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Lead Crisis: Newark, New Jersey

Analies Dyjak | Policy Nerd   

Newark, New Jersey is experiencing high levels of lead in their drinking water, as reported by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Recent water testing by the Newark Water Department and outside organizations have found elevated levels of lead in public drinking water systems.

Health Risks of Lead Exposure

Lead is a neurotoxin, which is a chemical agent that affects the transmission of chemical signals between neurons. Lead exposure in children can result in a lower IQ, delayed or impaired neurological development, decreased hearing, speech and language disabilities, poor attention span and learning disabilities. There is no safe level of lead for children.

Past, Present, and Future Lead Problems 

Newark, New Jersey has historically had issues with high lead concentrations in their drinking water. A 2015 study found lead levels in the 90th percentile of 10 parts of billion, with 4 sites exceeding the 15 parts per billion action level. While this still meets the loose EPA drinking water standards, it’s important to note that only 10% of service lines were tested in this study. Newark city employees seem to have a different opinion on the lead predicament. On April 27, 2018, the City of Newark released a statement declaring Newark city drinking water “absolutely safe to drink.” Just days prior to this headline, the City of Newark posted a public notice disclosing the health effects of lead and how to minimize exposure. These are two very contradictory approaches to addressing lead contamination. We were unable to see for ourselves the most recent water quality reports because they are NOT available on the city’s websites. We reached out to city officials to obtain data but have yet to hear back. Also, in 2016, Newark’s Director of Water and Sewer Utilities, Andrea Adebowale stated that “service lines connecting the homes with the city water system are the responsibility of homeowners.” So even if Newark were to acknowledge the lead crisis, it’s likely that homeowners would receive little to no remediation assistance from the city.

That being said, we do not recommend allowing children to consume Newark city drinking water at this time. As Hydroviv has stated numerous times, there is no safe level of lead in drinking water that is suitable for children. Adults, particularly pregnant women, should take proper steps to reduce exposure to lead in drinking water.

Other Articles We Think You Might Enjoy:
Everything You Need To Know About Lead
Things To Know Before Replacing Your Home's Lead Service Pipes
How To Tell If Your Home Has Lead Plumbing

  • Analies Dyjak

Problems We Found With Orono/Veazie's Drinking Water

Analies Dyjak | Policy Nerd   

For Hydroviv’s assessment of drinking water quality in Orono, Maine, we collected water quality test data from the most recent Consumer Confidence Report and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. We cross referenced 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 both Orono and Veazie drinking water.

Where Does Orono Source Its Drinking Water?

Orono and Veazie source its drinking water from four groundwater wells located just off of Bennoch Road. Orono-Veazie Water District treats its drinking water with chlorine, fluoride, and sodium hydroxide.

Lead In Orono/Veazie Drinking Water

In recent years, both municipalities have had a major problem with Orono-Veazie water quality, including lead in drinking water. Lead enters tap water through old lead service pipes and lead-containing plumbing. 10% of sites that were tested for lead had concentrations over 3.7 parts per billion. Environmental Protection Agency, Center for Disease Control, and American Academy of Pediatrics all recognize that there is no safe level of lead for children. Treated water leaving the plant may be in compliance with the loose EPA threshold of 15 parts per billion, but could become contaminated once exposed to older infrastructure. Additionally, municipalities are only required to test a handful of homes every few years, so the levels reported in the most recent annual water quality report might not reflect the lead levels in your tap water. Houses built before 1986 were most likely built with lead plumbing and lead fixtures. This is a huge problem for water quality in Orono, Maine because lead exposure can cause developmental issues, lowered IQ, and damages to the kidneys and brain. Orono has historically had high levels of lead in drinking water. For example, in 2012, 10% of samples tested for lead had concentrations over 13 parts per billion.

Disinfection Byproducts In Orono/Veazie Drinking Water

Orono/Veazie municipal water is contaminated with disinfection byproducts or DBPs. DBPs are formed when the chlorine-based disinfectants that are routinely added to the water supply, react with organic material. They are split into two categories: Total Trihalomethanes (TTHMs) and Haloacetic Acids-5 (HAA5). Water samples were collected and tested for DBPs from 1215 State Street and the University of Maine Student Union. Concentrations of HAA5 averaged 9 parts per billion at the State Street location and 33 parts per billion at the UMaine Student Union. Concentrations of TTHMs averaged 64 parts per billion at the State Street location and 36 parts per billion at the UMaine. For a bit of perspective, EPA’s Maximum Contaminant Level is 60 parts per billion for HAA5 and 80 parts per billion for TTHMs. Disinfection Byproducts are a category of emerging contaminants which means they have been detected in drinking water but the risk to human health is unknown. Regulatory agencies have very little knowledge about the adverse health effects of DBPs, and their toxicity. EPA has stated that they have been linked to an increased risk of bladder cancer, as well as kidney, liver, and central nervous system problems.

It’s important to note that only a handful of contaminants are required to be included in annual Water Quality Reports, and that there are hundreds of potentially harmful unregulated contaminants that aren’t accounted for. If you’re interested in learning more about water filters that have been optimized for Orono-Veazie water quality, feel free to visit www.hydroviv.com to talk to a Water Nerd on our live chat feature or send us an email at hello@hydroviv.com.

Other Articles We Think You Might Enjoy:
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Disinfection Byproducts In Drinking Water: What You Need To Know

Polluted Tech Campuses: The History of Silicon Valley

Analies Dyjak | Policy Nerd   

Silicon Valley, California is the hub for some of the largest tech companies in the world. Apple, Google and Facebook are just some of the tech giants with headquarters located there. The name originates from the production of semiconductors, which uses a silicon chip in the manufacturing and production process. Silicon Valley is now home to several Fortune 500 companies and booming in economic success. What many people don’t know about this tech Mecca is that it’s also home to the highest number of Superfund sites in the United States.

Industrial History

In the early 1950’s, Silicon Valley was the premiere destination for modern day electrical engineering. The progressive and “modern” aesthetic of the Valley drew young engineers from all over the country. Aside from the possibility of prosperity, there was another major reason that people were flocking to the area: the absence of smokestacks. In fact, incoming tech companies had to follow strict zoning restrictions to ensure that smokestacks wouldn’t cloud the streets of Santa Clara. Young developers thought that prohibiting smokestacks would make the Valley all that more appealing to potential employees, and it did. Just because the effluent wasn’t visible to passersby, didn’t mean that Silicon Valley was a pure, pollutant-free destination. What I always like to say is “what can’t go up, must go down”. Discharge from industrial manufacturing of electrical equipment was being pumped underground where it eventually entered into groundwater. Environmental regulations were nonexistent, so dumping was the practical waste removal norm. There were also several solvent leaks between the years of 1950-1970 from defective infrastructure, the most famous being the Fairchild Spill of 1981. An estimated 14,000 gallons of trichloroethane (TCE) and 44,000 gallons of other solvents leaked into the groundwater supply of Santa Clara County. Several remediation efforts took place over the course of the next 30 years, such as underground vapor extraction wells (pump and treat), but volatile material is still very much present in the soil and groundwater of Silicon Valley.

What is TCE?

Trichloroethane (TCE) is a chemical solvent used in the manufacturing process of semiconductors. It’s an colorless, nonflammable liquid that is typically used as a solvent to remove grease from metals. According to a risk assessment done by the EPA in 2005, TCE is considered to be carcinogenic to humans by all exposure routes. TCE is linked with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Renal cell carcinoma, and liver cancer.

What is Superfund?

The Superfund program, also known as CERCLA, was created in the 1980’s to assist with the cleanup and mitigation of toxic contaminated sites. If a responsible party or partly responsible party cannot be identified, the Environmental Protection Agency has jurisdiction over funding and site remediation. Currently, there are 23 Superfund sites located in the Silicon Valley, the highest concentration of designated toxic waste sites in the country.

Vapor Plumes

For the most part, drinking water is properly treated by municipal utility providers, with the exception of private wells. The largest concern to human health are volatile vapor plumes. These are chemicals that are trapped underground that rise to the surface and are released into the atmosphere. Vapor plumes are often sucked into ventilation systems in buildings and homes. This highly concentrated exposure of a known carcinogen in a confined space is extremely dangerous to human health. In 2013, the Google headquarters in Silicon Valley experienced a toxic exposure to TCE. Google was not involved in manufacturing of the silicon chips and arrived in Silicon Valley after the spill. They were however a Bone Fide Prospective Purchaser, which means they were aware of the contamination at the time of acquisition.


Other articles we think you might enjoy: 
Why Does EPA Allow "Acceptable Amounts" of Toxic Chemicals in Drinking Water?
Volatile Organic Compounds in Drinking Water 
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  • Analies Dyjak

EPA Proposes New Definition of "Waters of the United States"

Analies Dyjak & Matthew Krug   

February 14th 2019: The Department of the Army and the Environmental Protection Agency  posted the newly proposed “Waters of the United States” rule to the Federal Register. At its core, the proposed EPA WOTUS rule limits the water that EPA can regulate and monitor. By narrowing the scope of WOTUS definitions, this basically gives industries a roadmap of where it’s okay to pollute without the need for permitting. This is a big deal for the 45 million Americans who rely on well water for drinking and bathing. So, why should you care about the definition of waters of the United States?

"Waters of the United States"

This definition, also known as “WOTUS” has been up for debate for decades, and it’s interpretation has seen several Supreme Court cases. This proposed rule determines what waters the federal government is able to regulate and monitor. Generally, “waters” have traditionally been navigable waters such as oceans, rivers, ponds, and streams. As our scientific understanding of hydrology has improved, the scope of what are considered “waters” has expanded.

What Is Not Protected Under The Proposed Rule?

WOTUS definitions name certain waters as “excluded,” which, in this case, means they do not have a surface water connection. This means that groundwater, ephemeral streams, ditches, prior converted cropland and some wetlands and ponds are not included. This is a continued rollback of environmental regulations - and the 2019 EPA WOTUS rule proposal may have the farthest-reaching implications of all.

How Does This Proposed Rule Affect Drinking Water?

This rule puts the 45 million Americans that use private wells as a primary source of drinking water at risk. Private wells are not regulated by federal, state, or local governments, and agencies are not required to test for contaminants or ensure “compliance.” A 2006 study by the USGS concluded that private wells are already contaminated with various types of agricultural runoff, solvents, fumigants and inorganic compounds, the most common being arsenic and nitrates. Arsenic is a naturally occurring organic compound, that enters groundwater as bedrock weathers overtime. However, nitrates are used in fertilizers and enter both surface and groundwater from agricultural runoff. 8.4% of the wells tested in this study were in exceeded the federal standard for nitrates (we have an article dedicated specifically to nitrates in groundwater). Further, EPA does not provide recommended criteria or standards for private well users. By rolling back protections, private well users are being further kept in the dark.

How Did They Arrive At this Rule?

The proposed EPA WOTUS rule is primarily based off a majority opinion by Justice Scalia in the Supreme Court case Rapanos v. United States. Scalia’s interpretation favored “traditional waters,” and steered away from Justice Kennedy’s “significant nexus theory.” In his majority opinion, Scalia wrote that federal protections should cover:

“...only those wetland with a continuous surface connection to bodies that are waters of the United States.”

Who’s Driving?

The American Farm Bureau dominated the conversation at the press conference for the proposed EPA WOTUS rule in early December of 2018. Industries lobbied hard to limit the scope of jurisdictional waters. In a political landscape where there is an abundance of legislation grandfathered in to protect the chemical, fossil fuel, and agricultural industries, it should come as no surprise that the current administration did not break from tradition. The agricultural industry is not the only institution who will benefit from this proposed rule. Chemical manufacturing companies have to go through a rigorous permitting process determined by state or federal governments (NPDES) which regulate pollution. But now, with a clearly defined and reduced scope of what constitutes a water of the United States, these companies are able to map out how to circumvent regulation.

The federal government has designated this as “economically significant”

This means that the proposed rule with have an annual effect on the economy of $100 million or more. 

Our Take:

This proposed WOTUS definitions puts the 15% of the country at further risk of groundwater contamination. This population of people are now on their own in terms of monitoring their drinking water and keeping up with land use changes. Our science team will be submitting public comments on this proposed rule, which will be available on our website in the upcoming weeks. We encourage our readers to do the same thing! CLICK HERE for the link to the WOTUS public comment page.

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Breaking: How Changes To The Waters Of The United States (WOTUS) Rule Affects Drinking Water

Analies Dyjak & Eric Roy, Ph.D.          

Editor's Note: Today, the US EPA and US Army Corps Of Engineers announced that they repealed the Clean Water Rule, and redefined which waters are regulated by the federal government under the Waters Of The United States (WOTUS) Rule. The purpose of this article is to inform the public how this regulatory change can impact their drinking water. We will be updating this article continuously as we learn more and to answer frequently asked questions about changes in U.S water quality standards.

What Is WOTUS?  

Waters Of The United States (WOTUS) defines which bodies of water the Federal Government can regulate under the Clean Water Rule. In 2015 the Obama Administration worked to establish a definition for which waters can be regulated waters with the intent of protecting drinking water, ecosystems, wetlands, and endangered species. Most importantly for U.S. water quality standards, WOTUS definitions provided coverage to groundwater, as roughly 50% of the US population drinks groundwater, including the 15% of people who draw drinking water from private wells. The new WOTUS definition basically removes these protections, among other things.

How Will The New WOTUS Definition Impact Drinking Water?

In the press conference, EPA officials mentioned that the new change does not change the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). This is intentionally misleading because private wells are NOT protected by the SDWA, and by removing federal protection from groundwater in general, the Trump administration is removing the only protection for people who have private wells, so those people really should be regularly testing their water quality, which is a giant financial burden to the citizen.

What Is Considered A Water Of The United States Under The Proposed Rule?

  • Traditional navigable waters
  • Tributaries
  • Navigable ditches
  • Lakes
  • Impoundments
  • Wetlands 

What Is NOT Considered A Water Of The United States Under The Proposed Rule?

  • Groundwater
  • Water features
  • Farm ditches
  • Converted cropland

Who Drove The Legislation To Roll Back These Protections?

A coalition of lobbyists from various business organizations, led by the American Farm Bureau was responsible for driving this legislation. In fact, the American Farm Bureau had representatives from western agricultural states in the press conference audience.

What Can Citizens Do To Be Heard On The Topic?

As with any proposed rule, there is a public comment period. Our experts will be submitting public comments to the Federal Register.  Once the link is live, we'll be posting it here. 

How Does Fracking Impact Drinking Water?

Analies Dyjak | Policy Nerd   

There’s no denying that fracking has changed the course of energy production in the U.S., but not without some serious environmental impacts. Fracking severely threatens groundwater aquifers that millions of Americans depend on for drinking water. The viral videos of people lighting their tap water on fire are real, and the risk to human health is significant. Here’s an answer to the question "does fracking pollute groundwater?"

How Does Fracking Pollute Drinking Water?

Fracking liquids can easily migrate to surrounding groundwater aquifers, either in the well injection stage or after they're transported offsite. A 2015 report by the California Office of Emergency Services concluded that 18% of fracking spills impact waterways. To give that statistic some real-world context, in North Dakota, 2,963,000 gallons of hydraulic fracturing liquid ended up polluting groundwater as a result of just 18 spills in 2015. 43 million people draw their drinking water from private wells, and are the most susceptible to pollution from fracking.

Fracking is an extremely water-intensive process. The amount of water required ranges anywhere from 1.5 to 16 million gallons per injection well. Natural gas producers then have to decide what to do with such high volumes of polluted water. Once the “produced liquid” has been used for extraction, it’s either; injected into a Class II well, reused in other hydraulic fracturing projects, or transported to a waste site.

Who Creates Setback Distances?

States have primacy over determining setback distances.

Colorado: Proposition 112

Some states recognize the serious and immediate threat that fracking has on drinking water. In Colorado, a question on the 2018 ballot addresses just that. Current state regulations require natural gas wells to be 500 feet from a home and 1000 feet from a “highly occupied structure” (school or apartment complex). Prop 112 would increase the setback distance to 2500 feet, or approximately a half mile. Health organizations argue that the proposed setback distance in Colorado still doesn’t go far enough, but is a step in the right direction.

Chemicals in Fracking Liquid

Fracking liquids are proprietary, meaning companies create their own unique chemical cocktails. Because fracking is exempt from the Clean Water Act, natural gas companies are not required to disclose what exactly they’re pumping into the earth. Between the years of 2005 and 2013, EPA was able to identify 1,084 different hydraulic fracturing chemicals. EPA concluded that 65% of the wells tested had methanol, hydrotreated light petroleum distillates and hydrochloric acid. Other popular fracking chemicals include arsenic, benzene, cadmium, lead, formaldehyde, chlorine, and mercury-- a great medley of both toxic carcinogenic compounds.

Health Effects

Common health effects of Hydrochloric Acid, one of the prominent fracking chemicals, include inflammation and ulceration of the respiratory tract, pulmonary edema, lesions of the upper respiratory tract, and corrosion of mucous membranes of the esophagus and stomach. Fetuses and young children are the most susceptible to the adverse health effects associated with fracking chemicals. A 2017 study concluded that in Pennsylvania, babies of moms who live within one kilometer (3280 feet) of a fracking site have a 25% greater chance of being born underweight, than expecting mothers that live 3 kilometers (9842 feet) away.

What Is The Halliburton Loophole?

In 2005, congress passed the Energy Policy Act, which exempted fracking from the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. This soon became known as the “Halliburton Loophole” for the extensive lobbying done by Halliburton Oilfield Service. Through this loophole, natural gas companies are not required to disclose extraction chemicals or other important water-related information. Natural gas companies are also not required to obtain National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits. This eliminates pollution permits for; natural gas exploration, production, processing, treatment, transmission, and related activities.

Bottom Line:

While fracking provides American-produced energy, it also seriously threatens drinking water. And fracking isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Natural gas production is predicted to grow 40% in the next 20 years. This means more injection wells and more pollution. It’s up to industries and consumers to weigh the benefits with the costs of fracking.

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What Is "Safe" Drinking Water?
Why Does EPA Allow “Acceptable Amounts” of Toxic Chemicals In Drinking Water?