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Problems We Found in Fairfax County, Virginia’s Drinking Water

Christina Liu @ Wednesday, June 30, 2021 at 6:46 pm -0400
Contaminants of concern in Fairfax County’s drinking water include LeadPFASDisinfection ByproductsRadiumUraniumArsenic, and Chromium 6For Hydroviv’s assessment of drinking water issues in the Fairfax County, Virginia area, we aggregated water quality test data from Fairfax Water, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Environmental Working Group, and the US Geological Survey. Our Water Nerds then cross referenced these data with toxicity studies in the scientific and medical literature, as well as upcoming regulatory changes. The custom water filters that we build for our customers in the Fairfax County area are optimized with this research in mind.

City Programs Invest in Green Solutions to Reduce Runoff

Analies Dyjak @ Monday, April 5, 2021 at 12:00 pm -0400

Emma Johnson | Scientific Contributor   

On September 10, 2020, a torrential rainstorm hit Washington, DC, dropping up to six inches of rain in a matter of hours in some places. Nearby waterways, like the northwest branch of the Anacostia River, rose eight feet in an hour, flooding streets and stranding drivers. 

One reason so much water ends up in the region’s waters so quickly is because 43% of the city is covered in impervious surfaces like rooftops, roads, and sidewalks that immediately direct water into the drain, straight into the rivers and creeks. DC’s Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE) says that a storm that drops 1.2 inches of rain produces about 525 million gallons of stormwater runoff. 

In addition to quickly flooding buildings and streets, stormwater runoff poses another problem: pollution. When water flows over impervious surfaces, it collects oil, pesticides, pathogens, or whatever else is on the surface and washes it into watersheds. This can contaminate drinking water and poison wildlife.

Controlling the volume of water remains a challenge for cities across the country. The Anacostia Watershed Society labeled stormwater runoff as one of the fastest growing sources of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay in it’s 2020 State of the Anacostia Report Card.

City programs around the country are working to reduce the runoff volume and pollution by replacing impervious surfaces with green spaces that soak up water like a sponge. DC’s RiverSmart Homes program, which started in 2007, helps homeowners reduce runoff by providing rebates on water bills and installing features like rain gardens and permeable pavement. Today, over 4,000 DC homeowners have participated all across the city. The program has also expanded to include schools and communities outside the city’s limits.

Another city that is heavily investing in nature-based stormwater runoff mitigation programs is Philadelphia. The city created a $2.4 billion, 25-year plan in 2009 called Green City, Clean Waters, which aims to transform the health of the city’s waters primarily through green methods. The city hopes completing this plan will reduce runoff volume by 85%. Philadelphia also offers grants to help property owners pay for stormwater retrofit projects and a fee for commercial customers that is based on the square footage of impervious surface on the property.

DC and Philadelphia are just two of hundreds of cities around the country that are investing in green infrastructure initiatives to reduce stormwater runoff. From Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Lenexa, Kansas, to Huntington, West Virginia, cities are seeing how rain barrels, permeable pavement, street trees, and more can reduce runoff, decrease pollution, and improve quality of life for their residents.

Managing stormwater runoff will remain a major challenge for cities in the future, especially in a changing climate. Runoff can be poisonous to the areas where we live, work, and play and create long-lasting health effects on local wildlife. Cities are rising to this challenge by turning impervious surfaces into green sponges to better protect the safety and health of all beings who live there.

Other Articles We Think You Might Enjoy:
What You Need To Know About The Current State of PFAS Regulation
Michigan To Pay $600 Million To Flint Residents
How Does Lead Impact Drinking Water?

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


Why Does Washington, DC Water Taste Bad Right Now?

Analies Dyjak @ Wednesday, March 27, 2019 at 2:39 pm -0400

Analies Ross-Dyjak  |  Water Nerd
**
Updated March 24, 2020 to include new chlorine switch dates

Our Water Nerds have received a ton of questions about a noticeable change in the taste and smell of Washington DC's tap water. While we've heard lots of interesting hypotheses, what's really happening is that the Washington Aqueduct (where DC Water purchases water from) has recently switched over its disinfectants from chloramine to chlorine, for an annual "spring cleaning" of the distribution lines. DC residents can expect funky-tasting water from March 23-May 4, 2020.

How Are Chloramine and Chlorine Different?

We answer this question in much more detail in a different post, but here's the skinny on chlorine in drinking water: Like a growing number of US cities, Washington, DC uses chloramine as the primary disinfectant for a couple of reasons:
  1. Chloramine persists longer in the distribution system, so it does a better job killing bacteria in areas of the water distribution system that are near the end of the pipes, or don't have as high of flow as other areas.

  2. It forms fewer disinfection byproducts in the presence of organic matter.

  3. Chloramine-treated water doesn't have as strong of a taste as chlorine-treated water.

While these are all great reasons to use chloramine, most cities that use chloramine undergo a more aggressive disinfection cycle for a few weeks each year (aka "Spring Cleaning"). 

What Are The Impacts of Switching to Chlorine?

People often find that the water tastes and smells like pool water during the disinfectant switch, in addition to your bathroom smelling like swimming pool's locker room after showering. If you want to fix this problem... you have a couple of options that don't involve bottled water (horrible for the environment and less regulated than tap water!).
  1. Get a water filter that's designed to handle it (and lead, chromium 6, VOCs...)!

  2.  If you let chlorinated tap water sit in a pitcher overnight, a good amount of the chlorine taste and smell will go away. However, many people find that the water tastes "stale" when this happens (from the less volatile disinfection byproducts).

When Will Washington, DC's Water Switch Back Over to Chloramine?

The "Spring Cleaning" period is scheduled to take place from March 23 until May 4, 2020. After May 4, the water utility provider will switch the disinfectant back over to chloramine. Until then... non-Hydroviv users will just have to hold their noses!

Other Great Articles We Think You'll Love:
Tap Water Chlorination: The Good, The Bad, The Unknown
What Are Disinfection Byproducts and Why Should I Care?
Fluoride in Municipal Tap Water: What You Need To Know

Why Are So Many Schools Testing Positive For Lead In Drinking Water?

Analies Dyjak @ Sunday, January 22, 2017 at 4:36 pm -0500

Eric Roy, Ph.D.  |  Scientific Founder

***Modified on August 23, 2018 to include more cities and add a video ***

With more schools in major cities testing positive for lead contamination (e.g. New York CityCleveland, Chicago, Portland, Newark, San Francisco), we get lots of questions about what’s happening. The goal of this article is to shed some light on why lead in school drinking water is such an important thing.

There is no level of lead that is known to be safe for children. Period.

Since lead contamination in tap water entered the spotlight in 2015, people have incorrectly presented EPA's regulatory limits as safe/not safe thresholds. While a simple safe/unsafe threshold would certainly make things more simple, the 15 ppb threshold was never intended to be a "safe level." It’s a limit that EPA established to evaluate city-wide corrosion control practices and it allows a city to have up to 10% of samples test ABOVE the 15 ppb threshold, and still be in compliance with the Lead and Copper Rule. For reference, the American Academy of Pediatrics is calling for regulatory changes that ensure that water never tests above 1 ppb in schools.

Most Schools Are Old & Old Plumbing Often Contains Lead

According to data assembled by the U.S. Department of Education, the average age of a Public School building in the United States is 44 years old, a time when lead-based plumbing was the norm. Even in newer schools, lead contamination can creep into water because lead wasn’t completely phased out of plumbing connections, fittings, and valves until 2014.

Weekends & Summers Allow Water To Sit Stagnant For Extended Periods Of Time In Schools

As many now realize, lead accumulates in water when it leaches from lead-containing pipes, valves, and plumbing connections. The longer water sits stagnant in pipes, the more lead it can accumulate. Unlike in homes, where water is used on a daily basis and never sits stagnant for more than a few hours each night, water in schools goes completely unused for long periods of time each weekend, vacation, and summer. These frequent long periods where water is not used are detrimental for two reasons:

  1. Lead has more time to accumulate as water sits stagnant in lead-containing pipes
  2. The lack of flushing prevents corrosion measures from rebuilding the protective layer that prevents lead from leaching out in the first place. 

Most Schools Do Not Test Water Properly For Lead Contamination

It sounds crazy, but most schools don’t test for lead contamination in water. When asked by a reporter about testing the school’s water for lead, an elementary school superintendent went on record to say that "We do not test because it has never been brought up as a concern, nor is it a requirement to do so."

The reality is, even if schools choose to test for lead contamination, it’s much more complicated than testing in a residential home. In a residential home, EPA sampling protocols require that water be unused for 6 hours, in order to simulate the night and work day periods where water commonly sits stagnant in pipes. However, this protocol does not mimic how water is used in schools, because in addition to the 12 hours each school night the water goes unused, it sits stagnant for roughly 60 hours each weekend, and much longer periods over school vacations and summer.

How Can Schools Reduce Lead Contamination In Drinking Water?

Realistically, it’s probably cost-prohibitive for schools to replace all lead-containing plumbing or buy and maintain effective point of use drinking water filters that remove lead. When school administrators approach us for solutions, we always advise them to take immediate steps to identify lead containing plumbing, test their water for lead, and to implement regular pipe flushing protocols.

We encourage everyone to call their city's school department to better understand if and how lead is being tested for in schools. Because testing in schools is very complicated, we encourage people to ask for specifics of the testing program and actual results, not blanket assurances that everything is ok.  As always, we encourage all readers to take advantage of our “Help No Matter What” approach to technical support. Technical support will answer your questions through email (support@hydroviv.com), free of charge, even if you have no plans to purchase a Hydroviv water filter.

Originally published on January 28, 2017. Updated May 9, 2017

Related Articles:

Does New York City Tap Water Have A Lead Contamination Problem?
Pittsburgh's Lead Level Exceeds EPA Limits In 2016
Why You Are Being Mislead By Your TDS Meter