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Why Does Washington, DC's Water Taste Bad?

Analies Dyjak @ Friday, March 24, 2017 at 4:34 pm -0400
Updated March 26, 2018 with 2018 dates and the 2018 video.
Starting today (March 26), we have had lots of questions about a noticeable chance in Washington DC's tap water taste. 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 from chloramine to chlorine for an annual "Spring Cleaning" of the distribution lines.
 

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. It 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 doesn't form disinfection by products 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?

During this time, some people find that the water tastes and smells tastes bad, and the bathroom smells a bit like a 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).

  1. Filter your water 
  2. If you let chlorinated tap water sit in a pitcher overnight, a good amount of the chlorine taste will go away.

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

May 7 is the day that DC Water plans to switch back over to chloramine. Until then... non-Hydroviv users will just have to hold their noses!

 

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Digging Into The Environmental Working Group Tap Water Database

Eric Roy @ Saturday, July 29, 2017 at 6:16 pm -0400

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 (hello@hydroviv.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 (hello@hydroviv.com) or through our live chat. You can also find us on Twitter or Facebook!

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2019 Washington DC Tap Water Report: What You Need To Know

Eric Roy @ Saturday, July 1, 2017 at 3:42 pm -0400

Eric Roy, Ph.D.  |  Scientific Founder

***Updated to include 2019 water quality data***

For Hydroviv’s assessment of Washington, D.C. drinking water, we aggregated water quality test data from D.C. Water (the public utility provider) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as from samples that we collect and analyze. We cross reference these data with toxicity studies in the scientific and medical literature, and look at upcoming regulatory changes. The custom water filters that build and sell for Washington, D.C. are optimized with these factors in mind. 

Lead In DC Tap Water

Washington, D.C. is an old city with a lot of lead service lines, so it's not a huge surprise that D.C. has had such a big problem with lead in drinking water. Lead leaches from lead-containing pipes, solder, and fittings, unlike most contaminants which are found at the source. D.C. Water uses two sampling periods when testing for lead: January-June and July-December. In the 118 samples pulled during January-June period, the 90th percentile concentration for lead was 3 parts per billion, and 3 samples were about the 15 part per billion Action Level (AL). In the 104 samples pulled from the July-December sampling period, the 90th percentile concentration was 2 parts per billion, and none of the collected samples exceeded the action level. Although these results indicate that D.C. is in citywide compliance with federal water quality standards, it's important to point out that EPA, CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics all agree that there is no safe level of lead for children. The bottom line is that the federal standards allow up to 10% of sampled taps to have lead concentrations over 15 parts per billion.

We highly recommend that Washington D.C. residents take a look at this map to see if their home has a lead service line, because those homes (and homes with plumbing that predates 1986) are most susceptible. We also highly recommend taking advantage of D.C. Water's free lead testing program, and any families with small children take steps to remove any lead from their water, even if they don't use a Hydroviv filter. It's important to remember that most pitchers and fridge filters do NOT remove lead from water. Hydroviv Undersink filters are NSF/ANSI 53 certified to remove lead from drinking water.

Detectable Levels of Unregulated Contaminants In DC Tap Water

One thing that has caused quite a bit of alarm from several people in this year's report is that several herbicides, VOC's and synthetic compounds were all found at detectable levels in D.C. drinking water. Herbicides such as Dalapon, shouldn't be a huge surprise seeing that D.C. draws water from near at the end of a river, so there is opportunity for agricultural runoff to enter the river. For anyone who is interested, The Maryland DEP has made the Source Water Assessment for the Potomac River (404 pages) publicly available. 

DC's Water Source: Potomac River

The Washington Aqueduct (operated by the Army Corps of Engineers) draws water from the Potomac River for treatment. District of Columbia Sewer and Water Authority (aka D.C. Water) purchases treated water from the Washington Aqueduct, and is responsible for distributing it throughout D.C. We also have a stand-alone article that entirely focuses on the Potomac River.

Left Out Of The Report: Chromium 6

We were a bit surprised to see Chromium 6 left out of the 2019 water quality report for Washington, D.C. Even though it's a known human carcinogen, chromium 6 is categorized as an "Emerging Contaminant" by EPA but is not regulated on its own. D.C. Water (and 6000 other municipalities) participate in the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR3), which is a nationwide testing program to study "emerging" contaminants. UCMR acknowledges that contaminants on the list most likely cause adverse health effects, including cancer. The concentration in D.C. water average 86 parts per trillion. For perspective, these levels are roughly 4-5x higher than what The State Of California set as a public health goal. We believe that people should not wait for EPA to begin regulating chromium 6 on its own, and filter their water, even it they aren't using our product. It's important to remember that most pitchers and fridge filters do NOT remove chromium 6 from water.

Per and Polyfluoralkyl Substances (PFAS) In Washington, D.C. Drinking Water

PFAS are a category of chemicals found in various non-stick/stain resistant products, as well as fire fighting foam. PFAS are considered to be "emerging contaminants" because they are not currently regulated by EPA, but are known to be toxic and persistent in the environment. PFAS have been detected at surrounding military installments that are in close proximity to the Potomac River (DC's source water). Most municipalities are not required to test for, or remove, PFAS from drinking water. Not all filters are designed to remove PFAS from drinking water. If you'd like find water filters that remove PFAS from tap water, check out this Duke/NC State study. 

Disinfectant 

The primary disinfectant used to treat Washington DC's tap water is chloramine, except for a few weeks in the spring when DC switches over to chlorine. D.C. (and a growing number of municipalities) use chloramine instead of chlorine for a few reasons: for one, chloramine is more persistent than chlorine, so it maintains its ability to disinfect the water further away from the source. On the other side, chloramine does not quickly dissipate from water if left in a jug overnight. If you want to get it out of the water, you'll need a filter designed to remove chloramine, because a regular charcoal filter doesn't do a great job removing it.

If you want to learn more about Hydroviv's water filters, check out www.hydroviv.com, or drop us a line through live chat or email (hello@hydroviv.com). Even though we sell our products nationwide, Hydroviv is a DC company and we take care of our own backyard!

As always, feel free to take advantage of our "Help No Matter What" approach to technical support. We will answer your questions about water quality even if you have no desire to purchase one of our products. 

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How To Filter Chromium 6 From Drinking Water

Analies Dyjak @ Thursday, March 9, 2017 at 10:35 pm -0500

Eric Roy, Ph.D.   |  Scientific Founder 

Since a nationwide story broke about widespread chromium 6 (also known as hexavalent chromium) contamination impacting about 200 million people in the US, we have been getting a lot of questions about the toxicity, regulation, and removal of the carcinogen from drinking water. This article discusses the only effective ways to remove chromium 6 from drinking water.

There Are Two Effective Ways To Filter Chromium 6 From Water:

1. Cartridges With Chromium 6 Filter Media

Certain types of filtration media are extremely effective at removing chromium 6 from water. They can be blended with other types of filtration media, and built into cartridges that remove chromium 6 as water flows through them. The advantages to this approach over reverse osmosis include: better flow rate, easier to install, and less expensive to maintain. Obviously, we are partial to our under sink water filtration system, but there are other high-end competitors that build quality chromium-6 water filter systems using the same approach successfully (albeit at double the price than Hydroviv).

2. Reverse Osmosis

The other way to effectively filter chromium 6 from drinking water is using a properly maintained reverse osmosis (RO) system. In addition to the common complaints of RO users, it’s critical to diligently replace the pre-filtration cartridges, because if not, the RO membrane can become compromised, rendering the system ineffective. 

Myths About Chromium 6 Removal

Contrary to the words & advice of certain internet naturopathic gurus, boiling, freezing, adding Himalayan sea salt or coconut oil to your water does NOT remove chromium 6 from water, or lessen/reverse the toxic effects of it.   

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What Is The Best Water Filter For Apartments Or Condos?

Analies Dyjak @ Saturday, February 25, 2017 at 10:12 pm -0500

Just because you live in a multi-unit building doesn’t mean that you should be forced to use ineffective pitcher or fridge filters that don’t filter things like lead or chromium 6. These are the big things to consider when shopping for a water filter for your apartment or rental home.

Universal Connections

You probably don't want to change out the kitchen faucet in a place that you are renting, so you’ll want to make sure that your water filter connects to the existing faucet and cold water valve with universal faucet connections. Nearly all faucets in the US use a 3/8” compression fitting to connect to the cold-water shutoff valve, so make sure that the inlet and outlets use that size connection.

Size

Many apartments in cities like New York City or Washington, DC have smaller under sink spaces than what are found in larger homes. When you are shopping for water filters, you’ll need to take size into account, especially if your unit has a garbage disposal that takes up a bunch of space under your sink. Most reverse osmosis systems are bulky and have large storage tanks, and will not fit under the sink of many apartments. 

Deposit Considerations

Many water filtration systems for apartments require that you drill a hole in your drain line, or that you drill a hole in your counter top. Obviously, if you do either of those things, you won’t get your deposit back, so most people don’t opt for reverse osmosis systems that require a drilled connection to your drain.

Portability

When you rent your home, you want to make sure that your water filter can be taken with you when it’s time to move. Make sure that your apartment water filter uninstalls very easily, so you don’t leave it behind in the frantic move out!

Hydroviv’s custom water filters are engineered with renters in mind. It’s a no-compromise water filter (filters things like lead & chromium 6), but it’s designed for people who live in apartments. Its housing fits in small spaces and connects to existing faucets with screw on, screw off connections in 15 minutes, no plumbing experience needed, and we provide an easy water filter installation guide to help you along the way. When it’s time to move, Hydroviv apartment water filters can be pulled in about 5 minutes, and the unit’s plumbing can be put back to how it was when you got there. 

 

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