Water Quality InformationWritten By Actual Experts


5 Things You Need To Know About The Current State of Drinking Water

Analies Dyjak @ Friday, September 4, 2020 at 9:04 am -0400

Analies Dyjak, MA | Policy Nerd   

Most news cycles have been dominated by the upcoming election, leaving little room for information regarding drinking water. A lot has happened in recent months that may directly impact the quality of the drinking water flowing through your taps. This article will go over 5 things that things that our team of water nerds are keeping a very close eye on. 

1. Cuts and Rollbacks to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

NEPA requires federal agencies to be transparent about potential environmental impacts from government projects. The particular rollbacks indirectly affect drinking water by speeding up projects without proper environmental review. On Friday August 28, 2020, 21 states sued the Trump Administration for failing to provide proper justification for these NEPA rollbacks. It’s important to point out that NEPA is primarily controlled by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), rather than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). NEPA has most famously sidelined the Dakota Access Pipelines, which would have threatened drinking water for various Native American Tribes in The Dakotas, Iowa, and Illinois. 

2. Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Are Still Not Federally Regulated.

PFAS are a category of harmful contaminants that are known to cause various health effects, including: an increased risk of cancer, increased cholesterol, lowered fertility rates, and an increased risk of miscarriage in pregnant women. The first recommended public health standards for PFAS were set over eleven years ago in 2009. Public health standards are non-enforceable, and therefore municipal water systems are not required to follow them. States like New York, Michigan, and New Jersey have set their own state standards that are beginning to be implemented. A national standard would provide proper risk communication and foster trust between state regulatory agencies. This is especially true for neighboring states that share the same drinking water aquifer. 

3. First Significant Updates to the Lead and Copper Rule Since 1991.

The Lead and Copper Rule is the rule that controls the amount of allowable lead in tap water. The rule established an “Action Level” of 15 parts per billion, which is 15 times higher than what most health organizations say is safe. 90% of water samples in each public system must have a lead concentration at or below 15 parts per billion. 10% of samples can be well above 15 parts per billion, and the system can still be "in compliance" with the Lead and Copper Rule. The 15 part per billion Action Level was established in 1991, and no longer reflects current public health information regarding exposure to lead in drinking water. The American Academy of Pediatrics has determined that there is no safe level of lead for children in drinking water. 

4. Legionnaires Detected in Schools Across the Country.

Schools in Ohio and Pennsylvania detected Legionella in faucets and drinking water fountains last week. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a warning in May, stating that the occurrence of Legionella may increase due to prolonged building closures. The CDC even offered an 8 steps protocol that schools should take before allowing children back into the classroom. The reality is that many schools do not have the type of funding required to properly flush pipes or test for Legionella in water. If you’re a parent or are concerned about Legionnaires Disease in school tap water, contact your school department to see if they are following CDC’s recommended guidelines. 

5. Michigan To Pay $600 Million To Flint Residents.

99,000 people were exposed to unsafe levels of lead after city officials switched Flints’ source water and failed to add a proper corrosion control inhibitor. The $600 Million settlement took approximately 18 months, and will largely prioritize individuals who were children at the time of exposure. One of the largest red flags is that the amount of compensation available to each Flint resident is entirely dependent on how many people file claims, and where all of the money ends up. 

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Michigan to Pay $600 Million to Flint Residents Impacted by Lead in Drinking Water

Analies Dyjak @ Friday, August 21, 2020 at 2:29 pm -0400

Analies Dyjak, M.A.  |  Policy Nerd

After almost 18 months of negotiations, Flint residents and the State of Michigan have reached an agreement for damages from the 2014 Flint Water Crisis. The State of Michigan is required to appropriate $600 million dollars into a qualified settlement fund, which will be made available to children, residents, property owners, and businesses that were impacted by water distributed by the city. Almost 80% of the $600 million is being awarded to those who were children during the time of exposure.

Background Flint Water Crisis: 

On April 25, 2014, the city of Flint switched its water supply from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (sourced from the Detroit River and Lake Huron), to the Flint River. Officials initially switched the water supply in an effort to cut costs. Flint city officials failed to add a proper corrosion control inhibitor to the new water source during treatment. This caused lead to leach from distribution pipes, and enter the municipal system at extremely elevated levels. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 99,000 people in Flint, Michigan were exposed to elevated levels of leadLead is a neurotoxin, and according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there is NO safe level for children. Despite the current 15 part per billion Federal Action Level for lead, our team at Hydroviv follows the logic that children should not ingest any level of lead.

Financial Breakdown of $600 Million Flint Settlement:

  • 79.5% - Minor Children Settlements Categories: 64.5% for ages 6, 10% for ages 7-11, and 5% for ages 12-17

  • 18% - Adults and Property Damage Settlement Categories: 15% for adults and 3% for property damage

  • 0.5% - Business Economic Loss Settlement Category

  • 2% - Programmatic Relief Settlement Category

Important Details:

If the State fails to meet these conditions within 60 days, the Plaintiff’s are able to completely rescind the entire settlement. Also, in accordance with the settlement, individuals who were minors at the time of exposure are not required to show proof of injury in order to be eligible for compensation. This should help the State of Michigan get funds out to impacted parties in a timely manner. Additionally, individuals that were minors at the time of exposure may be eligible for larger amounts of compensation if they are able to show elevated blood lead levels. A similar eligibility requirement is true for those who were adults at the time of exposure.

A Few Red Flags:

The amount of compensation made available to each individual Flint resident is entirely dependent on how many people file claims. Therefore, there’s no way to estimate the amount of money each Flint resident will receive, or if it will be sufficient enough to address all expected damages. The settlement also claims that funding will be made available to provide special education services to children exposed to high lead levels Flint. No further details were provided about these special education services or how much funding will be allocated. It's unclear if portions, or all, of the individual financial compensation funds are expected to be used for at-home special education services.>

Our Take:

The recent settlement leaves us with more questions than answers regarding the tragic Flint Water Crisis. What happened between April 24, 2014 and December 31, 2016 demonstrates what can happen to under-served and underrepresented communities in the United States. In short, it shows the worst kind of government failure. We may never truly understand the full extent of these damages, and $600 Million dollars does not even begin to address the trauma and anxiety that Flint residents face every single day. We're proud to still be working with Little Miss Flint and the Little Miss Flint Clean Water Fund to continue our charitable efforts across the entire country. 

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Please Stop Using TDS (or ppm) Testers To Evaluate Water Quality

Analies Dyjak @ Tuesday, August 23, 2016 at 2:42 am -0400
Eric Roy, Ph.D.|  Scientific Founder

***Updated on February 5, 2020***

We get quite a few questions about TDS/ppm meters (like this one) and TDS measurements. While we love when people take steps to learn more about their water, some people (including journalists from reputable publications- Example #1 & Example #2) have used TDS/ppm meters to draw false conclusions about water quality, which incited fear in people already in the midst of a terrible water quality crisis. In this article, we answer the questions that we get asked the most about TDS measurements and TDS meters. If you're curious about water filters that address meaningful contaminants in tap water, check out this recent water filter study by Duke/NC State. 

What is TDS? What Does A TDS/ppm Meter Measure?

TDS stands for Total Dissolved Solids which is related to the total charged mineral content of water. TDS can be easily determined by measuring the conductivity of a water sample, which is exactly what inexpensive TDS probes do. TDS meters typically display the total amount of dissolved solids in parts per million or ppm. If you start with deionized water (which has a TDS of zero), and expose it to minerals that contain sodium, calcium, and magnesium... the water's TDS or ppm rises. This is why there's no such thing as deionized water in nature. Depending on a region’s geology, natural TDS/ppm levels can vary across the US, and this variability has nothing to do with the water quality (except in extreme cases when the water is too salty to drink).

What Does a TDS/ppm Meter Not Measure?

Because TDS/ppm is an aggregate measure of charged compounds in water, uncharged things like motor oil, gasoline, many pharmaceuticals, and pesticides do not contribute to a TDS/ppm measurement. Most relevant to current nationwide water quality problems, TDS/ppm meters do not detect PFAS in drinking water. For example, the glass on the left in this article's header image contains deionized water with Malathion (an organophosphate pesticide) dissolved into it at 100 times higher concentration than allowed by the EPA for drinking water, and the TDS/ppm probe reads 000.

Even though these toxic metals are charged when dissolved in water, a TDS/ppm meter does not give meaningful information about their presence or concentration in water. There are two main reasons for this:

  • A TDS/ppm meter is a nonselective measurement and cannot differentiate among different ions. A more sophisticated piece of equipment is needed to perform those types of measurements. The value of 184 that was measured using a TDS meter in a prominent Huffington Post Article was not the lead concentration… it was the water's natural TDS level (which is dominated by minerals like calcium, magnesium, and sodium).
  • A TDS tester is not sensitive enough to measure toxic levels of lead, chromium-6, or arsenic, even if they are present in a sample. This is because the reading displayed on an inexpensive TDS meter is in parts per million, while things like lead, chromium-6, and arsenic are toxic at part per billion concentrations (1000 times lower). Using a TDS meter to measure ppb lead concentrations in tap water is like trying to use a car’s odometer to measure a child's height…. It's the wrong tool. For example, the water sample shown on the right hand side of this article's header image has lead levels that are 100x the EPA limit, and the TDS reading teetered between 000 and 001.

To reiterate: Meaningful lead and arsenic measurements cannot be made using a TDS/ppm meter (or any other handheld device). They must be measured by trained staff in analytical laboratories that use much more sophisticated scientific equipment. Hydroviv Undersink filters are NSF/ANSI 53 certified to remove lead from drinking water.

Do Hydroviv Filters Lower TDS/ppm?

No. Hydroviv’s filters selectively filter harmful things from your water (like lead, chromium-6, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, petroleum products, disinfection byproducts), and things that make water taste and smell bad (chlorine, chloramine, sulfur). Hydroviv’s home water filtration systems don’t remove minerals like calcium and magnesium because there’s no reason to. In fact, we use some types of filtration media that actually add minerals to the water, so TDS/ppm levels in water filtered through a Hydroviv system are sometimes slightly higher than unfiltered water.

Should I Buy a TDS/ppm Meter To Test My Drinking Water For High TDS Levels?

No. There is absolutely no reason to drink low TDS/ppm or deionized water. If you are concerned about water quality, put the money toward the purchase of an effective drinking water filter that removes harmful contaminants from your water.

What If I Already Have a TDS/ppm Meter?

If you have a TDS/ppm meter (like this one), we recommend giving it to a curious child who has an interest in science! Use this opportunity to teach them about dissolved minerals by encouraging them to test different types of water (e.g. distilled, rain, river, lake) and try to explain their findings! Feel free to reach out to us at (info@hydroviv.com for educational ideas involving TDS meters).

Other Great Articles That We Think You'll Enjoy:

How EPA Regulations For Lead Are Protecting Municipalities, Not Citizens
What Science Says About Fluoride In Tap Water

New York and Michigan Adopt PFAS Standards

Analies Dyjak @ Monday, August 3, 2020 at 10:07 am -0400

Analies Dyjak, M.A.  |  Policy Nerd

New York and Michigan have recently set enforceable standards for PFAS contamination in drinking water. Both of these states have been hit extremely hard by PFAS contamination in the last year. Both New York and Michigan set their own PFAS standards because this category of harmful contaminants are not currently regulated by the federal government. 

New York PFAS Standards: 

New York State has adopted standards for two PFAS variations: PFOA and PFOS. Water utilities are now required to reduce PFOA and PFOS to 10 parts per trillion (each). Materials processing, textile manufacturing, industry and machinery services in upstate New York and on the New Jersey are responsible for the high levels of PFAS in water. An incineration facility in Cohoes, New York had been burning PFAS in the form of AFFF since 2018. A study out of Bennington College determined that PFAS were being detected downwind of the facility, and that the compounds were not being entirely burned. Further research is necessary to determine if surrounding groundwater is impacted in the town Cohoes. The New York PFAS standards are depicted in the table below:

PFAS Chemical NY State Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL)
PFOA 10 parts per trillion
PFOS 10 parts per trillion

Michigan PFAS Standards:

Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) has recently set enforceable standards for 7 different PFAS compounds. Michigan has been hit harder by PFAS contamination than almost any other state. In January of 2020, the state of Michigan filed a lawsuit against 17 companies for damages resulting from exposure to PFAS chemicals, and for concealing toxicological information. Some of the companies involved in the lawsuit include 3M, DuPont, and Chemours. During the summer of 2019, the Governor’s office announced a state of emergency Parchment and Cooper Township, Michigan. PFAS levels in Parchment drinking water were detected as high as 1,587 parts per trillion, which is 23 times higher than EPA’s Public Health Advisory for PFAS. The Michigan EGLE mapped out areas of the state where PFAS levels in groundwater exceed 70 parts per trillion. The Michigan PFAS standards are depicted in the table below:

PFAS Chemical  MI State Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL)
PFNA 6 parts per trillion
PFOA 8 parts per trillion
PFOS 16 parts per trillion
PFHxS 51 parts per trillion
GenX 370 parts per trillion
PFBS 420 parts per trillion
PFHxA 400,000 parts per trillion

What Does This Mean for Municipalities?

Municipalities will be required to comply with new state regulations, meaning that water providers will need to update existing treatment facilities. Removing PFAS at the municipal level is not cheap. In North Carolina, a water treatment facility is updating its filtration system to remove PFAS chemicals. The initial updates will cost $35.9 million, with annual maintenance fees of $2.9 million. Rate payers are responsible for paying for these updates, which can significantly increase your monthly water bill. 

Federal Standards Are Much Less Strict

For a bit of perspective, the current federal Public Health Advisory levels established by EPA are much less strict. According to EPA, PFOA and PFOS are considered “unsafe” when detected at an individual or combined concentration of 70 parts per trillion or higher. PFOA and PFOS are the only two PFAS variations that currently have federal Public Health Advisory Levels. It’s important to note that Public Health Advisories are non-enforceable, and that municipal water providers are not required to follow them. If a contaminant is detected at a level higher than a Public Health Advisory in a state that does not have its own MCL, the utility or municipality is not required to take action.

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PFAS and The Safe Drinking Water Act

Analies Dyjak @ Friday, July 31, 2020 at 9:04 am -0400

Analies Dyjak, M.A.  |  Policy Nerd

The U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce recently held a virtual hearing about the nation's drinking water. The hearing discussed how Congress can revamp the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) to better protect public health. Our team at Hydroviv has been aware of its shortcomings for years, and even testified on a similar subject last October. This blog highlights some of the major regulatory hurdles, and why it’s so difficult to regulate new tap water contaminants like PFAS.

What is the Safe Drinking Water Act?

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) was created by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1974, to protect drinking water sources throughout the United States. The SDWA is responsible for setting national standards called National Primary Drinking Water Standards for roughly 90 contaminants. Unfortunately, it’s widely accepted throughout the scientific community that the SDWA is outdated, and no longer works to protect public health.

EPA, Bureaucracy, and "Sound Science":

Both members of congress and the scientific community are critical of EPA’s approach to regulating drinking water. The current process has failed to regulate a new contaminant since 1996. This is especially alarming at a time when chemical and industrial manufacturing are at an all time high. Any type of industrial activity can make surrounding waterways susceptible to pollution, resulting in compromised drinking water. Chemicals developed in the last 24 years go entirely unchecked by the time they enter your municipal water system. What’s worse is the bottled water companies use the same contaminated sources as tap water, and follow weaker reporting standards. EPA claims to preach "sound science," but has failed to follow scientific recommendations.

PFAS and The Safe Drinking Water Act:

The recent hearing on the SDWA was prompted by the fact that a category of known human carcinogens called Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are not regulated under this law. PFAS are known to cause an increased risk of cancer, an increased risk of miscarriage, and other adverse health effects. Because PFAS are not regulated, municipalities are not required to test for or remove PFAS from tap water. The EPA has created non-enforceable public health advisories for two different types of PFAS; PFOA and PFOS. Certain states have developed their own more stringent health advisories and some have even created enforceable standards. Health advisories use the best available science and epidemiological studies to determine a “safe” level of contamination in drinking water. While the goal of a health advisory is certainly positive, they fail to create actionable change. Health advisories are not enforceable, and therefore municipal water providers are not required to follow them. It's also important to mention that PFAS are not a "new" contaminant, and that they have been on EPA's radar for years. EPA first recommended setting a public health goal for both PFOA and PFOS eleven years ago in 2009.

Is a National PFAS Standard Realistic? 

Proponents for a National Standard: When states have a variety of different public health advisory levels or even state standards, it creates a lapse in risk communication and fosters distrust. Public distrust may occur if “state A” has a lower PFAS standard than “state B.” This is especially true for neighboring states that may share the same aquifer, river, or tributary. Proponents believe that if EPA has enough scientific evidence to develop a Public Health Advisory, they should be able to create a national enforceable standard for PFAS. 

Opponents for a National Standard: Municipalities lose big time whenever a new water quality standard is created. Opponents believe that imposing a regulation, and requiring municipal water treatment facilities to purchase expensive equipment that will remove a contaminant that is not present in their water, is not a responsible use of resources. One of the issues with this argument is that there is no federal mandate for testing, so most municipal systems don’t even know if PFAS are present. Some regulators claim that there are too many types of PFAS to regulate, and that it’s impossible to set a standard for the entire category of PFAS. Currently, there are only testing standards for 29 different PFAS variations, despite there being over 5,000 known variations present in the environment. 

Our Take:

The SDWA impacts people every single day. Every time someone turns on their water, the health and safety of what’s coming out of their tap is dictated by the Safe Drinking Water Act. As is, the SDWA does not go far enough to protect American’s, including our most vulnerable populations (infants, pregnant moms, and older adults). Industrial manufacturing companies are entirely unrestricted when it comes to developing new products, and chemicals pushed to the market are essentially “safe” until proven otherwise. This sort of regulatory approach comes at a serious cost to human health. Regarding PFAS, there is enough scientific and epidemiological research to conclude that this category of chemicals should be regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

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