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Chemours To Pay $13 Million To The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality For Years Of PFAS Pollution

Chemours To Pay $13 Million To The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality For Years Of PFAS Pollution

Analies Dyjak | Policy Nerd   

Our Water Nerds have been closely following the environmental and public health disaster in North Carolina for a while now. This article provides an overview of the recent consent order, and some background information on what's going on in North Carolina. 

The Chemours Plant in Fayetteville, North Carolina has been discharging various per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (also known as PFAS) for decades. PFAS are a category of emerging contaminants that are found in some of the most popular consumer products such as Scotchgard, Gore-Tex, Teflon, and other stain/water resistant products. PFAS is also an important ingredient in firefighting foam, which has been a major source of water contamination throughout the country. In recent years, a replacement chemical for PFOA called GenX has dominated the conversation, particularly in North Carolina. In November 2018, EPA admitted that GenX is “suggestive” of cancer, which is significant for residents who have been unknowingly exposed.

$13 Million Awarded to NCDEQ

Chemours is awarding $13 million to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality in the form of civil penalties and investigative costs. In comparison to other PFAS-related settlements, this is by far one of the smallest. In early 2018, 3M paid the state of Minnesota $850 Million in environmental degradation. In 2017, DuPont was involved in a $670.7 million settlement in the Mid-Ohio Valley region for PFAS pollution.

Overview Of The Consent Order

The Consent Order clearly lays out a timeline of air emission goals and wastewater discharge stipulations. Chemours’ National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit was revoked in early 2017 and the new Consent Order prohibits any sort of wastewater discharge until a NPDES permit is reallocated. Chemours must also create laboratory methods and test standards for all PFAS compounds released by the Fayetteville plant. Basic remediation plans must be agreed upon by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, North Carolina River Keepers, and Chemours. Chemours will also pay for water filtration for water filtration for residents on private wells. Concentrations of GenX must be above 140 parts per trillion or any updated health advisory, in order to be eligible for a filter. GenX is not the only PFAS compound detected in the Cape Fear area, and the consent order addresses that. the Residents can also be eligible for filtration if other PFAS compounds are detected in well water over 10 parts per trillion individually, and 70 parts per trillion combined. NCDEQ is currently seeking public comment regarding the recent settlement.

How Are Cape Fear Residents Responding?

Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (CFPUA) created a comprehensive breakdown of the Chemours consent order. The utility provider acknowledged that the settlement did not go far enough to cover the scope of GenX and PFAS pollution in the Cape Fear area. In a press release, CFPUA talked about how the consent order did not acknowledge the PFAS sediment pollution at the bottom of the Cape Fear River. Any sort of dredge or fill could disturb the sediment and create GenX concentrations to sky rocket in drinking water. Local non-profit groups are also not in agreement with the Chemours settlement because they believe it does not go far enough to mitigate the scope of contamination. The current consent order places most of the mitigative costs water utility providers which would of course be paid for by taxpayers.

Our Take:

In early November of 2018, EPA released a draft toxicity report for GenX, proposing a threshold of 80 parts per trillion for drinking water. The concentration deemed “safe” by North Carolina and Chemours is almost two times higher than what the EPA is proposing as safe. Health and regulatory agencies know very little about the adverse health effects of GenX and other PFAS compounds. It’s up to consumers to decide the best course of action to protect themselves and their families.

Other Articles We Think You Might Enjoy:
EPA Admits That GenX Is Linked To Cancer
Military Bases and PFAS
Toxicological Profile For PFAS
A Deeper Dive Into The CNN Report on America's Drinking 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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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. 

  3. 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 water.  

Other Article We Think You Might Enjoy:
Why Are So Many Schools Testing Positive For Lead In Drinking Water?
GenX Is Linked To Cancer
How Does Fracking Pollute Drinking Water?
BREAKING: EPA Admits GenX Linked To Cancer

BREAKING: EPA Admits GenX Linked To Cancer

Analies Dyjak | Policy Nerd   

Our blog has been following PFAS contaminants such as GenX for months now, often reporting on new developments before mainstream news. Today marks an important milestone: EPA has released a draft toxicity profile for GenX. This long-awaited toxicity report contains critical information for many states who have been seeking answers on this harmful contaminant.

EPA’s Draft Toxicity Assessments for GenX and PFBS:

EPA determined a candidate Chronic Reference Dose of 0.00008 mg/kg-day, or 80 parts per trillion. A reference dose is the daily oral intake not anticipated to cause negative health effects over a lifetime. A reference dose is not a carcinogenic risk factor, however, EPA states that the toxicity data for GenX are “suggestive of cancer.” According to the draft report, oral exposure in animals had negative health effects on the kidney, blood, immune system, developing fetus, and liver. The draft toxicity report also provided information on PFBS, which is a replacement chemical for PFOS. The candidate Chronic Reference Dose for PFBS is 0.01 mg/kg-day, and there was insufficient data to determine its carcinogenic potential.

What Is GenX?

GenX is part of a category of contaminants called PFAS, or per and polyfluoroalkyl substances. GenX has gained national attention since being discovered in the Cape Fear River in June of 2017. PFAS have historically been used in consumer products like Scotchgard, Gore-Tex, Teflon, and even the inside of popcorn bags. PFAS are also used in firefighting foam, which is the major source of its pollution in waterways across the country.

Background:

The Chemours plant in Fayetteville, North Carolina produces refrigerants, ion exchange membranes, and other fluoroproducts. They have been discharging liquid effluent into the Cape Fear River for years, which has contaminated drinking water for the entire area. GenX is the replacement chemical for PFOA. After PFOA was discovered to be toxic, manufacturers addressed the issue by making an equally-as toxic replacement. Manufacturers of PFAS have been doing this for years, which is why there are so many different variations present in the environment.

Is GenX Federally Regulated By EPA?

No. This means that municipalities are not required to test for GenX or PFBS. Additionally, this draft toxicity level is not a lifetime health advisory level, which states would be more inclined to follow.

When Will A Drinking Water Standard Be Determined?

Don’t hold your breath on anytime soon! The regulatory process can take decades, especially for such a persistent contaminant in the environment. This is more than enough time for adverse health effects to set in, and we recommend consumers do everything they can to learn about their water and protect themselves, rather than wait for the government to step in.

What Does This Mean For Me?

EPA is in the very early stages of determining a regulation or even health advisory for GenX. This draft toxicity level needs to go through public comment so that states, tribes, and municipalities can offer input and recommendations. If you want to see third-party data on filters that remove GenX and other PFAS, click HERE. 

Other Articles About GenX:
Timeline: GenX In North Carolina
ASTDR Toxicological Profile for PFAS
GenX Contamination In Drinking Water: What You Need To Know
Newark, NJ Lead Crisis: The New Flint

Newark, NJ Lead Crisis: The New Flint

Analies Dyjak | Policy Nerd   

Lead concentrations in Newark's drinking water have been in exceedance of the Federal Action Level since 2015. The largest city in New Jersey has struggled to keep lead concentrations under the 15 part per billion threshold ever since the standard was set in 1991. Recent sampling has detected staggering concentrations of lead in Newark's drinking water, ranging anywhere from 58 to 137 parts per billion. You may be wondering why Newark's water crisis has not been thrust into the national spotlight. While Flint, Michigan captured the nation’s attention, the lead crisis in Newark remains largely underreported.

Lead: Newark, New Jersey

It's no secret that older municipalities have problems with lead contamination in drinking water. This is in part due to an aging infrastructure, and Newark, New Jersey is no exception. The city of Newark supplies 80 million gallons of water per day to over 300,000 customers. The Pequannock Water Treatment Plant treats water from the Charlotteburg Reservoir and supplies water to Newark’s North, West, South, and Central Wards. The Wanaque Water Treatment Plant is operated by the North Jersey District Water Supply Commission, which supplies water to the East Ward and part of the North and Central Wards. 

Misinformation 

Newark residents have repeatedly been ensured that their water is “safe to drink.” On page one of the most recent Consumer Confidence Report (CCR), the city’s mayor claimed that “the quality of our water meets all federal and state standards.” False. He continued to say that only “one or two” homes were in exceedance of the federal Action Level. Also false. The truth is that between January and June of 2017, 16 sites were in exceedance of the action level and from July to December 2017, 11 sites were in exceedance of the action level. Mayor Baraka defended his claims by saying that the source water is safe to drink. It's well understood that lead contamination occurs when water comes in contact with residential lead service lines, rather than when it leaves a treatment facility. The problem is most people stop reading once their city officials tell them their water doesn’t contain lead. In a perfect world, when a city official says something is "safe" you should trust and believe them. 

What Is A Safe Level Of Lead?

The American Academy of Pediatrics acknowledges that there is no safe level of lead for children. Again, a safe threshold does not exist. Childhood lead exposure can cause serious developmental problems that can manifest later in life. Adults may experience neurological and gastrointestinal effects, as well as an increased risk of miscarriages and stillbirths when exposed to high concentrations of lead. EPA set an Action Level of 15 parts per billion, but toxicologists agree that this federal threshold is far too high. 

Current Treatment Techniques in Newark, NJ

The chemistry of the water entering the Pequannock treatment facility is very different than the water entering the Wanaque treatment facility. Because of this, both facilities have their own unique treatment plans. The two distribution systems use different corrosion control technologies for reducing lead: 

  • Pequannock: sodium silicate dose of 12-15 mg/L (goal of 6 mg/L)

  • Wanque: 1.2 mg/L of orthophosphate

**Orthophosphate is a common corrosion inhibitor. It forms a mineral-like crust on the inside of lead service pipes. In some cases, sodium silicate can decrease lead concentrations by increasing the pH of the water. When sodium silicate was initially added to Newark water, it was believed to effectively prevent corrosion. Research has since found that sodium silicate isn’t always effective.**

Newark’s History of Lead Contamination

Elevated Lead Concentrations From Pequannock Water Treatment Plant Data (1992-2018)

Parameter

1992

1998

2003

2006

2012

2015

2017 (1)

2017(2)

2018(1)

90th Percentile

26.8

12.3

12.2

9.5

9.7

15.8

29.8

36.0

22.9

Number of Samples (n)

137

103

28

25

24

25

75

117

90

Number of Samples >15 ppb

37

7

0

0

0

3

24

34

16

Percent >15&<25ppb

15.3%

6.8%

0%

0%

0%

12%

16%

6%

7.8%

Maximum ppb

60.4

23

14.2

11.5

14

25

137

77.7

58.9

CONCENTRATIONS OVER 15 PARTS PER BILLION IN RED 

Elevated Lead Concentrations From Wanaque Water Treatment Plant Sampling Data (1992-2018)

Parameter

1992

2002

2003

2012

2015

2017 (1)

2017(2)

2018(1)

90th Percentile

25.7

11.2

8.4

6.2

2

7.4

8.7

8.7

Number of Samples (n)

93

114

29

27

27

46

67

49

Percent >15&<25ppb

12.9%

0%

0%

3.7%

0%

0%

0%

2%

Maximum ppb

49.4

14.9

12.3

19

37

84

46.1

182

CONCENTRATIONS OVER 15 PARTS PER BILLION IN RED

Questionable Sample Techniques:

As recent as September 10, 2018, Newark did not follow EPA sampling guidelines in accordance with the Lead and Copper Rule. Sampling occurred after a 6 to 12 hour stagnation period, which is compliant.  Faucets were then flushed for 10 minutes before a 500 mL sample was collected. Under 40 CFR 141.86 (b), the proper sampling technique is to take a 1 liter “first-draw” sample. Even so, first-draw samples aren’t always an accurate indication of lead in drinking water.

Failure of Orthophosphate As A Corrosion Inhibitor

This is not the first time Orthophosphate has failed as a corrosion inhibitor. Madison, Wisconsin gave Orthophosphate a shot in hopes of reducing city-wide lead levels. Madison city officials stated that Orthophosphate didn’t work, causing the city to adopt an expensive full lead service line replacement program. Phosphates are known to pollute waterways by causing algae blooms, which is why the Pequannock Plant is unable to add it upstream of Cedar Grove.

Environmental Justice

46% of the population in Newark speak a non-English language (a CCR in multiple languages is not available on the city’s website). The fundamental purpose of a disclosure is to communicate information. If people are unable to understand the information, then it isn't disclosure. This is further extrapolated when citizens are led to believe a false narrative.

Major Takeaways

  1. City officials failed to adjust corrosion control techniques after current methods were found to be ineffective

  2. Because of the effects on waterways, Pequannock is unable to add orthophosphate to incoming source water

  3. The Lead and Copper Rule doesn’t hold municipalities accountable for lead infractions, nor does it allow for direct and immediate action

  4. Sodium Silicate has been adjusting the pH without preventing corrosion for decades 

  5. Newark residents were continuously told that they didn't have a lead problem

Our Thoughts:

Addressing lead contamination at a system-wide level is not easy. We’ve seen this in Flint, Pittsburgh, Washington D.C., and Portland, Oregon (who won’t even admit that they have a lead problem). Simply put, 100 samples for a city of 300,000 is not enough, and 24 is unacceptable. Newark needs to work towards a greater level of transparency and accountability, but until then, consumers must protect themselves. 

Other Articles We Think You Might Enjoy:
The Lead and Copper Rule
Does Your Home Have Lead Plumbing? Here's How To Tell
Lead In Schools: Flint, Michigan
How Does Fracking Impact Drinking Water?

How Does Fracking Impact Drinking Water?

Analies Dyjak | Policy Nerd   

There’s no denying that fracking has changed the course of energy production in the U.S., but not without some serious environmental impacts. Fracking severely threatens groundwater aquifers that millions of Americans depend on for drinking water. The viral videos of people lighting their tap water on fire are real, and the risk to human health is significant. Here’s how fracking can affect drinking water.

How Does Fracking Pollute Drinking Water?

Fracking liquids can easily migrate to surrounding groundwater aquifers, either in the well injection stage or after they're transported offsite. A 2015 report by the California Office of Emergency Services concluded that 18% of fracking spills impact waterways. To give that statistic some real-world context, in North Dakota, 2,963,000 gallons of hydraulic fracturing liquid ended up polluting groundwater as a result of just 18 spills in 2015. 43 million people draw their drinking water from private wells, and are the most susceptible to pollution from fracking.

Fracking is an extremely water-intensive process. The amount of water required ranges anywhere from 1.5 to 16 million gallons per injection well. Natural gas producers then have to decide what to do with such high volumes of polluted water. Once the “produced liquid” has been used for extraction, it’s either; injected into a Class II well, reused in other hydraulic fracturing projects, or transported to a waste site.

Who Creates Setback Distances?

States have primacy over determining setback distances.

Colorado: Proposition 112

Some states recognize the serious and immediate threat that fracking has on drinking water. In Colorado, a question on the 2018 ballot addresses just that. Current state regulations require natural gas wells to be 500 feet from a home and 1000 feet from a “highly occupied structure” (school or apartment complex). Prop 112 would increase the setback distance to 2500 feet, or approximately a half mile. Health organizations argue that the proposed setback distance in Colorado still doesn’t go far enough, but is a step in the right direction.

Chemicals in Fracking Liquid

Fracking liquids are proprietary, meaning companies create their own unique chemical cocktails. Because fracking is exempt from the Clean Water Act, natural gas companies are not required to disclose what exactly they’re pumping into the earth. Between the years of 2005 and 2013, EPA was able to identify 1,084 different hydraulic fracturing chemicals. EPA concluded that 65% of the wells tested had methanol, hydrotreated light petroleum distillates and hydrochloric acid. Other popular fracking chemicals include arsenic, benzene, cadmium, lead, formaldehyde, chlorine, and mercury-- a great medley of both toxic carcinogenic compounds.

Health Effects

Common health effects of Hydrochloric Acid, one of the prominent fracking chemicals, include inflammation and ulceration of the respiratory tract, pulmonary edema, lesions of the upper respiratory tract, and corrosion of mucous membranes of the esophagus and stomach. Fetuses and young children are the most susceptible to the adverse health effects associated with fracking chemicals. A 2017 study concluded that in Pennsylvania, babies of moms who live within one kilometer (3280 feet) of a fracking site have a 25% greater chance of being born underweight, than expecting mothers that live 3 kilometers (9842 feet) away.

What Is The Halliburton Loophole?

In 2005, congress passed the Energy Policy Act, which exempted fracking from the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. This soon became known as the “Halliburton Loophole” for the extensive lobbying done by Halliburton Oilfield Service. Through this loophole, natural gas companies are not required to disclose extraction chemicals or other important water-related information. Natural gas companies are also not required to obtain National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits. This eliminates pollution permits for; natural gas exploration, production, processing, treatment, transmission, and related activities.

Bottom Line:

While fracking provides American-produced energy, it also seriously threatens drinking water. And fracking isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Natural gas production is predicted to grow 40% in the next 20 years. This means more injection wells and more pollution. It’s up to industries and consumers to weigh the benefits with the costs of fracking.

Other Articles We Think You Might Enjoy:
How Does Stormwater Runoff Affect Drinking Water?
What Is "Safe" Drinking Water?
Why Does EPA Allow “Acceptable Amounts” of Toxic Chemicals In Drinking Water?
How Does Stormwater Runoff Affect Drinking Water?

How Does Stormwater Runoff Affect Drinking Water?

Analies Dyjak | Policy Nerd   

As hurricane season is coming to an end, we wanted to let you know how heavy rains can impact drinking water. Here’s how stormwater runoff can affect your water.

How Does Stormwater Affect Drinking Water?

Heavy rain storms create a rapid influx of water, which can cause a host of health and environmental issues. Rainwater travels to low-lying bodies of water, including oceans, lakes, rivers, streams, and aquifers. Both surface and groundwater are susceptible to contamination from stormwater runoff, both of which are sources of drinking water. As water travels, it picks up loose debris, pesticides, herbicides, oil, and other types of pollution in its path. This cocktail of contaminants is then dumped into a nearby waterway. Some municipal water treatment facilities are equipped to deal with these types of contamination, while others are not. 86% of the U.S. population gets their drinking water from surface water sources, so maintaining clean lakes and rivers is extremely important.

What Are Combined Sewer Overflows or CSO’s?

Combined Sewer Overflows or CSO’s, are a system of underground canals that collect stormwater runoff, industrial wastewater, and sewage all in the same pipe. Under normal conditions, stormwater and sewage travels to a wastewater plant where it’s treated before being discharged into a body of water. During heavy rain events, the large influx of stormwater causes pipes to exceed the capacity of the the system. Untreated wastewater, including sewage, overflows into nearby oceans, lakes, rivers or streams or wherever a stormwater discharge output exists. CSO’s were used as early as the 1850’s, and were the only system in place to deal with such high volumes of water. Many cities have replaced CSO’s with advanced infrastructure, but cities such as Portland, Maine and Cambridge, Massachusetts still use them.

Impervious Surfaces and Stormwater

Impervious surfaces are developed areas where water is unable to infiltrate into the earth. This typically refers to paved roads, roofs, and sidewalks. When water is unable to infiltrate, it flows into the nearest body of water or wastewater system. Impervious surfaces are of concern because water picks up and carries dangerous contaminants, then deposits them into drinking water sources. Impervious surfaces also increase the impacts from floods. Unable to percolare, water sits on top of paved roads, increasing the flood potential and presence of biological contamination. As communities continue to develop, the area of paved or impervious surface increases as well.

Wetlands: Important for Stormwater Retention

Wetlands offer remarkable protection from the impacts of flooding and other stormwater damages. Wetlands absorb incoming water and release it slowly, acting as a natural sponge.  According to the U.S Army Corps of Engineers, the state wetland conservation along the Charles River in Boston, Massachusetts saved approximately $17 million in potential flood damage. Additionally, wetlands naturally filter pollution from stormwater runoff. The fast-moving water is slowed by vegetation, which allows suspended sediment and pollution to fall to the bottom.

Other Articles We Think You Might Enjoy:
Surface Water: What You Need To Know
Agricultural Runoff: Why It's A Problem And What's Being Done To Stop It
Nitrates In Drinking Water