Road salts are crucial for decreasing automobile accidents, but they can have unintended consequences on the environment, as freshwater salinity increases and impacts drinking water quality.
Water Quality InformationWritten By Actual ExpertsRSS
Analies Dyjak, M.A. & Christina Liu, B.S., M.B.A.
Globally, we have lost one-third of the world’s forests, or 2 billion hectares (an area twice the size of the United States). More often than not, humans are responsible for deforestation. The land that surrounds a body of water plays a critical role in water quality and availability. Forested land not only acts as a “natural filter” for incoming water, but also reduces the risk of flooding.
What Is Deforestation?
Forested areas are cleared to make way for agriculture, commercial buildings, homes, and other large scale construction projects. Deforestation results in significant changes to the surrounding and global ecosystems, and habitat loss can lead to species extinction. The most extreme examples of this include the Amazon Rainforest, which has shrunk 18% in the last 40 years. Illegal mining, illegal logging, agricultural expansion, lack of government control, and climate change have all contributed to deforestation in the Amazon.
Deforestation has lesser-known secondary consequences that are becoming a focal point for scientists. Trees absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen back into the environment. Without trees, the carbon accumulates in the atmosphere which contributes to rising global temperatures.
How Does Deforestation Impact Drinking Water Supplies?
Reduction in Rainfall and Global Implications:
Forests help control the water cycle by regulating rainfall and evaporation. The layers of the forest canopy, branches, and roots store and release water vapor, which helps to control rainfall. Forests also help reduce the impacts from flooding by blocking and slowing down the flow of runoff from storms. Deforestation, however, weakens this process, leading to irregular rainfall, including drought and flooding.
Also, while deforestation may occur locally, its effects are global. For example, in a 2005 study, deforestation of Central Africa caused a decrease in precipitation of about 5%–15% in the Great Lakes region, mostly centered in Illinois, with a peak decrease of about 35% in February. In addition, a 25% decrease in rainfall in Texas was attributed to Amazon deforestation. While the three major forest basins do not respond the same, deforestation in other areas have also been observed to cause changes in rainfall and the water cycle elsewhere in the world. The decrease in rainfall combined with the increase in water usage across the United States are contributing to severe drought and aridification throughout many states.
Increased Erosion and Runoff:
Forested land does a lot of the “heavy lifting” in terms of filtration. Soil absorbs pollutants and helps to slow the rate of flowing water. The tree roots also anchor soil against erosion, which reduces runoff, and lowers downstream water treatment costs. When forests are disturbed and degraded, (from deforestation or wildfires or a combination of the two), sediment flows into streams and pollutes water.
Reduced Water Quality/Access to Drinkable Water:
Scientists conducted a study in Malawi on deforestation and water quality. They found that when deforestation increased 1%, it was equivalent to a nearly 1% decrease in access to clean water, which was equivalent to a decrease in rainfall of nearly 10%. They also observed that access to source water did not mean people had more drinkable water. Deforestation increases soil erosion, resulting in higher soil, sediment, and turbidity levels in the water, increasing the need for drinking water treatment.
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Analies Dyjak, M.A. | Head of Policy and Perspectives
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just announced a dramatic decrease in what they’re considering a “safe” level of certain PFAS in drinking water. EPA’s recent announcement reiterates just how serious the PFAS crisis has become in the U.S. What do these new “safe levels” mean for you and what action do you need to take?
EPA's New Guidelines for PFAS
EPA is proposing to reduce the current Health Advisory Level of 70 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS combined, to 0.004 parts per trillion for PFOA and 0.02 parts per trillion for PFOS. This reduction is over 17,000 times lower than what was considered safe by EPA just 6 years ago. EPA also introduced Health Advisory Levels of 10 parts per trillion for GenX and 2,000 parts per trillion for PFBS. It’s important to note that a Health Advisory Level is the amount of a contaminant that is NOT likely to cause negative health impacts. For example, drinking water with PFBS at a concentration above 2,000 parts per trillion could cause adverse health effects, according to EPA.
EPA admits that these super low levels could be very difficult to identify with current methods of detection: “It is possible for PFOA or PFOS to be present in drinking water at levels that exceed health advisories even if testing indicates no level of these chemicals” and that PFOA and PFOS can only “be reliably measured using specified analytical methods in appropriate laboratory settings.” While the intention of these new Health Advisory Levels are in good faith, they’re setting up municipal treatment plants to fail - especially those in rural and underfunded communities.
How Will The New PFAS Guidelines Impact You?
The general public likely won’t feel any real impacts for several years. Interim levels, and health advisory levels in general, are entirely non-enforceable. This means that water providers are not legally bound to meet these lower recommendations anytime soon. The goal of health advisories is that they will eventually turn into enforceable standards, which EPA has plans to implement in 2023. The only real impact to public health is that PFAS levels that were once considered “safe” by EPA are now potentially dangerous.
Takeaways and Red Flags
First, these new health advisory levels are unattainable by nearly every single public water utility in the country. Not only will someone (taxpayers) have to pay for new treatment technology, but it could take years if not decades to get new treatment up and running. It’s unclear what will happen to utility providers if they violate this law, or what people are supposed to do while these new guidelines take effect. Second, these new guidelines don’t address the root of the problem. PFAS are still being produced in the U.S., and are still a key ingredient in several consumer products. Even though drinking water has the potential to be addressed, there are hundreds of other ways that people are exposed to PFAS chemicals. Finally, this new change only addresses four of the over 9,000 different PFAS variations that are being found in the environment.Others Articles We Think You Might Enjoy:
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