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EPA Announces National Strategy to Confront PFAS Pollution

Analies Dyjak @ Monday, October 18, 2021 at 1:51 pm -0400

Analies Dyjak, M.A. | Head of Policy and Perspectives   

The Environmental Protection Agency announced on Monday, October 18, that the agency will prioritize a comprehensive national strategy to confront PFAS pollution. The Biden-Harris administration campaigned on setting limits in tap water for PFAS and ensuring other actionable protection measures for public health. The PFAS “roadmap”  also includes a summary of recent proposals and recommendations from EPA and Congress. 

What Does EPA's PFAS Roadmap Contain?

The roadmap consists of plans for both rulemaking and monitoring guidelines, but does not have any enforceable criteria. This EPA publication is simply a strategic plan for implementation, not a final rule. The seven actions are as follows:
  • Timeline for nationwide enforceable drinking water limits for PFAS in tap water under the Safe Drinking Water Act. 

  • Designating PFAS as a “hazardous substance” under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as Superfund. This designation will help hold polluters financially responsible for contaminating source water.

  • A timeline for Effluent Guideline Limitations for nine different industrial categories. 

  • An assessment of shortcomings of the Toxic Substances Control Act and its ability to protect public health.

  • An increase in monitoring, data collection, and research.

  • A final toxicity assessment for GenX.

  • Technical foundation for PFAS air emissions under the Clean Air Act. 

Too Little Too Late?

Hydroviv has been covering PFAS in drinking water since our company began in 2016. Since then, virtually no action has been taken by the EPA or Congress regarding this category of chemicals that is known to cause cancer. The press release for this latest roadmap even stated that the EPA has known about the toxic nature of PFAS chemicals for over 20 years. The impacts of PFAS have now extended across multiple generations, when in all likelihood, this could have been avoided. 

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EPA Approved Harmful PFAS Chemicals For Fracking 9 Years After Toxicity Was Understood

Analies Dyjak @ Wednesday, August 25, 2021 at 3:03 pm -0400

 

Analies Dyjak, M.A. | Head of Policy & Perspectives   

A report earlier this month revealed that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the use of PFAS chemicals for fracking, back in 2011. PFAS are a category of cancer-causing chemicals that were used in consumer products like Scotchgard, non-stick pans, water repelling clothing, and commercial products like fire fighting foam and Teflon. Certain PFAS chemicals are no longer being produced, or have been phased out because of their known impacts on human health. However, many other types of PFAS chemicals are still being used, and their widespread environmental damages are just beginning to be understood. These recent findings call into question why EPA approved harmful chemicals for an industry that is already a well known groundwater polluter.

How Does Fracking Pollute Water?

Hydraulic Fracturing or ‘fracking’ is a type of oil shale and natural gas extraction, where a mixture of water, chemicals, and sand are injected into the ground to push out trapped oil and gas. Each free-standing fracking rig can stretch 4 miles horizontally in each direction. Fluid leaks, wastewater mismanagement, and well construction can contaminate surrounding groundwater and soil. The process of hydraulic fracturing also uses a huge amount of water, which is less than ideal during a nationwide drought. Anywhere from 1.5 million to 16 million gallons of water are used to frack one free-standing well. 

Fracking Liquids Are Toxic, Carcinogenic, and Protected By Proprietary Claims

There are quite literally thousands of different chemicals that are used during the hydraulic fracturing process, and each has a different job to assist with oil and gas extraction. For example, acids help to dissolve minerals and other impediments to make the oil and gas flow faster through the ground. Corrosion inhibitors make sure that steel isn’t being damaged by other potentially corrosive fracking liquids. EPA identified 1,084 different fracking chemicals between 2005 and 2013 - many of which were protected under proprietary claims. 

Why Are PFAS Both Problematic and Effective?

When EPA approved the use of PFAS for fracking in 2011, scientists had already flagged their concerns years prior. EPA scientists responded to a consent order and ultimately advised the agency for more studies before authorizing their use for fracking. According to the New York Times, these studies were never completed and the administration gave companies the greenlight. So, what makes PFAS different from benzene, methanol and formaldehyde, and other toxic chemicals used by the fracking industry? There are two reasons why PFAS are so problematic: first, they persist in the environment for decades and can travel through water and soil without breaking down. Second, scientists already knew how dangerous these chemicals were before EPA approved their use in fracking. We know this because of the report based on a recent Freedom of Information Act request, and because companies started phasing out PFAS in 2002, 9 years before they were used in fracking. 

Fracking companies were desperate to use PFAS because of their effectiveness. PFAS are extremely hydrophobic, and help separate oil and gas from other properties used during the extraction process. This was such an attractive cost-saving measure that was too good to pass up.

Fracking is One of The Least Regulated Industries in the U.S.

The fracking industry is exempt from all sorts of reporting and disclosure requirements. In 2005, Vice President Dick Cheney called on Congress to ensure that the fracking industry would be safe from potential future regulations. Ironically, Vice President Cheney was the CEO of Halliburton - one of the largest fracking companies in U.S. - directly before taking office. Congress ultimately passed the Energy Policy Act in 2005, which prevented fracking liquids from being regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. In the regulatory world, we like to call this the Halliburton Loophole

Pollution From Fracking is More Widespread Than Previously Thought

Fracking was previously believed to only pollute nearby groundwater, but a recent study found that fracking liquids have made their way into surface waters as well. The study sites inadequately treated wastewater, fluid leaks, and flowbacks as the main sources of surface water contamination. Surface water, like lakes, rivers, and streams, are used by municipalities across the country for drinking water and recreational activities. The correlation between fracking and surface water pollution is concerning with the recent PFAS findings from EPA. 

Hydroviv filters are NSF certified to remove PFAS chemicals, and out-competed major brands in a recent Duke University PFAS removal study

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Is PFAS Exposure Toxic To The Immune System?

Christina Liu @ Tuesday, August 24, 2021 at 5:31 pm -0400
PFAS contamination in the environment is frighteningly widespread. PFAS have been found in the surface water in some of the most remote places on Earth and is found in the drinking water of over 200 million Americans. Recently conducted research has found that exposure to PFAS chemicals could be toxic to the immune system. The research suggests that vaccines may be less effective in people with higher levels of PFAS. In addition, people with elevated levels of PFBA, (a specific type of PFAS which accumulates in the lungs), may be at risk of more serious COVID-19 infections. 

Trump's "Dirty Water Rule" to be Revised

Emily Driehaus @ Friday, June 18, 2021 at 1:04 pm -0400

Emily Driehaus  |  Science Communication Intern

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it will revise regulations from the Trump administration that limit protections for certain bodies of water. The rule, commonly referred to as WOTUS, has been amended several times over various years. 

The EPA and the Army said in a statement that the rule “is leading to significant environmental degradation.” Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jaime Pinkham also said that current regulations established under the Trump administration have led to a drop of 25 percentage points in decisions that would give bodies of water protections under the Clean Water Act.

The Navigable Waters Protection Rule was established on April 21, 2020 after the Trump administration repealed an Obama-era rule that recognized smaller bodies of water as “waters of the United States” and gave them protections if they contributed to a larger water source. Protecting these small water sources was meant to prevent pollution from flowing into larger bodies of water, including drinking water resources. 

The Trump administration’s rule updated the definition of “waters of the United States” to exclude waters such as wetlands and streams from receiving protections under the Clean Water Act. 

The exclusion of certain bodies of water under the Navigable Waters Protection Rule is most significant in arid states like Arizona and New Mexico. Of the 1,500 streams in these two states, almost every one is excluded from protections. 
According to The Hill, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said that the agency will not “return verbatim” to the regulations from the Obama administration in a recent congressional hearing. 

A statement released by the EPA said that the new regulations will be guided by the Clean Water Act, the effects of climate change on water resources, the practicality of implementation, and input from the agricultural community, tribal and local governments, environmental groups, and communities with concerns about environmental justice. 

Our Take

We are very encouraged by the Biden administration and EPA’s step toward fixing water regulations. Water pollution can expose the public to harmful chemicals and substances through their drinking water, and we hope the new revisions to the Navigable Waters Protection Rule will recognize the importance of small bodies of water to the environment and our drinking water systems and protect them from pollution.

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What You Need To Know About NRDC's Latest Nationwide Lead Report

Analies Dyjak @ Monday, May 31, 2021 at 8:49 pm -0400

Christina Liu | Scientific Contributor   

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released a recent analysis of EPA lead data. NRDC found that 186 million people across the United States were exposed to elevated lead levels through their drinking water systems.The EPA, CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics all recognize that there is no safe level of lead for children. This article breaks down important findings from this study and what they mean for your drinking water.

1. Lead in Drinking Water Is a Significant Issue in Many Parts of the Country

  • 186 million people in the United States between January 1, 2018 and December 31, 2020 drank water that exceeded the pediatrician recommended maximum lead level of 1 part per billion (ppb).
  • 28 million people were served by drinking water systems that totaled 12,892 lead violations.
  • Seven million people drank water that exceeded EPA’s Lead Action Level of 15 ppb.
  • The CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics have stated that there is no safe level of lead for young children. The EPA has also set the maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG) for lead in drinking water at 0 parts per billion because lead can be harmful to human health even at low exposure levels. 

2. Do Federal Laws Protect You From Lead Exposure in Drinking Water?

Unfortunately, no. The Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) was first enacted in 1991 and has seen minimal changes since then. It is the only major regulation aimed at protecting the public from lead exposure in drinking water. It does however contain loopholes, exemptions, and regulatory flaws which demonstrate that the LCR does not necessarily prioritize human health. The most obvious and deceptive flaw is the 90th percentile rule, which states that only 90% of samples must meet EPA’s 15 part per billion “Action Level (AL)” threshold. This means that 10% of samples can exceed the AL threshold and still be in compliance with the law.

3. My Water Source is Completely Clean. Do I Still Have To Worry About Lead?

Lead contaminates tap water differently than most pollutants, because lead comes from plumbing - not the water supply. Water leaving the treatment plant can be entirely lead-free but becomes contaminated once it hits older infrastructure. For example, some buildings in older neighborhoods have lead-containing service pipes that connect water mains to the residential plumbing, and plumbing installed before 1986 often used lead-containing solder to join copper pipes. If corrosion control measures fail (what happened in Flint, MI), lead can leach from the pipes into the tap water. This problem is exacerbated when water sits stagnant for several hours before use (e.g. overnight or while resident is at work), because lead concentrations rise as corrosive water sits in the pipes.

Case Study: New York City

New York City provides municipal tap water for more than half the population of New York, through an impressive network of 19 reservoirs and 3 lakes. New York City’s tap water is widely recognized in the water industry as the “Gold Standard” for urban water providers (it’s truly an engineering feat on an unimaginable scale). However, even if the water leaves the reservoirs and water plants lead-free, lead contamination occurs when the water encounters aging pipes and connections that contain lead. In the table below you’ll notice several samples are well over the federal Action Level - some are over 300 times higher than the 15 part per billion threshold.

Table 1. New York City lead levels from 2007 - 2020. 


4.  Does The American Jobs Infrastructure Plan Go Far Enough To Reduce Lead Exposure?

The American Jobs Plan includes $111 billion in funding for water infrastructure. $45 billion of this is being allocated to eliminate ALL lead pipes and service lines. That is a significant promise, but not a lot of money with which to accomplish this. An estimated 6-10 million homes in the U.S. still receive their drinking water from a lead pipe or lead service line. In addition, the process of replacing city-wide distribution lines will be invasive and time-consuming. It involves digging up streets, section by section, across an entire city. Individual homeowners also need to hire a specialist to replace their lead service lines to avoid potential exposure to this known neurotoxin. Also, lead levels increase for the first few months after a service line is replaced. We have an article that goes in depth as to why this is, which you can find here. Unfortunately, if you currently have lead service lines that bring water to your home, while you may experience relief (new pipes) in the future, this won’t be an immediate fix.

What can I do?  

  1. Get informed. Look up the water quality report in your area. See if your water supplier is one of the ones mentioned in the NRDC study. Information on lead in drinking water, testing methods, and steps you can take to minimize exposure is available from the Safe Drinking Water Hotline or on the EPA’s page: Basic Information about Lead in Drinking Water

  2. Get your water tested for lead. Many cities have free lead testing kits or lead testing services. Check your city’s website or water quality report for information.  Please take advantage of these resources if they are available to you.  

  3. Flush your tap before using water for consumption. If your water has been sitting for over six hours, minimize the potential for lead exposure by flushing your tap for a minimum of 5 minutes before using water for drinking or cooking. 

  4. Use cold water. Use only cold water for drinking, cooking and making baby formula. Hot tap water is known to cause lead to leach from your home's pipes.

  5. Check your Filters. If you are using a filter for your drinking water, please verify that it is certified for lead removal.  

How Can Hydroviv Help Me?

Hydroviv is a water filtration company that uses water quality data to optimize water filters for each customer's water. In addition to lead, we use the water quality data for each location to determine what we consider to be major “points of emphasis” that we use to build water filters that are built specifically for municipal water in your area as well as for private wells.

If you’re interested in learning more about water filters that have been optimized for your municipal tap water or private well, or just have questions about water quality in general, feel free to visit www.hydroviv.com, reach out by email (hello@hydroviv.com) or through our live chat. We post water-related news on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook

Hydroviv's drinking water filters carry NSF certifications to Standard 42 (aesthetic effects--Chlorine Removal) and Standard 53 (health effects--Lead, VOCs, and PFOA/PFOS removal), and are independently tested to remove hundreds of contaminants.

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