The Pure Water Occasional for January 26, 2015
In this pre-Groundhog Day Occasional, you’ll hear about dangerously pure water, cirque lakes, pluvial lakes, mesotrophic lakes, drought in Sao Paulo, and plastic in the ocean. Then there’s algae, fish farming, Atrazine, Katalox Light, Matt Damon, nanometers, and a classy giant milkshake metaphor. Read about a serious oil spill in the Yellowstone River, the Rehoboth Beach sewerage controversy, fracking and fracking sand. Finally, Pure Water Annie answers all your troubling questions about Aer-Max, and, as always, there is much, much more.
To read this issue on the Pure Water Gazette’s website, please go here. (Recommended! When you read online you get the added advantage of the Gazette’s sidebar feed of the very latest world water news.)
The Dangerously Clean Water Used to Make Your Iphone
The ultra-pure water used to clean semiconductors and make microchips would suck vital minerals right out of your body. Plus it tastes really nasty.
by Charles Fishman
FACT: Water can be too clean to drink.
That’s the kind of claim about water that people scoff at—it seems ridiculous on the face of it.
Water too clean to drink?
Give me a break. It’s water. Cleaner is better.
But this is one wild water story that’s true.
Every day, around the world, tens of millions of gallons of the cleanest water possible are created, water so clean that it is regarded as an industrial solvent, absolutely central to high-tech manufacturing but not safe for human consumption.
The clean water—it’s called ultra-pure water (UPW)—is a central part of making semiconductors, the wafers from which computer microchips are cut for everything from MRI scanners to greeting cards.
Chips and their pathways are built up in layers, and between manufacturing steps, they need to be washed clean of the solvents and debris from the layer just completed.
But the electronic pathways on microchips are now so fine now so fine they can’t be seen even with ordinary microscopes. The pathways are narrower than the wavelengths of visible light. They can only be seen with electron microscopes. And so even the absolute tiniest of debris can be like a boulder on a semiconductor—so the chips have to be washed, but with water that is itself absolutely clean.
The water must have nothing in it except water molecules—not only no specks of dirt or random ions, no salts or minerals, it can’t have any particles of any kind, not even minuscule parts of cells or viruses.
And so every microchip factory has a smaller factory inside that manufactures ultra-pure water. The ordinary person thinks of reverse-osmosis as taking “everything” out of water. RO is the process you use to turn ocean water into crystalline drinking water. And in human terms, RO does take most everything out of the water.
But for semiconductors, RO water isn’t even close. Ultra-pure water requires 12 filtration steps beyond RO. (For those of a technical bent, the final filter in making UPW has pores that are 20 nanometers wide. At the IBM semiconductor plant I visited, they send the 20 nm filters out to be inspected by a private company, using a scanning electron microscope. They want that company to find filters with nothing in them.)
Just the one IBM microchip plant in Burlington, Vermont, makes 2 million gallons of UPW a day for use in manufacturing semiconductors, and there are dozens of chip plants around the world. UPW is also used in pharmaceutical manufacturing, but it is a purely human form of water—water that is literally nothing like the stuff that exists naturally on Earth.
Water is a good cleaner because it is a good solvent—the so-called “universal solvent,” excellent at dissolving all kinds of things. UPW is particularly “hungry,” in solvent terms, because it starts so clean. That’s why it is so valuable for washing semiconductors.
It’s also why it’s not safe to drink. A single glass of UPW wouldn’t hurt you. But even that one glass of water would instantly start leeching valuable minerals back out of your body.
At the chip plants, the staff comes to regard UPW as just another part of a high-tech manufacturing process. One senior IBM official was stunned when I asked her what UPW tasted like. Despite presiding for years over the water purification process, she not only had never tasted it, it has never even occurred to her to taste it. One of her deputies had, though, and he piped right up. “I stuck my tongue in it,” he said. “It was horrid.”
In fact, super-clean water tastes flat, heavy, and bitter. The opposite of what we like. The appealing freshness in water comes not just from it’s temperature and its appearance, but from a sprinkling of salts and minerals that give it a crisp taste.
So there it is: Not only is it possible for water to be too clean to drink—it’s exactly that kind of water that makes your iPhone possible.
Adapted from The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water, by Charles Fishman.
Read more from The Big Thirst on FastCompany.com.
Source: Fast Company.
Plan targets farmers in 3 states to reduce Lake Erie algae
by John Seewer
TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Farmers in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana are being asked to be part of the solution in fixing the algae problem in Lake Erie. Federal officials on Friday outlined a program that will make $17.5 million available to farmers who take steps to reduce the pollutants that wash away from the fields and help the algae thrive.
Algae in water at Toledo’s water uptake point.
How will it work?
First, it’s a voluntary program so farmers won’t be forced to take part. And it only applies to those who have land in the western Lake Erie watershed, which is mostly made up of northwestern Ohio, southeastern Michigan and northeastern Indiana.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture will work with those farmers to reduce their field runoff by developing a plan that could include planting strips of grass or cover crops that help soil absorb and filer the phosphorus found in farm fertilizers and livestock manure.
Farmers would receive a payment from the government.
But that doesn’t mean all farmers who apply will be selected or get a payment.
The agriculture department will rank the applications based on what farms are most likely to have the biggest impact on reducing runoff. The department has been working with university scientists and soil experts to determine what areas they should target.
“We have hot spots,” Cosby said. “We’ve identified all that.”
Why target farm runoff?
Researchers have found that agriculture is the leading source of the phosphorus that feeds the algae in Lake Erie and other fresh water sources. Some researchers say as much as two-thirds comes from agriculture.
The algae blooms produce the type of toxins that contaminated the drinking water supply for Toledo and a sliver of southeastern Michigan for two days last August.
Source: Seattle Pi.
All Lakes Are Not Alike
by Kacy Ewing and Gene Franks
Lakes have always been a source of awe and mystery for human beings. Their formation can be just as amazing and mysterious.
The definition of a lake is any body of water that is not an ocean, that is of reasonable size, and that impounds water with little or no horizontal movement. There are a great variety of lake sizes and types. On one hand, you have pools that are slightly larger than ponds. The line between a pond and a lake is hazy and subjective. Where I come from, the body of water that Thoreau called Walden Pond would definitely be called a lake. On the other hand, you have giant lakes such as Lake Superior which contains enough water to submerge all of North and South America under a foot of water. All lakes, large or small, are part of the diverse ecosystem known as a lentic (Latin for sluggish) habitat. Probably even Thoreau didn’t know that.
Much of what causes lake formation is due to the work of glaciers. Glacial activity caused the creation of most of the natural lakes in the world. The process of glaciers scraping over time creates depressions that hold surface water, forming lakes. In mountain regions a cirque lake can form if glacial debris block the upper reaches of a mountain valley and then fill with water. Cirque lakes (from the French word for circus, named because of their concave amphitheater shape) are common to many mountain ranges in the United States and Canada including most ranges of Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Alberta, and British Columbia.
A Cirque Lake
While glacial activity is responsible for many lakes, lakes form in dry climates due to changes in precipitation during seasonal climate changes. Pluvial lakes are formed in this manner. These lakes, however, have long since disappeared through evaporation. They are also referred to as paleolakes.
A Pluvial Lake in the Mojave Desert
In addition to climate changes and glaciers, some lakes were formed by extraterrestrial forces. Almost eerie in its perfection, Lake Chubb (now called the Pingualuk lake) in Quebec is a perfectly shaped circle that occupies a meteorite crater that is 1.4 billion years old. At 876 feet (267 meters) deep it is one of the deepest lakes in North America. It is also one of the most transparent lakes in the world with objects used to measure water transparency visible more than 115 feet (35 meters) deep. There is a similar meteor crater near Flagstaff Arizona formed about 50,000 years ago that contained a much smaller, but similarly shaped pluvial lake.
While these two lakes were created by forces out of this world, Kettle lakes are created by what lies beneath the earth’s surface. They are depressions formed by stranded blocks of buried glacial ice that slowly melted during the Pleistocene epoch. As they melted the land surface above them collapsed and created a hole. If the collapse created a hole large enough to reach groundwater, a lake was formed. Kettle lakes are found generally in Ohio, Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Pennsylvania, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Quebec, and central and northern Europe. Most lakes in Michigan, in fact, could be described as kettle lakes.
The age of a lake can have a great impact on its characteristics. Lakes can be young, middle-aged, or old. Young lakes are known as oligotrophic lakes, and have bottoms that are very clean and lacking in organic material. A clean lake may sound pristine, but lacking this material means the lake also lacks a sufficient food source to provide appropriate habitat to produce plants and freshwater organisms. Over time, however, earthen particles and other organic materials from decaying plants and animals can build layers of materials making the lake a suitable home for plants and animals.
Middle aged lakes that have allowed for aquatic growth are referred to as mesotrophic lakes. When a lake ages, the amount of organic material and mineral deposits may become excessive and actually inhibit or stop the growth of aquatic plants and animals. An old lake of this type is called an eutrophic lake and is typically filled with an excess of organic and mineral materials.
In addition to all the naturally formed lake varieties, humans have formed many lakes as well. A reservoir is a human-made feature created by construction of a dam or dike. These man-made lakes are created for a variety of reasons including hydroelectricity, direct water supply, and of course, recreation. Salty or fresh lakes are some of the only freely available water sources on land. Mysterious and majestic, they are an important part of human and animal life.
Hoover Dam Created Lake Mead, a Man-Made Lake or Reservoir
Reference: Thomas V. Cech, Principles of Water Resources and the Wikipedia.
Water News for January 26, 2015
Brazil official: Rio won’t meet Olympic water cleanup pledge. Rio de Janeiro will not make good on its Olympic pledge of slashing the flow of raw sewage and garbage into the Guanabara Bay, where the 2016 games’ sailing and wind surfing competitions are to be held, the state’s top environmental official acknowledged.
Vermont farms fret over new sanctions for water pollution. Environmentalists are giving Gov. Peter Shumlin early accolades for his proposal to reduce the amount of phosphorus running into Lake Champlain. But a prominent agriculture group says the plan to clean up the lake might end up hurting the farms that operate near it.
Nearly 3 million gallons of brine spill; North Dakota oil boom’s largest leak. Nearly three million gallons of saltwater generated by oil drilling have leaked from a North Dakota pipeline, the largest such spill since the state’s current oil boom began and nearly three times worse than previous record spills. The saltwater, known as brine, is an unwanted byproduct of oil and natural gas production that is much saltier than sea water and may also contain petroleum and residue from hydraulic fracturing operations.
Matt Damon answers questions about water. We live in a complex and interconnected world. In order to solve some of the biggest challenges we face, such as ending extreme poverty, we know we must address and finally end the global water crisis for billions around the world.
Sao Paulo state has received only a third of the rainfall expected in the wet season.
Brazil’s most populous region facing worst drought in 80 years. Brazilian Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira has said the country’s three most populous states are experiencing their worst drought since 1930.
A New Oil Spill on the Yellowstone River
Probably the largest single water story of the week was the oil spill into the Yellowstone River. Here are some examples:
Drinking water trucked into Montana city after oil spill. Truckloads of drinking water were being shipped to the eastern Montana city of Glendive on Monday after traces of a major oil spill along the Yellowstone River were detected in public water supplies, raising concerns about a potential health risk.
New spill into Yellowstone River prompts pipeline upgrade order. Federal regulators on Friday ordered a pipeline company to make major upgrades to a line that spilled almost 40,000 gallons of oil into Montana’s Yellowstone River and fouled a local water supply.
Montana town’s water cleared for consumption after oil spill. A Montana town’s water supply, contaminated by oil from a breached pipeline over the weekend, became safe for drinking again Friday, state officials said, after tests showed a drop in concentrations of a cancer-causing petrochemical. The town of Glendive has been without water because of benzene contamination from the spill.
Ice hinders cleanup of Yellowstone oil pipeline spill. In eastern Montana, an oil spill under the Yellowstone River over the weekend has tainted the water supply of Glendive, a nearby town of about 6,000 people. The river’s thick ice cover, which is two feet in places, is complicating the cleanup efforts.
Exxon fined $1 million for 2011 Montana oil spill. Federal officials have issued a $1 million penalty against Exxon Mobil Corp. for safety violations stemming from a pipeline rupture in 2011 that spilled 63,000 gallons of crude into Montana’s Yellowstone River.
Two excellent reports on the state of the oceans from The Guardian:
Drowning in plastic. It will be difficult to explain to future generations how and why humanity decided to use the planet’s oceans as a dustbin for plastic, a material known for its durability. Perhaps we thought it magically evaporated.
‘Fifty miles out we could smell the pollution’: sailing amid the ocean litter. For the majority of landlubbers, the fact that the world’s oceans are clogging up with the detritus of a rampant consumer society can easily be ignored. For most, the watery expanses beyond our coastlines might just as well be another planet.
Obama’s EPA breaks pledge to divorce politics from science on toxic chemicals. The Obama administration’s plan has been a failure. In the past three years, the EPA has assessed fewer chemicals than ever. Last year, it completed only one assessment. Today, the agency has even embraced measures sought by the chemical industry.
Cancer group warns on fracking. The Cancer Association of SA says about 150 of the chemicals that companies use in shale-gas fracking are known to cause cancer or disrupt the endocrine system, leading to possible birth defects. Read about the fracking issue in South Africa.
Investment fund pours cash into cleaner, greener fish farming. Like it or not, our seafood increasingly originates not in the deep ocean but on fish farms hugging the coasts. Aquaculture already supplies about half of the world’s seafood, and global production is going to have to more than double by 2050 to meet demand, according to the World Resources Institute.
More Strong Evidence of the Link between the Weed Killer Atrazine and Cancer. Does Atrazine Act as a Fertilizer for Cancer Cells?
A controversial weed killer may inadvertently act as a fertilizer for human cancer cells — and scientists are closer to understanding how.
Researchers have pinpointed the cellular pathway that allows the herbicide atrazine to mimic estrogen and fire up cancer cells, according to a study published January 16 in Environmental Health Perspectives.
Atrazine, an herbicide that can seep from crop fields and pollute drinking water, is known to disrupt hormone signaling in humans (SN: 2/27/10, p. 18). Exposure to atrazine has been linked to increased rates of ovarian and breast cancer. In 2004, the European Union banned the chemical, but atrazine is widely applied in the United States.
Scientists have long suspected that atrazine acts as an estrogen doppelgänger in cells. But in a puzzling twist, researchers discovered that atrazine can’t rouse the main estrogen receptor. Through this receptor, the hormone — and presumably a mimic — sets off a response, gaining the power to turn on genes and control development of reproductive organs. Without such capabilities, atrazine’s hormonelike effects were surprising.
In the new study, researchers led by Marcello Maggiolini of the University of Calabria in Rende, Italy, found that atrazine binds to a different estrogen receptor, called GPER. They discovered that atrazine roused GPER in breast and ovarian cancer cells. The study also showed that the estrogen impostor spurred ovarian cancer cells to multiply. The above from Science News.
In scenic Rehoboth Beach in Delaware, a proposed sewer outfall causes nasty fallout. Rehoboth Beach has a plan to clean up Rehoboth Bay, which for decades has received waste water from a nearby sewer facility. The city’s solution is causing an uproar, because it would use a tunnel to divert the wastewater through a pipe to the ocean, a mile offshore.
The sand used for fracking is an often-unmentioned source of water pollution that results from the controversial oil extraction practice. Wisconsin’s frac sand industry is big business—and big trouble for the state’s waterways.Cattle farmer Ken Schmitt walked up to a creek near his Wisconsin farm last June. Instead of a crystal-clear brook, he saw what looked like coffee with cream. Effluent from a nearby mine, where a company harvests sand used in the fracking industry, had washed into the creek during a rainstorm.
Pure Water Annie’s FAQ Series.
Pure Water Gazette Technical Wizard Pure Water Annie Answers All the Persistent Questions about Water Treatment.
This week’s topic: Aer-Max aeration systems, for treatment of iron and hydrogen sulfide.
How does Aer-Max work?
Aer-Max works by providing a pocket of compressed air in the top third of a closed tank. When water containing hard-to-treat contaminants like iron, manganese, and hydrogen sulfide falls through the air pocket, the contaminants are oxidized so they can be easily removed by a filter. The compressed air is supplied by a small air pump. A vent is provided to keep the air pocket fresh. The Aer-Max system is not a filter. It prepares contaminants for easy removal by a filter that follows the aeration tank.
There are 110-volt and 220-volt systems. Which is better?
The voltage needed depends mainly on how the unit is to be controlled. The pump and vent can be turned off and on by having them wired directly into the electrical circuit that turns the well pump off and on. Since most well pumps run on 220 volt current, if you choose this method of control it’s easiest to use a 220-volt Aer-Max. If you use an alternative control system, like a flow switch or a simple timer, however, you would want the 110-volt system.
Which is the best way to control the system?
For residential use, the flow switch is the last choice. It turns the Aer-Max unit on when water flows through the pipe toward the home. Usually this results in frequent and short on/off cycles and is the least efficient way to operate the system. The conventional method is to bring 220-volt electrical receptacles for the air pump and the vent solenoid out of the pressure switch that controls the well pump. With this system, the AerMax is activated when the well pump runs and turns off when the well pump is not running. This is a proven system and it works well. Use of a simple timer, the kind used to turn lamps off and on a specified times, is becoming the most popular, however. It’s easiest to install: you just plug the pump and vent solenoid into the timer and plug the timer into a wall receptacle.
Standard Aer-Max System
But doesn’t the air pump have to be running while water is going through the treatment tank?
This is probably the biggest source of misunderstanding about how Aer-Max works. The rich pocket of compressed air in the top of the treatment tank needs only to be refreshed from time to time: effective treatment does not depend on fresh air entering while water is running through the tank. With hydrogen sulfide, for example, while a small amount of the offensive gas may be vented out of the tank by the drain system, treatment consists mainly of reducing the odor-causing gas to elemental sulfur so that it can be removed by the filter that follows the air treatment tank. Residential users who control the unit with timers usually run the air pump only about three times a week. This vents the tank and refreshes the air pocket. Unless you run large amounts of water, three times a week is enough.
What is the function of the three tubes attached to the aeration head in the illustration above?
From left, the first, the shortest, is a baffling device. It creates turbulence to enhance aeration as water entering the tank falls through the air pocket. The middle tube is the vent tube. It maintains the level of the air pocket in the tank. The long tube is the pickup tube for treated water being sent to the home.
What kind of filter has to be used after the Aer-Max?
Aer-Max enhances the performance of any standard iron filter medium. It works especially well with Birm, Filox, and Katalox Light. Media like ChemSorb and Filter Ag can be used as iron filters if the water is pre-treated with Aer-Max, and an especially effective treatment for both iron and low pH can be accomplished by using a backwashing calcite filter after Aer-Max. For large amounts of iron it’s best to use the best–Filox or Katalox Light. Both media will treat both iron and hydrogen sulfide after aeration.
Both Filox and Katalox Light work well with both hydrogen sulfide and iron. If hydrogen sulfide is present, Birm is not a good choice.
For hydrogen sulfide, catalytic carbon is the best available, but standard carbon also works well. Actually, any granular filter medium will remove odor after AerMax, but carbon is best. If no iron or manganese is present, a cartridge style carbon filter (4.5″ X 20″ preferred) can be used to treat hydrogen sulfide odor, but a cartridge filter will stop up quickly if there’s iron in the water. With iron and manganese, a backwashing filter is required.
Standard Air Pump Used for Aer-Max
I’m using a water softener to remove iron, but it isn’t quite doing the job. Can I install an Aer-Max unit in front of it to improve its performance?
No. The Aer-Max will actually interfere with the softener’s ability to remove iron by turning the ferrous iron to ferric. Filters catch ferric iron easily, but a softener is an ion exchanger, not a filter. If your water is hard and has iron, either remove both with the softener or use both filter and softener. The correct order of treatment if aeration is used is Aer-Max, iron filter, then softener.
How loud is the pump?
Approximately 50 decibels.
How long does the pump last, and does it need regular maintenance?
The pump usually runs 20,000 to 25,000 hours before bearings need replacement. It’s an easy pump to work on, and parts are available. The most common maintenance issue is cleaning. Although the pump has an air filter, in some environments it will need an occasional cleaning (see instructions).
Which works best — Aer-Max or the newer style single tank aeration/filtration systems that are becoming popular?
Aer-Max and the newer single tank units, which have the filter and the aeration treatment in the same tank, work on exactly the same principle but there are some significant differences. In general, the Aer-Max is more robust and will handle higher contaminant levels and higher flow rates. It can also be used to pre-treat for multiple filters. Single-tank setups, which use a venturi draw rather than an air pump, are more compact (one tank rather than two), easier to install, and less expensive to purchase. Once installed, both systems are low maintenance unless high levels of iron are involved. Any equipment removing iron will eventually need some cleaning. The Aer-Max plus filter arrangement is definitely preferred over single tank units for large amounts of iron or hydrogen sulfide–over 8 parts per million of either.
Does the Aer-Max have to be vented outdoors when treating hydrogen sulfide because of the odor?
Odor isn’t an issue, but water is. The 3/8″ drain tube will vent both air and water when when the vent valve is open, so it needs to be connected to a suitable drain. It is often teed into the drain tube or pipe that serves the backwashing filter, but it can simply be allowed to drain onto a lawn or water a shrub. The drain water isn’t toxic.
Think of our water supply as a giant milkshake
by Hardly Waite
Think of our water supply as a giant milkshake, and think of each demand for water as a straw in the glass. Most states permit a limitless number of straws—and that has to change.
You may receive a water bill every month, but you’re not actually paying for water. You’re paying for the cost of service, and this free-rider problem is contributing to the worsening water crisis that threatens to dehydrate the US.
Last year, metro Atlanta—home to 5 million people—came within 90 days of watching its principal water reserves dry up, and one Tennessee hamlet ran out of water entirely. Small towns in Texas and California ran completely out of water in 2014. More than 30 states are now fighting with their neighbors over water, and a surging US population means increasingly less to go around. Proposed solutions range from the expensive (desalination of ocean water) to the just plain unpopular (reuse of municipal waste).
Some may find the idea of charging for water itself immoral, as water authority Robert Glennon counters, “Precisely because water is a public—and exhaustible—resource, the government has an obligation to manage it wisely.”
Please visit our RO Parts Page for tanks and accessories. We also have dedicated parts pages for countertop water filters, undersink filters, and aeration equipment. We stock parts for everything we sell.
Thank you for reading. Please come back next week.
Places to Visit on Our Websites in the meantime.
Garden Hose Filters. Don’t be the last on your block to own one.
Model 77: “The World’s Greatest $77 Water Filter”
”Sprite Shower Filters: You’ll Sing Better!”
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