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 filters.
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 TDS).
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 Countertop 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 countertop 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 countertop 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 US (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 EnjoyHow 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
The Musk Foundation Has Donated To Help Schools in Flint Get Water Filters. But Will They Actually Remove Lead?
Analies Dyjak | Policy Nerd
October 4, 2018- Elon Musk and The Musk Foundation confirmed a donation of $480,350 to Flint, Michigan Community Schools in hopes of addressing lead contamination in drinking water. Flint is one of many school districts across the country that has been working hard to generate long-term solutions for lead contamination in drinking water. This article examines whether the proposed filtration technology will effectively remove lead from drinking water.
How Will The Funding Be Used?
Musk initially announced the filters would comply with FDA’s 5 parts per billion standard (which is actually the standard for lead in bottled water), instead of EPA’s 15 part per billion Action Level. While definitely lower than EPA's threshold, the American Academy of Pediatrics and Center for Disease Control have both acknowledged that there is no safe level of lead for children. The Musk Foundation has not released the exact type of water filters Flint, Michigan Community Schools plans to use. Press releases have indicated some type of ultraviolet filtration system.
What Is UV Water Filtration?
Ultraviolet filtration eliminates biological contamination from drinking water. This includes bacteria, viruses, and harmful microorganisms like E.coli. The idea behind UV filtration is it prevents microorganisms from reproducing, by striking each individual cell. It’s comparable to and often more effective than using chlorine to kill bacterial contamination.
Does UV Filtration Filter Lead?
No. While UV filters are great at removing biological contamination from drinking water, they have several limitations. UV filters by themselves are not able to remove chemical contaminants including Volatile Organic Compounds, chlorine, lead, mercury and other heavy metals. To remove chemical contaminants (including lead), a UV-based system would need to be paired with lead removal media or reverse osmosis.
Contrary to a lot of media reports, UV filters do not remove lead from water, so we're hoping that the UV is paired with a system that removes lead. We also hope that the filters are installed at the point of use, because water treated by a point of entry filter can accumulate lead in any pipe "downstream" of the filtration unit.Other Article We Think You Might Enjoy:
Why Are So Many Schools Testing Positive For Lead In Drinking Water?
Volatile Organic Compounds: What You Need To Know
Lead In Drinking Water
Heavy Metal Toxicity and Contamination
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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
Disinfection Byproducts In Drinking Water: Toxicity, History, and Policy
What Are Disinfection Byproducts?
Why Do We Care About Disinfection Byproducts?
Many halogenated organic compounds are known carcinogens in humans (e.g. dioxin, DDT, Carbon Tetrachloride, PCBs), so they rightfully receive quite a bit of scrutiny when generated in tap water. While some disinfection byproducts in water have almost no toxicity, others have been associated with cancer, reproductive problems, and developmental issues in laboratory animals. Some population-scale epidemiology studies have also found an association between chlorinated tap water and these same problems in humans. Because more than 200 million people in the US use chlorinated tap water as the primary drinking water source, it’s something worth taking a very close look at.
How Are Disinfection Byproducts Regulated?
History Of Disinfection Byproduct Regulation
In 1974, trihalomethanes were detected in drinking water and linked to chlorine based disinfectants that were added to municipal tap water. Around the same time, the National Cancer Institute classified trihalomethanes as human carcinogens, and as a result EPA established a drinking water standard for trihalomethanes in 1979. As more was learned about disinfection byproducts in water, the US EPA and other government, public health, and industry stakeholders began negotiating 2 stages of more comprehensive regulations in the mid-1990s. Stage 1, which was published in 1998 for 2002 compliance, ruled that haloacetic acids must also be monitored in tap water, in addition to trihalomethanes. The Stage 1 Rule also mandated that these chemicals be monitored throughout the entire water distribution system, not just a few predefined sampling locations. The results of the increased monitoring revealed that more municipalities were non-compliant than initially expected. Stage 2 of the regulation was published in 2006 (for 2012-2016 compliance), and further refined the sample collection strategy with the goal of protecting the public. In the future, most people expect that the regulations will continue to tighten as more about the long term effects of these chemicals becomes better understood, and the technologies that reduce their concentrations at the municipal level improve.
How To Know If A Municipality's Tap Water Has High Levels of Disinfection Byproducts
Overall, disinfectant byproduct concentrations are difficult to predict, because many factors influence their formation including: concentration of organic matter, chemical composition of the precursor materials, pH, temperature, type of disinfectant used, and the concentration of disinfectant. However, because monitoring for trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids are mandated by the EPA, the average concentrations found in the water supply must be made available to the public in annual drinking water reports.
Within a given municipal water system, different physical locations can have higher disinfection byproduct concentrations than others, based on where the home or business is located. This is because the longer it takes for the water to reach the home, the more opportunity there is for disinfection byproducts to form. Therefore, locations close to fast flowing water mains often have lower levels of disinfection byproducts than homes found at the periphery and low flow areas of the water distribution network. Additionally, disinfection byproduct concentrations can continue to rise in residential pipes/water tanks if the water remains stagnant for extended periods of time (e.g. during the work day, overnight). In fact, most municipalities recommend letting water run for 1-10 minutes before using it for drinking or cooking so pipes can flush out. (Obviously, nobody does this….)
What Are The Primary Ways That People Are Exposed To Disinfection Byproducts In The Home?
In the home, most people primarily use chlorinated tap water to drink, bathe, wash dishes, etc. A few studies have looked at the relative importance of the various exposure pathways, and found that showering contributed heavily to blood levels of trihalomethanes. While this may be initially surprising, it does make sense, because trihalomethanes can be volatilized in hot water and subsequently inhaled. During a shower, disinfection byproducts can also enter the body through absorption through the skin. Because most people come in contact with over 17 gallons of water in an “average” 8 minute shower, but drink less than a half-gallon of water each day, it makes sense that showering can be a major exposure path. Granted, this study only looked at the exposure route for one class of disinfection byproducts, but it does reveal that exposure pathways in addition to drinking, and is a great discovery to build upon with follow-up studies.
What Can Individuals Do To Reduce Their Exposure To Disinfection Byproducts?
To be clear, the discovery of DBP exposure through showering does NOT mean that you should be afraid of showering, rather it's a piece of information that may be considered in any changes to the regulation. As frustrating as it may be to people "looking for answers," the reality is... good science is a slow process... and modifications to regulation are often even slower! While regulatory agencies and municipalities are taking steps toward reducing DBPs in water (by preoxidizing or filtering out organic precursors), the most effective way for consumers to reduce their exposure today is by filtering their water at the point of use, and/or by flushing stagnant water out of the pipes by letting it run for a few minutes before using it.
1) http://www.epa.gov/_ (and sources therein) Accessed on 12/25/2015
3) Backer, LC, et al., 2000
4) Richardson et al., 2007.