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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. 

Other Articles We Think You Might Enjoy:
How Does Lead Enter Drinking Water?
What You Need to Know About Disinfection Byproducts in Tap Water
How Did Hydroviv Perform in a Duke University PFAS Removal Study?

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

Error Found In Media Coverage Of Hydroviv's Flint Donation Program

Eric Roy @ Thursday, November 21, 2019 at 10:23 pm -0500

Hey Everyone,

I came across an article tonight where there was an inaccurate figure about the number of filters that Hydroviv (which was just me at the time) donated to Flint. The article put this number incorrectly put this number at 1000. The real number is somewhere between 150 and 250 (our record keeping is poor from 2015). Unfortunately, other articles cited this incorrect number without ever having interviewed myself or anyone at Hydroviv. I've reached out to the authors in an attempt to get them to correct it.

While I’m here, I also wanted to also clarify a couple minor things.

  • When I was talking about a lab in the kitchen/bathroom, we’re talking about a prototyping lab where we refined the design of the under sink filtration systems, not a wet chemistry lab using hazardous chemicals. Operating a chemistry lab in the bathroom would be unsafe and illegal.
  • The person who tipped me off to Flint was retired EPA, not actively employed by the agency.
  • Hydroviv was started in July 2015, not June 2015.

While we're thrilled that Hydroviv has grown to be a real company now and have the capacity to partner with an amazing activist and make an actual impact with water filter donations (whose reach is well-over 1000 filters), we have no desire to allow others to overstate the scope of grassroots donation program in the early days in the interest of a "feel good story."

-Eric

Founder


Newark Lead Crisis: Why Are the Water Filters Not Working?

Eric Roy @ Sunday, August 11, 2019 at 3:36 pm -0400

Eric Roy, Ph.D.

As a chemist, I was disappointed (but not surprised) to learn that a water filter made by Pur is having performance failures in Newark, despite being certified to remove lead. The goal of this article is to explain how water filter testing/certifications work, and to point out the most common reasons why a certified product can fail under real-world conditions

How Does Water Filter Certification Work?

Before going into the specific technical reasons why filters could have failed, it’s important to understand how and why water filter companies undergo 3rd party certifications from organizations like National Sanitation Foundation (NSF)

Any water filter company that wants to get their product "certified" must: 

  • Pay the certification agency to test that the product meets the specifications of the test protocol (more on this below).
  • Pay for project management, site visits, and listing fees to "maintain" the certification.

In addition to strengthening their marking claims, there are business reasons why water filter companies elect to pay the high cost of obtaining certifications instead of demonstrating that their product works through independent laboratories. For example, certain government entities require that products carry specific certifications to back marketing claims, and often times carrying these certifications opens up the door to large-scale government procurement (the City of Newark purchased over 35,000 of these filters for their citizens).

NSF/ANSI Standard 53 Test Protocol For Lead Removal

A lot of the people we talk to are surprised to learn that the criteria used to performance test water filters is standardized and, and may not apply to their water.

In the case of “NSF certified” filters for lead removal, the filter must reduce lead from 150 parts per billion to a certain level in room temperature water that is free of other of harmful contaminants. These tests are run at 2 different pH values (6.5 & 8.5), for the manufacturer-specified lifetime of the filter (in gallons), at a manufacturer-specified flow rate (in gallons per minute).

Water filter companies don’t get extra points for: reducing lead to undetectable levels, being able to handle higher lead concentrations, performance in the presence of other metals, having consistent performance across the entire gallon capacity, operating at higher flow rates, or performing tests at different pH values. In the eyes of certification bodies, filters either meet the performance specification or they don't.

Understanding the framework of "certification" is important in understanding why products that are certified to remove lead can fail under real-world conditions. 

Newark's Water May Not Be Well Represented by Product Testing Procedure

As we discussed earlier, “certified” filters undergo a standardized testing protocol in a controlled laboratory environment. Unfortunately, controlled laboratory studies don't always match the real-world conditions found in customer's homes.

For example, the filter's real-world performance can break down if:

  • The water’s initial lead levels are above 150 parts per billion
  • The filter was flowing at a faster flow rate than specified
  • The temperature of the water is different than the test protocol
  • If other contaminants are present in the water that consume the lead removal media

The End User May Have Used the Filter Outside of Manufacturer's Specifications

Sometimes the consumer misunderstands how to read the manufacturer's specs. For example, water filters are rated for a gallon capacity, which the manufacturers translate to an approximate filter lifetime, based on normal usage. For example, a filter that is rated to handle 100 gallons of water with 150 ppb lead might have a 3 month estimated lifetime based on "normal use." However, if the end user passes 100 gallons of water through the filter in a single day, the capacity will be saturated in a day. During the Flint lead crisis, we learned that families were using a single filter to fill up large water jugs for bathing, because they thought that the water filter's expiration was time based, not a gallon capacity. Unfortunately, this practice saturated the filter with lead much more quickly than the estimated lifetime.

Poor Manufacturing QA/QC or Changes to the Filter

It's well-understood that quality control can suffer when manufacturing is transitioned to low-cost factories. If the cartridge manufacturing facility quietyly changed anything about the filter's construction, or there was a QA/QC lapse in production, the certification agencies may not catch the performance change until the next testing cycle (which is typically every 5 years). 

The Type of Filter Distributed by Newark Allows Users to Easily Operate the Filter out of Spec

One of the negative things “end of faucet” filters is that the user can easily run hot water through the filter. Manufacturers of these products issue guidance against it in their spec sheets, but people regularly ignore the warnings so they can have filtered hot water (or so they think). What isn’t necessarily obvious to the consumer is that hot water can impact the performance of a water filter because hot water typically has much higher lead and other heavy metal levels than cold water. This is due to a number of factors (e.g. residence time in hot water tanks, temperature dependence of metal leaching). If an unexpectedly high “slug” of heavy metals flowed through the cartridge, the lead removal media will become saturated faster than the gallon rating on the package. Once the filter is saturated, it's useless. On top of this, hot water often has higher concentrations of bacterial and other particles that can “foul” a filter and negatively impact the performance. 

Takeaway Message 

Unfortunately, the filters in Newark are not performing to the levels that the customer (City and Citizens of Newark) was led to believe by the filter manufacturer. Hopefully, this event will prompt cities to independently test water filters before using public funds to purchase them.

Full Disclosure: Despite being critical of the “pay-to-play” nature of certification, Hydroviv Undersink and Refrigerator Line systems have undergone NSF certification for lead removal. You can find our NSF 53 listing here


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

Water Nerds @ Monday, November 21, 2016 at 5:35 pm -0500

Eric Roy, Ph.D.  |  Scientific Founder

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.

Related Articles:
Does New York City Tap Water Expose More People To Lead Than Flint?
Pittsburgh's Lead Level Exceeds EPA Limits In 2016
Why You Are Being Mislead By Your TDS Meter