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Newark, NJ Lead Crisis: The New Flint

Analies Dyjak @ Wednesday, November 7, 2018 at 6:18 pm -0500

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
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5 Reasons Why Bottled Water Isn't The Solution To Drinking Water Contamination

Analies Dyjak @ Friday, January 4, 2019 at 1:59 pm -0500

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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Problems We Found With Las Vegas Drinking Water

Analies Dyjak @ Monday, July 30, 2018 at 10:07 am -0400

**Updated July 17, 2019 to include current data

Analies Dyjak, M.A.  |  Hydroviv Research Analyst

Hydroviv's Water Nerds have updated our assessment of Las Vegas drinking water to include data from the 2019 Consumer Confidence Report. We looked at data from the Las Vegas Valley Water District, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as from samples that we collect and analyze. Our Water Nerds then cross reference these data with toxicity studies in the scientific and medical literature, and look at upcoming regulatory changes. The custom water filters that we build for our customers in Las Vegas are optimized with this research in mind.

Source Of Las Vegas's Drinking Water

90% of Las Vegas drinking water comes from Lake Mead. Lake Mead is supplied by snow melt from the Rocky Mountains, which flows into the Colorado River. The remaining 10% comes from a groundwater aquifer under the Las Vegas Valley. This aquifer is naturally replenished by precipitation in the Spring Mountains and the Sheep Range.

Lead In Las Vegas Drinking Water

Lead enters tap water through older lead service pipes and lead-containing plumbing. When corrosion control measures put in place by the municipality fail (like what recently happened in Flint, Michigan), lead leaches into the drinking water, and can reach dangerous levels. According to the 2019 report, 10% of drinking water samples analyzed for lead in Las Vegas are over 7.5 parts per billion. Though Las Vegas water quality is currently in compliance with federal regulations, EPA and CDC both acknowledge that there is no safe level of lead, and federal regulations do not take into account levels measured at an individual tap. Homes built before 1986 are most susceptible to lead contamination. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that any taps used to serve children have lead levels no higher than 1 part per billion.

High Chromium 6 Levels In Las Vegas Drinking Water

Chromium 6 is a toxic metal that is not regulated by the EPA. Las Vegas’s tap water recently averaged 200 parts per trillion for chromium 6. These levels are nearly 10 times higher than the concentration determined to have a negligible impact on cancer risk.

Disinfection Byproducts (DBPs) In Las Vegas Drinking Water

DBPs are a category of emerging contaminants that form when chlorine-based disinfectants react with naturally-occurring organic matter. Although these chemicals are not currently regulated very well, the EPA has admitted that they are associated with an increased risk of bladder cancer, as well as kidney, liver, and central nervous system problems.

Still Have Questions About Las Vegas Drinking Water?

Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are a category of unregulated contaminants that have been associated with various negative health effects, including cancer. Major cities, such as Las Vegas, are not required to test for, monitor, or even remove PFAS from drinking water. 

Hydroviv is a water filtration company that uses water quality data to optimize water filters for each customer's water. The contaminants that we list above are what we consider to be major “points of emphasis” that we use to build water filters that are built specifically for Las Vegas' water, but all of our our filters provide broad protection against a wide range of contaminants (including lead).

If you’re interested in learning more about water filters that have been optimized for Las Vegas tap water, or just have questions about water quality in general, feel free to visit www.hydroviv.com, reach out by email (hello@hydroviv.com) or through our live chat. We also frequently post water-related news on Twitter or Facebook. We pride ourselves in being a reputable source of information on water quality, and your questions will be answered by scientists, not salespeople (we don't have any salespeople).

Hydroviv NSF Certification

Hydroviv Undersink and Refrigerator Line water filters are NSF certified. If you'd like to check out our NSF listing, click here. 

Please Share This Las Vegas Drinking Water Quality Article On Social Media With Anyone You Think Would Benefit From The Information!

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Problems We Found In Omaha, Nebraska Drinking Water

Analies Dyjak @ Wednesday, August 1, 2018 at 3:22 pm -0400

Analies Dyjak, M.A.  |  Water Nerd

For Hydroviv’s assessment of Omaha, Nebraska drinking water, we collected water quality test data from the city’s Consumer Confidence Report and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. We cross referenced Omaha's water quality data with toxicity studies in scientific and medical literature. The water filters that we sell at Hydroviv are optimized to filter out contaminants that are found in Omaha's drinking water.

Where Does Omaha Source Its Drinking Water? 

Omaha draws its tap and drinking water from the Missouri River, Platte River, and the Dakota Sandstone aquifer.

Lead in Omaha’s Drinking Water

Lead enters tap water through older lead service pipes and lead-containing plumbing, soldered joints, and fixtures. Based on the 2017 water quality report, lead levels in Omaha ranged from 0.5 to 14.9 parts per billion. 10% of taps had levels over 6.4 parts per billion, which is barely in compliance with the loose EPA standard of 15 parts per billion. However, if you were to ask toxicologists, pediatricians, or the CDC they would all tell you that there is no safe minimum level of lead. Lead is a neurotoxin that can have serious developmental effects on children.

Arsenic in Omaha’s Drinking Water

Arsenic is a heavy metal that typically leaches into groundwater as surrounding bedrock naturally weathers overtime. According to the most recent data, Arsenic concentrations ranged from 1 to 3.93 parts per billion in Omaha drinking water. EPA set a Maximum Contaminant Level of 10 parts per billion for Arsenic, but several health and regulatory agencies believe this level should be reduced to 1 or even 0 parts per billion. Arsenic is a toxic substance that is linked to a long list of health problems in humans. For example, arsenic can cause a number of different cancers (e.g. skin, bladder, lung, liver, prostate), as well as create non-cancerous problems with cardiovascular (heart/blood vessels), pulmonary (lungs), immune, neurological (brain), and endocrine (e.g. diabetes) systems. Hydroviv recommends purchasing a filter that is optimized to remove Arsenic from your drinking water, especially if you’re serviced by a private well.

Disinfection By-Products in Omaha’s Drinking Water

When water treatment facilities sanitize the water with chemicals such as chlorine, different contaminants can be created. These types of contaminants are called Disinfectant by products or DBPs. They are split into two categories: Total Trihalomethanes (TTHMs) and Haloacetic Acids-5 (HAA5). Concentrations of TTHMs averaged 40.2 parts per billion but were detected as high as 66.5 parts per billion. HAA5 concentrations averaged 19.6 parts per billion but were detected as high as 37.6 parts per billion. For a bit of perspective, EPA set a Maximum Contamination Level of 80 parts per billion for TTHMs and 60 parts per billion for HAA5.

Chromium 6 In Omaha’s Drinking Water

Chromium 6 is an unregulated toxic metal that's associated with metal processing, tannery facilities, chromate production, stainless steel welding, and pigment production. Concentrations of Chromium 6 were found to be ranging from 130 parts per trillion to 1400 parts per trillion. These levels are nearly 70 times higher than the concentration determined to have a negligible impact on cancer risk. EPA has acknowledged that Chromium 6 is a known human carcinogen through inhalation, but is still determining its cancer potential through ingestion of drinking water. Lung, nasal and sinus cancers are associated with Chromium 6 exposure. Ingestion of extremely high doses of chromium 6 compounds can cause acute respiratory disease, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, hematological, hepatic, renal, and neurological distress which may result in death.

Synthetic Organic Contaminants in Omaha's Drinking Water

Di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate was also detected in Omaha's drinking water. This chemical is known for its ability to make plastic flexible. A toxicology report has shown that this chemical is known to cause reproductive problems in young males, stomach pains, and is labeled as a probable carcinogen. EPA set a Maximum Contaminant Level of 6 parts per billion for this contaminant. The Omaha water quality problem report detected concentrations of these chemicals ranging from less than 2 parts per billion to 3.11 parts per billion.

Other Articles We Think You Might Enjoy:
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Parchment, Michigan: Drinking Water Contaminated With PFAS

Analies Dyjak @ Monday, July 30, 2018 at 4:50 pm -0400

Analies Dyjak  |  Policy Nerd

This past year, GenX, Per and Polyfluroalkyl Substances (PFAS), and other contaminants that fall into the broader category of Perfluorinated Compounds, have received major media coverage. Information regarding municipal water quality can quickly become obscured, so the goal of this article is to summarize key news components and scientific data.

Parchment, Michigan: Drinking Water Contaminated With PFAS

Sunday, July 29th, the Governor’s office announced a state of emergency for residents in the City of Parchment and Cooper Township, Michigan. Kalamazoo County Health Department detected PFAS in Parchments drinking water supply at concentrations as high as 1,587 parts per trillion. For a bit of perspective, this is almost 23 times higher than the Lifetime Health Advisory Level set by EPA and 79 times higher than the Minimum Risk Level set by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

City officials stated that the next course of action involves draining Parchments entire water supply. The City of Kalamazoo will then connect their water system to Parchment, and begin flushing the system until levels are below the Lifetime Health Advisory Level of 70 parts per trillion. Residents are being advised to not drink Parchment municipal water until further notice. The City of Parchment sources its drinking water from 3 groundwater wells in Cooper Township. Kalamazoo also uses groundwater, which is highly susceptible to this same type of contamination. Additionally, because this category of contaminants is unregulated, municipalities are not required to test for it. Kalamazoo did not test for PFAS in their most recent Consumer Confidence Report.

What Are Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)?

Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are a category of “emerging contaminants,” which means they have been detected in the environment but the risk to human health is unknown. GenX, PFOA, and PFOS are all common contaminants that fall under the category of PFAS. These compounds have been used in industrial and consumer products since the early 1950’s. Scotchgard, Teflon, firefighting foam, metal plating, heat/water repellent products, and stain resistant fabrics are associated with this category of contaminants. PFAS are extremely persistent in the environment, which means they are highly resistant to degradation processes.

Are Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Regulated?

No. The entire class of contaminants is currently unregulated. This means that municipalities and state agencies are not required to test for it.

What Are The Health Effects of Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)?

According to a study done by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), PFAS exposure is associated with various adverse health effects, including an increased risk of cancer, lowered fertility rates, increased cholesterol, and developmental issues in infants and young children.

What Are Officials Doing About Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)?

EPA set a Lifetime Health Advisory Level of 70 parts per trillion for both PFOA and PFOS. The rule of thumb for PFAS is that the sum of the category of contaminants should be no higher than 70 parts per trillion. ATSDR believes this level should be reduced to 20 parts per trillion. Again, Lifetime Health Advisory Levels and Minimum Risk Levels are non-enforceable limits. As we know, the regulatory process in the United States can take decades, so these values should be taken with a grain of salt. Several types of PFAS appeared on the Third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule, which is the only progress we’ve seen in terms of regulating this category of contaminants.

Want To Learn More About Perfluorinated Compounds?

Take advantage of Hydroviv's “help no matter what” approach to technical support! Go to hydroviv.com and use our live chat feature. Our Water Nerds will gladly answer any questions you might have regarding PFAS or anything else water related. If you live in Michigan and want more information about PFAS in your area, we recommend reaching out to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Toxicology Hotline at 800-648-6942.

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