The Pure Water Occasional for March 3, 2014
In this cold March Occasional, you’ll read about fluoride’s link to ADHD, the tragedy of arsenic in drinking water in India, Bangladesh and the USA, the scary Mexican water monster axolotl, and not-so-scary heteratrophic bacteria. You’ll read about dying shellfish, dirty water in Delaware, and the water woes of West Virginia and Wichita Falls. Hear about the WHO’s meddlesome venture into water treatment equipment evaluation, water projects in Cypress and Ethiopia, Template Assisted Chrystallization, and the dire situation with Texas’ Lake Arrowhead. And, as always, there is much, much more.
To read this issue on the Pure Water Gazette’s website, please go here.
Editor’s Note: Questions arise about bacterial growth in home water pipes after a point of entry filter has removed chlorine from city water and about bacteria that might populate undersink reverse osmosis storage tanks. Such concerns are more about marketing than about health, as the discussion of the harmless (and perhaps even helpful) bacteria that grow in RO tanks and water filters reveals.–Hardly Waite.
Not All Heterotrophic Bacteria Are This Attractive
Heterotrophic bacteria (HPC) are naturally occurring bacteria which usually have no consequence for human health. Numerous studies, in fact, have shown them to be of no human consequence.
These bacteria are found in trace amounts in public and bottled water, as well as on fresh fruits and vegetables. They frequently inhabit the inner regions of water filtration equipment. They can grow in carbon beds, for example, and they may be found in reverse osmosis units downstream of the initial dechlorinating filter.
Although they may be a bit of an aesthetic nuisance, forming a slickness on the surface of filter cartridges, for example, they pose no threat to health.
In one study of HPC in reverse osmosis units, the authors concluded:
… there may be benefits to higher levels of heterotropic bacteria in drinking water. Rollinger and Dott present coincidental evidence that heterotrophic bacteria suppresses growth of coliforms and other enteric pathogens. In another study, inoculation of filters with three different pathogens resulted in no vigorous growth, and even an eventual die- off when dechlorinated tap water was being filtered. Thus, some evidence indicated there may be benefits to having heterotrophic bacteria populate filters.
Hardness in water, technically, is determined by the content of calcium and magnesium salts. These salts are formed when calcium and magnesium combine with bicarbonates, sulfates, chlorides, and nitrates.
The standard measurement of hardness in water is “grains per gallon,” with a grain representing 17.1 parts per million. Grains per gallon is usually reported on water tests “as calcium carbonate” (CaCO3) to facilitate comparison with other constituents of the water.
There are a variety of definitions of where “hard” water begins, but there is general agreement that water of 7 grains per gallon or more is hard enough that things would be improved by a water softener.
Hardness has undesirable side effects for residential water users. Notably, hardness forms a hard scale in pipes and appliances that shortens their life and deceases their effectiveness. Recent studies have shown that hardness scale in hot water heaters wastes large amounts of energy by making the heater less efficient. Hard water also requires the use of more laundry products.
The standard treatment for hardness is the cation exchanger, commonly know as a water softener. Reverse osmosis also removes hardness but it is usually not a practical treatment because hardness is harmful to reverse osmosis membranes. There are also alternative treatments, many of them controversial, that do not remove the hardness minerals but condition them so that they are less harmful.
This water softener alternative does not use salt or electricity. It works by a principal known as Template Assisted Chrystallization.
This Week’s Water News from Around the World
Top news stories included innumerable water main breaks and lingering fears of more leaking chemical tanks in West Virginia. Plus, the irony that formerly drought stricken lakes are now at flood stage, and that this week much needed rain is threatening to bring mud slides to California.
Mystery surrounds massive die-off of shellfish off coast of British Columbia. Something is killing oysters and scallops in dramatic numbers, causing suppliers to warn of shortages and producers to worry about the future of their businesses. The cause is unknown, but ocean acidification is the main suspect.
CDC still working on West Virginia leak impact studies. A month after completing their work in West Virginia, federal scientists are still working to finalize an analysis of hospital records of residents who were treated after last month’s Elk River chemical leak, and are planning additional work to help understand the leak’s public health impact.
Delaware’s dirty water. Thousands of miles of water run through Delaware, in creeks and streams and rivers and bays, and very little of it is considered healthy. Nearly all of the state’s rivers and streams — 94 percent, the highest amount in the region — are so bad that fish can’t thrive.
More chemical tanks found near West Virginia drinking water intakes. West Virginia inspectors have discovered 600 more above-ground chemical storage tanks located near public drinking-water supplies, pushing their current inventory to more than 1,600 such tanks, according to data made public Thursday.
Cyprus water plan: Peace pipeline or Trojan Horse? A new water pipeline will soon link Turkey with Cyprus’ Turkish side and potentially eliminate chronic water shortages for generations. It may even help open a path to reconciliation with the Greek side of Cyprus.
Ethiopia plans to tap groundwater as climate defence. The Ethiopian government is now planning to tap into its largely unexploited groundwater resources, both to sustain a population of over 90 million – many of whom suffer from water shortages – and to alleviate the impacts of climate stresses.
3D maps reveal a lead-laced ocean. About 1000 meters down in a remote part of the Atlantic Ocean sits an unusual legacy of humanity’s love affair with the automobile. It’s a huge mass of seawater infused with traces of the toxic metal lead, a pollutant once widely emitted by cars burning leaded gasoline.
Mexico experts sight endangered ‘water monster. Mexico’s salamander-like axolotl apparently hasn’t disappeared from its only known natural habitat in Mexico City’s few remaining lakes. Researchers say they have sighted, but not caught, two of the slippery little creatures during a second effort to find them.
Lake Superior hit its normal level in February for the first time in nine years, according to the International Lake Superior Board of Control. Lake Superior now sits 13 inches above the level of March 1, 2013, and appears to be continuing an upward trend that started about one year ago. The lake has now pulled far away from its lowest points, when it hit monthly record lows in August and September 2007.
While three years ago 88 percent of Texas was classified in ‘exceptional drought,’ Wichita Falls is just one percent of the state still in that category.
The city’s main water source, Lake Arrowhead, is at just 27 percent of its capacity, even with city water restrictions that have brought usage down from 50 million to 12 million gallons per day.
As most residents already rely on bottled water in the face of the extreme restrictions, the city is currently in a 45-day test period for blending 50 percent lake water with 50 percent wastewater to use for drinking water, the first city in the world to do so.
Water will be pumped directly from the wastewater treatment facility to the water treatment plant where it will undergo four stages of purification; purified water will be sent to the state environmental quality department for testing following the 45-day period. Full story.
EPA takes enforcement action against South Carolina water company The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken enforcement action against Utilities Inc. for failing to prevent at least 27 sewer overflows since the start of 2013.
Large numbers of Indians and Bangladeshis are exposed to a high level of arsenic in their drinking water. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, estimates vary from a low of 28 to 35 million to a high of 77 million—more than half the population of Bangladesh, one of the most crowded nations. It is estimated that over a million Indians are also drinking arsenic-laced water. Newer cases of arsenic poisoning in the Ganges Basin suggest that many of the region’s 449 million residents could be at risk.
Bangladeshis are being poisoned—usually without knowing it—by drinking water drawn from wells. Three decades ago health and development experts, and small local contractors, dug millions of deep tube wells throughout Bangladesh. The experts encouraged the whole nation to drink well water because it was deemed to be safe, free of the bacteria that causes water-borne diseases such as diarrhea and other intestinal maladies that have long plagued the tropical country.
But in switching from rivers and other surface sources of water, the people of Bangladesh may have exchanged water-borne diseases for slow poisoning by arsenic. In the 1970’s public health specialists and government policy-makers were unaware of the problem. It was only in 1993 that “clean” well water was discovered to contain dangerous quantities of the poison.
WHO’s most recent guideline for the maximum amount of arsenic in drinking water recommends 10 parts per billion (ppb). That was in 1993 when it was lowered to that level from 50 ppb. But most water consumed in arsenic-affected areas in Bangladesh has substantially higher levels, frequently far above 50 ppb.
Arsenic-contaminated water is not restricted to developing countries. In the western states of the United States of America about 13 million people drink arsenic-tainted water, albeit less contaminated than the well water in Bangladesh. Australia, too, has arsenic-contaminated water. So do Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Hungary, Mexico, Taiwan (Province of China), Thailand, Vietnam, and the eastern areas of India in Bengal.
Arsenic poisoning is recognizable from skin color changes, blotches all over the face and body, hyper pigmentation on the chest and upper arms, hard patches on palms and soles of the feet, inability to walk, debilitating pain, and watery eyes.
Arsenic Poisoning Causes Changes in Skin Coloring
In the developed world, sophisticated methods of arsenic treatment exist. US well owners avail themselves of reverse osmosis, specialized filtration and ion exchange technologies to remove arsenic from water that tests a few parts per billion over the 10 ppb MCL. These technologies are not available in Bangladesh and other poor regions. A variety of simple filters have been devised to address arsenic poisoning in these regions with varying degrees of success.
For more information about arsenic and treatment of arsenic, please go to our Water Treatment Issues section.
Harvard Research Links Fluoridated Water to ADHD, Mental Disorders
By Ethan A. Huff
A leading cause of ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) and autism in children could be the hidden chemicals lurking in the foods we eat, the water we drink and the products we consume, says a new study recently published in The Lancet. Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS) found that, among other things, the fluoride chemicals added to many public water systems in North America directly contribute to both mental and behavioral disorders in children.
Building upon earlier research published in 2006 that dubbed fluoride as a “developmental neurotoxicant,” the new review included a meta-analysis of 27 additional studies on fluoride, most of which were from China, that linked the chemical to lowered IQ in children. After thorough analysis, it was determined that fluoride obstructs proper brain development and can lead to autism spectrum disorders, dyslexia, ADHD and other health conditions, a “silent epidemic” that many mainstream health authorities continue to ignore.
According to the two main researchers involved in the study, Philippe Grandjean from HSPH and Philip Landrigan from ISMMS, incidences of chemical-related neurodevelopmental disorders have doubled over the past seven years from six to 12. The reason for this is that an increasing number of mostly untested chemicals are being approved for use without the public being told where and in what quantities such chemicals are being used.
“Since 2006, the number of chemicals known to damage the human brain more generally, but that are not regulated to protect children’s health, had increased from 202 to 214,” writes Julia Medew for The Sydney Morning Herald. “The pair said this could be the tip of the iceberg because the vast majority of the more than 80,000 industrial chemicals widely used in the United States have never been tested for their toxic effects on the developing foetus or child.”
Fluoride must be immediately removed from public water supplies for child safety
While pesticides dominated the duo’s list as the most pervasive and damaging chemicals whose presence the public is largely unaware of, fluoride, which is intentionally added to public water supplies as a supposed protectant against tooth decay, is also highly problematic. It is also largely ignored by public health authorities as a possible factor in childhood development problems, even though the science is clear about its dangers.
Like lead, certain industrial solvents and crop chemicals, fluoride is known to accumulate in the human bloodstream, where it eventually deposits into bones and other bodily tissues. In pregnant women, this also includes passing through the bloodstream into the placenta, where it then accumulates in the bones and brain tissue of developing babies. The effects of this are, of course, perpetually damaging, and something that regulatory authorities need to take more seriously.
“The problem is international in scope, and the solution must therefore also be international,” stated Grandjean in a press release, calling for improved regulatory standards for common chemicals. “We have the methods in place to test industrial chemicals for harmful effects on children’s brain development — now is the time to make that testing mandatory.”
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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”
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