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Breaking: 3M Pays Minnesota $850M For Decades Of Water Contamination

Analies Dyjak @ Monday, February 26, 2018 at 6:32 pm -0500

Analies Dyjak  |  Policy Analyst

This past Tuesday, February 20th, 2018, a lengthy lawsuit of eight-years ended in an $850 million settlement in favor of the state of Minnesota.

If you’re unfamiliar with the water crisis in Minnesota, here’s a quick recap:

In 2010 the state of Minnesota filed suit against 3M, a manufacturing company based out of Maplewood, Minnesota. The lawsuit came about because of allegations that 3M had been knowingly and improperly disposing of perfluorinated chemicals (PFC’s) such as perflurooctanoic acid (PFOA), and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) for decades. This probably sounds familiar to GenX contamination in North Carolina. 3M publicly stated their phase-out of PFC-like compounds in 2000. In 2004, 67,000 households in communities such as Lake Elmo, Oakdale, Woodbury and Cottage Grove had traces of PFC’s in their drinking water. In 2010, the state of Minnesota initially asked for $5 billion from 3M for natural resource and environmental degradation. In a last ditch effort to avoid trial, the state of Minnesota was granted an $850 million settlement on behalf of 3M. 3M claims that the settlement doesn’t make them guilty of poisoning thousands of people in Minnesota, but rather to show their commitment to environmental stewardship.

How Did The PFC Contamination Get Into Drinking Water?

3M had been disposing of PFC’s in their privately owned landfills as well as certain public landfills in Washington County since the 1950’s. It’s uncertain if 3M disclosed to the public landfills that PFOA’s and PFOS’s would be a part of their industrial hazardous waste permits. Additionally, cap technology in the in the 1950’s and up to the 1970’s was not nearly as advanced as it is today. Once the chemicals were disposed of in the landfill, over time they leached through the lining and into surrounding groundwater.

Health Effects of PFC’s, PFOA’s and PFOS’s

Health experts in Minnesota have seen higher rates of cancers, leukemia, premature births and lower fertility rates in suburbs near 3M manufacturing. This is a pretty constant trend when looking into long term exposure of perfluorinated chemicals. A University of California, Berkeley professor reported a 30% increase in low birth-weights and premature births between the years of 2001 and 2006 in Oakdale, a suburb of a 3M manufacturing plant.

Where Will the Money GO?

According to the Minnesota Attorney General, the settlement will be used to fund projects involving drinking water and water sustainability (whatever that means). $850 million may seem like a substantial peace offering, but the state came to the conclusive amount of $5 billion for a reason. This was the well-researched amount of money that state experts determined for damage done by 3M. Does this mean that the drinking water problem is completely fixed? No. It’s not guaranteed that every household will receive compensation and funding for a proper filtration system. The same UC Berkeley professor estimated the economic cost of the pollution; $1.5 billion in natural resource damages, $830 million in financial damages to existing households, and $309 million for people moving to the area by 2050. So although the settlement is significant, it won’t nearly be able to remediate all existing damages.

Summary

The settlement in Minnesota is a win for the environmental and the millions of individuals affected by 3M. There is still uncertainty regarding how the settlement money will be allocated, and which projects will be prioritized.

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Brief History of 3M in Minnesota

3M initially began producing PFC’s in the 1950’s. Of course commercial-scale production of PFC’s were almost completely unregulated during this time. The Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act weren’t codified until 1970. Knowledge of PFC-like contaminants was minimal and economic pressure was high.


Prior to any knowledge of PFC’s, 3M focused its attention on remediation efforts to volatile organic compounds (VOC’s). VOC’s were first found in groundwater in Washington County in 1966. Because of this, state permitting agencies and 3M were all aware of the hydrology of this area.

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Why Reverse Osmosis Water Filters Probably Don't Make Sense For You

Analies Dyjak @ Friday, October 21, 2016 at 12:54 am -0400

Editor's Note: With leadchromium 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 Effective

In 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.

In Summary:

In a recent PFAS study by Duke University and NC State, Hydroviv water filtered out-performed major brands such as Brita, Samsung, Whirlpool, and Berkey. Our Undersink and Refrigerator filters had comparable PFAS removal as expensive reverse osmosis water filters. 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). It's also important to point out that Hydroviv Undersink water filter is NSF certified. You can find a link to our listing here. 

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 (hello@hydroviv.com).

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BREAKING: EPA Admits GenX Linked To Cancer

Analies Dyjak @ Wednesday, November 14, 2018 at 3:36 pm -0500

Analies Dyjak  |  Policy Nerd 

Our blog has been following PFAS contaminants such as the GenX chemical for months now, often reporting on new developments before mainstream news.
Today marks an important milestone: EPA has released a draft toxicity profile for GenX. This long-awaited toxicity report contains critical information for many states who have been seeking answers on this harmful contaminant.

EPA’s Draft Toxicity Assessments for GenX and PFBS:

EPA determined a candidate Chronic Reference Dose of 0.00008 mg/kg-day. A reference dose is the daily oral intake not anticipated to cause negative health effects over a lifetime. A reference dose is not a carcinogenic risk factor, however, EPA states that the toxicity data for GenX are “suggestive of cancer.” According to the draft report, oral exposure in animals had negative health effects on the kidney, blood, immune system, developing fetus, and liver. The draft toxicity report also provided information on PFBS, which is a replacement chemical for PFOS. The candidate Chronic Reference Dose for PFBS is 0.01 mg/kg-day, and there was insufficient data to determine its carcinogenic potential.

What Is GenX?

GenX is part of a category of contaminants called PFAS, or per and polyfluoroalkyl substances. The GenX chemical linked to cancer has gained national attention since being discovered in the Cape Fear River in June of 2017.
PFAS have historically been used in consumer products like Scotchgard, Gore-Tex, Teflon, and even the inside of popcorn bags. PFAS are also used in firefighting foam, which is the major source of its pollution in waterways across the country.

Background:

The Chemours plant in Fayetteville, North Carolina produces refrigerants, ion exchange membranes, and other fluoroproducts. They have been discharging liquid effluent into the Cape Fear River for years, which has contaminated drinking water for the entire area. GenX is the replacement chemical for PFOA. After PFOA was discovered to be toxic, manufacturers addressed the issue by making an equally-as toxic replacement. Manufacturers of PFAS have been doing this for years, which is why there are so many different variations present in the environment.

Is GenX Federally Regulated By EPA?

No. This means that municipalities are not required to test for PFBS or GenX in water. Additionally, this draft toxicity level is not a lifetime health advisory level, which states would be more inclined to follow.

When Will A Drinking Water Standard Be Determined?

Don’t hold your breath on anytime soon! The regulatory process can take decades, especially for such a persistent contaminant in the environment. This is more than enough time for adverse health effects to set in, and we recommend consumers do everything they can to learn about their water and protect themselves, rather than wait for the government to step in.

What Does This Mean For Me?

EPA is in the very early stages of determining a regulation or even health advisory for GenX. This draft toxicity level needs to go through public comment so that states, tribes, and municipalities can offer input and recommendations. If you want to see third-party data on filters that remove GenX in water and other PFAS, click HERE. 

Other Articles About GenX:
Timeline: GenX In North Carolina
ASTDR Toxicological Profile for PFAS
GenX Contamination In Drinking Water: What You Need To Know

Surface Water: What You Need To Know

Analies Dyjak @ Tuesday, September 4, 2018 at 11:56 am -0400

 Analies Dyjak  |  Policy Nerd

Surface water is an extremely important natural resource. From the water we drink, give to our pets, and use for recreation, we are dependent on its various uses. Surface water is continuously being threatened by anthropogenic activities. It’s extremely difficult and costly for municipal treatment facilities to keep up with new contaminants that are polluting waterways every single day. Additionally, federal regulations don’t reflect the large scope of surface water pollution. This blog post discusses the various threats to surface water and why humans should care.

What Is Surface Water?

Lakes, oceans, streams, rivers, ponds, reservoirs, and wetlands are the various types of surface water. Freshwater sources are responsible for providing potable drinking water to 84% of the nations population. Surface water is different from groundwater because it has the ability to disperse and become diluted as it travels throughout a body of water. Groundwater aquifers are essentially holding tanks for highly concentrated contamination. There’s less room for contaminants to move around, and less volume for the contamination to become less concentrated. 

How Does Surface Water Become Polluted?

Surface water is extremely susceptible to pollution because it occupies such a large portion of the earth’s surface. Surface water pollution is almost entirely the result of human activities. Agriculture, mining, factory effluent, landfills, human/animal waste and localized pollution are just some of the most common sources of surface water pollution. Topography and geological formations create natural surface water runoff, but human manipulation of the land increases flow rates and overall contamination.

  • Point source pollution comes from an easily identifiable source, like a factory or sewage treatment plant. Point source pollution is discharged through a pipeline, ditch, or any “discrete conveyance” that directly or indirectly enters a body of water. Point sources are typically regulated by National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits.

  • Non-point source pollution is much harder to regulate because the source is not easily identifiable. Agricultural and stormwater runoff are the two most common types of nonpoint source pollution. Heavy rain events cause contaminants to runoff from roads and fields, collecting debris and pollution as it travels into a body of water.

How Do You Mitigate Surface Water Pollution?

It’s expensive and nearly impossible to mitigate a contaminant once it has entered surface water. For some contaminants, the solution is typically self-mitigating. A contaminant will become diluted to extremely small concentrations after it has traveled and dispersed throughout a body of water. Additionally, some contaminants are still extremely toxic at very small concentrations. There are also several persistent contaminants that never fully decompose in nature (PCBs, DDT and Dioxin), or take hundreds of years to degrade. As we’ve seen in Wilmington, North Carolina, and Maplewood, Minnesota, municipal water treatment facilities are only equipped to remove certain types and quantities of surface water contamination.

What Is Currently The Biggest Threat To Surface Water?

Man-made compounds are one of the largests threats to drinking water sources. Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are a category of man-made “emerging contaminants,” which means they have been detected in the environment but the risk to human health is not well-understood. Chemicals such as GenX, PFOA, and PFOS are all common contaminants that fall under the category of PFAS. DuPont, Chemours, and 3M have been using variations of these chemicals in industrial and consumer products since the early 1950’s. Scotchgard, Teflon, firefighting foam, metal plating, heat/water repellent chemicals, and stain resistant fabrics are common uses of PFAS. They are extremely persistent in the environment, which means they do not readily degrade. PFAS effluent is either directly dumped from a factory into surface water or a dug ditch, which will then percolate into groundwater. This is allowed because PFAS are unregulated by the federal government.

North Carolina’s Cape Fear River has been unknowingly experiencing surface water contamination for years. A Chemours plant located in Fayetteville, North Carolina, had been discharging various types of PFAS into the Cape Fear River since the 1980's. The Cape Fear is the primary drinking water source for residents of Brunswick and New Hanover County. Their water resource is now tainted with a dangerous contaminant that's unregulated by the federal government.

Algal Blooms and Surface Water

Algal blooms are another major threat to surface water. An influx of nutrients or heat can increase the quantity of algae. Often, this overload of nutrients is the result of agricultural fertilizer runoff. Harmful Algal Blooms or HABs occur after an influx of nutrients or a sudden increase in water temperature. HABs can then produce cyanotoxins, which are harmful to humans and the environment.

How Can I Protect Surface Water?

Protecting surface water from contamination will not only improve drinking water quality, but also valuable habitats. Here are some tips for local level surface water management:
  • Watershed Management: Municipalities should look at watersheds as an entire system, rather than exclusively a water resource. Watershed management surveys the land surrounding a body of water to determine the natural flows and influxes.
  • Eliminating Pesticides, Herbicides, and Fertilizers: What’s bad for plants and animals, is also bad for humans. This category of surface water pollution runs-off directly into surrounding bodies of water and effects fragile surface water ecosystems. Reducing or eliminating the use of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers will reduce the amount of necessary additives by municipal water treatment facilities to eliminate contaminants.
  • Reduce Impervious Surfaces: Impervious surface is any type of ground cover that prevents water from infiltrating into the ground. Pavement or asphalt is the best example. Impervious surface increases runoff flow rates into surface water, and prevents groundwater from naturally filtering contaminants. Next time you’re thinking about paving your driveway, consider a pervious alternative such as porous asphalt or pervious concrete.
  • Hold Municipalities Accountable: Stay current with commercial and industrial development within your community. Public comment periods are required prior to development and prior to obtaining a NPDES permit. Companies are required to address each question and concern individually, so if development plans raise personal concern, don’t be afraid to utilize the public comment period.
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    Breaking: ATSDR Releases Toxicological Profile for Perfluoroalkyl Substances

    Analies Dyjak @ Wednesday, June 20, 2018 at 5:09 pm -0400

    Analies Dyjak  |  Policy Nerd

    The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) just released a draft toxicological profile for Perfluoroalkyl Substances such as PFOA and PFOS. This category of emerging contaminants have flooded news headlines this past year, even though they've been persistent in the environment since the 1950’s. PFOA and PFOS are ingredients used in the production of non-stick materials like Scotchgaurd, Teflon, and firefighting foam. The risk to human health is "unknown" but exposure has been linked to various types of cancer, developmental issues, and preeclampsia in laboratory animals.

    June 20, 2018 ATSDR Toxicological Profile for Perfluoroalkyls

    Municipalities across the country have been demanding that government agencies expedite toxicological reports for this dangerous class of contaminants. Wilmington, North Carolina and several Michigan municipalities are just some of the locations that have been severely impacted by perfluoroalkyl contamination. Unfortunately, GenX, the most popular PFAS was not included in this particular toxicity study. This toxicological profile included provisional Minimal Risk Levels for both PFOA and PFOS. A Minimal Risk Level (MRL) is a non-enforceable standard, similar to an EPA health advisory level. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry recommended reducing EPA’s non-enforceable health advisory from 70 parts per trillion to 20 parts per trillion for drinking water. This means municipalities across the country may be in exceedance with this new health recommendation, so people should stay current with public notices in their area.

    Are Perfluoroalkyls Now Regulated? 

    It’s important to note that this toxicity study does not mean that PFOA and PFOS contaminants are now regulated. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry can only make recommendations and provide scientific data regarding this class of contaminants. It’s now up to regulatory agencies to comb through these data and make decisions to ensure that public health is protected. The regulatory process in this country, especially for toxic substances, can take upwards of decades. A regulation proposed by EPA or CDC could take years to draft and even longer before it’s enforceable.

    Our Water Nerds are working around the clock to help make sense of this 852 page document. We’ll be reviewing the document and providing information on our Youtube, Facebook and Twitter accounts. Make sure to subscribe and follow Water Nerd TV on Facebook to stay up to date!

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