Ultrafiltration


Posted October 12th, 2019

Ultrafiltration: Between Conventional Filters and Reverse Osmosis

by Gene Franks

In water treatment, the term “ultrafiltration” is used to describe a filtration process that separates out particles down into the 0.1 to 0.001 micron range.

That’s extremely small when compared with conventional filtration, but it’s large when compared with nanofiltration and reverse osmosis. Ultrafiltration is tight enough to strain out pesky colloidal particles that conventional filters can’t hold, and it rejects both organic and inorganic large molecule substances. It cannot, however, remove ions and organics with low molecular weights (sodium, calcium, sulfate, for example), which are readily removed by reverse osmosis.

Molecular weight, in fact, is the yardstick by which ultrafiltration systems are usually measured. For example, an ultrafiltration membrane that removes dissolved solids with molecular weights of 10,000 is said to have a molecular weight cutoff of 10,000. Such a membrane has a nominal pore size of about 0.003 micron.

Compared with reverse osmosis, ultrafiltration membranes have extremely high flux rates. (Think of flux as the speed that the product water goes through the membrane.) They can also be operated at much lower pressure. As with reverse osmosis, temperature can have a great effect on performance, with lower temperature resulting in reduced flux rate.

Unlike conventional filters, ultrafiltration membranes do not trap and hold contaminants but like the reverse osmosis membranes they act as a barrier, holding contaminants until they are washed away. Ultrafiltration works in the same cross-flow separation method as reverse osmosis.

Ultrafiltration membranes do not trap and hold contaminants but like the reverse osmosis membranes they act as a barrier, blocking out contaminants until they are washed away. Ultrafiltration works in the same cross-flow separation method as reverse osmosis.

One great advantage of ultrafiltration membranes is that they can operate at pressures much lower than those required for reverse osmosis. In fact, UF systems usually operate at pressures below 100 psi, and 50 psi operation is common.

 

How Buying a Reverse Osmosis Unit Can Make You Rich

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Guess which man owns a reverse osmosis unit.

We usually just assume that ingesting water contaminants like lead and arsenic is not a good idea. We don’t think about the economic implications.  We want our kids to be as smart and as healthy as they can be without having to put a dollar sign on the loss in IQ points that could result from their consuming water that is tainted with lead.

A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Arizona and funded by the Water Quality Research Foundation (WQRF) sought to do just that: to determine the economic benefits of using point-of-use (POU) devices to reduce health risks in drinking water. The study was designed to put a dollar value on the benefits of treating five drinking water contaminant categories–microorganisms, arsenic, lead, disinfection byproducts, nitrates and chromium–with POU equipment.

Lead was considered apart from the other contaminants, since the Flint, MI ordeal offered a convenient way to study lead exposure. Here’s what resulted, as reported by Water Quality Products magazine:

In the case of the water emergency in Flint, the study assumed all of the 98,310 Flint residents were exposed to lead levels of 25 µg/L in drinking water, and 20% of lead in drinking water is manifested in the body as blood lead levels. This corresponded to an average blood lead level of 0.5 µg/dL and a loss of 0.257 IQ points. Using the blood lead level to lifetime economic impact model, this corresponds to a lifetime loss of $5,381 per person and a total community cost of $435 million. The average household size in Flint is 2.42 persons, which equates to 40,064 houses. A five-year community wide intervention using one activated carbon filter with lead adsorption capabilities per household would have cost $11.1 million. A five-year POU RO implemented in every home would have cost $26 million. 

This seems to mean that if each of the 40,064 houses had an RO unit that cost $648.96 to buy and maintain, and each of the 2.42 persons who lived in that home saved the $5,381 that would have been lost because of ingestion of lead, the per household profit resulting from RO ownership would be $12,265 from lead-avoidance alone. What is more, if instead of the RO unit the home installed an activated carbon filter with lead adsorption capabilities, which costs only $277, profit (savings less the cost of the filter) for the 2.42-person home would be even more, $12,637!

Clearly, the filter is the better choice since you can get the same dollar savings from lead removal that you would from the RO unit at a lower purchase price. More bang for your lead-removal buck. Of course, if you factor in the costs of exposure to arsenic, nitrates, chromium, fluoride, sodium, and more–items the RO removes but the filter doesn’t–the extra $400 you pay for the reverse osmosis unit doesn’t look all that bad.

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 A reverse osmosis unit is like money in the bank. The more contaminants they find in the water, the more you save.

The Water Quality Products article suggests that the cost saving figures that resulted from the Arizona study can be “leveraged” by water treatment professionals “to talk to their regulators and utilities about this study and encourage the acceptance of POU devices as a risk mitigation strategy.”

We at Pure Water Products will probably leave the leveraging to others and stick to our usual strategy of pointing out that with or without the dollar consideration, and whether you live in a 2.42-person home or a 6.79-person home, an undersink reverse osmosis unit should be a standard household appliance, not an optional item. What a great value! A device that produces pure, great tasting, contaminant-free water at a small cost. Getting rich in the process is just icing on the cake.

Reference Source: Water Quality Products.

 

Researchers find antibiotic resistant genes prevalent in groundwater

Historically, indirect reuse treatment methods in which an environmental barrier is an intermediary step in the water cleaning process have been more popular than the direct “toilet to tap” process. While indirect methods of water reuse treatment were, from a public perception and appetite, considered more reliable, it is actually direct reuse “toilet to tap” approaches which do not introduce an environmental buffer that produce safer, more pure water for potability. The reason for this lies in the way ARGs in the environment can contaminate potable reuse water. These findings were highlighted in a study published in Environmental Science & Technology Letters.

How ARGs Spread through Water Treatment Systems

While some ARGs are naturally occurring in microbial communities, antibiotics, ARGs and antibiotic resistant pathogens are on the rise in water sources as a result of the overuse of antibiotics in general. In a typical water treatment cycle, wastewater is treated first at a wastewater treatment facility. The study found that this water remains high in ARGs, as they persist throughout the treatment process. From here, water intended for potable reuse is further purified using advanced physical and chemical techniques including reverse osmosis—a process that uses a partially permeable membrane to purify drinking water.

In an indirect reuse schema, the purified water will be infused back into an environmental buffer, like a groundwater aquifer. Later, water is pulled from the aquifer and further treated at a drinking water treatment plant before being added to the public water supply. In contrast, in direct reuse approaches, purified water does not return to an environmental buffer, but instead, remains within the engineered water cycle, going from the wastewater treatment plant to the water reuse plant to the drinking water treatment plant and then out to your tap

Looking at the differences in ARGs between various water sources is incredibly important in considering future health hazards, like development of super bugs, said Smith. Since wastewater treatment plants are not generally designed for removal of micro-pollutants like antibiotics, they tend to persist in treatment systems, leading to high densities of ARG resistant bacteria at different stages of treatment. When this water is introduced into an aquifer, where ARGs are already naturally occurring, it can become contaminated with ARGs and antibiotic resistant bacteria. To further complicate the issue, ARGs are easily transferred through horizontal gene transfer, increasing the risk for antibiotic resistant pathogens.

“ARGs are not regulated in any way and are a challenging emerging contaminant of concern due to our reliance on biological treatment in the engineered water cycle,” Smith said. “Because they are biological contaminants—small fragments of DNA that are released to the environment—bacteria present in receiving environments can uptake them, becoming resistant themselves, and further perpetuating the spread of resistance.”

Wastewater reuse is the prevailing option for dealing with a mounting pressure on global water supply and might be preferable to options like desalination, which is expensive and energy inefficient by comparison. However, the danger of spreading antibiotic resistance is one that should inform which methodologies gain more traction and investment as we look ahead Smith said. Eliminating unknowns that persist in the environmental water buffers could be one way to ensure water that reaches our taps is clean of ARGs and other harmful contaminants.

“Lessening the global spread of antibiotic resistance will require an interdisciplinary approach that spans environmental and clinical systems. We must act fast before we enter a so called ‘post-antibiotic world’ where bacterial infections become impossible to treat,” Smith said.

 

Source: University of  Southern California.

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El Paso County to participate in CDC study on PFAS contaminants in drinking water

Gazette Introductory Note: — Citizens of El Paso County in Colorado have unintentionally become research subjects in a 5-year experiment to learn how ingesting high levels of PFAS can affect human health. Although the report below doesn’t mention it, the high levels of PFAS in area water came from firefighting foam used at Peterson Air Force Base and the Colorado Springs airport.

The CDC announced in September 2019 that doctors across the U.S. will be conducting a study to investigate the long term side effects of drinking water contaminated by PFAS and PFCS — man-made chemicals that can get into groundwater, soil, and eventually into your cells.

The PFAS levels in El Paso County (Colorado) have registered more than 1,000 times higher than the health advisory limit set by the Environmental Protection Agency for similar chemicals. And while clean up efforts have taken place, in some cases the damage has already been done.

In the next few months, hundreds of residents in El Paso County will be invited to join this new study that looks at the relationship between exposure and health outcomes.

“It’s a group of chemicals that was created in the 1950’s,” said Liz Rosenbaum, founder of the Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition. “Our organization started in November of 2016. Our main focus was understanding what PFAS was and what this contamination meant to our community.”

“This new research study is a great step forward in understanding the health effects from this contamination to the residents of the community who lived here before 2016,” she said.

So what makes this study different? Seven major medical institutions will work together on this multi-site study. In Colorado, the grant has been awarded to Dr. John Adgate at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

His team will look at exposures in El Paso County by taking blood samples from 1,000 adults and 300 children.

They’ll look at the immune system, increased cancer risk, fertility, and issues with growth.

“The big unknown with PFAS compounds is what the human health effects are from long-term exposure,” said Dr. John Adgate.

Dr. Adgate has already been working with citizens in the Fountain area for the past few years and he’s excited to work on the national study and answer important questions.

“What happened there is sort of an unfortunate natural experiment because we have people who are highly exposed and got much higher than national background levels of number of the PFAS compounds in their blood,” he said.

Concerned citizens like Rosenbaum say it’s important to understand these contaminants so we don’t repeat similar mistakes.

Each institution has been given one million dollars in grant money. The study starts in late 2019 and will run for 5 years.

Source: KDRO

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Fluoride and IQ in Children


Posted October 2nd, 2019

Study Links Fluoridated Water To Lower IQs In Babies

By Peter Chawaga

Many public drinking water supplies contain fluoride, which is added by water systems to help prevent tooth decay in consumers. But a new study has called into question whether those health benefits are outweighed by potential health risks.

“A study of 512 Canadian mothers and their children, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics … suggests that drinking fluoridated water during pregnancy could damage kids’ brains,” according to Insider. “In the study, boys between the ages of 3 and 4 years old whose mothers drank fluoridated water had slightly lower IQs (about 4.5 points lower, a small but noticeable difference when you consider that the average IQ score is around 100 points.)”

The study results have raised some red flags for consumers, adding fuel to an ongoing anti-fluoride movement. Fluoride addition began at public water systems as early as the 1940s, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention crediting the program with reducing cavities by about 25 percent in consumers. But opponents have linked the mineral to adverse health effects — including IQ loss — for years.

“This new study, if further evidence supports it, may give more scientific weight to the idea that fluoridated water is not the best route to prevent cavities,” per Insider.

However, for now, scientists are arguing that while this study is worth factoring into the equation, it is not enough on its own to completely condemn the practice of fluoridating drinking water.

“[Neurology professor David Bellinger] says it’s important not to read too much into a single study, but this one certainly raises important issues,” NPR reported. “Though it will no doubt play into the decades-long controversy over whether to add fluoride to public water supplies, he says that is misleading. The study found even in cities that had fluoridated water, women got most of their fluoride from other sources, such as food, tea and toothpaste.”

In any case, the findings of this study are almost certain to spur more research into the topic. While the controversy around fluoride in public drinking water supplies won’t die down any time soon, more research may better inform the approach taken by drinking water utilities.

Source: Water Online.

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Common Sense about Lead in Drinking Water

by Gene Franks

In ancient times, people drank from lead vessels because they didn’t know any better. There’s no longer any excuse.–Bloomberg News Editorial. 

Lead’s toxicity has been known for centuries, but lead remained a popular choice for water service lines installed up to the 1980s. It’s more flexible and durable than iron. About 6 million lead service lines are still in use today, connecting households to water mains. Prior to 1986, copper pipes inside a person’s home could also be joined with lead solder.Olga Khazan in The Atlantic.

Some sobering information has surfaced because of the attention focused on the out-of-control lead contamination problems of Flint and Newark. We learn, for example, that the nation’s drinking water infrastructure has so many lead-emitting metal pipes that we can’t begin to count them, and, what is worse, we don’t even know where they are.

Here are some points to ponder:

  •  Lead in water supplies is not a new problem. It is mainly public awareness of the problem that is new.
  • The strategy for protecting the public from lead in water pipes, apart from vague, yet-to-be-funded proposals to replace the pipes, has been chemical treatment aimed at keeping pH high and adding sequestering chemicals. This seems to work most of the time, but the result isn’t predictable. Water treatment is complicated, and success can depend on variables like temperature, flow rate, and other chemicals present. Pipes and conditions in your home may be completely different from those where the supplier’s test was taken. Success of this strategy is also heavily dependent on the skill and dedication of the local technicians maintaining the system.
  • Testing required by federal regulators is sporadic. Tens of millions of gallons of water pass through the pipes between mandated tests. Finding no lead at a test site on Elm Street doesn’t mean there isn’t lead in a home on Maple Street. I used to say that the way testing is conducted is like checking one passenger at the airport and if he doesn’t have a bomb,  you assume that the next ten million passengers are also bomb free. Actually, with lead it’s worse that that: it’s more like testing one passenger and assuming that the next ten million passengers as well as the passengers at the airports of surrounding cities are bomb free. The odds that you are protected from lead by a test done five miles from your home six weeks ago are pretty bad.
  • The message we get from water suppliers seems to be: Be patient. We’ll get this fixed. You can count on us. Be sure to run your tap five to fifteen minutes before you drink the water. When things are really bad, they give free bottled water or provide a cheap pour-through water filter.

Conclusions

To protect yourself from lead, you could drink nothing but bottled water.  That isn’t a bad solution.  Or, you could  a) write letters to city officials demanding action, b) wait for all the lead water pipes to be replaced, c)  keep drinking tap water and hope for the best,  or, d) get yourself a good water filter. If you choose a through c, good luck.  If you choose d, I have some advice.

First, lead is a drinking water issue.  While whole house lead solutions are available, it is usually more practical to treat drinking water only. For lead-free drinking water, you have some good choices: a steam distiller, reverse osmosis, or a substantial carbon filter with lead removal resin added. Of the three, reverse osmosis is the most practical. Reverse osmosis removes lead by its nature, without the need for special cartridges. Reverse osmosis, of course, has the advantage of treating not only lead but virtually all contaminants that can be found in city water.

Lead reduction cartridge filters vary in quality, but any reasonably-sized undersink or countertop filter from a trusted filter maker will provide excellent, lead-free water. I underline “reasonably sized.” The pitcher filters provided free by cities don’t really qualify as water filters. They are novelty items made for pick up sales in discount stores. The early tests done on the city-provided filters in Newark that lead to a blanket “filters don’t work” warning were done with city-provided pitcher filters with only enough lead capacity for 30 gallons of water. They have a warning light for cartridge replacement that is there to inspire confidence. You really don’t need a warning light: you need more resin. A full-sized drinking water cartridge with lead removal rating of 2500 gallons from a reputable filter maker actually costs considerably less to operate than the tiny novelty systems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Water and the Plight of Women in Ethiopia

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Renowned Ethiopian artist Aida Muluneh has taken a series of striking images to depict the harsh life of many women in rural areas of Ethiopia–especially their daily efforts to obtain clean water for their families.

Aida Muluneh’s  Water Life series, which was commissioned by the charity WaterAid, is on display at London’s Somerset House beginning in late September of 2019. Muluneh shot some of the photos in a studio while others were staged in the extreme landscape of one of the hottest and driest places on earth, Ethiopia’s northern Afar region.

“We cannot refute that it is mainly women who bear responsibility for collecting water, a burden that has great consequences for our future and the development of our nation,” Muluneh said. The jerry cans are tied to a rope to reflect the shackles of carrying water.

Almost 40% of Ethiopians do not have clean water close to their homes, compared to the global average of 10%, according to Water Aid.

 

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Presentational white space

More symbolically complex, this shot focuses on girls and how the lack of water and bathrooms in schools affects their education. “The fact that most girls don’t attend school when they are menstruating is a major hindrance on the progress of women in our society,” Muluneh says.

In this piece, the moon represents a woman’s monthly cycle The red wings illustrate her freedom and strength but also the fact that she cannot achieve her full potential because she is shackled by the natural occurrence of menstruation.

“In a sense, it is like a caged bird that cannot fly but is grounded. The striped floor is symbolic of the road to destiny in which our path to success is in front of us but we must take the step forward,” Muluneh says.

More images from the Water Life Series can be seen on the BBC website.

 

WOTUS R.I.P.

 

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The much celebrated and much hated Waters of the United States rule, aka WOTUS, appears to be dead. The Trump EPA along with the Army Corps of Engineers have, after a prolonged effort, finally killed it. The 2015 addition to the Clean Water Act was controversial from its inception because it lies on the sensitive line between individual rights and common good.  The ownership of water is really the same issue as the apparently unsolvable questions like gun ownership, abortion, and vaccination. It asks the question does water belong to everyone or to the individual who owns the land where it is found at the moment. In other words, can the farmer whose drainage stream is pictured above dump his leftover fertilizer or the refuse from his hog lot into the tiny stream on his property without concern for where it will eventually end up? Repeal of the Waters of the United States rule says essentially that no one can tell him what he can or can’t put into “his own stream.”

 

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The Dr. Seuss classic story of McElligot’s Pool should have laid to rest any question about the connectedness of all water. Apparently not. 

Our feeling is that we’re all in this together. We need strict rules on water protection, even when these rules are an inconvenience to home builders, factory managers, and farmers. The Nixon-Era Clean Water Act has brought us a long way since the Cuyahoga River caught fire. It’s sad to see years of environmental progress reversed for the sake of political expediency.

Lead Pipes That Tainted Newark’s Water Are Found Across US

A drinking water crisis in New Jersey is bringing new attention to an old problem: Millions of homes across the U.S. get their water through lead pipes.

by David Porter and Mike Catalini

Pure Water Gazette Editor’s Note: This AP article is the best we’ve seen on the massive lead pipe problem that American water systems are facing. We’ve added a couple of pictures. We ask you to read this article carefully. It is sobering.

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A drinking water crisis in New Jersey’s biggest city is bringing new attention to an old problem: Millions of homes across the U.S. get their water through pipes made of toxic lead, which can leach out and poison children if the water isn’t treated with the right mix of chemicals.

Replacing those lead pipes is a daunting task for cities and public water systems because of the expense involved — and the difficulty of even finding out where all those pipes are. Only a handful of states have put together an inventory of the buried pipes, which connect homes to water mains and are often on private property.leadwaterpipe

Do you feel good about drinking water that came to your home through this pipe?

But after drinking water emergencies in Washington, D.C.; Flint, Michigan; and now Newark, some experts are calling again for a rethinking of the theory that treating the pipes with anti-corrosive agents is enough to keep the public out of danger. Instead, the lead lines should be replaced, they say.

“It’s hard to come up with an argument against it,” Manny Teodoro, a public policy researcher at Texas A&M, told New Jersey lawmakers this week. “Look, lead service line replacement is expensive, but it’s also removing poison from the bodies of ourselves and our children. It’s difficult to think of many things that are more important.”

Done correctly, chemical treatment should be enough to keep water in line with federal regulations, according to Peg Gallos, executive director of the Association of Environmental Authorities, a group representing water utilities. But in cases where the chemicals fail, pipe replacement becomes an option, she said.

People in about 15,000 households in Newark were told to drink only bottled water last month after the Environmental Protection Agency warned that the city’s efforts to control lead contamination weren’t working. Since then, residents in the largely poor, mostly black and Hispanic city have had to line up in summer heat for cases of free water distributed by government agencies.

The crisis has unfolded over several years, with city officials insisting until recently that everything was under control.

Numerous city schools switched to bottled water because of lead contamination in 2016. Tests in 2017 found that 1 in 10 Newark homes had nearly twice as much lead in their water as allowed by the federal government. The state Department of Environmental Protection issued a warning to the city and public health advocacy groups complained, but Mayor Ras Baraka defended the safety of the city’s water by sending residents a brochure condemning what he said were “outrageously false” claims about lead contamination.

Later, consultants concluded that the city’s corrosion control treatment for one of its main water supplies wasn’t working. New chemicals were introduced this spring, but it will be months before their effectiveness can be accurately gauged. The city handed out filters beginning last fall, but then the EPA warned that they might not working.

Newark’s water crisis shares some similarities to the ones in Flint and Washington, D.C.

Flint’s lead levels spiked in 2014 after the city switched its water source from Lake Huron, which was being treated with the anti-corrosive orthophosphate, to the Flint River, which was not treated. Washington’s high levels between 2000 and 2003 resulted from the city’s switching anti-corrosion chemicals from chlorine to chloramine.

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Lead Pipe from Newark

Experts estimate there could be as many as 10 million lead service lines nationwide but only five states require inventories or maps of their locations, according to the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators. A handful of other states have set up voluntary reporting.

That leaves dozens of states with incomplete knowledge of where and how much of the toxic plumbing they have.

“The biggest problem we face is we don’t know where these lead pipes are,” said Marc Edwards, an environmental engineering professor at Virginia Tech University. “In Flint, ultimately we had to dig up every single yard to find out what pipe was there because the records were so bad.”

Newark is now racing to try and replace all of its roughly 18,000 lead service lines, with the help of a county-backed, $120 million loan.

While cost is a factor — in Newark, it will cost about $10,000 per home to replace the pipes — so is the diffuse nature of water utilities. Teodoro estimated there are about 50,000 water systems in the U.S., many of them small systems. And in many cases the location of pipes isn’t even written down, Mary-Anna Holden, a commissioner on New Jersey’s Board of Public Utilities, told lawmakers recently.

“I asked the superintendent ‘Where’s the map of the system?’ He’s pointing to his head. Like his grandfather and great-grandfather had started the water system so he knew where every valve was,” Holden said.

The most common source of lead in water comes from pipes, faucets and fixtures, rather than from water sources, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Congress banned the use of lead in water pipes in 1986, citing lead’s harmful effects on children’s nervous systems. In 1991, federal regulators began requiring water systems to monitor lead levels in drinking water and established a limit of 15 parts per billion.

Since the Flint water crisis, some states have gone farther. Michigan last year lowered its threshold to 12 parts per billion. Experts say no amount of lead is safe for children.

Kim Gaddy, 55, works as an environmental justice advocate for Clean Water Action. She’s a renter in Newark and had her lead service lines replaced by the city shortly before the two positive lead tests led to the city handing out bottled water.

She says she thinks it’s time for state and federal officials to require replacing lead service lines, no matter what the cost might be.

“My message would be let’s protect the health of (residents) and provide them with safe, affordable drinking water from the taps,” Gaddy said.

Lead service lines are a menace to public health. Millions of such pipes still feed Americans’ homes.

A Bloomberg Editorial

Sept. 9, 2019

Once more an American city faces a lead crisis, with thousands of residents unable to drink from their taps. Lines for bottled water have stretched into the hundreds. Politicians are scrambling to overhaul the water system — and fast. This time it’s happening in New Jersey’s largest city, Newark.

Like the fiasco in Flint, Michigan, the Newark lead crisis had its own unique causes, including mismanagement and political infighting. But the two debacles have one crucial thing in common: pipes. Specifically the lead pipes installed decades ago, by the millions all over the country, to connect mains to houses and businesses. Pipes that can shed invisible molecules of metal when water passes through.

 

These pipes, known as service lines, were made from lead until well into the 1980s (even though lead’s dangers have been known for centuries). When the government banned lead from new pipes in 1986, it did nothing about the hundreds of miles of pipe still underground. At least 6 million such pipes (and likely many more) are still in use, serving households in almost one-third of the country’s water districts.

Lead is a neurotoxin. Its effects on the brain are well-known: learning disabilities, behavioral problems, anxiety and depression. It can also trigger heart, liver and kidney disease. Growing children are especially vulnerable. There is no safe level of exposure.

Right now, the standard practice is to treat water with anti-corrosion chemicals before sending it to households. Sometimes this works, but not always — as Newark shows. The city’s long-established corrosion control practice appears to have stopped working after the city made an unrelated tweak to the water supply. As is often the case, nobody saw it coming. As long as there’s lead in the pipes, the risk remains.

Why not just replace the pipes? That’s what Newark is doing — albeit belatedly — and what more than half a dozen other cities have done. The National Drinking Water Advisory Council recommends this approach. Granted, full replacement is costly and complicated, not least because most service lines are partly privately owned. But success in cities such as Lansing, Michigan, and Madison, Wisconsin, has shown that the legal and financial obstacles are surmountable. The state of Minnesota recently found that every dollar invested in lead-pipe replacement would yield $10 in savings.

Other cities have adopted more modest policies, such as replacing lines to day-care centers or requiring service lines be replaced when properties change hands. Whatever the approach, states can help by requiring home sellers to disclose the existence of lead service lines, for example — much like federal law requires sellers to disclose lead paint. States should also be more aggressive in tracking and publicizing the location of lines, and lay the legal groundwork to help communities fund replacement efforts. The federal government should provide grants to defray some of the cost.

It would be money well spent. Researchers at New York University say lead poisoning costs the U.S. $51 billion annually. And remediation works: Plans to phase out lead have proved to be spectacular public-health successes, though they were met with grumbles at the time.

In ancient times, people drank from lead vessels because they didn’t know any better. There’s no longer any excuse.

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