Problems We Found In El Paso's Drinking Water
Analies Dyjak | Policy Nerd
For Hydroviv’s assessment of the city of El Paso’s drinking water issues, we aggregated water quality test data provided by El Paso Water, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and supplemental health information. We cross referenced the city’s water quality test data with toxicity studies in scientific and medical literature. The water filters that we sell at Hydroviv are optimized to filter out contaminants that are found in El Paso’s drinking water.
Where Does El Paso Source Its Drinking Water?
El Paso sources its drinking water from the Rio Grande, and the Mesilla Bolson and Hueco Bolson aquifers. This water is treated by the El Paso Water Distribution System.
Chromium 6 In El Paso's Drinking Water
El Paso’s drinking water has some of the highest levels of Chromium 6 among major cities in the U.S. Chromium 6 is a highly toxic metal that is currently unregulated by the EPA. In recent years, El Paso tap water has averaged 2400 parts per trillion for Chromium 6. This is 120 times higher than the concentration determined to have a negligible impact on cancer risk, as reported by the California Environmental Protection Agency. Chromium 6 pollution is associated with metal processing, tannery facilities, chromate production, stainless steel welding, and pigment production. The state of California set their own health advisory level because Chromium 6 is not regulated by the federal government. EPA has acknowledged that Chromium 6 is a known human carcinogen through inhalation, but is still determining its cancer potential through ingestion of drinking water. Lung, nasal and sinus cancers are associated with Chromium 6 exposure. Acute respiratory disease, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, hematological, hepatic, renal, and neurological distress are health effects associated with high levels of chromium 6 exposure.
Disinfection Byproducts In El Paso's Drinking Water
El Paso municipal water also detected high levels of Disinfection Byproducts or DBPs. Concentrations were detected as high as 99 parts per billion, which exceeds EPA’s Maximum Contaminant Level of 80 parts per billion for Total Trihalomethanes. Concentrations of Haloacetic Acids-5 were detected at levels as high as 41.9 parts per billion, which is in compliance with the loose EPA standard of 60 parts per billion. Disinfection Byproducts are a category of emerging contaminants which means they have been detected in drinking water but the risk to human health is unknown. DBPs are formed when chlorine-based disinfectants are routinely added to the water supply to kill bacteria. DBPs are split into two categories: Total Trihalomethanes (TTHMs) and Haloacetic Acids-5 (HAA5). Regulatory agencies have very little knowledge about the adverse health effects of DBPs, and their toxicity. EPA has stated that they have been linked to an increased risk of bladder cancer, as well as kidney, liver, and central nervous system problems. Some disinfection byproducts have almost no toxicity, but others have been associated with cancer, reproductive problems, and developmental issues in laboratory animals. 200 million people in the United States use chlorinated tap water as their primary drinking source, so we take understanding their full health effects very seriously, even if federal agencies fail to regulate all categories.
Arsenic In El Paso's Drinking Water
Arsenic levels reported in the 2017 El Paso water quality report were barely in compliance with the loose EPA Maximum Contaminant Level of 10 parts per billion. The highest level detected in El Paso’s tap water was 9 parts per billion and the overall average was 4.2 parts per billion. Arsenic is a toxic substance that is linked to a long list of health problems in humans. For example, arsenic can cause skin, bladder, lung, liver and prostate cancers, as well as create non-cancerous problems with cardiovascular (heart/blood vessels), pulmonary (lungs), immune, neurological (brain), and endocrine (e.g. diabetes) systems. Arsenic naturally occurs in bedrock, and is not the result of industrial pollution. If you are serviced by a private well, we highly recommend purchasing a filter optimized to remove arsenic. Hydroviv recommends that anyone with more than 1 part per billion take steps to remove arsenic from their drinking water, especially if children are in the home.
It’s important to note that only a handful of contaminants are required to be included in annual Consumer Confidence Reports, and that there are hundreds of potentially harmful unregulated contaminants that aren’t accounted for. If you’re interested in learning more about water filters that have been optimized for El Paso’s tap water quality, feel free to visit www.hydroviv.com to talk to a Water Nerd on our live chat feature or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.Other Articles We Think You Might Enjoy:
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Arsenic In Drinking Water
Does Boiling My Water Purify It?
Our tech support team gets a lot of questions from people looking to purify their water by boiling or freezing it. Doing a quick web search, we learned that there is A LOT of bad information out there on the topic, which is strange because it's pretty straightforward and there isn't really any room for debate.
What Does Boiling My Water Protect Against?
In the United States, we are very fortunate that modern disinfection practices have nearly eliminated widespread waterborne illness. However, sometimes unplanned things do happen (e.g. water main breaks) which opens up an opportunity for biological contamination. When this happens, municipalities may issue a boil order or notice, because boiling water kills potentially dangerous microorganisms.
What Does Freezing My Water Protect Against?
Freezing things slows down the growth of bacteria, and is the reason why frozen foods can be stored for long periods of time.
Will Boiling Or Freezing My Water Remove Lead, Arsenic, Mercury & Chromium 6?
No. Unfortunately, freezing or boiling water to purify it does not remove chemicals like lead, arsenic, mercury, chromium 6, or barium. The only way to remove meaningful concentrations of these chemicals is by using a quality water filtration system. We have our favorite, but there are other effective systems out there as well!
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What Is "Safe" Drinking Water?
Analies Dyjak | Policy Nerd
One of the most frequently asked questions that our Water Nerds get asked is, “is my water safe?” Unfortunately, the answer to this isn’t all that cut and dry. We wanted to make a quick video explaining what “safe” really means.
What Does "Safe" Drinking Water Actually Mean?
“Safe” is a regulatory definition that means your drinking water is in compliance with standards set by the decades-old Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). There are only 90 contaminants regulated under this act, and thousands of others that are not. Unless mandated by the state, municipalities don't account for any unregulated contaminants. According to EPA, if the levels for each regulated pollutant meet EPA’s standard, then the drinking water is in compliance and therefore "safe". This doesn't include contaminants such as chromium 6, PFAS,
Can States Regulate Drinking Water?
States can create their own standards for regulated and unregulated contaminants, California being the best example. Most states typically don’t prioritize setting drinking water standards, or can’t afford to do so. Also, setting more stringent safe drinking water standards means that municipalities are responsible for complying with new allowable limits. This often means purchasing detection equipment as well as expensive filtration technology. More often than not, fitting these huge expenses into a local budget is impossible, and states take that into consideration when setting new standards.
Defining Legal Jargon
It’s important to understand the difference between enforceable and non-enforceable regulatory terms. Non-enforceable terms include; Lifetime Health Advisory Levels, Public Health Goals, Minimum Risk Levels, and Maximum Contaminant Level Goals. All of these are non-enforceable terms, and therefore municipal water treatment facilities do not need to comply with them. The only enforceable safe drinking water standards are Maximum Contaminant Levels and Action Levels.
Why are Enforceable and Non-Enforceable Standards Different?
Often, EPA is aware that their enforcement standards are set higher than what toxicologists consider to be safe. To address this, EPA creates Maximum Contaminant Level Goals (MCLGs) which refer to “the maximum level of a contaminant in drinking water at which no known or anticipated adverse effect on the health would occur..” Again, these are non-enforceable levels. In 2001, EPA set an enforceable Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 10 parts per billion for Arsenic in drinking water. That same year EPA adopted an MCLG of 0 parts per billion. This was EPA’s way of acknowledging that there really is no safe level of Arsenic in drinking water. EPA is unable to adopt a lower threshold because municipal water systems across the country would be out of compliance. EPA has to balance the cost imposed onto municipality, with the benefits associated with human health. This same principle goes for unregulated contaminants with health advisories. EPA set a lifetime health advisory of 70 parts per trillion for PFOA. Soon after, the Center for Disease Control recommended reducing the advisory level to 20 parts per trillion for the same contaminant. Finally, there are several health and regulatory agencies that understand that federal limits are set way over a safe threshold. At Hydroviv, we look at toxicological data instead of regulatory data when determining if your water is safe. We prefer to make recommendations about what doctors and pediatricians say is safe.
That was a lot of information so here’s a recap! When municipalities label water as “safe,” they’re only referring to the handful of regulated contaminants. There’s a lot of regulatory jargon that might make it hard to understand the difference between the recommended monitoring level and the enforceable monitoring level. And finally, what regulations say and what toxicologists say is very different in terms of “safe” levels. At Hydroviv, we look at toxicological data instead of regulatory data. We prefer to make recommendations about what doctors and pediatricians say is safe.
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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)
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Please Stop Using TDS Testers To Evaluate Water Quality
Eric Roy, Ph.D. | Scientific Founder
We get quite a few questions about TDS 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 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.
What is TDS? What Does A TDS 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. 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 rises. This is why there's no such thing as deionized water in nature. Depending on a region’s geology, natural TDS 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 Meter Not Measure?
Because TDS 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 measurement. 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 probe reads 000.
What About Lead, Arsenic or Chromium 6?
Even though these toxic metals are charged when dissolved in water, a TDS meter does not give meaningful information about their presence or concentration in water. There are two main reasons for this:
- A TDS 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 meter (or any other handheld device). They must be measured by trained staff in analytical laboratories that use much more sophisticated scientific equipment.
Do Hydroviv Filters Lower TDS?
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 levels in water filtered through a Hydroviv system are sometimes slightly higher than unfiltered water.
Should I Buy a TDS Meter To Test My Water For High TDS Levels?
No. There is absolutely no reason to drink low TDS 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 Meter?
If you have a TDS meter (like this one), we recommend giving it to a curious child who has an interest in science! Use the 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org for educational ideas involving TDS meters).
If you mail it to us, we’ll make sure it finds a good home in a school classroom, and we’ll send you a $20 coupon code to use on Hydroviv's website.
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
A Deeper Dive Into The CNN Report on America's Drinking Water
*Map courtesy of the Natural Resources Defense Council*
Analies Dyjak | Policy Nerd
Our inbox has been inundated with questions regarding the NRDC drinking water report that CNN retreated yesterday. We wanted to add some context and remind readers that these developments are not new. The scope of the drinking water problem in this country is much broader than the 90 federally regulated contaminants highlighted in the report.
With myriad water quality crises popping up all over the country this past year, the topic of drinking water quality has once again commanded national media attention. CNN recently published an article underlining a 2017 report by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Major Takeaways from the CNN Water Report:
It’s not easy to violate a drinking water standard. In fact, drinking water regulations are set so high in the United States that it’s surprisingly difficult for a municipality to surpass a federal threshold. The consensus in the scientific and toxicological community is that federal standards should be reduced across the board.
Why is the conversation being limited to regulated contaminants? For a bit of perspective, EPA regulates 90 drinking water contaminants that municipalities must comply with. These regulated contaminants include lead, arsenic, disinfection byproducts, and others. There are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of potentially dangerous unregulated contaminants. Despite this growing problem, the CNN report focused entirely on the 90 federally regulated contaminants, which doesn't even scratch the surface of America's drinking water crisis.
The article is vague about what constitutes a "violation." Municipalities can receive a violation from the state, or primacy agency for different reasons. Municipalities can be in violation if they are "out of compliance" or "in exceedance" of a drinking water standard. However, municipalities that fail to report data or test for a contaminant may also receive a violation. There's very little enforcement or repercussions imposed on municipalities that have violations, and often community members are left in the dark.
How Can We Determine The Actual Scope of Drinking Water Contamination In The United States?
Figuring out the scope of this problem is extremely difficult, due to the slow-moving regulatory process and missing data. EPA estimates it would cost $743 billion to mitigate only the regulated contaminants in the U.S., meaning it would do nothing to address unregulated contaminants like Chromium 6, PFAS, and 1,4-Dioxane. Communities like Madison, Wisconsin could theoretically receive a gold star when looking at their compliance for regulated contaminants. Madison has low levels or lead, disinfection byproducts, and arsenic - all well within EPA standards. People are often surprised to find out that Madison has screamingly high levels of Chromium 6, which is also known as the "Erin Brockovich" chemical (the movie came out almost 20 years ago, and the contaminant is still unregulated). According to the most recent report, the average concentration of Chromium 6 in Madison is 1400 parts per trillion. This is 70 times higher than the concentration determined to have a negligible impact on cancer risk.
America’s drinking water is more widespread than you think, and the scope of the problem goes well beyond the 90 contaminants addressed in the article. We must look beyond annual Consumer Confidence Reports to unveil the truth about our drinking water contamination.Other Article We Think You Might Enjoy:
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