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A Deeper Dive Into The CNN Report on America's Drinking Water

Analies Dyjak @ Wednesday, November 28, 2018 at 6:19 pm -0500

*Map courtesy of the Natural Resources Defense Council*

Analies Dyjak  |  Policy Nerd

Our inbox has been inundated with questions regarding the NRDC drinking water report that CNN retreated yesterday. We wanted to add some context and remind readers that these developments are not new. The scope of the drinking water problem in this country is much broader than the 90 federally regulated contaminants highlighted in the report. 

With myriad water quality crises popping up all over the country this past year, the topic of drinking water quality has once again commanded national media attention. CNN recently published an article underlining a 2017 report by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Major Takeaways from the CNN Water Report:

  1. It’s not easy to violate a drinking water standard. In fact, drinking water regulations are set so high in the United States that it’s surprisingly difficult for a municipality to surpass a federal threshold. The consensus in the scientific and toxicological community is that federal standards should be reduced across the board.

  2. Why is the conversation being limited to regulated contaminants? For a bit of perspective, EPA regulates 90 drinking water contaminants that municipalities must comply with. These regulated contaminants include lead, arsenic, disinfection byproducts, and others. There are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of potentially dangerous unregulated contaminants. Despite this growing problem, the CNN report focused entirely on the 90 federally regulated contaminants, which doesn't even scratch the surface of America's drinking water crisis. 

  3. The article is vague about what constitutes a "violation." Municipalities can receive a violation from the state, or primacy agency for different reasons. Municipalities can be in violation if they are "out of compliance" or "in exceedance" of a drinking water standard. However, municipalities that fail to report data or test for a contaminant may also receive a violation. There's very little enforcement or repercussions imposed on municipalities that have violations, and often community members are left in the dark. 

How Can We Determine The Actual Scope of Drinking Water Contamination In The United States?

Figuring out the scope of this problem is extremely difficult, due to the slow-moving regulatory process and missing data. EPA estimates it would cost $743 billion to mitigate only the regulated contaminants in the U.S., meaning it would do nothing to address unregulated contaminants like Chromium 6, PFAS, and 1,4-Dioxane. Communities like Madison, Wisconsin could theoretically receive a gold star when looking at their compliance for regulated contaminants. Madison has low levels or lead, disinfection byproducts, and arsenic - all well within EPA standards. People are often surprised to find out that Madison has screamingly high levels of Chromium 6, which is also known as the "Erin Brockovich" chemical (the movie came out almost 20 years ago, and the contaminant is still unregulated). According to the most recent report, the average concentration of Chromium 6 in Madison is 1400 parts per trillion. This is 70 times higher than the concentration determined to have a negligible impact on cancer risk. 

America’s drinking water is more widespread than you think, and the scope of the problem goes well beyond the 90 contaminants addressed in the article. We must look beyond annual Consumer Confidence Reports to unveil the truth about our drinking water contamination.

Other Article We Think You Might Enjoy:
Why Are So Many Schools Testing Positive For Lead In Drinking Water?
GenX Is Linked To Cancer
How Does Fracking Pollute Drinking Water?

BREAKING: EPA Admits GenX Linked To Cancer

Analies Dyjak @ Wednesday, November 14, 2018 at 3:36 pm -0500

Analies Dyjak  |  Policy Nerd 

Our blog has been following PFAS contaminants such as the GenX chemical for months now, often reporting on new developments before mainstream news.
Today marks an important milestone: EPA has released a draft toxicity profile for GenX. This long-awaited toxicity report contains critical information for many states who have been seeking answers on this harmful contaminant.

EPA’s Draft Toxicity Assessments for GenX and PFBS:

EPA determined a candidate Chronic Reference Dose of 0.00008 mg/kg-day. A reference dose is the daily oral intake not anticipated to cause negative health effects over a lifetime. A reference dose is not a carcinogenic risk factor, however, EPA states that the toxicity data for GenX are “suggestive of cancer.” According to the draft report, oral exposure in animals had negative health effects on the kidney, blood, immune system, developing fetus, and liver. The draft toxicity report also provided information on PFBS, which is a replacement chemical for PFOS. The candidate Chronic Reference Dose for PFBS is 0.01 mg/kg-day, and there was insufficient data to determine its carcinogenic potential.

What Is GenX?

GenX is part of a category of contaminants called PFAS, or per and polyfluoroalkyl substances. The GenX chemical linked to cancer has gained national attention since being discovered in the Cape Fear River in June of 2017.
PFAS have historically been used in consumer products like Scotchgard, Gore-Tex, Teflon, and even the inside of popcorn bags. PFAS are also used in firefighting foam, which is the major source of its pollution in waterways across the country.

Background:

The Chemours plant in Fayetteville, North Carolina produces refrigerants, ion exchange membranes, and other fluoroproducts. They have been discharging liquid effluent into the Cape Fear River for years, which has contaminated drinking water for the entire area. GenX is the replacement chemical for PFOA. After PFOA was discovered to be toxic, manufacturers addressed the issue by making an equally-as toxic replacement. Manufacturers of PFAS have been doing this for years, which is why there are so many different variations present in the environment.

Is GenX Federally Regulated By EPA?

No. This means that municipalities are not required to test for PFBS or GenX in water. Additionally, this draft toxicity level is not a lifetime health advisory level, which states would be more inclined to follow.

When Will A Drinking Water Standard Be Determined?

Don’t hold your breath on anytime soon! The regulatory process can take decades, especially for such a persistent contaminant in the environment. This is more than enough time for adverse health effects to set in, and we recommend consumers do everything they can to learn about their water and protect themselves, rather than wait for the government to step in.

What Does This Mean For Me?

EPA is in the very early stages of determining a regulation or even health advisory for GenX. This draft toxicity level needs to go through public comment so that states, tribes, and municipalities can offer input and recommendations. If you want to see third-party data on filters that remove GenX in water and other PFAS, click HERE. 

Other Articles About GenX:
Timeline: GenX In North Carolina
ASTDR Toxicological Profile for PFAS
GenX Contamination In Drinking Water: What You Need To Know

The Musk Foundation Has Donated To Help Schools in Flint Get Water Filters. But Will They Actually Remove Lead?

Analies Dyjak @ Tuesday, October 9, 2018 at 4:02 pm -0400

Analies Dyjak | Policy Nerd

October 4, 2018- Elon Musk and The Musk Foundation confirmed a donation of $480,350 to Flint, Michigan Community Schools in hopes of addressing lead contamination in drinking water. Flint is one of many school districts across the country that has been working hard to generate long-term solutions for lead contamination in drinking water. This article examines whether the proposed filtration technology will effectively remove lead from drinking water. 

How Will The Funding Be Used?

Musk initially announced the filters would comply with FDA’s 5 parts per billion standard (which is actually the standard for lead in bottled water), instead of EPA’s 15 part per billion Action Level. While definitely lower than EPA's threshold, the American Academy of Pediatrics and Center for Disease Control have both acknowledged that there is no safe level of lead for children. The Musk Foundation has not released the exact type of water filters Flint, Michigan Community Schools plans to use. Press releases have indicated some type of ultraviolet filtration system. 

What Is UV Water Filtration?

Ultraviolet filtration eliminates biological contamination from drinking water. This includes bacteria, viruses, and harmful microorganisms like E.coli. The idea behind UV filtration is it prevents microorganisms from reproducing, by striking each individual cell. It’s comparable to and often more effective than using chlorine to kill bacterial contamination.

Does UV Filtration Filter Lead?

No. While UV filters are great at removing biological contamination from drinking water, they have several limitations. UV filters by themselves are not able to remove chemical contaminants including Volatile Organic Compounds, chlorine, lead, mercury and other heavy metals. To remove chemical contaminants (including lead), a UV-based system would need to be paired with lead removal media or reverse osmosis.

Our Take

Contrary to a lot of media reports, UV filters do not remove lead from water, so we're hoping that the UV is paired with a system that removes lead. We also hope that the filters are installed at the point of use, because water treated by a point of entry filter can accumulate lead in any pipe "downstream" of the filtration unit. 

Other Article We Think You Might Enjoy:
Why Are So Many Schools Testing Positive For Lead In Drinking Water?
Volatile Organic Compounds: What You Need To Know
Lead In Drinking Water
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Surface Water: What You Need To Know

Analies Dyjak @ Tuesday, September 4, 2018 at 11:56 am -0400

 Analies Dyjak  |  Policy Nerd

Surface water is an extremely important natural resource. From the water we drink, give to our pets, and use for recreation, we are dependent on its various uses. Surface water is continuously being threatened by anthropogenic activities. It’s extremely difficult and costly for municipal treatment facilities to keep up with new contaminants that are polluting waterways every single day. Additionally, federal regulations don’t reflect the large scope of surface water pollution. This blog post discusses the various threats to surface water and why humans should care.

What Is Surface Water?

Lakes, oceans, streams, rivers, ponds, reservoirs, and wetlands are the various types of surface water. Freshwater sources are responsible for providing potable drinking water to 84% of the nations population. Surface water is different from groundwater because it has the ability to disperse and become diluted as it travels throughout a body of water. Groundwater aquifers are essentially holding tanks for highly concentrated contamination. There’s less room for contaminants to move around, and less volume for the contamination to become less concentrated. 

How Does Surface Water Become Polluted?

Surface water is extremely susceptible to pollution because it occupies such a large portion of the earth’s surface. Surface water pollution is almost entirely the result of human activities. Agriculture, mining, factory effluent, landfills, human/animal waste and localized pollution are just some of the most common sources of surface water pollution. Topography and geological formations create natural surface water runoff, but human manipulation of the land increases flow rates and overall contamination.

  • Point source pollution comes from an easily identifiable source, like a factory or sewage treatment plant. Point source pollution is discharged through a pipeline, ditch, or any “discrete conveyance” that directly or indirectly enters a body of water. Point sources are typically regulated by National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits.

  • Non-point source pollution is much harder to regulate because the source is not easily identifiable. Agricultural and stormwater runoff are the two most common types of nonpoint source pollution. Heavy rain events cause contaminants to runoff from roads and fields, collecting debris and pollution as it travels into a body of water.

How Do You Mitigate Surface Water Pollution?

It’s expensive and nearly impossible to mitigate a contaminant once it has entered surface water. For some contaminants, the solution is typically self-mitigating. A contaminant will become diluted to extremely small concentrations after it has traveled and dispersed throughout a body of water. Additionally, some contaminants are still extremely toxic at very small concentrations. There are also several persistent contaminants that never fully decompose in nature (PCBs, DDT and Dioxin), or take hundreds of years to degrade. As we’ve seen in Wilmington, North Carolina, and Maplewood, Minnesota, municipal water treatment facilities are only equipped to remove certain types and quantities of surface water contamination.

What Is Currently The Biggest Threat To Surface Water?

Man-made compounds are one of the largests threats to drinking water sources. Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are a category of man-made “emerging contaminants,” which means they have been detected in the environment but the risk to human health is not well-understood. Chemicals such as GenX, PFOA, and PFOS are all common contaminants that fall under the category of PFAS. DuPont, Chemours, and 3M have been using variations of these chemicals in industrial and consumer products since the early 1950’s. Scotchgard, Teflon, firefighting foam, metal plating, heat/water repellent chemicals, and stain resistant fabrics are common uses of PFAS. They are extremely persistent in the environment, which means they do not readily degrade. PFAS effluent is either directly dumped from a factory into surface water or a dug ditch, which will then percolate into groundwater. This is allowed because PFAS are unregulated by the federal government.

North Carolina’s Cape Fear River has been unknowingly experiencing surface water contamination for years. A Chemours plant located in Fayetteville, North Carolina, had been discharging various types of PFAS into the Cape Fear River since the 1980's. The Cape Fear is the primary drinking water source for residents of Brunswick and New Hanover County. Their water resource is now tainted with a dangerous contaminant that's unregulated by the federal government.

Algal Blooms and Surface Water

Algal blooms are another major threat to surface water. An influx of nutrients or heat can increase the quantity of algae. Often, this overload of nutrients is the result of agricultural fertilizer runoff. Harmful Algal Blooms or HABs occur after an influx of nutrients or a sudden increase in water temperature. HABs can then produce cyanotoxins, which are harmful to humans and the environment.

How Can I Protect Surface Water?

Protecting surface water from contamination will not only improve drinking water quality, but also valuable habitats. Here are some tips for local level surface water management:
  • Watershed Management: Municipalities should look at watersheds as an entire system, rather than exclusively a water resource. Watershed management surveys the land surrounding a body of water to determine the natural flows and influxes.
  • Eliminating Pesticides, Herbicides, and Fertilizers: What’s bad for plants and animals, is also bad for humans. This category of surface water pollution runs-off directly into surrounding bodies of water and effects fragile surface water ecosystems. Reducing or eliminating the use of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers will reduce the amount of necessary additives by municipal water treatment facilities to eliminate contaminants.
  • Reduce Impervious Surfaces: Impervious surface is any type of ground cover that prevents water from infiltrating into the ground. Pavement or asphalt is the best example. Impervious surface increases runoff flow rates into surface water, and prevents groundwater from naturally filtering contaminants. Next time you’re thinking about paving your driveway, consider a pervious alternative such as porous asphalt or pervious concrete.
  • Hold Municipalities Accountable: Stay current with commercial and industrial development within your community. Public comment periods are required prior to development and prior to obtaining a NPDES permit. Companies are required to address each question and concern individually, so if development plans raise personal concern, don’t be afraid to utilize the public comment period.
Other Articles We Think You Might Enjoy:
Groundwater: What You Need To Know
Timeline Of GenX Contamination In The Cape Fear River
Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule

    1,4-Dioxane In Drinking Water: What You Need To Know

    Analies Dyjak @ Friday, November 16, 2018 at 11:05 am -0500

    Analies Dyjak  |  Policy Nerd

    What Is 1,4 Dioxane?

    1,4 dioxane is a synthetic industrial chemical, typically used as a stabilizer for chlorinated solvents. It was historically used in the production of 1,1,1-trichloroethane (TCA), which was phased out in 1985 after scientists determined it to be an ozone-depleting substance. Today, 1,4 dioxane is not typically added directly to consumer products but can be an unintentional byproduct in certain plastics. 

    Is 1,4-Dioxane Regulated?

    1,4-dioxane in drinking water is not federally regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act even though EPA has classified it as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans by all exposure routes.” There are health advisories in place but a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) does not exist. 1,4-dioxane is regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for indoor workplace air quality.

    How Does 1,4 Dioxane Enter Drinking Water?

    1,4-dioxane is typically found in areas close to production facilities that either make it or use it as a solvent. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 1,4-dioxane can easily travel into groundwater because it does not stick to soil particles.

    1,4-dioxane Health Effects In Drinking Water:

    1,4-dioxane is associated with an increased risk of nasal, liver, and gallbladder cancers. Like other contaminants, the dose and duration of exposure affect the likelihood of adverse 1,4-dioxane health effects.

    Regulatory History of 1,4-Dioxane:

    1,4-dioxane is on the fourth drinking water Contaminant Candidate List and is also part of the Third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule. A Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) has not been set for 1,4 dioxane. This means that unless a state standard exists, utility providers are not required to remove it from drinking water. As of November 2017, 18 states set drinking water and groundwater guidelines for 1,4-dioxane.

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    America's Infrastructure Act of 2018