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Oxybenzone and Drinking Water

Emily Driehaus @ Friday, June 25, 2021 at 3:39 pm -0400

Emily Driehaus  |  Science Communication Intern

Oxybenzone is a common sunscreen ingredient that has been shown to have negative impacts on human health and the environment. Evidence has shown that it can contaminate drinking water after being washed down the drain while showering off sunscreen. 

What is Oxybenzone?

Oxybenzone is a UV filter used in sunscreen and other cosmetics. It absorbs UV rays from the sun and helps prevent them from penetrating the skin and causing sun damage. While it does help protect our skin against the sun, it has implications for both our health and the environment, particularly aquatic life. 

Oxybenzone and Marine Life

Much of the concern regarding oxybenzone began when researchers noticed damage to coral reefs near beaches with many visitors. As sunscreen gets sloughed off the skin by the water and sand, it can make its way into the ocean and harm aquatic life. Coral reefs are especially susceptible to damage, as oxybenzone can harm normal growth and development, damage DNA and put them at an increased risk of bleaching. 

Health Implications of Oxybenzone

As research into oxybenzone has continued, it has been designated as an endocrine disruptor. Endocrine disruptors interfere with normal hormonal processes in the body and can impact the reproductive system. Most research on oxybenzone in the human body has focused on absorption through the skin rather than ingestion, but more evidence has shown that oxybenzone is present in drinking water, especially in communities near large bodies of water.

How Does Oxybenzone Get Into Drinking Water?

After a day at the beach, most individuals hop in the shower to rinse off the sunscreen and sand that has accumulated on their skin throughout the day. When this water goes down the drain, it goes to wastewater treatment plants to be treated before being released into water sources, which can be used for drinking water. Wastewater treatment plants and drinking water facilities lack the ability to filter out endocrine disruptors like oxybenzone, so it ends up in drinking water consumed by the public. A study looking at oxybenzone in Honolulu tap water showed that individuals consume between 0.8-1.2 micrograms of oxybenzone a day from drinking water. This concentration is not particularly harmful to fully grown adults, but can have a greater impact on children, infants and developing fetuses. 

Regulations on Oxybenzone

The previously mentioned study was submitted as part of testimony on a bill that would ban the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone in the state of Hawaii. The bill passed in 2018 and went into effect at the beginning of this year. The city of Key West, Florida has also enacted a ban on sunscreens with oxybenzone in an effort to protect coral reefs. These bans are not without controversy, as skin damage from UV rays can lead to skin cancer and banning sunscreens with oxybenzone leaves individuals in these areas with one less form of sun protection.

What Should I Do if I’m Concerned About Oxybenzone in my Water?

Carbon water filters are able to filter out oxybenzone and other endocrine disruptors. Using sunscreen with ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide rather than oxybenzone can also reduce your overall exposure. Switching sunscreens will also help protect aquatic life when you swim in bodies of water like lakes or oceans.

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Why Does My Tap Water Taste Like Dirt? 

Christina Liu @ Thursday, June 24, 2021 at 7:45 pm -0400
Reports that drinking water tastes "earthy" or like "dirt" has become more frequent, especially in areas affected by drought and with significantly reduced surface water levels. This is most commonly caused by geosmin, a chemical that's not toxic or harmful at levels in drinking water, but causing an unpleasant taste. Click to learn more.

Bill‌ ‌to‌ ‌Reduce‌ ‌Lead‌ ‌in‌ ‌Drinking‌ ‌Water‌ ‌in‌ New York ‌Schools‌ ‌

Christina Liu @ Monday, June 14, 2021 at 9:16 am -0400

‌Christina Liu | Hydroviv Science Team

The New York State Legislature recently passed a bill to help make drinking water in schools safer. National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reported that this bill lowers the Action Level of lead detected at school drinking water taps from the current EPA Action Level of 15 parts per billion (ppb) down to 5 ppb, which is the bottled water lead concentration limit set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The EPA, CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) all recognize that there is no safe level of lead for children. However, the 5 ppb Action Level is much closer to the recommended lead level recommended by the AAP of 1 ppb, so it is a major step forward in helping New York school children access safer drinking water in schools.  


How Do Droughts Affect Your Drinking Water?

Emily Driehaus @ Tuesday, June 22, 2021 at 10:20 am -0400

Emily Driehaus  |  Science Communication Intern

The ongoing drought in the western United States has severely depleted water supplies and left many states with water shortages. Water restrictions have been implemented in parts of California with more on the way. The lack of water can have an impact on both drinking water quality and water infrastructure. 

Droughts and Water Supplies

The most apparent impact of a drought is the loss of water resources due to the lack of precipitation. An increase in temperature can also speed up the rate of evaporation of water from water supplies. This combination of factors can lead to drought conditions like what is currently being seen in the western U.S. Both natural bodies of water and human-made reservoirs are being depleted at alarming rates, leading to water shortages and restrictions. 

How Can Droughts Impact Water Quality?

A lack of rainfall can lead to reduced flow of rivers and streams, causing stagnation. Rainfall and other precipitation helps to keep rivers and streams flowing, but this stagnation from a reduced flow can lead to a buildup of pollutants. Microorganisms and viruses can contaminate stagnant water and can be transmitted through both drinking water and water used for watering crops. People who use private wells for drinking water are also more susceptible to these contaminants, as there is little flow during a drought.  

Impacts on Water Infrastructure:

The low water supply caused by droughts can have an impact on water systems, especially smaller systems. Poor water quality can affect a treatment facility’s ability to meet acceptable drinking water standards. This loss in water pressure can lead to boil-water advisories, which can add to the heat that often accompanies drought. Older pipes can also exacerbate water loss during a drought due to leaks.  

Future Considerations

With climate change increasing the frequency and severity of droughts, the EPA is looking to help communities with drought resiliency. These efforts include installing water-efficient plumbing, such as low-flow toilets and showerheads that conserve water. Encouraging water reuse is also part of these efforts. For example, using water from a shower to water plants could be part of these efforts. As climate change exacerbates the impacts of droughts, these water conservation efforts will become increasingly important.

How Do I Prepare for Water Shortages in a Drought?

According to the USGS, preparation before a drought should focus on water conservation. Replacing leaky plumbing and installing low-flow fixtures can conserve water in the long run, especially during a drought. During a drought, the Red Cross recommends not pouring water down the drain when it could be used for another purpose, such as watering plants. Conserving as much water as possible will allow for more water from faucets to be used for drinking during a drought.

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Trump's "Dirty Water Rule" to be Revised

Emily Driehaus @ Friday, June 18, 2021 at 1:04 pm -0400

Emily Driehaus  |  Science Communication Intern

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it will revise regulations from the Trump administration that limit protections for certain bodies of water. The rule, commonly referred to as WOTUS, has been amended several times over various years. 

The EPA and the Army said in a statement that the rule “is leading to significant environmental degradation.” Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jaime Pinkham also said that current regulations established under the Trump administration have led to a drop of 25 percentage points in decisions that would give bodies of water protections under the Clean Water Act.

The Navigable Waters Protection Rule was established on April 21, 2020 after the Trump administration repealed an Obama-era rule that recognized smaller bodies of water as “waters of the United States” and gave them protections if they contributed to a larger water source. Protecting these small water sources was meant to prevent pollution from flowing into larger bodies of water, including drinking water resources. 

The Trump administration’s rule updated the definition of “waters of the United States” to exclude waters such as wetlands and streams from receiving protections under the Clean Water Act. 

The exclusion of certain bodies of water under the Navigable Waters Protection Rule is most significant in arid states like Arizona and New Mexico. Of the 1,500 streams in these two states, almost every one is excluded from protections. 
According to The Hill, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said that the agency will not “return verbatim” to the regulations from the Obama administration in a recent congressional hearing. 

A statement released by the EPA said that the new regulations will be guided by the Clean Water Act, the effects of climate change on water resources, the practicality of implementation, and input from the agricultural community, tribal and local governments, environmental groups, and communities with concerns about environmental justice. 

Our Take

We are very encouraged by the Biden administration and EPA’s step toward fixing water regulations. Water pollution can expose the public to harmful chemicals and substances through their drinking water, and we hope the new revisions to the Navigable Waters Protection Rule will recognize the importance of small bodies of water to the environment and our drinking water systems and protect them from pollution.

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