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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 an answer to the question "does fracking pollute groundwater?"

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.

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What You Need To Know About Manganese In Drinking Water

Analies Dyjak | Policy Nerd   

October 16, 2018: Windham, Ohio issued a “do not drink advisory” for Village Water Plant residents. Manganese was detected at concentrations over the Health Advisory Level. We wanted to discuss what exactly manganese is, potential health effects, and how it enters drinking water.

What Is Manganese?

Manganese is an extremely abundant earth metal. It’s naturally present in the environment, but is also used in iron and steel manufacturing.

Is Manganese Good For You?

In low doses, yes! According to the FDA, it’s important for bone mineralization and metabolic regulation in children. It also helps with cartilage and bone formation. It’s naturally found in foods such as beans, nuts, pineapples, spinach, sweet potatoes and whole grains. You’ve also most likely seen manganese tablets in the supplement isle of the grocery store!

What Are The Negative Health Effects of Manganese In Drinking Water?

Manganese can cause adverse health effects when concentrations exceed the Lifetime Health Advisory Level of 0.3 parts per million. Reports have concluded that chronic ingestion of water containing manganese may lead to neurological effects in older adults and infants. Long term exposure can cause lethargy, muscular weakness. In Windham, EPA set a “do not drink” advisory for infants under 1 year old and nursing and pregnant women. This is in part do to the fact that infants are the most sensitive population to any type of contamination.

What Causes Manganese In Drinking Water?

Clogged water lines typically cause concentrations of manganese to increase, which is what happened earlier this month in Windham, Ohio. Clogs prevent chlorine from entering the distribution system. Chlorine is an oxidant, and is typically used to treat manganese in drinking water. Water utility providers typically use chlorine to treat biological contamination, but it’s also used to reduce the concentrations of iron and manganese in drinking water. Exposure of high concentrations of manganese is possible if treatments (such as chlorine) fail. Private wells are not regulated and therefore not required to meet federally mandated drinking water standards. If you use a private well for drinking water, it’s important to keep this in mind for all types of contamination.

Will Boiling My Water Remove Manganese?

No. Boiling your tap water will not remove manganese, or other metals from drinking water. Boil advisories are typically issued if biological contamination is thought to pose a threat to a drinking water supply. People should always take drinking water advisories seriously, and listen to recommendations from city officials.


Manganese in drinking water is not a huge cause for concern, but it's important to be aware of the potential adverse health effects. It's also important to listen to boil advisories and other information regarding drinking water in your community. 

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Orthophosphate and Lead Contamination in Drinking Water

Analies Dyjak | Policy Nerd   

Lead contamination in drinking water is a huge problem for municipalities with an older infrastructure. Lead contamination occurs when water comes in contact with lead pipes. This article discusses a common additive used to combat lead pipe corrosion. 

What is Orthophosphate?

Orthophosphate is a common corrosion inhibitor used by water suppliers to prevent lead pipes from leaching. When orthophosphate water treatment is added to a water source, it reacts with lead to create a mineral-like crust inside of the lead pipe. This crust acts as a coating which prevents further lead corrosion. The use of orthophosphate treatment in drinking water became popularized in 2001, during the lead crisis in Washington, D.C. Lead contamination in many cities including D.C. and Flint, occurs when a city’s water becomes more corrosive, which can allow for lead from pipes to leach into the drinking water supply. When the lead problem initially occurred, cities such as Flint, Michigan, Durham and Greenville, North Carolina, and Jackson, Mississippi didn’t learn from D.C’s mistakes and all had lead outbreaks. 

Does Orthophosphate Fix Lead Contamination?

It certainly can. Once the protective layer is formed, cities can find that lead concentrations in the water drop by 90%. However, Orthophosphate is somewhat of a bandaid to temporarily fix the presence of lead in drinking water. For example, if the protective layer is corroded away or otherwise disturbed (e.g. in the case of a partial service line replacement or the water’s corrosivity changes), lead can leach back into the water. Finally, not all municipalities are adding orthophosphate to drinking water because of its cost. If you have any questions regarding lead prevention in drinking water, send us an email at hello@hydroviv.com.

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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 for managing stormwater runoff pollution in drinking water.

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 pollution 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 stormwater runoff pollution. The fast-moving water is slowed by vegetation, which allows suspended sediment and pollution to fall to the bottom.

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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. 

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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.

Our Take:

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. 

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