Problems We Found With Portland, Oregon Drinking Water
Analies Dyjak, M.A. | Policy Nerd
Updated August 2, 2019 to include current data
For Hydroviv’s assessment of Portland, Oregon drinking water quality, our Water Nerds collected test data from the Portland Water Bureau, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and other available data. We cross referenced these data with toxicity studies in scientific and medical literature. The water filters that we sell at Hydroviv are optimized to filter out contaminants that are found in Portland’s drinking water.
Where Does Portland, Oregon Source Its Drinking Water?
Portland sources its drinking water from the Bull Run River which is located in Mt. Hood National Forest. Portland also draws drinking water from the Columbia South Shore Well Field, which is made up of 26 groundwater wells. The wells draw water from three different aquifers located on the perimeter of the Columbia River.
Lead In Portland’s Drinking Water
Lead contamination is by far of biggest concern in Portland, Oregon drinking water. Not only are the city wide lead levels among the highest in the country, lead contamination has been getting worse in recent years. According to the most recent data, the 90th percentile for lead in Portland drinking water is 11.9 parts per billion. This is just under the outdated Federal Action Level of 15 parts per billion. In recent years, the 90th percentile in Portland has exceeded the Federal Action Level. Additionally, to put things in perspective, EPA, CDC, and American Academy of Pediatrics all recognize that there is no safe level of lead for children.
The goal of annual Consumer Confidence Reports is to be as transparent as possible so that residents can be informed about problems with their drinking water. Unfortunately, Portland’s report was written in a way that leaves consumers confused when it comes to lead. When reading through the report, lead levels for the treated source water are displayed prominently. Of course, these lead levels are very low, because lead contaminates water as it flows through lead containing pipes found in the distribution system and the home’s plumbing. The relevant data for samples collected at the tap are buried in a small table on the next to last page, separate from the other contaminants.
Disinfection Byproducts In Portland’s Drinking Water
Portland’s municipal water also had high concentrations of Disinfection Byproducts or DBPs. Concentrations were detected as high as 44.5 parts per billion, and averaged 37.7 parts per billion for Total Trihalomethanes (TTHMs). Haloacetic Acids-5 (HAA5) concentrations were as high as 51.2 parts per billion and averaged 37.7 parts per billion. For a bit of perspective, EPA's Maximum Contaminant Level for TTHMs is 80 parts per billion and 60 parts per billion for HAA5. While Portland's water quality chemical concentrations are technically in compliance, these levels are definitely high. Disinfection Byproducts are a category of emerging contaminants which means they have been detected in drinking water but the risk to human health is unknown. DBPs are formed when chlorine-based disinfectants are routinely added to the water supply to kill bacteria. EPA has stated that they have been linked to an increased risk of bladder cancer, as well as kidney, liver, and central nervous system problems. Some disinfection byproducts have almost no toxicity, but others have been associated with cancer, reproductive problems, and developmental issues in laboratory animals.
Chloramine In Portland’s Drinking Water
While most municipalities use chlorine as the primary drinking water disinfectant, Portland’s drinking water is disinfected with chloramine. Chloramine is primarily responsible for what many customers report as the “bad taste” or “pool smell” of tap water. Unlike chlorine, chloramine does not dissipate if a container of water is left in the refrigerator overnight. Most one-size-fits-all water filters use filtration media that doesn’t do a great job removing chloramine, but the filters that we design and build at Hydroviv for Portland's water problems use a special filtration media that is purposefully designed to remove chloramine.
It’s important to note that only a handful of contaminants are required to be included in annual Consumer Confidence Reports, and that there are hundreds of potentially harmful unregulated contaminants that aren’t accounted for. If you’re interested in learning more about water filters that have been optimized for Portland’s tap water quality, feel free to visit www.hydroviv.com to talk to a Water Nerd on our live chat feature or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.Other Articles We Think You Might Enjoy:
Lead Contamination In Drinking Water
Disinfection Byproducts In Drinking Water: What You Need To Know
Chlorine Vs. Chloramine: What You Need To Know
Legionnaires' Disease In Flint Tap Water: What You Need To Know
Eric Roy, Ph.D.
A new report was released which confirmed that an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in Flint, Michigan that killed 12 people and sickened at least 87 during 2014 and 2015 was likely caused by low chlorine levels in the municipal water system. It's another example of Flint's broader water crisis that resulted from widespread incompetence and fraud. We will add to this article as more questions come in.
What Is Legionnaires' Disease?
Legionnaires is a pneumonia, caused the bacterium Legionella pneumophila. Legionella pneumophila grows in water, and can enter the lungs through tiny water droplets. If a person doesn't have a robust immune system, they can become very sick, or even die.
Where Is Legionella Found?
According to Marc Edwards (A professor at Virginia Tech), Legionella is found in about 25 percent of all water samples collected nationally. It's a common bacterium, but it's usually kept under control in municipal water.
How Is Legionella Typically Controlled In Municipal Tap Water
In properly treated municipal water, Legionella is kept under control by chlorine-based disinfectants, so the bacterium cannot reach dangerous levels. In Flint, it appears that not enough chlorine was added to the water to leave enough residual chlorine to keep the bacterium under control, which is what caused the Legionnaires' outbreak in Flint.
Is Flint Still At Risk Of Legionnaires Disease?
According to Edwards, chlorine in Flint's water is now at the correct level, so the likelihood of Legionnaires' disease popping back up is minimal. It is our opinion at Hydroviv that concerned Flint residents should take every piece of advice issued by Dr. Edwards. If he says that there is enough chlorine, there is enough chlorine.Other Articles We Think You'll Enjoy:
3 Years Of Hell: Reflections of a Flint Water Crisis Victim
Largely Unreported Water Quality Crisis Underway In Flint Michigan
Tap Water Chlorination: What You Need To Know
Why Reverse Osmosis Water Filters Probably Don't Make Sense For You
Editor's Note: With lead, chromium 6, PFAS, and GenX contamination gaining a lot of press, a lot of people have been rushing to buy reverse osmosis (RO) systems to filter their water. While some RO systems are a good option for some people, we hear from a lot of people who weren't prepared for the downsides, and end up replacing it with a Hydroviv under sink water filter. This article lists the most common things that we hear from people who regret buying a reverse osmosis water filter.
Not All Reverse Osmosis Water Are EffectiveIn recent years, reverse osmosis water filters have gained a great deal of popularity among homeowners because there's a feeling that they "filter everything." Unfortunately, this is simply not true, but this belief has created a "race to the bottom" for water filter companies to create the cheapest system that uses reverse osmosis, so they can cash in on Amazon. The term "reverse osmosis" describes the technology used, and does not tell you anything about performance. The truth is... some are rated to remove toxic things like lead/chromium 6 (like this one), some aren't rated to remove much of anything (this one is only rated to remove chlorine taste and TDS/ppm).
If You Don't Change The Prefilters Religiously, You Will Ruin The Reverse Osmosis Membrane
The prefilters on an RO system actually protect the membrane in the reverse osmosis stage. If a reverse osmosis user doesn't change these prefilters in time, chlorine "breaks through" and flows into the RO membrane. Unfortunately, most RO membranes are irreversibly damaged by even low levels of free chlorine, and the entire reverse osmosis module will need to be replaced. Also, much to the surprise of users, there isn't really an easy way to know if this degradation has taken place. We've heard from hundreds of reverse osmosis users in DC, Pittsburgh, and NYC who were shocked to find high levels of lead coming out of their RO when they did a lead test. It turned out that they changed out their prefilters too late, which ruined their reverse osmosis membrane without any kind of notification.
You'll Need To Drill Your Counter Top And Drain Pipe During Installation
Most people who buy a reverse osmosis system assume that they’ll be able to handle the installation. Many quickly change their mind after learning that they’ll need to drill a hole in their home’s drain pipe (for the filtration system’s waste line) and another hole in their counter top or sink (for a dedicated faucet). Unless you are confident in your abilities, be sure to budget a couple hundred dollars for professional installation. You certainly don’t want to ruin a granite counter top or crack a drain pipe. If you have a stone counter top and you're having a plumber install a system for you, make sure their insurance will cover the event that they crack the stone. Contrast this with a Hydroviv system, which connects to to your existing faucet in 15 minutes, no drilling or plumbing experience needed.
Your Under Sink Storage Will Disappear
If you have a garbage disposal, you’ll want to take measurements to make sure that the filtration system will fit under the sink. In addition to the manifold that holds the prefilters and reverse osmosis components, you’ll need to allow space for the storage tank, which is larger than a basketball. There's a reason why most pictures of installed reverse osmosis systems do not show a garbage disposal. For some people, this isn’t a big deal, but for others (particularly in cities where space is limited), it’s a major problem.
Flow Rates Are Slower Than Expected
One of the most common problems that we hear from people who purchase reverse osmosis systems is that the water pressure is very bad and they end up not using the filtered water, which defeats the entire purpose of having a filtration system.
Your Water Usage Will Go Up
Reverse osmosis systems work by using pressure to force water through a membrane, which leaves behind impurities in a solution that many referred to as brine or backwash. This solution leaves flows through a waste line that connects to your home’s drain pipe, so the removed contaminants go right down the drain. People who draw their water from private wells are particularly troubled by this. Most consumer-grade systems generate 3-15 gallons of waste water per gallon of produced purified water.
The bottom line is that if you're looking at reverse osmosis water filters, you want to make sure that you get one that works, and works for your family. We're obviously biased (as our products don't use reverse osmosis technology), but if you are determined on getting a reverse osmosis system, the only competitor that we recommend is APEC. We've tested this system (it works), and they also engineer and assemble their systems in the United States (like us).
If you have any questions about the advantages and disadvantages of a reverse osmosis system and whether or not a reverse osmosis system is the best way to filter your water, we encourage you to take advantage of Hydroviv’s “Help No Matter What” approach to technical support. We promise to help you select an effective water filter system, even if it’s not one that we sell. Reach out through live chat or by emailing us (email@example.com).Other Articles We Think You'll Enjoy:
How To Filter Chromium 6 From Drinking Water
5 Things To Know About Chromium 6 In Drinking Water
Why TDS Meters Don't Tell You Anything About Lead
Lead Contamination In Pittsburgh's Tap Water
Why Does Washington, DC's Water Taste Bad?
How Are Chloramine and Chlorine Different?
We answer this question in much more detail in a different post, but here's the skinny on chlorine in drinking water: Like a growing number of US cities, Washington, DC uses chloramine as the primary disinfectant for a couple of reasons:
1. It persists longer in the distribution system, so it does a better job killing bacteria in areas of the water distribution system that are near the end of the pipes, or don't have as high of flow as other areas.
2. It doesn't form disinfection byproducts in the presence of organic matter.
3. Chloramine-treated water doesn't have as strong of a taste as chlorine-treated water
While these are all great reasons to use chloramine, most cities that use chloramine undergo a more aggressive disinfection cycle for a few weeks each year (aka Spring Cleaning).
What Are The Impacts of Switching to Chlorine?
During this time, some people find that the water tastes and smells tastes bad, and the bathroom smells a bit like a swimming pool's locker room after showering. If you want to fix this problem... you have a couple of options that don't involve bottled water (horrible for the environment).
2. If you let chlorinated tap water sit in a pitcher overnight, a good amount of the chlorine taste will go away.
When Will Washington, DC's Water Switch Back Over to Chloramine?
May 7 is the day that DC Water plans to switch back over to chloramine. Until then... non-Hydroviv users will just have to hold their noses!
Other Great Articles We Think You'll Love
Fluoride in Municipal Tap Water: What You Need To Know
2019 Washington DC Tap Water Report: What You Need To Know
Eric Roy, Ph.D. | Scientific Founder
***Updated to include 2019 water quality data***
For Hydroviv’s assessment of Washington, D.C. drinking water, we aggregated water quality test data from D.C. Water (the public utility provider) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as from samples that we collect and analyze. We cross reference these data with toxicity studies in the scientific and medical literature, and look at upcoming regulatory changes. The custom water filters that build and sell for Washington, D.C. are optimized with these factors in mind.
Lead In DC Tap Water
Washington, D.C. is an old city with a lot of lead service lines, so it's not a huge surprise that D.C. has had such a big problem with lead in drinking water. Lead leaches from lead-containing pipes, solder, and fittings, unlike most contaminants which are found at the source. D.C. Water uses two sampling periods when testing for lead: January-June and July-December. In the 118 samples pulled during January-June period, the 90th percentile concentration for lead was 3 parts per billion, and 3 samples were about the 15 part per billion Action Level (AL). In the 104 samples pulled from the July-December sampling period, the 90th percentile concentration was 2 parts per billion, and none of the collected samples exceeded the action level. Although these results indicate that D.C. is in citywide compliance with federal water quality standards, it's important to point out that EPA, CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics all agree that there is no safe level of lead for children. The bottom line is that the federal standards allow up to 10% of sampled taps to have lead concentrations over 15 parts per billion.
We highly recommend that Washington D.C. residents take a look at this map to see if their home has a lead service line, because those homes (and homes with plumbing that predates 1986) are most susceptible. We also highly recommend taking advantage of D.C. Water's free lead testing program, and any families with small children take steps to remove any lead from their water, even if they don't use a Hydroviv filter. It's important to remember that most pitchers and fridge filters do NOT remove lead from water.
Detectable Levels of Unregulated Contaminants In DC Tap Water
One thing that has caused quite a bit of alarm from several people in this year's report is that several herbicides, VOC's and synthetic compounds were all found at detectable levels in D.C. drinking water. Herbicides such as Dalapon, shouldn't be a huge surprise seeing that D.C. draws water from near at the end of a river, so there is opportunity for agricultural runoff to enter the river. For anyone who is interested, The Maryland DEP has made the Source Water Assessment for the Potomac River (404 pages) publicly available.
DC's Water Source: Potomac River
The Washington Aqueduct (operated by the Army Corps of Engineers) draws water from the Potomac River for treatment. District of Columbia Sewer and Water Authority (aka D.C. Water) purchases treated water from the Washington Aqueduct, and is responsible for distributing it throughout D.C. We also have a stand-alone article that entirely focuses on the Potomac River.
Left Out Of The Report: Chromium 6
We were a bit surprised to see Chromium 6 left out of the 2019 water quality report for Washington, D.C. Even though it's a known human carcinogen, chromium 6 is categorized as an "Emerging Contaminant" by EPA but is not regulated on its own. D.C. Water (and 6000 other municipalities) participate in the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR3), which is a nationwide testing program to study "emerging" contaminants. UCMR acknowledges that contaminants on the list most likely cause adverse health effects, including cancer. The concentration in D.C. water average 86 parts per trillion. For perspective, these levels are roughly 4-5x higher than what The State Of California set as a public health goal. We believe that people should not wait for EPA to begin regulating chromium 6 on its own, and filter their water, even it they aren't using our product. It's important to remember that most pitchers and fridge filters do NOT remove chromium 6 from water.
The primary disinfectant used to treat Washington DC's tap water is chloramine, except for a few weeks in the spring when DC switches over to chlorine. D.C. (and a growing number of municipalities) use chloramine instead of chlorine for a few reasons: for one, chloramine is more persistent than chlorine, so it maintains its ability to disinfect the water further away from the source. On the other side, chloramine does not quickly dissipate from water if left in a jug overnight. If you want to get it out of the water, you'll need a filter designed to remove chloramine, because a regular charcoal filter doesn't do a great job removing it.
If you want to learn more about Hydroviv's water filters, check out www.hydroviv.com, or drop us a line through live chat or email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Even though we sell our products nationwide, Hydroviv is a DC company and we take care of our own backyard!
As always, feel free to take advantage of our "Help No Matter What" approach to technical support. We will answer your questions about water quality even if you have no desire to purchase one of our products.
Other Articles We Think You'll Enjoy:Please Stop Using a TDS Meter To Evaluate Your Home's Water Quality
Things To Know Before Replacing Your Home's Lead Service Line
How To Filter Chromium 6 From Drinking Water
Tap Water Disinfection: What's The Difference Between Chlorine and Chloramine?
By Brendan Elmore
While most people talk about chlorinated tap water, a growing number of municipalities are implementing an alternative disinfectant - chloramine – in place of chlorine. This article on chloramine vs. chlorine discusses the advantages and disadvantages of both disinfectants, why municipalities are switching to chloramine, and what this means from a water filtration standpoint.
Chlorine: The Original Method For Tap Water Disinfection
Chlorine was the original disinfectant used in US municipalities, with Jersey City being the first city to implement a chlorine-based system in 1908. Still today, chlorine remains the primary disinfectant in the majority of municipalities in the US, because of its effectiveness and low cost. While tap water disinfection using chlorine has a long track record, there are two major downsides to using chlorine as a disinfectant altogether.
- Chlorine is volatile and can escape from tap water as it travels through water mains, which can eliminate the “chlorine residual.” Without residual chlorine, water becomes more susceptible to microbial growth.
- Chlorine can react with naturally-occurring organic compounds, creating what are known as disinfection by-products (DBPs) which are associated with kidney and liver problems.
Chloramine: A 'New' Alternative to Chlorine
Chloramine is an alternative disinfectant that has gained popularity with a growing number of municipalities (including Washington, DC) because it directly addresses the two major problems with chlorine-based disinfection.
- Chloramine is less volatile than chlorine, so it stays in the water longer than chlorine, which ensures that all areas of the distribution network are properly disinfected.
- As the EPA began to learn about the toxicity of DBPs, they began searching for an alternative disinfectant for chlorine. Chloramine is less reactive with naturally-occurring organic matter, so it produces lesser amounts of DBPs.
Despite these advantages, chloramine isn’t without its own shortcomings. For example, when a municipality switches over to a chloramine-based system to comply with DBP regulations, the level of pipe corrosion inhibitor needs to be increased, because chloramine-treated water is more corrosive than chlorine-treated water. Washington, DC did not properly do this when they switched over to a chloramine-based disinfection system in the early 2000s, and the city underwent a 5-year lead contamination crisis where more than 42,000 children under the age of 2 were exposed to high levels of lead, putting them under great health risk.
Even when pipe corrosion is properly accounted for, chloramine must be removed from the water when it is being used for dialysis, aquariums, baking, and even craft brewing (maybe you didn't burn your mash after all!).
What Can I Do to Remove Chlorine & Chloramine From My Tap Water?
Removing chlorine and chloramine from water involve different methods.
Fortunately, chlorine is very easy to remove from tap water to improve the taste. For example, if you fill a water jug and leave it in your fridge uncapped, within a day or two, the chlorine will volatilize and go away. Common filtration pitchers, refrigerator pitchers, and under sink filtration systems are also good for removing chlorine from water and the bad taste associated with it.
Chloramine, on the other hand is much harder to filter, and most “big name” water filters are not designed to remove it. A special type of activated carbon, called catalytic carbon, is the best tool for removing chloramine from water. High-quality custom water filters that use catalytic carbon in their filter formulation also offer broad protection against other contaminants in drinking water.
If you have any questions about chlorine or chloramine, we encourage you to take advantage of Hydroviv’s “Help No Matter What” approach to technical support, even if you have no desire to purchase a Hydroviv system. This free service can be reached by emailing email@example.com, or by using the live chat window.
Other Great Articles That We Think You'll Enjoy:5 Things You Need To Know About Chromium 6 In Drinking Water
Why TDS Meters Don't Tell You Anything About Lead Contamination
Lead Contamination In Pittsburgh Tap Water
Technical Memorandum No. MERL-2013-57 Effect of Chlorine vs. Chloramine Treatment Techniques on Materials Degradation in Reclamation Infrastructure