How Mining Activities From Long Ago Continue To Pollute Water Today
Daphne Abrams M.S.Ed. | Scientific Contributor
I became interested in the impact of mining a few years ago when I started teaching an environmental science class in northwestern Nevada. Nevada has a rich history of pioneers and mining (It is the silver state after all). While mining can be a source of revenue and prosperity for an area, it also has a huge environmental impact that can last many decades after the mining activity ends. This article discusses how this has played out in the Carson River.
Historical Mining Activities And EPA Superfund Sites
EPA’s Superfund program is responsible for cleaning up highly contaminated land and responding to environmental emergencies, oil spills and natural disasters in order to minimize long-lasting contamination from these events. Even though the government has categorized these sites as highly toxic, they are sorely underfunded when it comes to cleanup and often forgotten about altogether. This is particularly problematic because one in six Americans live within 3 miles of a Superfund site. The closest two Superfund sites to the school that I teach at are two abandoned mining sites. One is the Carson River Mercury Site, which is the legacy of silver and gold mining in the area, and the other is from the abandoned Rio Tinto Copper Mine.
Lasting Impacts Of Historical Mining Activity On The Carson River
Between the contamination from these two Superfund sites, roughly eighty miles of the Carson River is paralyzed by heavy metal toxicity. Even though contamination likely occurred in the 1800s, there are still advisories not eat fish caught in that stretch of the Carson River, due to concerns about mercury, which biomagnifies up food the food chain.
What's Being Done About Contamination From Historical Mining Activities?
While it seems hard to debate against cleaning up these types of historical toxic messes, the Senate and House voted to overturn the “Stream Protection Rule” shortly after President Trump took office, as part of the new administration's campaign promise to relax environmental regulations.
Do You Have More Questions About How Does Mining Affect Water Today?
Hydroviv makes it our business to help you better understand your water. As always, feel free to take advantage of our “help no matter what” approach to technical support! Our water nerds will work to answer your questions, even if you have no intention of purchasing one of our water filters. Reach out by dropping us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or through our live chat. You can also find us on Twitter or Facebook!Recommended Articles For You
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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:
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Digging Into The Environmental Working Group Tap Water Database
Eric Roy, Ph.D. | Scientific Founder
This past week, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a website where people punch in their zip code, and view contaminants found in their water. As a company that uses water quality data to optimize each customer’s water filter, we applaud EWG for putting in the enormous amount of time & effort to build the database so the public can learn about their water. Unfortunately, we are seeing that these data are being used to generate inflammatory headlines, which can leave consumers confused and unnecessarily panicked.
We will be updating this water quality database blog post as more questions come in. If you have your own question, please reach out to us (email@example.com). One of our water nerds will do their best to get back to you very quickly, even if it’s outside of our business hours.
Frequently Asked Questions
Updated July 31, 2017
Are All Potential Contaminants Listed In The EWG Tap Water Database?
No. The EWG Tap Water Database pulls data from municipal measurements, but municipalities are only required to test for certain things. Simply put, you can’t detect what you don’t look for. One example of this can be seen by punching in Zip Code 28402 (Wilmington, North Carolina) into the EWG Tap Water Database. GenX, a chemical that has been discharged into the Cape Fear River by Chemours since PFOA since 2010, is not listed, even though it’s been in the center of a huge topic of conversation for the past 2 months in the local media.
Why Is The “Health Guideline” Different Than The “Legal Limit?”
The two different thresholds use different criteria. For example, the “Health Guideline” cited by EWG for carcinogens is defined by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) as a one-in-a-million lifetime risk of cancer, while the “Legal Limit” refers to the MCL which is the limit that triggers a violation by EPA. The OEHHA's criteria are established by toxicological techniques, while the EPA limits are negotiated through political channels. We wrote an article that addresses this topic in much more detail for those who are interested.
Why Am I Just Learning About This Now?
The EPA's Safe Drinking Water Act requires municipalities to make water quality test data public in Consumer Confidence Reports. These reports are required to talk about the water's source, information about any regulated contaminants found in the water, health effects of any regulated contaminant found above the regulated limit, and a few other things. As discussed before, the data in the EWG report use different criteria than the EPA, and it's hard for people to make sense of what's what.
Are The Data Correct If My Water Comes From A Private Well?
No. The EWG Tap Water Database only has data for municipal tap water. Private wells are completely unregulated, and there's no requirement to conduct testing. If you'd like us to dig into our additional water quality databases to help you understand likely contaminants in your private well, we're happy to do so. We don't offer testing services, but we're happy to help you find an accredited lab in your area, give advice on which tests to run, and help you interpret the results! We offer this service for free.
What About My City's Water Quality?
Hydroviv makes it our business to help you better understand your water. As always, feel free to take advantage of our “help no matter what” approach to technical support! Our water nerds will work to answer your questions, even if you have no intention of purchasing one of our water filters. Reach out by dropping us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or through our live chat. You can also find us on Twitter or Facebook!
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Heavy Metal Toxicity & Contamination: What You Need To Know
What Are Heavy Metals?
Chemists categorize heavy metals as elements that are at least five times denser than water. Examples of heavy metals include: cobalt (Co), copper (Cu), chromium (Cr), iron (Fe), magnesium (Mg), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo), nickel (Ni), selenium (Se), zinc (Zn), arsenic (As), mercury (Hg), and lead (Pb). Some heavy metals are essential minerals for healthy biochemical and physiological function. Others, such as lead, chromium, arsenic, and mercury are toxic even when ingested in very small quantities. Elemental density and toxicity are inter-related. Arsenic, which is technically categorized as a metalloid (think of a metalloid as metal-like), is quite dense and is extremely toxic in very small quantities. Thus, toxicologists typically categorize arsenic as a heavy metal. Due to their shared high degree of toxicity, lead, cadmium, chromium, mercury, and arsenic are cause for significant public concern.
How Are We Exposed To Heavy Metals?
People can be exposed to heavy metals though ingestion, inhalation, or contact with skin. The severity of health effects of heavy metals is related to the type and chemical form of each particular contaminant, and is also depends on the exposure time and dose.
Heavy metals have industrial, domestic, agricultural, medical and technological applications, and as a result they are now widespread in our environment. Heavy metal pollution in water is very high in areas where mining, smelters, metal processing refineries, wood preservation, and paper processing facilities are located. Human exposure to heavy metals as well as public concern for the associated health risks have both risen dramatically as a result of an exponential increase of their use in these various applications.
If Heavy Metals Are Toxic, Why Are They Found In Multi-Vitamins?
Some heavy metals including cobalt (Co), copper (Cu), chromium (Cr), iron (Fe), magnesium (Mg), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo), nickel (Ni), selenium (Se) and zinc (Zn) are essential minerals that are necessary for various biochemical and physiological functions. They serve as components of several key enzymes and play important roles in various oxidation-reduction reactions in our bodies. Many of these metals are found naturally in the food we eat, while other foods are fortified with these minerals. For example, almost all and grain products (cereal, bread, crackers, etc) are fortified with iron. Inadequate supply of these minerals can result in a variety of deficiency diseases. For example, anemia (red blood cell deficiency) can result from low iron. Supplements can prevent or treat diseases resulting from mineral deficiency.
Not all heavy metals are toxic at in low quantities, however all heavy metals (yes, even the good ones) can be toxic if too much is ingested. Each heavy metal’s toxicity depends on dosage, method of exposure, age, gender, genetics, and nutritional status of the exposed individual. An excess amount of any particular heavy metal produces cellular and tissue damage leading to a variety of adverse effects and human diseases. For some including chromium and copper, there is a very narrow range of concentrations between beneficial and toxic effects, so be careful when taking supplements. Other metals such as aluminium (Al), antinomy (Sb), arsenic (As), barium (Ba), beryllium (Be), bismuth (Bi), cadmium (Cd), gallium (Ga), germanium (Ge), gold (Au), indium (In), lead (Pb), lithium (Li), mercury (Hg), nickel (Ni), platinum (Pt), silver (Ag), strontium (Sr), tellurium (Te), thallium (Tl), tin (Sn), titanium (Ti), vanadium (V) and uranium (U) have no established biological functions and are considered non-essential metals in our diet.
What Is Heavy Metal Toxicity Or Heavy Metal Poisoning?
Each metal differs in how it behaves in our bodies, and exposure alone does not always cause disease or harm. Heavy metal-induced toxicity and carcinogenicity involves many biochemical processes, some of which are not clearly understood. The human body’s natural response to heavy metal exposure is to store them and slowly excrete them over time to minimize organ damage.
Acute heavy metal poisoning usually occurs when people are exposed to large amounts of one particular metal at a time. For example, a child swallowing a lead bullet can cause a large amount of lead exposure all at once. Acute exposures can quickly cause serious health effects or death.
Chronic or long-term exposure to lower levels of heavy metals can also cause health problems. The symptoms of chronic heavy metal poisoning can be severe, but are often less obvious and develop much more slowly over time than the symptoms caused by acute exposure. This is a topic of growing scientific evidence that needs to be better researched to clarify all the possible health implications. Chronic heavy metal poisoning can be challenging for both health care providers and patients because there are often many more questions than answers. Symptoms of chronic heavy metal toxicity can include but is not limited to headaches, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and weakness. However, these same symptoms can be caused by many other health problems unrelated to heavy metal toxicity. True chronic heavy metal poisoning is rare but also difficult to diagnose.
What Are The Health Effects Of Heavy Metal Toxicity?
Even in very low quantities, lead, cadmium, chromium, mercury, and arsenic are known to induce cardiovascular diseases, developmental abnormalities, neurologic and neurobehavioral disorders, diabetes, hearing loss, hematologic and immunologic disorders. These heavy metals are also classified as human carcinogens (known or probable) according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
Although the acute and chronic effects are known for some metals, little is known about the health impact of mixtures of heavy metals. Studies have shown that toxic heavy metals can interfere with absorption and use of nutritionally essential metals such as iron, calcium, copper, and zinc. However, the research on the combined effects of heavy metal exposure is very limited.
How Can I Minimize Exposure To Heavy Metals?
The best way to reduce heavy metal pollution is prevention. Identify sources of heavy metals in your home and remove them. Here are some helpful suggestions:
- Be aware of local fish advisories for mercury contamination.
- Test the water in your home for heavy metals and install a home water filtration system if necessary.
- Read labels on products coming in to your home.
- Store products containing heavy metals out of reach of children.
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