find from a river sample.

    It makes you wonder how much of this contaminated water made it into the water supply of the downstream popuation over these 40 years.  What seeped into the well water systems?  Was it filtered out in some way?  I'd be real interested to see illness or cancer rates across this potentially affected population to look for correlations.  Environmentally speaking, this is just sad.

    Berkey Water Filters

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