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Effects of Arsenic Exposure on Fetal Health

Analies Dyjak @ Tuesday, June 28, 2022 at 12:43 pm -0400
Studies have found that pregnant women are especially susceptible to the harmful effects of Arsenic exposure. Arsenic exposure can drastically impact reproductive outcomes, affect fetal development, and can lead to long term health problems. It’s estimated that 2 million Americans have private wells and drink water with unsafe levels of Arsenic. However, the association between chronic arsenic exposure and adverse pregnancy outcomes is not widely recognized.

What EPA's New PFAS Guidelines Mean For You

Analies Dyjak @ Friday, June 17, 2022 at 3:11 pm -0400

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.

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New Asbestos Ban Could Increase Use and Release of PFAS Chemicals

Analies Dyjak @ Tuesday, May 31, 2022 at 4:43 pm -0400

Analies Dyjak, M.A. | Head of Policy and Perspectives   

EPA recently proposed a ban on a certain type of Asbestos that’s still being imported into the U.S. today. Experts and regulators worry that this ban will increase the use of a different toxic chemical that’s already of concern in all 50 states. 

Why Is Asbestos Allowed in the United States?

If you thought Asbestos was already a banned substance in the U.S., you’re not alone! EPA has been gradually phasing out asbestos since 1975, and the current proposal would officially close this chapter for good. Still, it’s estimated that there are over 40,000 asbestos-related deaths in the United States annually. Chrysotile Asbestos, also known as “white” asbestos, accounts for the majority of cases of mesothelioma and asbestos disease in the U.S. Patients with these types of diseases are often exposed via inhalation in a work setting, but contaminated drinking water is a known pathway of exposure. While the U.S. is working to ban Asbestos entirely, production and use is actually increasing in certain developing countries because of its low cost and effectiveness. 

What Is Chrysotile Asbestos?

Chrysotile Asbestos is best known for its heat resistant properties, making it an ideal material for fireproofing various products. It’s also found in things like asphalt, brake pads, plastics, chlorine diaphragms, and roofing materials. Chrysotile Asbestos is used by one-third of chlor-alkali manufacturers, which are responsible for producing chlorine. Chlorine is used to produce 88% of all pharmaceuticals processed in the U.S., not to mention its widespread use in tap water disinfection. All types of Asbestos can enter the environment during manufacturing, building demolition/construction, and mining operations. Under this proposed rule, EPA would prohibit the manufacturing, processing, distribution in commerce, commercial usage, and importation of Chrysotile Asbestos. 

Why Will Banning Asbestos Increase the Presence of PFAS?

Products that still use Asbestos rely on the material for its heat-resistant properties, as previously mentioned. Manufacturers, and even EPA, acknowledge that the replacement substance will likely be PFAS chemicals. Experts note that PFAS are not a suitable alternative for Chrysotile Asbestos because of the long list of dangerous health effects associated with these contaminants, including cancer. EPA acknowledges that: “the transition away from asbestos-containing diaphragms could result in great usage and release of PFAS.” Many states have created their own regulations and in some cases have banned the use of PFAS chemicals because of their toxicity. EPA and other federal agencies are focusing their efforts on regulating two different PFAS variations: PFOA and PFOS. While scientists have a good understanding of these two types, there are more than 9,000 different PFAS variations up for grabs to replace Chrysotile Asbestos.

Should We NOT Ban Chrysotile Asbestos?

We should ban all types of Asbestos known to cause negative health impacts, and any other contaminants known to be toxic for that matter. However, the regulatory process can take decades, and action is often taken well after people become sick and die. For example, the public has known about the risks of asbestos exposure since 1906, when the first reported death was documented. It’s taken over a century to ban a substance we’ve known to be incredibly toxic for over 100 years. By allowing PFAS to replace Chrysotile Asbestos, we’re knowingly replacing one toxic substance with another.

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Over 60% of Toxic Wastewater Biosolids Are Used To Fertilize Farmland in The U.S.

Analies Dyjak @ Wednesday, May 18, 2022 at 5:45 pm -0400

Analies Dyjak, M.A. | Head of Policy & Perspectives 

Over 60% of leftover sewage waste or "biosolids" are used by farmers to fertilize crops in the U.S. A recent study found that a category of cancer-causing chemicals called PFAS were present in a majority of the fertilizing sludge - impacting food, livestock, and ultimately drinking water. Farmers expect that the biosolids coming from municipalities are entirely safe to use on their crops. Consumers also have this same expectation when buying produce at the grocery store. The reality is that municipalities don't even know the extent of what's hiding in sewage biosolids, but continue to encourage farmers to use it. Here's everything you need to know about biosolids and why farmers are still allowed to use it. 

What Are Biosolids?

Biosolids is a universal term for solid waste or sludge derived from sewage treatment processes. Wastewater treatment plants first process the incoming contents by separating water from solid waste. Water is treated for biological contamination and sent back into nearby waterways where it becomes available for a variety of uses, including drinking water. What’s left behind is a sludge-mixture of human waste, industrial waste, and pollution from stormwater runoff. The leftover sludge or “biosolids” is much more difficult to treat, store, or dispose of. The nutrient-rich sludge becomes available for farms to purchase and use on croplands at a much cheaper rate than other types of manure. Surprisingly, the issue is not that human fecal matter is being used to fertilize crops across the country. The problem is that this sludge more often than not contains incredibly toxic chemicals that make their way into our food and drinking water

Why Farms Use Sewage Waste on Crops:

EPA has documented that over 19 billion pounds of biosolid sludge has been used as fertilizer since 2016 in 41 states. The agency estimates that 60% of the nation's sludge is used to fertilize agricultural land, public parks, golf courses, and home gardens. Agricultural use of municipal biosolids has been around since the 1920’s - however environmental regulations didn’t kick in until 1993. There’s a strong case to be made that biosolids can be a cheap and effective way to fertilize crops - not to mention that farmers are able to reuse a naturally-occurring material to grow crops. Biosolids can also result in an increase in overall crop yield because of the addition of organic matter to soil. There’s a good chance that some of the food sitting in your refrigerator was grown using sewage biosolids. 

Toxic Chemicals Are Present in Wastewater Sludge 

PFAS or ‘forever chemicals’ are being detected everywhere - including in biosolids. Treatment plants aren’t required to test for or remove PFAS chemicals, so most of the time no one knows if they’re present. PFAS are found in industrial waste, drinking water, runoff from airports and military bases, as well as consumer goods. When these different types of waste are brought to a single area (i.e. a wastewater treatment plant), PFAS concentrations become alarmingly high. Because of the lack of testing and regulatory oversight, farmers are unknowingly re-distributing PFAS-containing toxic sludge into the environment while simultaneously contaminating their crops.

EPA has detected 700 pollutants in sewage biosolids since testing began in 1993. The more than 9,000 different PFAS chemicals are not included in this list. Just because a pollutant is present does not mean that a wastewater treatment plant is required to remove it. Furthermore, EPA claims that “the presence of a pollutant in biosolids alone does not mean that the biosolids pose harm to human health and the environment.” 

How Are Biosolids Regulated?

Biosolids, like other wastewater byproducts, are not particularly well-regulated. The “preparer,” which is often the public treatment plant, has to meet risk-based standards before providing the waste to the “appliers,” which are often farmers. It’s up to EPA to determine which pollutants in biosolids pose a risk to human health. EPA’s failure to regulate PFAS in biosolids and drinking water implies to the public that these chemicals are “safe,” even at concentrations that are known to cause cancer. EPA weighs the cost of removing a contaminant with the benefits to human health, resulting in safety limits that fail to do their jobs. 

PFAS Levels at Organic Maine Farm Are 400 Times Higher Than State Guidelines

Farmers in Unity, Maine were some of the first to uncover PFAS pollution from biosolids on their land. A nearby town was home to a “molded fiber packaging” manufacturer in the 1990’s, which processed PFAS chemicals. The previous owners of the farm applied sewage biosolids to their land around the time that fiber manufacturing was in full swing. The current owners had no idea until they found a map of known sewage applications which revealed that their land had been contaminated. Testing found that PFAS levels in the farm's well water were 400 times higher than Maine’s state guidelines. 

Similar stories are being told across the entire country - disrupting businesses, supply chains and public health; a Michigan cattle farmer was recently shut down after state officials detected PFAS in his water. The source was later traced back to fertilizer biosolids from a chrome-plate manufacturer in the area; Dairy farmers in both Maine and Wisconsin have dumped thousands of gallons of milk because of PFAS pollution in their cows; and companies in Ohio, the state with the most robust recordkeeping of biosolid use, have persistently violated EPA’s biosolid regulations

Major Takeaways:

It’s now estimated that 20 million acres of U.S. cropland are contaminated with PFAS chemicals. EPA has yet to start navigating the culpability of PFAS producers, wastewater treatment plants, or municipalities in a meaningful way. We can expect to see “biosolids” to dominate headlines in coming months, but we could be decades away from meaningful action to protect public health. Our Water Nerds will continue to ask the question: who should be held accountable?

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Why You Should Change Your Hydroviv Water Filter Cartridge Every 6 Months:

Analies Dyjak @ Wednesday, April 27, 2022 at 3:35 pm -0400

Eric Roy, Ph.D. | Hydroviv's Scientific Founder   

Much like changing a car’s oil is necessary for a car to operate, replacing the cartridge in your Hydroviv water filter is necessary to ensure that your filter is producing safe drinking water for you and your family. This article discusses the most frequently asked questions that we get about cartridge replacement.

Why Do I Have To Change My Water Filter Cartridge?

The performance of a water filter cartridge against dissolved and particulate contaminants is dictated by two main factors: #1. pore structure and #2. active media blend. A water filter must be changed regularly because as water flows through the filter over time, the pore structure can become clogged with particulate matter and active media becomes saturated with chemicals. When the capacity of either is exceeded, the filter no longer performs as designed.

How Do I Know When It’s Time To Change My Water Filter Cartridge?

While it’s easy to tell if particulate matter has filled up the filter’s pores (flow rate slows down), it’s not as straightforward to tell if a filter has been saturated by dissolved chemicals without laboratory testing. This is where 3rd party testing & certifications come in. For example, as part of Hydroviv’s NSF Certification Program, our drinking water cartridges were shown to filter chemicals like PFAS, lead, and VOCs for over 720 gallons before performance tapered, which translates to a 6 month replacement interval for over 95% of Hydroviv customers.

What Happens When You Don’t Change Your Filters’ Cartridge? 

When a filter is used beyond the capacity, filtration performance drops and can reach a point where the filter can release contaminants into the water, a process known as “avalanching.” This is why we tell people that if they decide not to replace the cartridge, they are better off disconnecting their filtration system.

Are There Other Factors That Create Exceptions to The 6 Month Rule?

While over 95% of Hydroviv users are best served by a 6 month replacement interval, we do have users that use a longer or shorter changeout interval. For example, a filter used by a large family that drinks a lot of water or has a high amount of particulate matter could require more frequent cartridge replacements. Conversely, an occasionally-used filter can probably be changed out less frequently, though we don’t ever recommend letting any filter be used for over 9 months for hygiene reasons. 

This video shows how easy it is to replace the cartridge in your Hydroviv filter. 

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