Gazette Introductory Note: It isn’t uncommon when a “recent scientific analysis” discovers something that has been common knowledge for decades. In this case, what has just been discovered is that raising cattle for food is an environmental disaster. In addition to the twenty-fold waste of water (as compared with direct human consumption of plants), there is an equally significant amount of water pollution that goes with animal agriculture. When your city water supplier puts the familiar list of water saving tips (like, don’t run water continually while you brush your teeth) in with your utility bill, the list almost never includes real water saving tips like “stop eating pigs and cows.”
Persistent water stress throughout much of the U.S. is linked to multiple causes, including climate change that is warming temperatures and growing populations that put additional strain on available source water. And now, a recent scientific analysis is pointing the finger at another culprit: the cattle industry.
A scientific study published in Nature suggests that cattle are one of the major drivers of water shortages, primarily because of the water required to grow the crops that feed them.
“Across the U.S., cattle-feed crops, which end up as beef and dairy products, account for 23% of all water consumption,” The Guardian reported in a summary of the study. “In the Colorado River Basin, it is over half.”
The Colorado River Basin services some 40 million people in seven states, and is so overdrawn that it rarely reaches the ocean as it once did regularly, per the report. But it is far from alone as a drought-stricken water source in the country. Lake Mead, as another example, hasn’t been full since 1983 and has been reduced by nearly two-thirds over the last 20 years — and almost 75 percent of that decline has been caused by cattle-feed irrigation, the study found.
“It takes a lot of water to make a double-cheeseburger,” according to The Guardian, as it framed the impact in a way many Americans may better understand. “One calculation puts it at 450 gallons per quarter-pounder. The study also found that most of the water-intensive beef and dairy products are being consumed in western cities.”
For those who are concerned about rising source-water scarcity, it’s clear that new solutions and changes to old behavior are needed. The researcher behind the study proposed that leaving farmland idle without irrigation, a practice known as “fallowing,” may be needed.
“[The researcher] noted that the strategy should be temporary and rotational, and that ranchers should be compensated because they lose income growing nothing,” per The Guardian. “Fallowing is at least twice as effective as other water-saving tactics, according to [the] analysis.”
Plant-based meat alternatives may also help with growing source-water scarcity, as consuming less beef and dairy may be the only real solution to this growing stress on the water supply. A meatless Beyond Burger generates 90 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions and has almost no impact on water scarcity, according to the report summary.
Without wastewater treatment, diseases and infections would ravage our society.
by Trevor English
Wastewater treatment is often an overlooked necessity of civilization. Without proper sewer systems, wastewater treatment plants, and overall regulation, our cities would be ripe with disease and human waste everywhere.
Believe it or not, much of the modern wastewater management technology we consider standard in any 21st century home, things like toilets and sewer pipes, are actually relatively new in the grand scheme of history.
The history of wastewater treatment
That’s not to say that sewer systems haven’t been around for ages. After all, the ancient Romans had a complex system of sewers at the peak of their empire. Rather, the knowledge of how poorly managed wastewater can drastically impact the health of society is relatively new.
The Romans had a centralized sewage management system, although it was fairly rudimentary by today’s standards. Open and closed ditches and pipes would carry away excrement and trash, primarily using rainwater runoff. The contaminated water would then flow into large concrete tanks that let the sewage settle out before the water was allowed to flow into the nearby rivers. There was indoor plumbing, and public latrines were also built over the sewers.
In medieval Europe, closed sewers, stone conduits, or ditches were used to drain sewage away from residential areas, often in conjunction with septic tanks, but chamber pots were often dumped directly onto the streets. Between 1858 and 1859 the Thames in London was chock full of untreated wastewater, which combined with very hot weather to cause what became known as “the Great Stink“.
The 17th and 18th centuries saw a rapid expansion in waterworks and pumping systems, but the Industrial Revolution led to even more rapid growth of cities and pollution, which acted as a constant source for the outbreak of deadly diseases like cholera and typhoid.
As cities grew in the 19th century, increasing public health concerns led to the development of municipal sanitation programs and the construction of sewer systems in many cities. These systems often discharged sewage directly into rivers without treatment, but by the late 19th century, chemical treatments and sedimentation systems were in use in many cities.
The construction of centralized sewage treatment plants began between the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These systems passed sewage through a combination of physical, biological, and chemical processes to remove pollutants. Also beginning in the 1900s, new sewage-collection systems were designed to separate storm-water from domestic wastewater, to prevent treatment plants from becoming overloaded during heavy rains.
In the 1910s and 20s, engineers developed more sophisticated systems to treat drinking water before it was supplied to residents in cities.
In the 1910s and 20s, engineers developed more sophisticated systems to treat drinking water before it was supplied to residents in cities.
Stepping back for a moment and examining the timeline here, we can begin to understand just how recent effective wastewater treatment on a grand scale appeared. Roughly 150 years ago was the first few centralized instances of water treatment for cities. It would take decades for more rigid practices to emerge.
In 1972, the Clean Water Act was passed in the United States. Up until this point, sewage treatment for some cities still relied on chemical treatment and filtration, and the treated sewage was often dumped into rivers and streams. There was little in the way of pretreatment of industrial wastewater to prevent toxic chemicals from interfering with the biological processes used at sewage treatment plants.
After the passage of the Clean Water Act, cities started a process known as secondary treatment, which removes all the pollutant organic materials from the effluent. Wastewater with high concentrations of organic materials and nutrients being dumped into rivers was causing algal blooms and the bacteria growth, which created dead zones in rivers. The secondary treatment essentially eradicates the effluent of microorganisms and organics so that when it’s discharged, it has little effect on the surrounding environment.
To think, just 50 years ago many communities in the world were dumping mostly untreated sewage into rivers.
Wastewater treatment processes have really experienced their most rapid growth in the last 30 or so years, now with every planned municipality in the world having some form of a centralized wastewater management system. It’s all at a hefty cost too – on the scale of billions and billions of dollars.
Now, however, we can flush our toilets and shower without really having to worry about what’s happening to all that dirty water. It gets handled by trusty wastewater treatment plant operators before being discharged into local rivers and lakes. “Oh, and what happens to all the solids from wastewater?” you might wonder. Well in some cases, wastewater treatment plants will let it dry, package it up and sell it as fertilizer to help supplement the hefty costs of running a treatment plant.
In other cases, some plants will use the sludge to produce methane, which they will then burn for power or sell. Wastewater treatment today uses science and engineering, though it is still a little bit smelly. We suppose it comes with the territory.
Now that we understand just how recently our knowledge of sanitation when it comes to human waste has emerged, let’s take a closer look at exactly how wastewater treatment plants work.
How modern wastewater treatment works
When you flush a toilet, your waste flows through the sewers to a wastewater treatment plant that treats it. Sewer systems are a topic all their own, so we’ll mainly focus on how your wastewater goes from one of the dirtiest substances on the planet back into water that’s safe for the environment, and in theory, safe enough to drink. Some wastewater plants known as full-cycle reuse plants will even take wastewater and treat it all the way back to drinking water, which will then be pumped to city inhabitants. This may sound gross, but today’s level of engineering and chemistry allow full-cycle reuse plants to output drinking water chemically identical to what’s in your tap right now.
Before we dive into the specific process of wastewater treatment, let’s put things into a scale. New York City has an array of 14 wastewater treatment plants that handle 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater per day (4.9 billion liters). That is enough wastewater to fill the dead sea with sewage in 8 years, just from one large city.
So society produces a lot of waste. Let’s see what happens first when it arrives at a wastewater treatment plant.
Pre- and Primary Treatment
When wastewater arrives at a treatment facility, it first gets all the large chunks filtered out through a screen, a rather large one. These screens are generally called bar screens, and their main job is to make the sewage more homogenous so it can flow through pumps and pipes in the plant.
The waste removed from bar screens is sent off to the landfill, and the slightly less chunky sewage heads to the next step, the grit chamber.
Grit chambers are essentially just big pools that you definitely don’t want to swim in, they allow the larger particles in the sewage to settle out to the bottom. These larger particles, things like dirt, sand, and large food particles, are called grit. Again, this process aids in making the sewage more homogenous than when it came in. The grit is also trucked off to landfills.
After the sewage gets pretty homogenized in these first few processes, it moves onto the primary clarifiers.
Primary clarifiers function as giant settling basins that allow particles larger than 10 μm, referred to as suspended solids, to settle out to the bottom of the basin. A giant skimming arm also scrapes away fat and grease that rise along the surface of the water.
These primary clarifiers are based on a principle called settling velocity, essentially just the speed at which particles settle. Engineers make sure that the inflow of the water to the primary clarifier isn’t more than the settling velocity of the particles, which ensures that particles still settle out and the sewage keeps on flowing.
Upon leaving the primary clarifiers, the sewage is free of solids bigger than 10 μm and at this point, is mostly contaminated with organic matter. The sewage then moves on to aeration basins, beginning the secondary treatment processes.
Secondary wastewater treatment
Aeration basins are essentially bubbly hot tubs for sewage. They bubble up air through the bottom of the sewage, which invigorates the sewage with dissolved oxygen. Engineers also pump in activated sludge into aeration basins, which is essentially bacteria and waste from the next round of clarifiers. This activated sludge raises the oxygen content of the water and the bacteria go on a feeding frenzy, eating up all of the organic matter.
After the aeration basins, the sewage is going to look a lot clearer and it will head onto the secondary clarifiers. This is the final filtering process, where all the remaining particles settle out. The stuff that settles out is that activated sludge that we just mentioned, and a part of it is reused to make the aeration basins run smoothly. What isn’t used is left to dry out before it’s disposed of or used as fertilizer.
By the time the sewage leaves the secondary clarifiers, 85 percent of all organic matter has been removed and it will look fairly clear. It might also be safe to drink too, but you’re probably not going to want to. The final process before discharge is disinfection.
This process kills off all the bacteria still left in the water and makes sure there aren’t any diseases being discharged into rivers. This is typically done through chlorine, ozone, or ultraviolet disinfection (or a combination of these).
Ozone disinfection involves discharging electricity into the water to cause oxygen gas molecules to turn into ozone molecules, which oxidizes the bacteria, causing their cell walls to break, and kills them.
Chlorine treatment kills the bacteria in a similar manner but is a liquid chemical added to the water, and the treatment plant operators will generally remove the chlorine before releasing the effluent so the chlorine doesn’t damage the environment.
Lastly, engineers can also use ultraviolet light to scramble the DNA of the bacteria, making it impossible for them to reproduce. All three of these processes have different pros and cons and are used fairly interchangeably across the world.
In most cases, after disinfection, the water is released into rivers and streams. In regions where water is scarce, sometimes the treated wastewater will head back for another round of treatment to be made into drinking water. Chemically, this is very safe and could probably be used in many more places around the world if it wasn’t for the stigma surrounding the closed-loop process of turning wastewater back into drinking water.
The entire process takes around 24 to 36 hours for a molecule of water to make it through the treatment plant.
And that’s the magic of wastewater treatment. It’s an essential process that allows us to live our lives without having to think about our own waste. Be sure to thank all the wastewater treatment plant operators around you, because they have to deal with what you don’t want to, 24/7.
Gazette Introductory Note: Now that we’re about half a year into the COVID-19 era, we’ve had truckloads of opinions and advice from the experts and the non-experts, the wise and the foolish, the Democrats and the Republicans, the holy and the unholy, the vaxxers and the anti-vaxxers–in short, from just about everyone. So, the views of a water treatment professional are in order. Below is an article by Mr. Peter Cartwright, a highly respected water treatment veteran. Mr. Cartwright’s article appeared in the July 2020 issue of Water Conditioning and Purification magazine.
There’s so much we don’t know about the virus behind this pandemic, but we are learning a little more each day. To the microbiologists, this virus is known as SARS-CoV-2, closely related to SARS-CoV-1, the virus that caused the SARS outbreak in 2002-3. Most of the current scientific information and recommendations are based on what we learned in dealing with the SARS virus, but there are significant differences. The normal incubation period is two to 14 days after infection; however, during this time, these people may be contagious without even knowing they are infected.
What are its effects?
In addition to the well-known symptoms of fever, coughing and loss of breath, the CDC has recently added chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and loss of taste and/or smell. Additionally, medical personnel are now reporting blood clots and issues with kidneys, heart, intestines, liver and the brain. Doctors also suspect a link between COVID-19 and a rare inflammatory condition, Kawasaki Disease.
So where did this particular virus come from? Virologists estimate that about 1.7 million viruses are lurking on this planet, 75 percent of which are in wildlife. Many of the dangerous ones (SARS, MERS, Ebola, rabies, etc.) have been identified in bats and are readily transmitted to humans, possibly through another vector such as snakes. There is lack of agreement on the specific source of this one.
Is it waterborne?
COVID-19 is spread through respiration from the lungs. Diseases such as salmonellosis and cryptosporidiosis result from eating or drinking but the experts do not feel that COVID-19 can be spread that way. In other words, we catch this disease from inhaling, not from eating or drinking. The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a March 19 Interim Guidance wherein they state: ”Although persistence in drinking water is possible, there is no evidence from surrogate human coronaviruses that they are present in surface or groundwater sources or transmitted through contaminated drinking water. The COVID-19 virus is an enveloped virus, with a fragile outer membrane. Generally, enveloped viruses are less stable in the environment and are more susceptible to oxidants, such as chlorine.”
The virtually ubiquitous practice of chlorinating municipal drinking-water supplies in the US has reinforced the conclusion that this virus will not survive in drinking water. This document goes on to state: “Heat, high or low pH, sunlight, and common disinfectants (such as chlorine) all facilitate die off.” In centralized water treatment applications, WHO specifies a free-chlorineconcentration of equal or greater than 0.5 mg/L, at least 30 minutes contact time and pH < 8.0. For non-centralized applications, in addition to chemical treatment (0.5 percent sodium hypochlorite or equivalent disinfectant), they recommend “…boiling or using high-performing ultrafiltration or nanomembrane filters, solar irradiation and, in non-turbid waters, UV irradiation.” Based on this, POU RO technology should be effective. All of these assume careful, hygienic handling practice.
This WHO document also states: “There is no evidence that the COVID-19 virus has been transmitted via sewerage systems with or without wastewatertreatment.” As with other pathogenic viruses, it may be present in sewage, but does not appear to present a greater operational hazard to wastewater plant workers wearing the necessary protective equipment.
So how is it spread?
The bad news is that the COVID-19 virus appears to be transmitted through the air in tiny droplets, typically larger than 5µ. Although the virus itself is extremely small, measuring about 0.1µ, it is readily carried in respiratory droplets. When someone coughs or sneezes, huge quantities of droplets are released. What may not be so obvious is that we spray droplets even by talking (also breathing?). These droplets may be suspended for a long time (hours?) and travel significant distances by air movement. The six-foot rule is just an educated guess and some experts feel it should be much farther, perhaps up to 12 feet.
This underscores the value of face masks. It is suggested that N95 masks be reserved for medical and other personnel in direct contact with infected people. This is good advice, as these masks are manufactured to ensure filtration of at least 95 percent of particles as small as 0.3 microns. The good news is that most droplets containing the virus are much larger than this and, depending on the particular face-mask construction, should be effective at removing these droplets. Even home-made masks constructed from old T-shirts or other cloth will help prevent the wearer from infecting people nearby.
The second pathway of COVID-19 exposure is from surfaces. Experts estimate that the virus is infectious for as much as three hours in droplets, four hours on copper surfaces, 24 hours on cardboard and three days on plastic or stainless steel. Note the antimicrobial credit given to copper, which also includes brass. It also appears to be able to survive on the soles of shoes for up to five days. The SARS-CoV-2 virus will not survive for any length of time outdoors, thanks to the excellent disinfecting properties of UV radiation from sunlight. It appears that UV radiation in the 200 to 222-nm wavelength will effectively inactivate (kill) the virus without harm to human skin. It is also readily inactivated by wiping surfaces with bleach solutions (four teaspoons per one quart of water).
The virus can readily enter the body through mucous membranes around the eyes, nose and throat. It is critically important that we keep the virus particles off our hands (which is why we are inundated with advice regarding hand-washing) and to avoid touching your face. If you think of this virus as sitting on everything you touch, that should be motivation to constantly wash. The experts tell us that the optimum procedure is with soap and water (for 20 seconds) and that hand sanitizer (minimum alcohol concentration of 60 percent) should be used only if soap and water are not available.
Facts and fallacies
As with anything so dominant in the news and on social media today, there is a plethora of misinformation circulating. The list below presents some of these along with the truth as provided by respectable authorities.
The virus that causes COVID-19 is more deadly than any other pathogen. The data so far indicate the fatality rate at one to three percent; SARS was 11 percent and MERS was 34 percent.
Getting COVID-19 is a death sentence. 80 percent of those infected have mild symptoms and get well.
This disease is less deadly than the flu. COVID-19 appears to be more deadly than the seasonal flu.
The virus that causes COVID-19 is the most infectious pathogen. Pathogens that cause measles, polio, diphtheria and whooping cough are more contagious.
Pneumonia and flu vaccinations will protect you from COVID-19. No, they won’t.
Antibiotics will work. These are only for bacterial infections and will not work on viruses.
Sipping water every 15 minutes will prevent infection. Absolutely will not work.
Taking garlic, ibuprofen, echinacea, vitamin C, zinc, elderberry juice, green tea, steroids and other home remedies. There is no evidence that any of these will prevent infection or lessen the symptoms.
Either cold or hot weather will kill it. No evidence to support this.
Hot baths will prevent infection. No.
It can be transmitted through mosquito bites. No evidence to support this.
If you cannot hold your breath for 10 seconds without coughing, you have COVID-19. This is not true.
Wash your hands with antibacterial soap. While hand washing with soap is absolutely the best way to remove the virus from your skin, the antibacterial ingredient is considered ineffective and is actually a significant pollutant in water supplies.
And the future?
Unfortunately, without much more testing, it will be virtually impossible for the experts to gain the critical knowledge necessary to trace this pandemic and make informed decisions about when and how we can return to some semblance of normalcy. Will recovered patients be immune to reinfection? For how long? Will blood plasma containing antibodies from these people help those with COVID-19 disease recover more quickly? When flu season comes this fall, will COVID-19 come back with a vengeance? Unanswered questions.
At the time of this writing, there is an antiviral drug, Remdesivir, which has shown promise in small studies and has been approved for treatment in hospital settings. Another one, Leronlimab also appears promising in limited trials. Meanwhile, there are at least 70 drugs under development globally, including vaccines from Oxford University and China, as well as those under development by Bointech/Pfizer and Moderna. In the meantime, we owe it to ourselves and loved ones to maintain a healthy lifestyle and outlook, both physically and mentally. The byword today is stay safe—we will get through this if we all work together!
NM funds PFAS studies while cleanup languishes and regulations remain years out
July 14, 2020
Gazette Introductory Note: This article from New Mexico National Public Radio provides an excellent overview of the history of PFAS contamination and underlines the many difficulties that stand in the way of cleanup. It offers yet another example of the US military’s role as an irresponsible polluter of the nation’s water and of the shortcomings of highly politicized governmental regulatory agencies.
While New Mexico’s lawmakers stare down a $2 billion budget shortfall and a recession, state taxpayers are shelling out $1.1 million to study groundwater contamination from Cannon Air Force Base. That’s in addition to money New Mexico is spending on three pending lawsuits with the U.S. Department of Defense over PFAS contamination at Cannon and also Holloman Air Force Base.
“The [cleanup] progress would be more quick, and we would have more resources devoted to the problem if the responsible party would do the right thing: delineate the contamination and clean it up without us—the regulatory agency—scouring for the resources to do something that the DOD is responsible for doing,” says Stephanie Stringer, the New Mexico Environment Department’s Resource Protection Division Director.
If the military were involved, she says, “There would be a more cohesive and comprehensive effort toward final cleanup.”
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are found in firefighting foams the military started using in the 1970s.
In 2018, monitoring wells near Cannon and Holloman Air Force bases revealed perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) contamination from those foams at levels from hundreds to thousands of times more than a federal lifetime advisory says is safe.
In Clovis, PFAS contamination has also been found in off-base wells, including those that supply water to dairies and the city’s drinking water system.
This family of thousands of chemicals was invented in the 1930s. They are molecules of joined carbon and fluorine atoms, and they’re incredibly difficult to break. Even though they’re toxic—causing health problems ranging from immune disorders to cancer—they’re useful in products like food wrappers, dental floss, ski wax, and even microwave popcorn bags. PFAS can also be found in weather-proof clothing, fire-retardant furniture, and stain-resistant carpet. Not to mention non-stick cookware.
Instead of tackling the problem—and halting the further spread of PFAS in underground water supplies—the Air Force sued New Mexico when the state tried to force a cleanup under the military’s state hazardous waste permit.
In turn, the state sued the Defense Department, asking a federal judge to compel the Air Force to act on, and fund, cleanup at the two New Mexico bases.
To NMED’s knowledge, the military is not working on cleanup at either of the two bases, says Stringer.
In an email to NMPBS, Sen. Tom Udall wrote that he has been “continually disappointed with the Department of Defense’s slow response and handling of the PFAS situation in New Mexico.”
“The state of New Mexico should not have to shoulder these burdens, and the Department of Defense should be taking proactive steps to delineate the plume, start cleanup, and prevent the plume from spreading and making the situation worse,” according to Udall.
The senator pointed to New Mexico’s “rich tradition of military service” and said the Defense Department “owes it to the state and our communities to take immediate action on this serious problem.”
Udall also noted that under the National Defense Authorization Act Congress passed last year, the PFAS Damages Act authorized the Defense Department to provide fresh water and filtration for agricultural purposes and to buy contaminated land at a fair price from private landowners. It also required the military to submit a cleanup plan.
“It is beyond unacceptable that the DOD has missed the deadlines set out in the legislation despite our delegation’s continued requests,” according to Udall. “I am still extremely disappointed with the slow speed and lack of attention to resolving this matter.”
Staff at Cannon Air Force Base did not respond to NMPBS’s requests for information on cleanup. But Denise Ottaviano, chief of media relations at Holloman Air Force Base answered questions via email, writing that the base is committed to “working with regulators and community leaders.”
“We share concerns about potential PFOS/PFOA contamination of drinking water and we are moving aggressively to protect drinking water supplies affected by our former Air Force activities,” she wrote, adding that the Air Force is “planning additional efforts” consistent with federal law to “define the nature and extent of PFAS impact at Holloman.”
“These future efforts will help determine plume size, direction, and any needed remediation,” she added.
Ottaviano wrote that the contaminated groundwater “does not impact drinking water sources for Holloman AFB or the surrounding community.”
Drinking water is not pumped from beneath the base, according to Ottaviano, but rather comes from well fields 12 to 35 miles southeast of the installation. Those wells continue to be tested, she wrote, and have not been contaminated with PFOS or PFOA.
“It is beyond unacceptable that the DOD has missed the deadlines set out in the legislation despite our delegation’s continued requests,” according to Udall. “I am still extremely disappointed with the slow speed and lack of attention to resolving this matter.”
For now, in addition to fighting the Pentagon in court, New Mexico regulators are trying to divine the extent of the groundwater contamination at Cannon, as well as around the city of Clovis.
This spring, the New Mexico State Legislature allocated $1 million for the agency to work on delineating the PFAS plume—to understand where the contamination is and how it is moving underground—and another $100,000 to create and implement a well testing program in Curry and Roosevelt counties.
In the coming months, the New Mexico Environment Department will start determining which wells should be tested and included within the program.
Precautions due to COVID-19 will make that harder than normal, points out Rebecca Roose, NMED’s Water Protection Division Director.
“You can’t just gather people together in a community center and talk it out,” she says. “We’re going to have to figure out the right balance to make sure the opportunities to learn about and participate in the program aren’t limited by people’s broadband access or having a computer at home.”
Trying to clean up and control PFAS in New Mexico—and across the United States—is complicated by the fact that the regulatory framework has not caught up with what scientists understand about the dangerous environmental and health impacts of PFAS, says Roose.
In the early 1980s, for instance, the company DuPont studied PFOA in its pregnant workers. The company learned then that the toxic chemical crossed the placenta—moving from the mother to her developing baby. In the 1990s, another manufacturer, 3M, told regulators a different chemical in the PFAS family had built up in the blood of people who worked in their plants back in the 1960s.
Since then, chemicals in the PFAS family have been linked to reproductive and developmental problems, liver and kidney disease, and immune system problems. Exposure has also been linked to high cholesterol, low infant birth weights, thyroid hormone disruption. And cancer.
“There’s enough scientific documentation for us to understand the clear and critical health risks of the class of PFAS chemicals,” says Roose. But federal and state regulatory regimes aren’t up to the challenge of controlling their release into the environment—and drinking water.
The key right now, she says, is getting the science right and moving forward with regulations as quickly as possible.
Not only that, she says, the military needs to accept its responsibilities.
“Fewer of our resources at NMED would be directed to the conflict—and the constant struggle with DOD to have them step up and take responsibility for the contamination at Cannon and Holloman,” Roose says. “We wouldn’t have to be devoting so many resources to litigation and we wouldn’t have to be seeking additional resources from the legislature.”
Study: Kids Who Drink Well Water At Higher Risk For Lead Exposure
by Rebecca Thiele
Gazette Introductory Note: Lead contamination of city water is constantly in the news, but we seldom concern ourselves about lead it well water. Lead in well water comes from the same place as lead in city water: corrosion of pipes and appliances. The piece below should make us consider that wells should be tested routinely for lead and that lead-removing drinking water systems, like reverse osmosis, should be part of every home with well water.
Corrosion control: New pipe on the right, untreated pipe in the center, pipe treated for corrosion control on the left.
There’s been a big push to reduce lead in drinking water around the country. But few of those efforts have been focused on private wells — where about a quarter of all Hoosiers get their water.
A new study shows kids who drink well water are more likely to get exposed to lead. Children in North Carolina whose homes had private wells were about 25 percent more likely to have high levels of lead in their blood than those who had city water.
Jackie MacDonald Gibson co-authored the study and chairs the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at Indiana University.
“Most people who get their water from a private well don’t test their water quality on a regular basis — and so they may be drinking contaminated water and not even be aware of it,” she said.
Gibson said some well owners may not be able to afford a test or upgrades to their water system. Like public water systems, the study said a lot of lead contamination comes from lead pipes and a lack of corrosion control.
Because rural areas tend to rely on private wells, she said kids in those areas tend to be at a higher risk for lead exposure. But the study also showed there was a higher risk for children who were Black, low-income, or lived just outside city limits.
Garry Holland is the education chair for the Indianapolis branch of the NAACP — which has been advocating for state laws to address lead in drinking water. He said gentrification has pushed more African American families outside the Indianapolis city limits.
“When you look at the outskirts in any city, one has to begin the planning or research to see what industrial complexes were out in those areas that may have dumped contamination into the soil,” Holland said.
Kids with lead poisoning can have trouble learning, behavioral issues, and poor kidney function. Holland said no matter if the water comes from a private well or a city water system — Indiana needs to do a better job to protect its children.
Among other things, the study said there should be more federal funding to help well owners and laws to ensure all new wells are lead free.
Utah sewage study detects high concentrations of novel coronavirus in large cities, areas with outbreaks
By Ashley Imlay
Gazette Introductory Note: We should underline that detecting virus in wastewater does not mean that there is viral contamination of drinking water. Note that “the virus in its flushed form is no longer alive,” and “the virus was not found in water leaving sewage treatment plants but in water entering all 10 sewage plants.”
Testing for virus in wastewater plants could be a valuable health management tool.
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah scientists say sewage could provide a tool for ongoing monitoring and early detection of the novel coronavirus in communities after they found high concentrations of the the virus in areas with outbreaks.
The information could be useful for state officials as infection numbers keep climbing.
Researchers hoped to discover whether waste that gets flushed down the toilet could help Utah get a more localized picture of infection rates. In March, as part of a pilot study, they began testing samples of untreated wastewater for the presence of COVID-19 gene copies in 10 treatment plants across the Beehive State representing about 40% of Utah’s population.
“The initial results show that we can not only detect the virus in sewage, but we can see trends that are broadly consistent with known infection rates in Utah’s communities,” Erica Gaddis, director of the Utah Division of Water Quality, said in a statement.
“Monitoring virus in Utah’s sewage systems offers a tool for early detection of rising infections, monitoring community infection trends and confirmation of low infection rates. We hope that monitoring the sewage can help in prioritizing limited state resources such as mobile testing,” Gaddis said.
The virus in its flushed form is no longer alive, but copies of its genetic material get left behind. Officials say that even those with asymptomatic infections shed the virus in their feces.
Plant operators voluntarily collected samples at the inlets of their sewage treatment plants beginning in mid-April through the end of May. Researchers estimated viral concentration per 100,000 people.
The virus was not found in water leaving sewage treatment plants but in water entering all 10 sewage plants, officials said, with 64% of the 171 collected samples containing it.
In late May, when Cache County reported an outbreak at a Hyrum meat packaging facility that led to a sharp increase in cases, the Logan and Hyrum sewage plants also saw large increases of the virus in water samples.
But highest viral concentrations were detected in larger cities, researchers said, especially tourist communities.
Utah is now “committed to expanding and operationalizing this tool in the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” officials said.
PFAS present throughout the Yadkin-Pee Dee river food chain
Researchers have found per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in every step of the Yadkin-Pee Dee River food chain, even though the river does not have a known industrial input of these compounds.
Gazette’s Introductory Note: This North Carolina State University research adds a new dimension to PFAS contamination of the environment. You can protect yourself from PFAS in drinking water with a home reverse osmosis unit, but it may be harder to avoid PFAS-contaminated foods. The ubiquitousness of PFAS especially brings into question the wisdom of the recent administration rejection of proposed EPA rules designed to limit PFAS content of imported goods.
Researchers from North Carolina State University have found per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in every step of the Yadkin-Pee Dee River food chain, even though the river does not have a known industrial input of these compounds. The study examined the entire aquatic ecosystem for PFAS compounds and identified strong links between ecosystem groups that lead to biomagnification, the process that leads to greater concentrations of these substances in animals that sit higher on the food chain — including humans.
PFAS compounds were engineered to resist friction and heat, and are in many products that we use daily, from furniture to meat packaging. However, it is this “slippery” characteristic that makes them persist in ecosystems and poses a risk to our health.
“These compounds are engineered to be persistent on purpose; this is how they keep stains off your couch and eggs from sticking to your frying pan,” says Tom Kwak, unit leader of NC Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, professor of applied ecology at NC State, and a co-author of the study. “We pay the price for these compounds when they enter the aquatic ecosystem.”
In a study measuring real-time PFAS contamination levels along the entire food chain of this major Atlantic river — from water and sediment to insects and fish — the researchers identified two PFAS hot spots along the Pee Dee and were able to establish strong links of PFAS transmission up the aquatic food chain.
The research team collected water, sediment, algae, plant, insect, fish, crayfish, and mollusk samples at five study sites along the length of the Yadkin-Pee Dee River, which begins in Blowing Rock, N.C., and runs 230 miles to empty into the Atlantic Ocean at Winyah Bay, South Carolina. They analyzed the samples for 14 different PFAS compounds.
While nearly every sample contained PFAS compounds, the site with the greatest PFAS concentrations was just downstream of the Rocky River input, which drains part of the watershed from Charlotte, N.C. and the surrounding area. The site with the second greatest PFAS concentrations was downstream in South Carolina, but there is no known or plausible input of PFAS for that region.
In aquatic food chains, biofilm — the soupy mixture of algae and bacteria that sticks to your boat — is the base resource for all life further up the chain. In this study, the largest concentrations of 10 of the 14 PFAS compounds measured were in biofilm samples. Unsurprisingly, aquatic insects, which primarily eat biofilm, had the greatest accumulation of PFAS compounds of all the living taxa the researchers sampled. This confirms a strong trophic link, or step in the food chain, showing how PFAS transfers from biofilm to insects, which are then eaten by freshwater fish.
When PFAS is in every step of the food chain, the compounds accumulate at each step. For example, a fish caught in an area with PFAS may have eaten hundreds of insects, each of which has consumed contaminated biofilm and other plants.
“We are part of the food chain and when we ingest these foods, we accumulate their PFAS loads, too,” says Greg Cope, William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor of Applied Ecology, coordinator of the NC State Agromedicine Institute, and corresponding author of the study. “This gives new meaning to the phrase, ‘You are what you eat.'”
Although we had our poster ready to go, we announce with regret that National Garden Hose Day festivities have been put on hold for the present and are not likely to be rescheduled for later in the year.
National Garden Hose Day, which is usually celebrated on or near the first day of summer, will not be observed this year due to the compelling need for social distancing. As national director Ron Carson points out, “Garden Hose Day events have always drawn large crowds, and large crowds are not what the nation needs this summer. We urge you to stay home and enjoy your garden hose in the safety of your own back yard.” Carson explained that if conditions change rapidly for the better, limited Garden Hose Day celebrations may be held in some cities later in the summer. “But for now,” he said, “celebrate with your family and stay safe.”
The popular Garden Hose Tug, the main attraction at most cities’ garden hose celebrations, does not lend itself to social distancing.
Gazette’s Famous Water Pictures: Dr. Semmelweis Washing His Hands
Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis washing his hands in chlorinated lime water before attending to patients.
History of Hand-Washing
The idea that “germs” that cause disease get on people’s hands and that they can be spread from person to person by unclean hands hasn’t been around that long. In fact, it was 19th-century Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis who, after observational studies, first advanced the idea of “hand hygiene” in medical settings. Here’s how Semmelweis, working in an obstetrics ward in Vienna in the 19th century, made the connection between dirty hands and deadly infection.
Hand-Washing in the old days
While we certainly don’t know the name of the first guy to wash his hands, the history of hand-washing extends back to ancient times, when it was largely a religious practice. The Old Testament, the Talmud and the Quran all mention hand-washing in the context of ritual cleanliness, and it may be that ritual hand washing had some public health implications. During the Black Death of the 14th century, for instance, the Jews of Europe had a distinctly lower rate of death than others. Researchers believe that hand-washing prescribed by their religion probably served as protection during the epidemic.
Hand-washing as a health care practice did not really surface until the mid-1800s, when a young Hungarian physician named Ignaz Semmelweis did an important observational study at Vienna General Hospital.
Semmelweis started working in obstetrics, a relatively new and not very prestigious area for physicians, in the Vienna Hospital in 1846. Obstetrics had to that time been dominated by midwifery and conventional doctors were trying to expand into the childbirth business.
The leading cause of maternal mortality in Europe at that time was puerperal fever–an infection, now thought to be caused by the streptococcus bacterium, that killed postpartum women. Prior to 1823, about 1 in 100 women died in childbirth at the Vienna Hospital. But after a policy change mandated that medical students and obstetricians perform autopsies in addition to their other duties, the mortality rate for new mothers suddenly jumped to 7.5%.
When the hospital opened a second obstetrics division, staffed entirely by midwives, the older division, where Dr. Semmelweis worked, was quickly seen to have a much higher mortality rate than the new midwives’ division.
Semmelweis set out to investigate. He examined all the similarities and differences of the two divisions. The only significant difference was that male doctors and medical students worked in the first division and female midwives in the second.
What transmits disease?
At that time, the general belief was that bad odors called “miasma” transmitted disease. It would be two more decades at least before germ theory–the idea that microbes cause disease–took over as the accepted theory, the theory that persists until today.
Semmelweis reasoned that no midwives ever participated in autopsies or dissections, but students and physicians regularly went between autopsies and deliveries, rarely washing their hands in between. Realizing that chloride solution rid objects of their odors, Semmelweis ordered hand-washing across his department. Starting in May 1847, anyone entering the doctors’ obstetrical division had to wash his hands in a bowl of chloride solution. The incidence of puerperal fever and death dropped sharply by the end of the year.
Unfortunately, as in the case of his contemporary John Snow, who discovered that cholera was transmitted by polluted water and not miasma, Semmelweis’ work did not get him a place in history or even a promotion. In fact, he lost his job because his boss was envious of his success and got no recognition for the discovery during his lifetime.
Hand-washing has now, of course, become a part of the medical ritual, but it gets a definite bump of compliance whenever there is disease outbreak. Even in times of pandemic, though, we do not have a day on our calendar that honors Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis. There is no justice.
The ‘Longest animal ever’ was discovered in a deep-sea canyon off the Australian coast
Underwater explorers found a 150-foot-long (45 meters) siphonophore — a translucent, stringy creature that, like coral, is made up of smaller beings — living in a submarine canyon off the coast of Australia. It’s “seemingly the largest animal ever discovered,” they said.
Every individual siphonophore is made up of many little “zooids,” creatures that live lives that are similar to animals we’re familiar with, although they are always connected to the larger colony.
Zooids are born axsexually, and each one performs a function for the siphonophore’s larger body. Linked together in long chains, the colonies were already known to reach lengths of up to 130 feet, though each siphonophore is only about as thick as a broomstick.
The new, record-setting siphonophore was one of several discoveries made by a team aboard the research vessel Falkor while exploring deep-sea canyons near Australia’s Ningaloo Coast.