Water Quality Information | Written By Actual Experts — water source
Why Does Washington, DC Water Taste Bad Right Now?
Analies Ross-Dyjak | Water Nerd
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 25-May 6, 2019.
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:
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.
It forms fewer disinfection byproducts in the presence of organic matter.
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!).
Get a water filter that's designed to handle it (and lead, chromium 6, VOCs...)!
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 25 until May 6, 2019. After May 6, 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
EPA Proposes New Definition of "Waters of the United States"
Analies Dyjak & Matthew Krug
February 14th 2019: The Department of the Army and the Environmental Protection Agency posted the newly proposed “Waters of the United States” rule to the Federal Register. At its core, the proposed EPA WOTUS rule limits the water that EPA can regulate and monitor. By narrowing the scope of WOTUS definitions, this basically gives industries a roadmap of where it’s okay to pollute without the need for permitting. This is a big deal for the 45 million Americans who rely on well water for drinking and bathing. So, why should you care about the definition of waters of the United States?
"Waters of the United States"
This definition, also known as “WOTUS” has been up for debate for decades, and it’s interpretation has seen several Supreme Court cases. This proposed rule determines what waters the federal government is able to regulate and monitor. Generally, “waters” have traditionally been navigable waters such as oceans, rivers, ponds, and streams. As our scientific understanding of hydrology has improved, the scope of what are considered “waters” has expanded.
What Is Not Protected Under The Proposed Rule?
WOTUS definitions name certain waters as “excluded,” which, in this case, means they do not have a surface water connection. This means that groundwater, ephemeral streams, ditches, prior converted cropland and some wetlands and ponds are not included. This is a continued rollback of environmental regulations - and the 2019 EPA WOTUS rule proposal may have the farthest-reaching implications of all.
How Does This Proposed Rule Affect Drinking Water?
This rule puts the 45 million Americans that use private wells as a primary source of drinking water at risk. Private wells are not regulated by federal, state, or local governments, and agencies are not required to test for contaminants or ensure “compliance.” A 2006 study by the USGS concluded that private wells are already contaminated with various types of agricultural runoff, solvents, fumigants and inorganic compounds, the most common being arsenic and nitrates. Arsenic is a naturally occurring organic compound, that enters groundwater as bedrock weathers overtime. However, nitrates are used in fertilizers and enter both surface and groundwater from agricultural runoff. 8.4% of the wells tested in this study were in exceeded the federal standard for nitrates (we have an article dedicated specifically to nitrates in groundwater). Further, EPA does not provide recommended criteria or standards for private well users. By rolling back protections, private well users are being further kept in the dark.
How Did They Arrive At this Rule?
The proposed EPA WOTUS rule is primarily based off a majority opinion by Justice Scalia in the Supreme Court case Rapanos v. United States. Scalia’s interpretation favored “traditional waters,” and steered away from Justice Kennedy’s “significant nexus theory.” In his majority opinion, Scalia wrote that federal protections should cover:
“...only those wetland with a continuous surface connection to bodies that are waters of the United States.”
The American Farm Bureau dominated the conversation at the press conference for the proposed EPA WOTUS rule in early December of 2018. Industries lobbied hard to limit the scope of jurisdictional waters. In a political landscape where there is an abundance of legislation grandfathered in to protect the chemical, fossil fuel, and agricultural industries, it should come as no surprise that the current administration did not break from tradition. The agricultural industry is not the only institution who will benefit from this proposed rule. Chemical manufacturing companies have to go through a rigorous permitting process determined by state or federal governments (NPDES) which regulate pollution. But now, with a clearly defined and reduced scope of what constitutes a water of the United States, these companies are able to map out how to circumvent regulation.
The federal government has designated this as “economically significant”
This means that the proposed rule with have an annual effect on the economy of $100 million or more.
This proposed WOTUS definitions puts the 15% of the country at further risk of groundwater contamination. This population of people are now on their own in terms of monitoring their drinking water and keeping up with land use changes. Our science team will be submitting public comments on this proposed rule, which will be available on our website in the upcoming weeks. We encourage our readers to do the same thing! CLICK HERE for the link to the WOTUS public comment page.Other Articles We Think You Might Enjoy:
5 Reasons Why Bottled Water Isn't The Solution To Drinking Water Contamination
Nitrates In Drinking Water
Why Runoff From Farms Is A Big Deal
5 Reasons Why Bottled Water Isn't The Solution To Drinking Water Contamination
Analies Dyjak | Policy Nerd
Whenever severe water contamination impacts a community, people (and media outlets) tend to jump to bottled water as the only water contamination solution.
The bottled water industry has managed to convince vulnerable consumers that their product is inherently safer than what’s coming out of their taps. Oftentimes, this isn’t the case. So why is bottled water bad? The reality is that bottled water is associated with a host of ethical, environmental and regulatory problems. Drinking bottled water is not a long-term solution to water contamination, and we should critically examine its role as water quality crises continue to pop up across the country. Here are our main problems with the bottled water industry to give you a better idea of why bottled water is bad.
1) Bottled Water Companies Use The Same Source As Tap Water
According to the FDA, bottled water companies are permitted to package and sell water from municipal taps, artesian wells, mineral water, natural springs, and drilled wells. Surprisingly enough, they aren’t required to disclose the source water itself. If you’re looking for transparency, municipal systems are required to publish an annual Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) that discloses characteristics about the source water, treatment techniques, and other distribution information. The bottled water industry also frequently packages and distributes groundwater from dug wells. Groundwater can often be more susceptible to pollution than surface water because it’s not regulated by the federal government. Groundwater acts as a catchment for surface water runoff and agricultural pollution, not to mention its increased risk of arsenic contamination.
2) Bottled Water and Tap Water Have Almost Identical Standards
People are often surprised to learn that there’s virtually no difference between the regulations for bottled water and tap water. The Environmental Protection Agency regulates tap water and the Food and Drug Administration regulates bottled water. The allowable concentrations of contaminants are identical for both, with the exception of lead. The standard for lead in bottled water is 5 parts per billion, as opposed to 15 parts per billion in tap water. This is because during bottling production, water should never come in contact with older lead service pipes the same way municipal water does. Arsenic can be present in groundwater as a result of natural weathering of bedrock. Exposure to arsenic in drinking water can result in cancers in various organs, including skin, bladder, lung, kidney, liver, and prostate. Non-cancerous health effects include neurological damage, such as peripheral neuropathy.
3) Impacts On The Environment
It’s well-documented that single-use plastic water bottles wreak havoc on the environment. Plastics are made from petroleum, which is a fossil fuel and a non-renewable resource. Companies often tout their commitment to reducing plastic consumption by weight, but this has no bearing on the volume at which it’s produced. You may be familiar with “Trash Island,” in the Northern Pacific Ocean. This phenomenon is the result of decades of poor waste management and excessive production of various types of plastic. According to a 2016 study by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, the ocean will contain more plastic by weight than fish by the year 2050. Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) is the main ingredient in plastic water bottles. PET takes over 400 years to decompose in the environment and its constituents can often take longer to degrade. Chemicals like Bisphenol A (BPA) have since been phased out of plastic production, but are still very much present in the environment and will continue to be released as older plastics degrade.
4) False Advertising
Marketing schemes deceive consumers into believing that companies use pristine source water. The packaging uses carefully curated images of mountain-top creeks and streams to suggest pure, untainted products. The reality is bottled water hardly ever comes from the sources depicted on the label.
5) Ethical Dilemma
Nestle, a company with a long track record of unscrupulous business practices, owns deep aquifers throughout California, a state which has been experiencing drought-like conditions for several decades. The expensive equipment purchased by Nestle allows the company to extract water in a way that tribes and municipalities cannot afford to do. Similar companies have been known to use their purchasing power to acquire land, pushing tribes and municipalities out of the conversation. Problems arise when drought-stricken or contaminated communities are unable to afford the same resources as bottled water companies.
While bottled water offers some measure of immediate relief to a severe drinking water crisis, it is in no way a long-term water contamination solution. Companies often sell the same water that’s feeding municipal systems. Not to mention, EPA and FDA have almost identical regulations for both tap and bottled water. There’s also an inherent cost associated with bottled water, which varies depending on the brand. Finally, a huge part of why bottled water is bad is that scientific data confirms the importance of reducing plastic pollution on a global scale. Municipal providers offer greater transparency and are required to disclose information about the source water.Other Articles We Think You Might Enjoy:
Microplastics In Water: What You Need To Know
Endocrine Disruptors In Drinking Water
Water Conservation and Water Quality In The Sports Industry
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.
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
*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.
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 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
Analies Dyjak | Policy Nerd
Our blog has been following PFAS contaminants such as the GenX chemical 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. 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. The GenX chemical linked to cancer 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.
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 PFBS or GenX in water. 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 in water 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