Water Quality InformationWritten By Actual Experts


Stagnant Water Due To COVID-19 Will Increase Lead Levels in Schools and Childcare Facilities

Analies Dyjak @ Monday, April 20, 2020 at 5:05 pm -0400

Analies Dyjak, M.A.  |  Policy Nerd

COVID-19 will have long-lasting impacts that we can’t even begin to quantify. One important challenge that has the potential to be overlooked in the enormity of the crisis is that water quality, specifically in schools and childcare facilities, could change when stay-at-home orders are lifted. Purdue University is currently researching the magnitude of just how bad this problem could be. Here is how lead in water could impact schools in your area. 

Is Lead Harmful to Children?

Exposure to any amount of lead can cause serious health impacts, particularly in young children. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), exposure to low levels of lead can cause permanent cognitive, academic, and behavioral difficulties in children. There is a serious disconnect between the legal limit and the levels deemed appropriate by major health organizations. Lead is a neurotoxin, and children should not consume any amount, especially at school.

Why Does Stagnant Water Increase Lead Levels?

Lead accumulates in water when it leaches from lead-containing pipes, plumbing, and fixtures. The periods of inertia in plumbing during weekends and summer vacation allow water to sit stagnant for extended periods of time. The longer water sits stagnant in pipes in the distribution system, the more lead can accumulate. This is the major difference between lead accumulation in homes vs. schools and childcare facilities. Some school districts make sure to flush pipes in August before the start of the school year. Unfortunately, some schools don’t have the funds to ensure proper flushing. In an average household, water flows on a daily basis and doesn’t sit stagnant for more than 12 hours at a time. We don’t know how long schools will be closed, which could result in water sitting stagnant for longer than the average summer break. 

Why Are Schools and Childcare Facilities Most Susceptible To Lead Contamination?

Schools in the United States are old, and many were built with lead-containing pipes, plumbing, and fixtures. According to data from the Department of Education, the average age of a public school in the United States is 44 years old. Additionally, children are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of lead exposure. The current federal Action Level for lead in drinking water is 15 parts per billion. Unfortunately, schools are not required to follow this already weak standard for municipal water. The EPA suggests schools maintain lead levels under 20 parts per billion. This is shocking, considering that public health organizations agree that there is no safe level of lead for children.

Why Many Schools Don’t Test for Lead:

There is no Federal law that requires schools to test for lead. Some states have created laws that mandate schools to test; however, a 2018 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), found that only 15 states actually require schools to test for lead. As of 2018, 43% of public schools tested for lead in drinking water. 

Our Take:

There’s no guarantee that the water coming out of school fountains is free of lead. As a parent or member of the community, there are a few things you can do to ensure that children are not being exposed to lead. Once schools open their doors again, you can contact your superintendent’s office to make them aware of this issue. A common mitigation technique is to allow water lines to run for an extended period of time. Parents can also speak with principals to make sure that custodians and maintenance staff flush water lines before kids go back to school. When in doubt, have your children fill up a water bottle from home with filtered water and bring to school!

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American's Can't Afford Their Water Bills

Analies Dyjak @ Thursday, April 16, 2020 at 3:45 pm -0400

Analies Dyjak  |  Policy Nerd

Our Water Nerds are following a largely under-reported story that’s crippling communities throughout the United States, particularly in Detroit, Michigan. Amid a pandemic, Detroit residents are left without running water. The cost of water and sewer has increased more than 60% in the past 10 years, leaving many residents unable to pay their bills. This article will break down why utility bills are higher than ever in 2020, and why the United States is in desperate need of capital water infrastructure improvements.

Why Are Water Rates In The United States So High?

Water infrastructure improvements are a necessary investment to ensure that all Americans have access to safe and affordable water. The reality is that infrastructure in the U.S. is outdated. Millions of individuals are drinking water coming from distribution pipes that are 150 years old. The state of water infrastructure is so bad that the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the United States a “D Grade" just for water infrastructure. Cities and towns are retroactively trying to update water distribution networks as quickly (and cheaply) as possible. Although these improvements are not cheap, they are absolutely necessary.

Why Do We Need To Update Our Nations Water Infrastructure?

The short answer to this question can be summed up by what happened in Flint, Michigan. At the beginning of 2014, Flint residents were exposed to extremely high levels of lead that were hidden in the city's water distribution network. When the city switched over to a more corrosive water source, the lead levels sky-rocketed. Flint is not alone. New York City, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Portland (OR), and Denver all have lead levels that exceed public health goals. Because of the dangerous health impacts associated with lead exposure, preventing similar future incidents is extremely important. The good news is that a majority of funding for water infrastructure improvements are going towards Full Lead Service Line Replacement programs.

Who Pays For Water Infrastructure Improvements?

Historically, the federal government paid for a majority of capital improvements, including water infrastructure. The financial burden has since shifted to state and local governments. In 1977, 63% of capital expenditures for water infrastructure and improvements came from the federal government. Currently, federal contributions only account for 9% of total water infrastructure improvements. This places an enormous financial burden on states and localities who are already dealing with other important public health issues. The bottom line is that money to fund water infrastructure projects now comes from the tax base. In already poor communities, increased utility rates can put a huge strain on families, causing them to stop paying for and using water altogether.

Detroit, Michigan: Priced-Out of Basic Human Rights

Infrastructure improvements have increased utility rates to the point that Detroit residents are unable to pay their water bills. APM Reports compiled data from the City of Detroit regarding the cost of water bills over the past 10 years. The average water and sewer bill for a family of four in Detroit has increased 65% since 2010, which further breaks down to an annual expenditure of $1,151.

Our Take

A crumbling water infrastructure has the potential to affect every single American. Rural communities that have a smaller tax base require a broader geographical spread of infrastructure improvements. On the other hand, larger cities must navigate a very complex web of distribution pipes. The reality is that capital infrastructure improvements will take time, and will be very costly for ratepayers nationwide.

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The Other Contaminant From The Flint Water Crisis That Nobody Is Talking About: PFAS

Analies Dyjak @ Thursday, April 9, 2020 at 7:20 pm -0400

Analies Dyjak, M.A.  |  Policy Nerd

Hydroviv's Policy Team has been keeping a close eye on water quality in Flint, Michigan, in the wake of their lead crisis beginning in 2014. A major problem that has been wildly underreported was the presence of Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in Flint's municipal system at the time of the lead crisis. 

What Happened In Flint, Michigan?

If you're unfamiliar with the Flint Lead Crisis, our team wrote an in-depth article breaking down the major events. In short, city officials switched the city's source water from Lake Huron to the Flint River in an effort to save money. The story that we're breaking today discusses a contaminant that was known to be present in the Flint River at the time it was being used as source water for the city. 

Flint, Michigan’s Newest Problem: PFAS

A few years after the lead crisis in Flint, Michigan, the same afflicted city residents are now dealing with PFAS. Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response Trust, also known as RACER, was created in 2011 after General Motors filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. The goal of RACER was to address water pollution from various General Motors facilities, including discharges into the Flint River and surrounding groundwater wells. Because PFAS are not regulated, they were not included in GM’s National Pollution Discharge Elimination (NPDES) Permit.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy has acknowledged that PFAS pollution is of great concern in the Flint River, and could potentially threaten surrounding groundwater wells. Flint switched from Lake Huron to the corrosive Flint River, causing extreme levels of lead contamination and what’s now known as the “Flint Lead Crisis.” The science is now making clear Flint residents were being exposed to more than just lead. At the beginning of March, 2020, RACER announced they would begin work to reroute underground stormwater lines away from the Flint River. Due to COVID-19, these PFAS mitigation efforts have been postponed.

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Latest PFAS Legislation (Federal and State)

Analies Dyjak @ Thursday, April 9, 2020 at 4:42 pm -0400

Analies Dyjak, M.A.  |  Policy Nerd

PFAS have been detected in tap water across the entire country. In an effort to reallocate funding to address the current pandemic, various mitigation projects have been postponed. While we agree a majority of funding and resources should be allocated to COVID-19, water improvement projects should not be completely ignored. We wanted to highlight recent state and federal legislation regarding PFAS contamination, as well as important mitigation measures that have recently been put on hold. 

Newest PFAS Federal Legislation

The PFAS Action Act:
On January 10, 2020, The PFAS Action Act of 2019 passed the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill is now waiting to be voted on by the Senate. This bill would require EPA to set a national standard under the National Primary Drinking Water Standards for both PFOA and PFOS, triggering mandatory compliance by municipalities. Furthermore, the bill would require cities and towns across the country to reduce PFOA and PFOS in drinking water to levels set by EPA. The bill would also authorize $500 million over five years to help municipalities comply with the new PFAS standards. 

The Preventing Future American Sickness (PFAS) Act:
On January 29th, 2020, Senators Bernie Sanders, Jeff Merkley, and Ed Markey, introduced The Preventing Future American Sickness (PFAS) Act. This bill would require EPA to designate all PFAS chemicals as “hazardous substances” under CERCLA. It would also require federal assistance to individuals with private wells that have been contaminated with PFAS. The PFAS Act does not, however, explicitly ask EPA to set federal drinking water standards for PFAS chemicals. 

States Take Action on PFAS Contamination 

Alaska: Alaska State Legislature introduced a bill that would require more municipal testing, provide public notices when PFAS (specifically in the form of firefighting foam) is being used, and provide clean water to those who have detected PFAS in their drinking water. Unfortunately, Alaska does not have enough state funding to set their own Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs), and therefore must wait for federal PFAS standards. 

California: On February 6, 2020, California reduced its Response Levels (RLs) from 70 parts per trillion (combined PFAS) to 10 parts per trillion for PFOA and 40 parts per trillion for PFOS. If municipal concentrations exceed these levels, the public utility must notify residents within 30 days of receiving laboratory results. The California Water Board is also in the midst of completing a PFAS investigation. 

Georgia: In April of 2019, Georgia prohibited the use of Class B fire retardants, which includes all PFAS chemicals. There are a few major exemptions included in House Bill 458 that make it extremely flawed. These exemptions include the use of Class B fire fighting foams in response to an emergency fire, as well as for training purposes, if the facility is built to prevent PFAS from being released into the environment. 

Minnesota: In April of 2019, Minnesota lowered their health-based advisory level for PFOS from 27 parts per trillion to 15 parts per trillion. If a municipal water system has PFOS levels above 15 parts per trillion, the utility must notify residents. 

New Hampshire: In July of 2019, New Hampshire adopted the most stringent standards for PFAS in drinking water in the country. PFOA=12 parts per trillion, PFNA=11 parts per trillion, PFOS=15 parts per trillion, and PFHxS=18 parts per trillion. However, in December, the Merrimack County Superior Court issued an injunction on the PFAS standards, claiming that the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services did not adequately weigh costs and benefits. 

New York: We recently wrote an in-depth article about New York’s response to PFAS contamination which can be found here.

Vermont: On May 16, 2019, Vermont’s Governor signed into law some of the most stringent PFAS standards in the country. Five combined PFAS variations (PFOA, PFOS, PFHxS, PFNA, and PFHpA) must be below 20 parts per trillion in state-wide public water systems.

Our Take:

While state and federal legislatures are still actively trying to make things happen regarding PFAS, several mitigation projects have been postponed. A reallocation of funds in response to COVID-19 is the responsible move. It’s also important to acknowledge that in the meantime, millions of American are still drinking contaminated water. Instead of looking at public health as a holistic entity, we are selectively responding to immediate threats and failing to prevent future exposure. 

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How Is EPA Responding to COVID-19?

Analies Dyjak @ Monday, March 30, 2020 at 8:57 pm -0400

Analies Dyjak, M.A.  |  Policy Nerd

We wanted to make people aware of a recent policy change that has generated some pretty inflammatory headlines. Like other federal agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a new policy that relaxes enforcement of some regulations during the COVID-19 emergency.

How Is EPA Responding to COVID-19?

The goal of EPA’s discretionary enforcement policy is to acknowledge that limited available personnel may make it difficult to carry out, enforce, and monitor regulated entities at the local and state level. In short, EPA will “exercise discretion” when enforcing certain environmental rules, including the Safe Drinking Water Act. The new policy will not enforce; compliance monitoring, integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training, and reporting or certification. All of these conditions are applicable to municipal tap water. From a public health perspective, this is a bit alarming! The enforcement section of the Safe Drinking Water Act ensures that all tap water across the country is safe for consumption. The official statement from EPA is as follows: 

“EPA does not expect to seek penalties for noncompliance with routine monitoring and reporting obligations that are the result of the COVID-19 pandemic but does expect operators of public water systems to continue to ensure the safety of our drinking water supplies.” 

How Will City Water Utilities Respond?

EPA’s new policy puts a lot of trust on industries and municipalities to act in “good faith” during this period of relaxed enforcement. While it’s our experience that the overwhelming majority of municipalities do work in good faith, there will always be “bad apples” who don’t follow the rules. We wanted to point out a few communities that have not acted in good faith in the past regarding drinking water.
  1. Flint, Michigan: It took over a year for the City of Flint to acknowledge that there was a problem with lead levels in their water during the now infamous Flint Lead Crisis. 

  2. Major Cities Employing “Cheats” To Circumvent EPA’s Lead & Copper Rule: In 2016, The Guardian exposed several municipalities who were participating in “lead cheats” to artificially lower lead levels in the public supply. Some of the larger municipalities included Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia.

  3. North Carolina and GenX: Chemours had been knowingly dumping GenX chemicals into the Cape Fear River for decades, which is the source water for dozens of surrounding North Carolina communities. Part of the legal retribution is to pay for water testing and filtration installation for all affected parties. On March 25, 2020, North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality announced that Chemours will suspend water testing and filtration installation in the Cape Fear basin, putting those residents at risk. 

  4. Newark, New Jersey: Newark, New Jersey detected lead levels that were on par with Flint, Michigan during the height of its lead crisis over the summer of 2019. The city failed to properly test the low-end water filters being distributed by the city, against lead levels found in Newark tap water. This resulted in residents being unknowingly further exposed to high lead levels. 

  5. Portland, Oregon: Lead levels in Portland, Oregon have been elevated for years. Worse, the city's annual Consumer Confidence Reports hides the lead collection data on the last page. 

How Will EPA’s New COVID-19 Response Policy Affect Drinking Water?

Communities across the country are suspending ongoing drinking water improvement efforts to focus on COVID-19. We agree that this is an important step in protecting individuals from this deadly infectious disease, and that common sense measures should be in place. In response to COVID-19, EPA will follow the 2010 Drinking Water Enforcement Response Policy, which created a priority ranking system. In short, systems that have had several violations will receive more federal resources than systems with fewer violations or those in compliance.

Industries to “Self-Monitor” During COVID-19

Part of EPA’s response to COVID-19 is to reduce regulatory enforcement due to decreased available personnel. There’s reason to believe that fewer industrial checks and balances will increase the amount of pollution that ends up in source water. EPA regulates and monitors industrial behavior that may have a negative impact on human health and the environment. As it pertains to drinking water, EPA limits the amount of pollution that industries are allowed to release into water. Rivers, lakes, and groundwater are used as drinking water sources by municipalities across the country. These regulatory limits, also known as "pollutant loads", are one of the most important ways to ensure the effectiveness of water treatment. Most municipal water treatment facilities are typically not capable dealing with increased pollution.