Posted June 27th, 2017

Perfluoroalkyls in a nutshell

What are PFCs?

PFCs are a family of man-made compounds that are not naturally occurring in the environment. Perfluoroalkyls repel oil, grease, and water, and as a result were used as protective coatings in cookware, carpet, clothing, paper, and cardboard packaging, as well as in fire-fighting foams. They are very stable compounds that are resilient to breakdown in the environment. The most common perfluoroalkyl compounds are perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).


PFOS and PFOA compounds were produced in large quantities in the United States and have contaminated air, water, and soil at locations where they were produced or used. As a result, PFOA and PFOS are found in air and dust; surface and groundwater; and soil and sediment. The highest levels of PFOS and PFOA are typically at or near a facility that produced or used the compounds. Since they are found in air and dust, they appear in remote locations where flooding and groundwater migrate them through the soil.

Health Effects of PFCs

The most common exposure to PFOS and PFOA is through ingestion, with drinking water supplies being the primary route for exposure. Typically, populations near facilities where PFOS and PFOA was manufactured or used have the highest levels of these compounds in their drinking water. Health advisories by the EPA indicate that exposure to PFOS and PFOA over certain levels may result in adverse health effects, including developmental effects to fetuses during pregnancy or to breastfed infants (e.g., low birth weight, accelerated puberty, skeletal variations), cancer (e.g., testicular, kidney), liver effects (e.g., tissue damage), immune effects (e.g., antibody production and immunity), thyroid effects and other effects (e.g., cholesterol changes). As a result the EPA has established a combined lifetime exposure of 70 parts per trillion for PFOS and PFOA.

Water Treatment?

The best and most commonly applied water treatment for PFCs in general is the old standby, granular activated carbon.

Quick Reference Table for Water Contaminant Treatment



Acidic Water Soda ash injection; Sodium Hydroxide injection; Calcite
Acrylamide Carbon (with moderate probability of success)
Alachlor Carbon
Alpha particles Reverse Osmosis; distillation
Alum (Aluminum Sulfate) Reverse Osmosis; distillation
Aluminum Water softener; Reverse Osmosis; distillation; electrodialysis
Ametryn Reverse Osmosis, carbon, and UV used together
Ammonia Water softener with previous removal of calcium and magnesium; deionization; natural zeolite, chlorination
Antimony Reverse Osmosis; coagulation/filtration
Arsenic Ion exchange; Reverse Osmosis; distillation
Asbestos Reverse Osmosis
Atrazine Carbon
Barium Ion exchange; Reverse Osmosis; lime softening; electrodialysis
Benzene Adsorption with carbon; ozone
Benzo(a)pyrene (PAHs) Carbon
Beta particles and photon emitters Ion exchange-mixed bed; Reverse Osmosis; distillation
Cyanotoxins UV; Reverse Osmosis; nanofiltration;  carbon; chlorination
Total Coliforms (including fecal coliform and E. Coli) UV; chlorine/chloramine disinfection; ultrafiltration; Reverse Osmosis; ozone
Beryllium Activated alumina; coagulation/filtration; ion exchange; lime softening; Reverse Osmosis
Alkalinity Aeration; acid injection; anion exchange
Bisphenol A (BPA) No recommended treatment
Boron (Borate) Reverse Osmosis; ion exchange; increasing pH
Bromates (Potassium Bromate and Sodium Bromate) Prevention by pH alteration; anion exchange; ammonia impregnated carbon
Brackish Water Reverse Osmosis; distillation
Bromine (Bromide) Reverse Osmosis; carbon; UV; dialysis
Cadmium Reverse Osmosis; cation exchange; dialysis
Carbaryl (Sevin) Carbon; coagulation; ozone
Calcium Ion exchange; Reverse Osmosis; deionizers; dialysis; distillation; ultrafiltration
Carbofuran Carbon
Carbon dioxide Aeration; deionization; raising pH with Soda Ash injection
Carbon tetrachloride Air stripping;  carbon; coconut shell carbon; Reverse Osmosis
Chloral hydrate Carbon
Chloramines Carbon; catalytic carbon; ascorbic acid, UV
Chlordane Carbon
Chloride Reverse Osmosis; electrodialysis; distillation;  anion exchanger
Chlorine Carbon; KDF
Chlorine dioxide Carbon (possible success)
Chlorite Carbon (possible success)
Chloroacetones No recommended treatment
Chlorobenzene Carbon; Carbon with packed tower aeration
Chloropicrin Chemical oxidation
Chlorpyrifos Coagulation; carbon; ozone
Chromium Reverse Osmosis; distillation; strong base anion exchange regenerated with caustic soda
Color Carbon; anion exchange after water softener; iron/manganese removal methods
Copper POE applications and plumbing fixtures protected by cation exchange, pH control, and film-creating compounds such as polyphosphates; POU treatment: Reverse Osmosis, distillation, and carbon
Corrosion Increasing pH; Reverse Osmosis to reduce chlorides; carbon filtration to reduce chloramines/chlorine; lowering temperature of hot water heater; sediment filtration; decrease flow rate
Cryptosporidium Carbon; Reverse Osmosis; nanofiltration; UV; ozone; distillation
Cyanazine (Bladex) Carbon
Cyanide Reverse Osmosis; electrodialysis; chlorination, retention, and filtration; Carbon  with packed tower aeration
1,2-Dichloropropane Carbon with packed tower aeration; carbon
1,3-Dichloropropene/ 1,3-Dichloropropane Carbon; hydrolosis
1,4-Dioxane Biological activated carbon; UV or ozone with hydrogen peroxide
2,4-D (2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid) Carbon
Dalapon Carbon
DBCP (1,2-Dibromo-3-chloropropane) Carbon and packed tower aeration;  carbon
DDT (Dichlorodiphenyltrichlorethane) Carbon; coagulation
DEHA [Di(2-ethylhexyl) adipate] Carbon
DEHP [Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate] Carbon
Diazinon (Spectracide) Hydrolosis
Dichloroacetic Acid (DCA) Prevention through pre-filtration to remove organic matter or pH adjustment prior to treatment
o-Dichlorobenzene Carbon with packed tower aeration; Carbon
p-Dichlorobenzene Carbon with packed tower aeration; carbon
1,2-Dichloroethane GAC with packed tower aeration; activated carbon
1,1-Dichloroethylene GAC with packed tower aeration; activated carbon
cis-1,2-Dichloroethylene GAC with packed tower aeration; reduction by Reverse Osmosis
trans-1,2-Dichloroethylene GAC with packed tower aeration; reduction by Reverse Osmosis
Dichloromethane (DCM) GAC with packed tower aeration
Dicofol Hydrolosis; possible treatment with activated carbon
Diflubenzuron Activated carbon
Dimethoate Chlorination and GAC
Dinoseb GAC
Dioxin (2,3,7,8-TCDD) GAC
Diquat GAC
Diuron (DCMU) Activated carbon
Edetic Acid (EDTA) Ozone with activated carbon
Endocrine disruptors (EDCs) Nanofiltration; Reverse Osmosis; activated carbon; distillation; ozone; advanced oxidization
Endosulfan Activated carbon
Endothall GAC
Endrin GAC
Epichlorohydrin (ECH) No recommended treatment; limited usage
Ethylbenzene GAC
Ethylene dibromide GAC
Fenitrothion Hydroloysis
Flouride Reverse Osmosis; distillation; filtration through activated alumina
Formaldehyde GAC
Foaming agents Coagulation/flocculation; sedimentation; filtration; activated carbon
Giardia lamblia Filtration of 1 micron size or below; UV; Reverse Osmosis; ozone; shock chlorination
Glyphosate (Roundup) GAC
Haloacetic acids (HAA5) Pre-filtering prior to disinfection treatment; activated carbon; Reverse Osmosis
Hardness Water softener; Reverse Osmosis; lime softening; polyphosphates; siliphos
Heptachlor GAC
Heptachlor epoxide GAC
Heterotrophic plate count (HPC) N/A
Hexachlorobenzene (HCB) GAC
Hexachlorobutadiene (HCBD) GAC
Hexachlorocyclopentadiene GAC with packed tower aeration
Hydrogen Sulfide Oxidizing with gas: chlorine, aeration, hydrogen peroxide, ozone, potassium permanganate followed by filtration of oxidant and elemental sulphur; open tank aeration; carbon for small amounts; changing sacrifical anode of hot water heater
Iodine-131 Reverse Osmosis
Iron Ferrous Iron removal: Water softener; oxidation with air, ozone, potassium permanganate, chlorine, or hydrogen peroxide; filtration with Filox, Birm, and Greensand; Ferric Iron removal: filtration with wound string filter; backwashing filter; Heme Iron removal: scavenger anion resin; oxidation with chlorine followed by mechanical filtration
Iron Bacteria Chlorination
Lead Reverse Osmosis; water softeners; removing the source; corrosion control methods in pipes including pH and alkalinity adjustment; calcium adjustment; silica or phosphate-based corrosion inhibition
Legionella Heat and flow-rate management; UV; ultrafiltration
Lindane GAC
Magnesium Water softener; Reverse Osmosis
Malalthion and Malaoxon Activated carbon
Manganese Ion exchange; oxidation/filtration; chemical feeding then filtering through greensand, carbon, or filter ag
MCPA (4-(2-methyl-4-chlorophenoxy)acetic acid) GAC; ozone
Mercury Activated carbon; Reverse Osmosis; distillation; ion exchange; sulfide precipitation; starch xanthate
Methane Atmospheric aeration
Methanol (Methyl Alchohol) Ozonation with UV
Methoxychlor GAC
Methyl Tertiary-Butyl Ether (MTBE) Coconut shell carbon; reduction through carbon block filtration
Metolachlor (S-Metolachlor) GAC
Molinate GAC
Monochloracetic Acid (MCAA or Chloroacetic Acid) No recommended treatment; formation during water disinfection may be prevented with pre-filtration to remove organic matter, or pH adjustment
Mutagen X and MX Analogues Activated carbon
Naphthalene Activated carbon
NDMA (N-Nitrosodimethylanime) Reverse Osmosis removes 50%
Nickel Strong acid cation exchanger; reduction through activated carbon and RO
Nitrite (measured as Nitrogen) Ion exchange; Reverse Osmosis; electrodialysis; distillation and blending
Nitrate (measured as Nitrogen) Ion exchange; Reverse Osmosis; electrodialysis; distillation and blending
Nitrilotriacetic Acid (NTA) Activated carbon
Norovirus Reverse Osmosis; nanofiltration; ultrafiltration; chemical oxidation; UV; distillation
Odor Activated carbon; oxidation/reduction; chlorine dioxide; ozone; hydrogen peroxide
Oryzalin Activated carbon
Oxamyl (Vydate) GAC
2-Phenylphenol (OPP) Activated carbon
Paraquat dichloride Activated carbon
Parathion (Ethyl Parthion) Activated carbon; hydrolysis
Pendimethalin GAC
Pentachlorophenol GAC
Perchlorate Reverse Osmosis; anion exchange; carbon adsorption; distillatin
Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFCs) Activated carbon; Reverse Osmosis
Permethrin Activated carbon
Pesticides Activated carbon; Ultrafiltration; Reverse Osmosis
pH Raising pH: feeding soda ash, caustic soda, sodium bicarbonate, or potassium hydroxide; calcite; corosex; Lowering pH: feeding sulfuric, hydrochloric acids, phosphoric acid, acetic acid, citric acid, vinegar into water
Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) Chlorine; ozone; activated carbon; Reverse Osmosis
Phosphates Alum; sodium aluminate; ferric chloride; precipitated with lime to hydroxyapatite at pH of 10 or more and then filtered
Picloram GAC
Pirimiphos-methyl Activated carbon
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) GAC
Polynuclear Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) GAC
Propanil Activated carbon
Pyriproxyfen GAC
Tetrachloroethene/Perchloroethylene (PCE) GAC with packed tower aeration
Radon Point-of-entry devices: GAC, Aeration systems
1,2,3-Trichloropropane (TCP) GAC
2,4,6-Trichlorophenol (Dowicide 2S) GAC
Temephos Adsorption with activated carbon
Terbuthylazine (TBA) GAC
Tetrachloroethanes Activated carbon
Thallium Activated alumina; ion exchange
Toluene GAC with packed tower aeration
Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) Reverse Osmosis, Distillation, Deionization.
Toxaphene GAC
Trichloroacetic Acid (TCA) No recommended treatment; can be reduced during chlorination with coagulation and pH regulation
1,2,4-Trichlorobenzene (TCB) GAC with packed tower aeration
1,1,1-Trichloroethane GAC with packed tower aeration; activated carbon
1,1,2-Trichloroethane GAC with packed tower aeration; activated carbon
Trichloroethene (TCE) Activated carbon adsorption; reverse osmosis (70-80 % removal); air stripping
Tritium No known treatment
Turbidity Depends on amount and nature of particles present; Likely use of sediment filters
Uranium Reverse Osmosis; anion exchange; activated alumina; electrodialysis; enhanced coagulation/filtration
Selenium Reverse osmosis; anion exchange; distillation
Silica Ion exchange with strong base anion resin; coagulation/filtration; reverse osmosis; ultrafiltration; lime softening/precipitation in large flows
Silver Reverse Osmosis; distillation; strong acid cation exchange for reduction
2,4,5-TP (Silvex) GAC
Simazine GAC
Spinosad DT (Spinosyns A and D) Activated carbon
Styrene GAC with packed tower aeration
Sulfate Reverse Osmosis; strong base anion exchanger
Vanadium Ion exchange
Vinyl chloride GAC with reverse osmosis; distillation; air stripping
Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs) Activated carbon; coconut shell carbon; reverse osmosis; aeration with activated carbon
Xylenes (total)

GAC with packed tower aeration; activated carbon

What is DOC and How Is It Treated?

Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) is a general description of the organic material dissolved in water.

Organic carbon occurs as the result of decomposition of plant or animal material, and a small part of the organic carbon  may then dissolve into the water.

Organic material (including carbon) results from decomposition of plants or animals. Once this decomposed organic material contacts water it may partially dissolve.

DOC does not pose health risk itself but may become potentially harmful when in combination with other aspects of water. When water with high DOC is chlorinated, harmful byproducts called trihalomethanes may be produced. Trihalomethanes may have long-term effects on health. That is why DOC is a consideration when water is chlorinated.

Not only can Dissolved Organic Carbon promote the formation of trihalomethanes (THMs) in chlorinated water, it can also  interfere with the effectiveness of disinfection processes such as chlorination, ultraviolet and ozonation. DOC can also promote the growth of microorganisms by providing a food source. In addition, it can add taste, odor and color.

Organic content is usually higher in surface water than in well water.

Removal of dissolved organic carbon is more commonly done by municipalities and water suppliers than by homeowners. City water suppliers have treatment strategies to draw on that aren’t available to residential users. They are also in a better position to prevent the formation of DOC, which is usually easier than treating it.

Treatment methods effective in removing DOC from water include: coagulation/flocculation processes, biological filtration, granulated activated charcoal and distillation. For residential water treatment, GAC is the most common and the most practical treatment. Distillers can be used for drinking water only.

Usually treatment is recommended if concentrations of DOC are greater than 5 mg/L.  At that level, it is likely that chlorination will result in the formation of THMs in excess of EPA standards. Above 5 mg/L color of the finished water also becomes objectionable.  For concentrations of less than 2 mg/L, color is usually not an issue and THM creation will be small.

The best home treatment for DOC is carbon filtration.

Hard to believe, Garden Hose Day is again upon us

Moving National Garden Hose Day from August to June makes the holiday’s promoters look like geniuses.  Last year’s event, on its new June 21 date, exceeded expectations in terms of crowd sizes, enthusiasm and product sales.

Although Minneapolis has become the unofficial capitol of Garden Hose Day activities, communities large and small around the US are holding Garden Hose celebrations this year. The Garden Hose Tug, an enhanced variation of the good old fashioned Tug O’ War game, remains the main event in most Garden Hose Day celebrations, although garden hose crafts contests, in which contestants show objects they’ve created from garden hoses, are expected to run a close second in popularity at this year’s events.


Last year Cleveland added a canine division to the Garden Hose Tug. In the final round, the event winner, Little Arnold, on the left, bested Spot, his weightier opponent, in less than four minutes.

The common garden hose is one 0f life’s treasures that we take for granted.  When you think of it for what it is–a very inexpensive portable pipe that can bend around corners, roll up for storage,  and carry high volumes of water quickly over great distances–it deserves our admiration as one of civilization’s simple but awe-inspiring achievements. For simplicity, for efficiency, and for utility, the garden hose is right up there with the canoe, the bicycle and the clothes line in the list of man’s greatest creations. For gardening, car washing, filling pools–for more of our routine activities that we can recount–the humble garden hose saves time, money, and labor. But for many of us, the garden hose is of greatest importance because it evokes happy memories of childhood and summer days.

We urge you to go to a garden hose event in your neighborhood this year.


An attractive garden hose basket that is a popular item in Amazon garden hose stores. In addition to the almost limitless array of decorative hoses, there are special nozzles, colorful hose bibs, manual and electrically-powered hose dispenser/retractors,  hose splitters, hose repair kits, hose unions, hose protectors, and more.  Related items include lawn equipment, car wash paraphernalia,  clothing,  books about gardening, patio cooking, landscaping and washing cars, patio furniture, lawn sprinklers,  gardening tools–the list is endless. Yes, even X-rated products that include sex toys and clothing with suggestive phallic mottoes and pictures were on the market this year.


How does caffeine get into our water?

It turns out that our bodies don’t absorb all the caffeine we consume. Some gets expelled in our urine and ends up entering sewage systems or the environment, posing a threat to wildlife and perhaps to our health.

Sewage treatment plants usually do a good job removing caffeine, and the treated wastewater they release back to the environment is generally free of it.

But in a number of recent studies, caffeine has been detected in water sampled from remote streams – far from urban areas and sewer systems. This suggests our appetite for caffeine has crossed some unseen threshold, and is beginning to impact the environment.


All Caffeine Comes into the Environment Through Humans

Literally, through us. There are no natural sources of caffeine in North America. So any caffeine found in water samples surely came from humans, whether in beverages, food or pharmaceuticals. That’s one result of a study recently conducted by the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board.

“When we started getting results, we realized it’s way more prevalent than just from leaky sewer lines and septic systems,” said Carey Nagoda, a water resource control engineer for the water board. “So that was kind of a puzzle.”

Nagoda analyzed nearly 100 water samples over a seven-year period from throughout San Diego County and part of Orange County. They came from a range of sites encompassing raw sewage and treated wastewater in urban areas, as well as streams in remote open-space areas where there is no human development.

For example, Cedar Creek Falls, a popular hiking destination in Cleveland National Forest, is one area where the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board has detected caffeine in the water.

The results of the study showed that samples from urban areas tested positive for caffeine, which was not surprising.  Samples from untreated (raw) sewage contained between 0.052 and 8.5 micrograms per liter, while those taken near active septic systems ranged from 0.029 to 1.19 micrograms per liter.

What was surprising was that more than one-third of the samples from open-space areas tested positive for caffeine. The samples from these areas ranged from 0.032 to 0.662 micrograms per liter, or similar to those samples taken near septic systems.

The areas known for high recreational use – like fishing, horseback riding, hiking, camping – were the ones that had high caffeine levels, suggesting that visitors in these areas may not be practicing good habits, whether by urinating too close to streams or leaving waste behind.

The results also suggest that other contaminants found in human waste, such as pharmaceuticals and pathogens, could be polluting these areas.

Numerous studies have shown that caffeine is toxic to a variety of wildlife at high concentrations. The effects are less clear in cases of continual exposure at low levels  because little research has been done in this area. So far, clear toxic thresholds have yet to be firmly established.

To cite an example, one study showed that mussels exposed to caffeine may face a risk of genetic mutation. Other research at UC Irvine found that caffeine in seawater may contribute to coral bleaching.

Studying caffeine contamination is complicated. Researchers learned, for example that caffeine is easily aerosolized, so a Starbucks in the neighborhood can skew test results.

Currently, there are no water-quality standards established for caffeine in wastewater effluent.

At present, the best defense against caffeine in our water depends on the habits of individuals.  It matters where you urinate. One expert advises: “… don’t dump leftover caffeine beverages or containers where they could enter streams or storm drains. And when enjoying the outdoors, exercise proper bathroom practices. That means using a designated restroom or outhouse whenever available. If that’s not possible, choose a proper site at least 200 feet from any waterway. Residents should do their part to help reduce caffeine release to the environment . . . .The cumulative effect on ecosystem health is not known at this time.”

Removing caffeine from water in the home? While caffeine at levels that might be in tap water is not considered a contaminant of concern for human health, filtration through standard activated carbon filters should reduce it significantly. There is currently no plan to regulate levels of caffeine in tap water.

200 Years of Rubbish

Editor’s note:  When Lord Byron wrote almost 200 years ago that “man marks the Earth with ruin, but his control stops with the shore,” he didn’t know what deep ocean scientists would eventually find on the ocean floor, 4 kilometers below the surface in a remote spot far off the coast of Australia.  The following is from a piece by Bryan Nelson describing the finding of a  bizarre, deep sea fish without a face that has not been seen for nearly 150 years.

Aside from discovering strange and wondrous organisms, the expedition has also uncovered a monstrous reality happening at the bottom of our oceans: the amount of trash sometimes seems to outnumber the fish.

“There’s a lot of debris, even from the old steam ship days when coal was tossed overboard,” said the lead researcher. “We’ve seen PVC pipes and we’ve trawled up cans of paints. It’s quite amazing. We’re in the middle of nowhere and still the sea floor has 200 years of rubbish on it.”

The ocean’s abyssal plains are becoming our planet’s waste baskets, as toxins and dreck pile up in trenches and other low places of the sea floor. In fact, earlier this year scientists detected “extraordinary” levels of toxic pollution in the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the world’s oceans.

It’s therefore increasingly important that researchers document the unique biodiversity of these little-studied parts of our planet to establish a baseline, so that future studies can more accurately calculate the impacts of pollution in these remote habitats.

Read the whole article (and see a picture of the faceless fish).

Water Use Doesn’t Always Conform to Conventional Logic

According to Quartz:

The word “organic” is a powerful marketing tool. In clothing—just as in focottonplantsod—brands love to tout their use of organic agricultural products to show they’re doing their part to fight the industry’s outsized environmental footprint. They know consumers want products they believe are better for them and the planet. “Organic,” which generally means something was grown without synthetic additives or pesticides and wasn’t genetically modified, seems to promise as much.

But the reality isn’t always so simple. Your organic cotton t-shirt may have actually used up more resources to produce than one made of conventionally grown cotton, and could have a greater overall impact on the environment.

One major reason, as various speakers pointed out at a May 23 panel held by Cotton Inc., a research group that serves the cotton industry, is that conventional cotton varieties have a higher yield, meaning a single plant will produce more fiber than its organic counterpart. That’s because conventional cotton has been genetically engineered for that purpose. In the past 35 years, cotton yields have risen 42%, largely due to biotechnology and better irrigation techniques.

Organic cotton, by definition, comes from plants that have not been genetically modified. Because of that difference, to get the same amount of fiber from an organic crop and a conventional crop, you’ll have to plant more organic plants, which means using more land. That land, of course, has to be tended and irrigated.

It will take you about 290 gallons of water to grow enough conventional, high-yield cotton to produce a t-shirt, according to Cotton Inc. To grow the same amount of organic cotton for a t-shirt, however, requires about 660 gallons of water. The disparity is similar for a pair of jeans.

Water required to grow organic cotton to make a pair of jeans is 2641 gallons as compared with 1135 gallons for conventional jeans.

More information from Quartz.

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Leonardo da Vinci’s Understanding of Watersheds

by Emily McBroom

“In rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which comes; so with present time.” –Leonard da Vinci.


Leonard da Vinci’s comparison of blood flowing through human arteries to the movement of water upon the Earth demonstrates his understanding of watersheds. In fact, da Vinci, along with Nicollo Machiavelli, used this knowledge of river systems to attempt a diversion of the River Arno from Pisa to Florence in the early 1500s as a military strategy. But that is another story for another time.

Da Vinci recognized that water flowed over and under the surface of the Earth in a connected, veinous pattern akin to the human anatomy. Water flows across and under an area of land to enter rivers, streams, and other water bodies to arrive at a common point. This is the description of a watershed.


Watersheds come in different shapes and sizes due to topography, geology, climate, and amount of development. For example, the Continental Divide in the United States determines which direction water will flow toward its most outward point. On the west side of the Rocky Mountains, the Colorado River flows toward the Pacific Ocean. On the eastern side, surface water flows toward the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. Similar to da Vinci’s connection of the human body to water flows, our own understanding of watersheds tells us much about local water sources and quality.


Another way to think of a watershed is as a big bowl separated from other watersheds by ridges or elevation directing water runoff in a certain direction. Our water supply is located in one or more of those watershed bowls. The quality of the water we receive from either wells or utility companies is determined by the runoff of water within our watershed.


There are 78 major watersheds in the lower 48 states of the US of which the Mississippi drainage basin is the largest. It is also the third largest in the world after the Amazon in South America and the Congo in Africa. On a local scale, however, there are many smaller watersheds contained within the major ones.


Why do we care about watersheds?

Everything that occurs in a watershed can affect a stream, lake, or river. This can help individuals be aware of drinking water issues and treatment options. A watershed located in an area where livestock production is prominant may have a higher concentration of nitrates in the local water supply. Additionally, watersheds containing large urban areas can experience more flooding or runoff pollutants than rural areas.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) provides an interactive map for locating your watershed.


Brackenridge plan to use chloramines to treat water leads to lead worries

by Madasyn Czebiniak

Editor’s Note: We’re reprinting this article from the April 29. 2017 issue of the Breckenridge (PA) Tribune-Review because it explains well the rationale of municipal water suppliers for switching from chlorine to chloramine as well as some of the consequent problems and issues resulting from the change. –Hardly Waite.


Pete Kristine doesn’t live in Brackenridge anymore. He grew up there, though, and visits his parents in their Nelson Avenue home just about every day.

Their house is old, as are many in Brackenridge, so Kristine believes it’s likely the house has water pipes that contain lead.

That’s one of the reasons he questions the Brackenridge Borough Water Treatment Plant’s decision to switch from chlorine to chloramines to disinfect the water it treats.

Chloramines can be more corrosive than chlorine, allowing lead in pipes to be released into the water.

Chloramines were the reason Washington, D.C., experienced “alarming” levels of lead in its drinking water between 2001 and 2004, according to reporting by The Washington Post.

According to the Post, when the Washington Aqueduct, which supplies city water, switched from chlorine to chloramines, the chloramines corroded the city’s pipes and caused lead to leach into the water supply. (more…)

Air Force thumbs its nose at new Michigan safe water law

by Garret Ellison


An old fighter jet outside the Wurtsmith Air Museum on the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base grounds in Oscoda Township on Wednesday, June 1, 2016. The base closed in 1993, but dozens of township residents were advised not to drink their well water by state and local health officials this year after new residential well testing showed concerning levels of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), which were once used in fire-fighting foam at the base.

Editor’s Note: The article below is one of many we’ve referenced over the years detailing the US Military’s efforts to shirk its responsibility for cleaning up water pollution it has caused. The military has been notorious for playing fast and loose with environment safety and quick to abandon the messes it makes. The incident described below is one of many that have been reported recently regarding the very serious and difficult-to-remove water pollution caused by fire fighting foams.–Hardly Waite.

OSCODA, MI — The U.S. Air Force says it won’t provide safe drinking water to Oscoda residents affected by chemical pollution from the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base because a Michigan law seeking that is discriminatory.

The Air Force Civil Engineering Center coordinating Wurtsmith cleanup says the service branch is “not authorized” to comply with the requirements of Michigan Public Act 545 of 2016, a new state law which took effect in January.

Air Force spokesperson Mark Kinkade said the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), which created the Superfund program, only compels the U.S. government to comply with state law if it’s not discriminatory.

“The Michigan law does discriminate as it only applies to federal and state agencies, not to all entities and persons,” Kinkade said.

As result, the “Air Force is not authorized to comply with the mandates of Act 545 to provide an alternative water supply or to reimburse the state of Michigan when it provides an alternative water supply,” he said.

Public Act 545 amended Michigan’s Safe Drinking Water Act to require the state or federal government provide an “alternative water supply” to any Michigan property owner with a polluted well if state health officials issue a related drinking water advisory and the government caused the pollution.

Sen. Jim Stamas, R-Midland, sponsored the bill after military officials told him at a meeting last year that the Air Force would provide alternative water to affected properties if Michigan amended its laws to require that.

“I am extremely disappointed in the U.S. Air Force for not living up to its word and its responsibilities,” Stamas said. “The federal government needs to be held accountable for what they did, and I will be asking Attorney General Bill Schuette to pursue action to enforce the law.”

Messages left with Schuette’s staff late Friday were not immediately returned.

The Air Force claims the Department of Defense prohibits it from spending money to provide safe water unless a private well tests for chemical concentrations above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency health advisory level.


In Oscoda, toxic fluorocarbons called perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), or perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) — the official scientific name is in flux — have been leaching through from the base for decades. The chemicals were in firefighting foam the military began using in the 1970s but the plumes that resulted weren’t discovered until the late 1990s.

You probably have some level in your blood already.

The nuclear B-52 bomber base closed in 1993 after the Cold War.

The chemicals are considered “emerging contaminants” because their threat to human health is worrisome but still somewhat uncertain. They have been tied in animal testing to thyroid, kidney, liver, reproductive and other health problems.

Plumes of PFAS have spread across much of Oscoda near the base, into neighborhoods with many seasonal homes not connected to municipal water, which is safe. The main focus is on perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctyl sulfonate (PFOS), the only two of 19 different PFAS plaguing the area that the EPA has established advisory levels for.

In Feb. 2016, state and local officials issued an advisory, urging homeowners with a private well near the base to seek an alternative water supply.

However, only two properties since then have tested for PFOS or PFOA at concentrations above the EPA threshold, which was formalized last May at 70 part-per-trillion (ppt). Total PFAS, however — both PFOS, PFOA and the other 17 different variations of the chemical class — has tested at 20,000 ppt in some wells and the groundwater under large parts of Oscoda south and east of the base is testing between 50 and 300 ppt.

The plumes have also moved south of the Au Sable River and east of Van Etten Creek — two waterways previously thought of as natural buffers.

Site investigators say they still don’t know the full extent of the plumes.

Meanwhile, Air Force refuses to pay for permanent safe water.

U.S. Rep Dan Kildee, D-Flint, said that even though the pollution was not caused intentionally, ultimate responsibility for the problem falls on the Air Force, which he said needs to begin acting with “more urgency.”

Kildee, whose district includes Oscoda, says its time to consider “a plan to put all these households on the municipal water system.”

“We should at least know that cost and start thinking about doing that while we do other work,” he said.

No easy solutions for PFC contamination in Oscoda.

Kildee speculated the sheer scope of the military’s PFAS problem around the world is tied to the Pentagon’s reticence to spend more in Oscoda.

More than 600 current and former U.S. military installations are now dealing with a plume problem related to the use the PFAS-laden Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF), which the military and airports around the world have used since the 1970s to quash jet fuel fires.

The Air Force may be “concerned about how big this problem might be and if they commit to a really robust response here they may have to provide the same size response everywhere,” Kildee said.

“That’s conjecture but a logical conclusion one could draw.”

Denise Bryan, health officer with the local District Health Department No. 2, said many Oscoda residents feels victimized and exasperated with the Air Force.

Health risks associated with the chemicals are either unknown or have troubling consequences, yet “no money has come forward for the residents,” she said.

“We have a government agency saying this is their fault but they aren’t going to pay anything to fix it,” she said. “That’s the dichotomy.”

Bryan has helped organize the fourth in a periodic series of town hall meetings about the pollution, happening Tuesday, April 25 at Oscoda Methodist Church. Representatives will attend from the Air Force, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Health & Human Services.

An open house is 2 to 4 p.m. and the meeting is 6 to 8 pm.

Providing updates — including progress toward reestablishing a local Restoration Advisory Board to coordinate cleanup efforts with Oscoda Township officials — is the main purpose, but Bryan thinks the meeting serves another one.

“It’s easy to say ‘no’ over the telephone, but when you get everyone affected in the room, then the Air Force has to look them in the face and tell them ‘no.'”


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