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Why Are So Many Schools Testing Positive For Lead In Drinking Water?

Why Are So Many Schools Testing Positive For Lead In Drinking Water?

Eric Roy, Ph.D.  |  Scientific Founder  

***Modified on August 23, 2018 to include more cities and add a video ***

With more schools in major cities testing positive for lead contamination (e.g. New York CityCleveland, Chicago, Portland, Newark, San Francisco), we get lots of questions about what’s happening.  The goal of this article is to shed some light on why lead in school drinking water is such an important thing.

Children Are Most Sensitive To Lead Poisoning

There is no level of lead that is known to be safe for children.  Period. 

Since lead contamination in tap water entered the spotlight in 2015, people have incorrectly presented EPA's regulatory limits as safe/not safe thresholds.  While a simple safe/unsafe threshold would certainly make things more simple, the 15 ppb threshold was never intended to be a "safe level."  It’s a limit that EPA established to evaluate city-wide corrosion control practices and it allows a city to have up to 10% of samples test ABOVE the 15 ppb threshold, and still be in compliance with the Lead and Copper Rule.  For reference, the American Academy of Pediatrics is calling for regulatory changes that ensure that water never tests above 1 ppb in schools.

Most Schools Are Old & Old Plumbing Often Contains Lead

According to data assembled by the U.S. Department of Education, the average age of a Public School building in the United States is 44 years old, a time when lead-based plumbing was the norm.  Even in newer schools, lead contamination can creep into water because lead wasn’t completely phased out of plumbing connections, fittings, and valves until 2014.

Weekends & Summers Allow Water To Sit Stagnant For Extended Periods Of Time In Schools

As many now realize, lead accumulates in water when it leaches from lead-containing pipes, valves, and plumbing connections.  The longer water sits stagnant in pipes, the more lead it can accumulate.  Unlike in homes, where water is used on a daily basis and never sits stagnant for more than a few hours each night, water in schools goes completely unused for long periods of time each weekend, vacation, and summer.  These frequent long periods where water is not used are detrimental for two reasons: 

1.  Lead has more time to accumulate as water sits stagnant in lead-containing pipes

2.  The lack of flushing prevents corrosion measures from rebuilding the protective layer that prevents lead from leaching out in the first place. 

Most Schools Do Not Test Water Properly For Lead Contamination

It sounds crazy, but most schools don’t test for lead contamination in water.  When asked by a reporter about testing the school’s water for lead, an elementary school superintendent went on record to say that "We do not test because it has never been brought up as a concern, nor is it a requirement to do so."

The reality is, even if schools choose to test for lead contamination, it’s much more complicated than testing in a residential home.  In a residential home, EPA sampling protocols require that water be unused for 6 hours, in order to simulate the night and work day periods where water commonly sits stagnant in pipes.  However, this protocol does not mimic how water is used in schools, because in addition to the 12 hours each school night the water goes unused, it sits stagnant for roughly 60 hours each weekend, and much longer periods over school vacations and summer.  

How Can Schools Reduce Lead Contamination In Drinking Water?

Realistically, it’s probably cost-prohibitive for schools to replace all lead-containing plumbing or buy and maintain effective point of use drinking water filters that remove lead.  When school administrators approach us for solutions, we always advise them to take immediate steps to identify lead containing plumbing, test their water for lead, and to implement regular pipe flushing protocols.

We encourage everyone to call their city's school department to better understand if and how lead is being tested for in schools.  Because testing in schools is very complicated, we encourage people to ask for specifics of the testing program and actual results, not blanket assurances that everything is ok.   As always, we encourage all readers to take advantage of our “Help No Matter What” approach to technical support.  Technical support will answer your questions through email (support@hydroviv.com), free of charge, even if you have no plans to purchase a Hydroviv water filter.

Originally published on January 28, 2017.  Updated May 9, 2017

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Does Your Home Have Lead Plumbing?  Here's How To Tell

Does Your Home Have Lead Plumbing? Here's How To Tell

We get a lot of questions about lead service lines and how to tell if you have lead pipes, and we thought that it would be worth putting together an article that talks about some of the lesser known places where lead can exist in residential plumbing. Most people are surprised to learn that up until 2014, EPA allowed lead exist in fixtures & valves used for drinking water lines!

The Evolution of “Lead Free” Plumbing

When the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) was amended in 1986, it mandated that residential plumbing could not use any pipe, pipe fitting, solder, flux, or fixture that was not “lead free.”  While the term “lead free” seems pretty straightforward, the law allowed for the definition of "lead free" to evolve.  The chart below shows allowable lead levels in solder, pipes, fittings, and fixtures through the 25+ years that lead was phased out of plumbing.  It's worth pointing out that, it wasn’t until very recently (2014) that all pipes/fittings/fixtures used for drinkable water were required to contain negligible amounts of lead.

Maximum Levels Of Lead Allowed In Residential Plumbing 

 Years  Solder/Flux Pipes, Fittings, Valves
Before 1986 50% 100%
1986-2014 0.2% 8%
After 2014 0.2% 0.25%

Note:  Things like toilets, urinals, bidets, tub fillers, shower valves are excluded from these regulations 

How to Determine If Plumbing In Your Home Is Lead Free

Solder:  Unfortunately, there is no easy way to visually tell how much lead is in soldered joints after the connection is made.  If you are getting plumbing work done, it's ok to ask your plumber to see the package for the solder that they are using.  It should prominently say “lead free” on it.

Pipes/fittings:  Because there are certain applications (toilets, showers, tub fillers) where plumbing components are allowed to contain lead, you can still buy lead-containing plumbing components at the hardware store.  We have seen many applications in customers' homes where lead-containing components were mistakenly used in an application that required lead free components.  Anything that complies with the 2014 lead free standard is clearly marked with some sort of "LF" or checkmark label to indicate that it meets the most recent lead free standard:
How To Identify Lead Free Plumbing 1Lead Free Brass Ball Valve
How To Identify Lead Free Brass Connections
How To Identify Lead Free Brass Plumbing
Lead Free Plumbing ValveLead Free Marking On Brass Ball Valve

What To Do If Your Home Has Lead Plumbing

As the US has become increasingly aware of lead contamination in drinking water because of the ongoing crisis in Flint, recent violations in large cities like Pittsburgh, and longstanding lead problems in old cities like Chicago and New York City, more and more people are asking what they can do to minimize their family's exposure to lead.  

The best way, bar none is to:

If you are unable to use a rated filter, or if the filter you use does not protect against lead (like most pitchers and fridge filters), you can take the following steps to minimize exposure:

  • Allow your faucet to run for at least 2 minutes before collecting water for consumption (drinking/cooking/washing food).   Doing so allows the water sitting in the pipes to flush out and be replaced by fresh water flowing through the large mains.  
  • Only use the faucet at a slow flow rate when collecting water for consumption.  Doing so minimizes the amount of lead particulates that can be swept into the stream and carried to the faucet.

As always, we encourage everyone to take advantage of Hydroviv's "Help No Matter What" technical support policy, where we answer questions related to drinking water and water filtration, even if you have no desire to purchase our products.  Drop us a line about lead pipes in homes at support@hydroviv.com, or use our live chat function.  

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Roller Coaster Ride For Water Quality In The Great Lakes

Aakriti Pandey  |  Contributor   

Editor's Note:  This article is part of a new initiative to include stories on our blog that link scientific policy to everyday life.  Recently, the new administration proposed changes to the EPA budget that would gut the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), which could impact the water quality of major cities (e.g. Chicago, Milwaukee) 

An upward slope

1972 was the year that marked the turning point for Great Lakes, Michigan. It was the year when Congress passed the federal Clean Water Act, and as a result, the water quality did improve in most expanses of the North American rivers and lakes, the contaminants' concentration declined, and many fisheries across the nation recuperated too. The water quality of the Great Lakes today are far improved than they did back in 1972.
 

A downward slide

However, there's a host of new problems today that are affecting both, the nature and the people, again. From the dissemination of the foreign mussels and other invasive aquatic species, sewer and pollution overflows caused by some severe storms, introduction of other contaminants in the lakes including the pharmaceuticals and fire retardants, to the overall climate change... the ecology of the Great Lakes have been turned upside down again. The Lake Michigan car ferry SS Badger has dumped about 500 tons of polluted coal ash into the lake every year. There are cities with archaic sewer systems, and they expel tens of billions of gallons of sewage into  the lakes annually. 
 
As water pollution in the Great Lakes increases, not only are the lives of aquatic species in danger, but this is also deeply affecting human health. People who call places like Chicago, Milwaukee, Green Bay, and many other cities alongside the Lake Michigan their home, draw their drinking water from the Great Lakes. And their lives are in danger.
 

​Another up...

An initiative was given birth in 2010 with a vision to protect and restore this largest system of fresh surface water in the world. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) intended to accelerate efforts to "strategically target the biggest threats to the Great Lakes ecosystem". With plans to clean up the areas of concern, control the invasive species, reduce nutrient runoff, and restore habitat, the GLRI gave sight of the dim light at the end of the tunnel.
 

​And the new downward spiral?

Those who've been grateful for the GLRI are now holding their breaths again as this plan is close to being very short-lived because the new administration announced plans for a $50 million cut from the GLRI funding as part of the new EPA budget. 
For one, it's important for initiatives like this to study the impacts of these types of inevitable accidents. More importantly, it's also of momentous value to collectively remain vigilant as a community about what's happening in our environment and surroundings.
 

Very recent events highlight the need for initiatives like GLRI to remain funded.  For example, U.S. Steel Corporation also recently accidentally released hexavalent chromium into Lake Michigan, forcing the interception of drinking water intake in the local communities and a closing of many beaches.

Hydroviv's water nerds have a "Help no matter what" technical support policy, and we always answer your drinking-water related questions, regardless of your intent to purchase our products. 

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How Chicago's Compromised Water Source & Old Infrastructure Put Residents At RiskThinking About Replacing A Lead Service Line?  Read This First

Chicago's Drinking Water: Problems From Source to Tap

Eric Roy, Ph.D.  |  Scientific Founder

With water quality in the national spotlight, we get a lot of questions about water quality in major US cities.  When Hydroviv optimizes a filter for a city's water, we look at a number of factors.  This Chicago drinking water quality report gives a quick look at some of the things that went into our assessment, as well as some advice for people who choose not to use a filter in their home.  **** We updated this article in March 2017 to add some information about chromium 6***

Chicago’s Water Source:  Lake Michigan

Chicago draws its drinking water from Lake Michigan, a body of water that has been historically plagued with problems caused by industrial polluters.  According to the most recent available Source Water Assessment prepared by the Illinois EPA, all 63 miles of shoreline were flagged as “Threatened”, because phenols (associated with industrial wastes from coal distillation and chemical manufacturing) were present at concentrations in excess of the allowable limit.  Furthermore, a 2016 report prepared by the Illinois EPA categorizes 10 beach segments and several rivers that flow into Lake Michigan as “impaired” (according to Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act), due to high concentrations of mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, pesticides, herbicides, and other industrial chemicals like chromium 6.  In addition to direct human inputs that impact water quality of Lake Michigan, biomass decomposition in the sediments often generates chemicals that make the water taste and smell bad.

How High Are Chromium 6 Levels In Chicago?

Between 2013-2015, Chicago reported that chromium 6 concentrations were, on average, 190 parts per trillion.  Although chromium 6 is not regulated by EPA, the levels reported in Chicago's tap water are roughly 20 times higher than what is considered to be negligible risk.  

Does Chicago’s Aging Infrastructure Contaminate Tap Water With Lead?

As most people are now aware, lead can accumulate in tap water that flows through lead-containing pipes, soldered joints, and plumbing fixtures.  In Chicago, about 80% of water service lines city-wide are made of lead, so a large portion of the population should consider taking steps to ensure their family's safety.

Several investigative reports by large media outlets have been highly critical of Chicago’s lead testing program.  The Chicago Tribune reported that many of the sites selected for lead testing were strategically selected because they are in areas with low risk for lead contamination, often at the homes of current and former water department.  The City argued that recruiting water department employees to collect samples would would ensure that samples were properly collected.  However, in a different story, published by The Guardian,  Chicago city employees were criticized for using sampling “cheats” that make lead concentration seem lower than they really are.   

In Chicago, only about 50 samples every 3 years are collected from homes and tested for lead citywide (most recently in 2015).  In the 2015 Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) published by the city, 3 out of 50 sampling sites had lead levels that were over the 15 part per billion (ppb) EPA Action Level, and 10 percent of samples had lead concentrations over 9 ppb.  While these data indicate that the city as a whole is in compliance with federal regulations, the EPA, CDC, and World Health Organization all agree that there is no such thing as a safe amount of lead exposure for children, so households with children should either get their water tested, or take steps to prevent exposure.

How Chicago Residents Can Minimize Chromium 6 & Lead Exposure 

Chromium 6

Unlike lead, which comes from lead-containing pipes, solder, valves, and fixtures, chromium 6 contamination comes from the water source itself.  Therefore the only way to remove it from water is by using a high quality filter.   We are partial to the technology that we use in our system, but reverse osmosis will also work.  

Lead

The City of Chicago officially recommends that residents take measures to reduce their exposure to lead in water used for drinking, cooking, and preparing infant formula:

  • Allow water to run for at least 5 minutes before using it for drinking or cooking
  • Only operate the faucet at moderate flow when collecting water for drinking, cooking, and preparing infant formula.  This practice reduces the likelihood that lead-containing particles are swept into the water as it flows through the pipes.
  • Never use water from the hot water tap for drinking, cooking or preparing infant formula
  • Regularly remove and clean out their faucet aerator, because lead-containing particles can become trapped in the mesh and leach lead into the water as it flow through.

Hydroviv advises Chicago residents who choose not to filter their water for lead to take advantage of the city-sponsored lead testing program, where people can request a free test kit by calling 311.

As always, we encourage everyone to take advantage of Hydroviv's "Help No Matter What" technical support policy, where we answer questions related to Chicago's water pollution, drinking water, and water filtration, even if you have no desire to purchase our products.  Drop us a line at support@hydroviv.com

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Chromium 6 Spilled Into Lake Michigan: What You Need To Know

 Eric Roy, Ph.D.  |  Scientific Founder  

This Tuesday, US EPA reported that US Steel Corporation spilled a large (but undisclosed) amount of chromium 6-containing wastewater into a Lake Michigan Tributary, and about 20 miles from the location where the City of Chicago draws drinking water from.  This past fall, we wrote an article the basics of chromium 6 in drinking water, but the focus of today's article is specifically about the recent spill into Lake Michigan.

Where Did The Chromium 6 Lake Michigan Spill Occur?

The map below (From Chicago Tribune) shows the location of the spill.  It's roughly 20 miles from the 68th Street Water Intake Crib for the City of Chicago.

Chromium 6 Chicago Lake Michigan

What Caused The Chromium 6 Lake Michigan Spill?

US Steel reported that a stainless steel joint failure in a pipe caused the release of chromium 6-contaminated wastewater into the environment.  The pipe contained wastewater from an electroplating process.

Is Water Quality Impacted by Chromium 6 Contamination?

Beaches and parks within a 3 mile vicinity of the spill were closed down.  Several cities that draw water from Lake Michigan stopped pulling water.    The City of Chicago began "Emergency Testing" of water near source water intakes.

Data and statements from EPA from water tests seem to be in conflict.  On one hand, EPA says that they're not seeing anything unusual, but there are measurements taken more than a mile from the spill where chromium 6 concentrations are roughly 10x higher than baseline measurements taken from more offshore locations over the past 3 years.   

It's important to point out that chromium 6 is extremely toxic, it is NOT REGULATED ON ITS OWN.  EPA does not differentiate between carcinogenic chromium 6 and chromium (III), which is an essential nutrient for humans.  Absurdity of this aside, remember that Chicago's drinking water (which is pulled from Lake Michigan) has a 3 year average chromium 6 concentration of 190 parts per trillion, which is nearly 20 times higher than the level associated with negligible risk.  

How Do I Remove Chromium 6 From Drinking Water?

To remove chromium 6 from water, you need to filter it.  Boiling or freezing water does NOT remove chromium 6, or make it less toxic.  We recently wrote a more in-depth article on how to filter chromium 6 from water.  We are particularly found of our approach to water filtration over reverse osmosis for a number of reasons, but both will work.

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What Is The Best Water Filter For Apartments Or Condos?

What Is The Best Water Filter For Apartments Or Condos?

Just because you live in a multi-unit building doesn’t mean that you should be forced to use ineffective pitcher or fridge filters that don’t filter things like lead or chromium 6.  These are the big things to consider when shopping for a water filter for your apartment or rental home.

Universal Connections

Most renters don’t want to change out their kitchen’s fixtures, so you’ll want to make sure that your water filter connects to the existing faucet and cold water valve with universal faucet connections.  Nearly all faucets in the US use a 3/8” compression fitting to connect to the cold-water shutoff valve, so make sure that the inlet and outlets use that size connection.

Size

Many apartments in cities like New York City or Washington, DC have smaller under sink spaces than what are found in larger homes.  When you are shopping for water filters, you’ll need to take size into account, especially if your unit has a garbage disposal that takes up a bunch of space under your sink.  Most reverse osmosis systems are bulky and have large storage tanks, and will not fit under the sink of many apartments. 

Deposit Considerations

Many water filtration systems for apartments require that you drill a hole in your drain line, or that you drill a hole in your counter top. Obviously, if you do either of those things, you won’t get your deposit back, so most people don’t opt for reverse osmosis systems that require a drilled connection to your drain.  

Portability

When you rent your home, you want to make sure that your water filter can be taken with you when it’s time to move.  Make sure that your apartment water filter uninstalls very easily, so you don’t leave it behind in the frantic move out!

Hydroviv’s custom water filters are engineered with renters in mind. It’s a no-compromise water filter (filters things like lead & chromium 6), but it’s designed for people who live in apartments.  Its housing fits in small spaces and connects to existing faucets with screw on, screw off connections in 15 minutes, no plumbing experience needed, and we provide an easy water filter installation guide to help you along the way. When it’s time to move, Hydroviv apartment water filters can be pulled in about 5 minutes, and the unit’s plumbing can be put back to how it was when you got there. 

 

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