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Digging Into The Environmental Working Group Tap Water Database

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 (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

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

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.

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.

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.  

Other Articles We Think You'll Enjoy:

Please Stop Using a TDS Meter To Evaluate Your Home's Water Quality
Things To Know Before Replacing Your Home's Lead Service Line
How To Filter Chromium 6 From Drinking Water

 

How To Filter Chromium 6 From Drinking Water

How To Filter Chromium 6 From Drinking Water

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 

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)

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 prefiltration 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.   

As always, we encourage you to reach out to our “Help No Matter What” technical support through live chat or email (support@hydroviv.com).    Our team pledges to provide science-backed advice on water quality, even if you have no intention of buying a Hydroviv water filter. 

Other Articles We Think You Will Enjoy

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What Is The Best Water Filter For Apartments Or Condos?

What Is The Best Water Filter For Apartments Or Condos?

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. 

 

Other Great Articles We Think You'll Enjoy

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4 Things To Know Before Testing Your Home’s Water For Lead

4 Things To Know Before Testing Your Home’s Water For Lead

Eric Roy, Ph.D.  |  Scientific Founder

Since the lead crisis in Flint put lead contamination in the national spotlight, our Tech Support Team is frequently asked questions about testing a home’s water for lead.   Many who reach out to us do so after having been duped by "testing companies" looking to make a quick buck.  This article discusses how to test your home's water for lead accurately & cost-effectively.  

Check For Free City Programs

Some large cities (like Washington DC, NYC, Chicago) have programs in place where residents can submit samples to the city for free lead testing.  We strongly encourage people to take advantage of this free service if it's available to them.  

Ignore Marketing Gimmicks And Find An Accredited Laboratory For Lead Testing

Most of the consumer “test kits” you find at hardware stores or large online retailers are almost always for low cost “screening” tests that are notorious for false alarms and inconclusive results, which allows the lab to upsell you on a more sensitive and accurate test.  Don't be fooled by marketing claims that a kit is "EPA Recognized" or "Tests to EPA Standards"... they don't mean anything.  With lead, you should simply find an accredited water quality lab in your area, and request their test kit.   We recommend finding a lab that uses EPA Method 200.8, which is an Inductively Coupled Plasma, Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS) based method that gives accurate results at low concentrations.  

Sample Properly From The Faucet 

Because lead contamination occurs when water sits in lead-containing plumbing pipes, solder, and connections, it’s important that you sample from the faucet and collect at a time when your home’s water has not been used for at least 6 hours (like first thing in the morning)

We recommend collecting 3 samples:  one as soon as you turn on the faucet (also known as a "first draw"), and separate samples after the water has been running for 30 seconds, and 2 minutes.   The reason for collecting multiple samples in this interval is to sample water that sat overnight in different parts of the home’s plumbing and service line. 

Get Help Interpreting Lead Test Results

If all samples come back at zero, you’re probably in the clear for lead.  This is a good thing!

If any of the samples come back above zero, the interpretation gets quite a bit more complicated because EPA’s statements on lead toxicity and regulations are not in alignment.  On one hand, EPA states that there is no safe level of lead, which would imply that lead concentrations should be zero.  However, EPA has established a 15 ppb “Action Level” for lead… which most people (and some media outlets) interpret to mean “if my water is under 15 ppb, it’s safe.”  Unfortunately, that’s simply not true, because the 15 ppb Action Level threshold was established to tell whether or not city-wide corrosion control measures are having problems, not if a single sample contains too much lead.  Furthermore, the EPA allows for up to 10% of samples collected under the Lead and Copper Rule to test above the 15 part per billion Action Level (with no upper limit), and the city remains in compliance.

The reality is, if your water has lead in it after letting water sit in pipes for 6 hours or more, we highly recommend taking steps to reduce exposure, whether it's using a point of use water filter that is rated to remove lead, or allowing your water to run for 2 minutes before using it for drinking, cooking, or washing food.  

We encourage everyone to take advantage of Hydroviv’s “Help No Matter What” approach to Technical Support when it comes to water.  Even though we do not offer lead testing, our water quality experts are happy to give advice through all stages of the lead testing process, free of charge, to make sure that you get answers in the most efficient way possible.  We do not take money from test labs for referrals.

Related Articles:

Does New York City Tap Water Expose More People To Lead Than Flint?
Pittsburgh's Lead Level Exceeds EPA Limits In 2016

Does Your Home's Pre-2014 Plumbing Contain Lead?

Things To Know Before Replacing Your Home's Lead Service Pipe

The US Senate recently approved more than $100M  to be spent on replacing lead service pipes for homes in Flint. While lead pipe replacement programs can be a great long-term solution to eliminate a source of lead contamination, it doesn’t make all problems go away.  Here's the lead water service pipe information you need to know if you are considering replacing your home's lead service pipe:

Service Pipe Replacement Is Probably A Shared Responsibility 

The diagram below (from DC Water’s website) shows how a home water service pipe (also called a water service line) connects the city's water main to a private home.  In most cases, the city owns the section of pipe up to the property line, but the section on the homeowner’s property belongs to the homeowner.  When it comes to replacing a lead service pipe, some cities (including Washington DC) have programs in place to coordinate efforts so the private and public sections can be replaced at the same time.

Lead Service Line Diagram

Image From: https://www.dcwater.com/waterquality/household_water_quality.pdf

Lead Concentrations Often Go Up For Months After Replacing A Lead Service Pipe

It seems counter-intuitive, but lead levels typically go up for at least a few months (and sometimes over a year) after a lead service line is replaced. This is because the protective coating/buildup inside the lead pipe is disturbed, and the debris/freshly uncovered pipe surface can contaminate the water with lead. While this spike in lead levels is largest when a service line is partially replaced, we also have users who have seen a spike in lead levels after a complete service line replacement.

Your Home Can Still Have Lead In Its Plumbing 

If a home is old enough to have a lead water service pipe, there is a good chance that there is lead somewhere else in the home's plumbing as well. While most cities stopped installing lead service pipes in the 1950s-1960s, residential plumbing standards lagged behind for several decades. For example, in plumbing that predates 1986, solder used to join copper pipes commonly contained 50% lead (it’s actually called 50/50 solder). Since then, there have been reductions in the amount of lead that can be used in residential plumbing connections and fixtures, with the most recent phase out taking place in 2014.

Lead Can Be Introduced 'Downstream' Of A Water Filter

This seems obvious, but it’s something that’s often forgotten when people inquire about whole house filters.  This is why we recommend that people who are looking to filter lead from their water install a filter at the point of use (connected to the faucet), not at the point where the water enters the home.

Should You Replace Your Home's Lead Service Pipe?

For the reasons listed above, we highly recommend that people treat replacing their home's lead service pipe as part of an overall lead reduction strategy, not as a silver bullet.  If a person decides to replace the lead home water service pipe, we also recommend using point of use custom water filters for all faucets used for drinking, and to monitor lead levels in their home's water for 18 months after the pipe is replaced.

As always, we encourage everyone to take advantage of Hydroviv’s “Help No Matter What” approach to technical support. If you have any questions about lead home water service pipes, water filtration, or water quality in general, our Technical Support Team is happy to answer your questions, even if you have no desire to buy Hydroviv’s products!   Drop us a line (Support@hydroviv.com) or use the live chat functionality.

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