The Pure Water Occasional for November 3, 2014
In this Election Day Eve Occasional you’ll hear about alkaline hydrolysis, the environmental impact of dying (and of not dying), the sex life of placoderms, the dire consequences of pig farm flooding and gas station fuel drips, tumors in turtles, brackish water, the water crisis in Brazil, water pollution that glows, and a plan to turn Boston into Venice. Then there’s arsenic in rice (yes, even Rice Krispies), the continuing Camp Lejeune saga, fracking ban elections awash with corporate money, and pollution from dairy farms and riverbank grazing. You’ll hear about the clasper, meet MVP McKenna Martin, thrill to the wisdom of staff writers Pure Water Annie and Bee Sharper, 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.)
How to Be Eco-Friendly When You’re Dead
by Shannon Palus
Gazette Introductory Note: We’ve visited the issue of body disposal and water quality before. See, for example, “How the dead pollute water.” Also, “Formaldehyde as a Water Contaminant.” Clearly both burial and cremation have advantages and disadvantages. The Atlantic article below examines the options in greater detail and introduces such concepts as “green cremation.” –Hardly Waite.
When Phil Olson was 20, he earned money in the family business by draining the blood from corpses. Using a long metal instrument, he sucked the fluid out of the organs, and pumped the empty space and the arteries full of three gallons of toxic embalming fluid. This process drains the corpse of nutrients and prevents it from being eaten by bacteria, at least until it’s put into the ground. Feebly encased in a few pounds of metal and wood, it wasn’t long until all the fluid and guts just leak back out.
Most of the bodies Olson prepared in his family’s funeral home would then be buried in traditional cemeteries, below a lawn of grass that must be mowed, watered, sprayed with pesticides, and used for nothing else, theoretically until the end of time.
Cemeteries “are kind of like landfills for dead bodies,” says Olson. Today, as a philosopher at Virginia Tech, his work looks at the alternatives to traditional funeral practices. He has a lot to think about: The environmentally friendly funeral industry is booming, as people begin to consider the impacts their bodies might have once they’re dead. Each year, a million pounds of metal, wood, and concrete are put in the ground to shield dead bodies from the dirt that surrounds them. A single cremation requires about two SUV tanks worth of fuel. As people become increasingly concerned with the environment, many of them are starting to seek out ways to minimize the impact their body has once they’re done using it.
There all kinds of green practices and products available these days on the so-called “death care” market. So many, in fact, that in 2005 Joe Sehee founded the Green Burial Council—a non-profit that keeps tabs on the green funeral industry, offering certifications for products and cemeteries. Sehee saw a need to prevent meaningless greenwashing in the green burial world. “It is a social movement. It’s also a business opportunity,” he said. So what’s the most environmentally friendly way to dispose of a body? It all depends on your preferences.
For those who still want to be be buried, a greener approach may include switching out the standard embalming fluids made of a combination of formaldehyde and rubbing alcohol, with ones made of essential oils. And instead of a heavy wood and metal box that will take years to degrade and leave behind toxic residue, there are now Green Burial Council-certified biodegradable cedar caskets.
Others are choosing to forgo the casket completely and opt for what’s called a “natural burial,” involving only a burlap sack buried in the woods. If you don’t have a forest handy, in some cities bodies may soon be placed in an industrial sized compost bin, and turned over to create fertile soil.
That’s the idea behind the Urban Death Project, which envisions a three-story downtown cemetery for bodies: a stylized pit of sorts, filled with carbon-rich material. Microbes decompose the bodies into a compost. It is a green practice, but not simply a utilitarian one: Urban Death Project bills itself as “a space for contemplation of our place in the natural world.” Bodies are “folded back into the communities where they have lived,” the website explains.
For those who might have opted for cremation rather than burial, there are green alternatives to that as well. Currently on the market is a method called “green cremation” that uses a pressurized metal chamber and bath of chemicals. The technique started out as a way to dispose of lab animals at Albany Medical College, and it is now legal for use on humans in just eight states.
In this method, also known as alkaline hydrolysis, bodies are dissolved into a liquid that is safe to flush into the sewage system. Overall, the process uses 90 percent less energy than traditional cremation—though it will skyrocket a funeral home’s water bills. “It uses a ton, a ton, of water,” says Olson. According to an alkaline hydrolysis system manufacturer, about 300 gallons per human body. Olson thinks recycled “grey water” could be used to cut down on the water waste. But he wonders: “Will families say, ‘I don’t want grandma dissolved in dirty dishwater’?”
Olson says that it’s not necessarily the green-ness of this new cremation that appeals to people. It’s how gentle it seems. “Burning grandma in fire seems to be violent,” he says. “In contrast, green cremation is ‘putting grandma in a warm bath.’”
And that perception is generally far more important to people than the eco-friendliness of the process. Even projects that put the environment front-and-center emphasize the feeling of a pleasant exit, and a lasting connection to the Earth.
So what does Sehee look for in a truly green burial? Something that works to actively conserve rural land. The council awards three leaves—the highest rating available—to burial plots that not only eschew embalming fluid and vaults, but double as conservation spaces. A three-leaved process does away with nearly every environmental concern related to burial and cremation and works to keep land free of development and pesticide.
Ultimately, which eco-friendly exit you choose is mostly about personal comfort. And if the choices seem daunting, it’s worth remembering: Even the most energy-intensive acts of burial pale in comparison to the carbon footprint you’re leaving right now.
Source: The Atlantic.
by Nancy Gross
Brackish groundwater: The bad news is that it has higher levels of TDS than potable water, so you can’t just pump it out of the ground to include among drinking water resources. But the good news is that it has a lower concentration of TDS than seawater, which means that treating it is less energy-intensive and more cost-effective.
Nonetheless, the US Department of the Interior explains some cons along with the pros:
Brackish waters can be found in coastal areas (bays and estuaries, where fresh water mixes with salt water), in aquifers (where it is usually referred to as saline water), and in surface waters (salt marshes, for instance, contain brackish water). Brackish water sources produce a number of challenges for use:
* Water salinity allows for a broader range of applicable treatment technologies than seawater desalination
* Water composition can include large concentrations of sparingly soluble carbonate and silica salts that can cause scaling
* The affect of long term pumping of brackish ground water aquifers on fresh groundwater resources is unknown
* Issues of concentrate discharge are related to inland concentrate management
A number of utilities in the West and Southwest are implementing brackish water desalination to augment their water supply. San Antonio Water System is a prominent example. You can read about their brackish desal program, beyond the paragraphs copied below, on the SAWS website:
San Antonio Water System is currently developing a brackish groundwater desalination program in southern Bexar County. Brackish groundwater is a plentiful, previously untapped local source of water that will help diversify San Antonio’s supplies.
SAWS future desalination facility will generate about 12 million gallons of water per day (mgd) or 13,440 acre-feet per year from the Wilcox Aquifer in Phase I. The plant will be located at the existing SAWS Twin Oaks Aquifer Storage & Recovery site.
The well sites will be located on adjacent SAWS property. Phases II and III will be completed in 2021 and 2026 respectively and will deliver a total of more than 30 mgd or 33,600 acre-feet per year. The total capital costs of the program for all three phases, including land acquisition, feasibility, design, construction and SAWS overhead is currently estimated at about $411.4 million. The cost per acre-foot of all three phases of the program is estimated at $1,138.
Source: Water Efficiency.
First Sex Occurred in Water: Now We Know
by Gene Franks
Copulation in progress. If you’re 18 or older, you can see an animated version of the primitive sex act here.
On October 19, 2014, the prestigious British science journal Nature reported findings by Professor John Long et al of Flinders University which it hailed as “one of the biggest discoveries in the evolutionary history of sexual reproduction.”
Nature a couple of weeks ago rejected as “too controversial” a paid advertisement from the Dr. Bronner soap company which presented solid research linking GMO agriculture to increased use of pesticides The the journal did not hesitate, however, to give its hearty endorsement to conclusions about events that took place 385 million years ago and that might not be completely convincing to everyone.
Professor Long et al. “found that internal fertilisation and copulation appeared in ancient armoured fishes, called placoderms, about 385 million years ago in what is now Scotland.” Long reached this conclusion after stumbling across a single fossil bone in the collections of the University of Technology in Tallinn, Estonia last year. Long concluded that the bone is a “clasper” or primitive penis as it were. The discovery, Long says, ” now pushes the origin of copulation back even further down the evolutionary ladder, to the most basal of all jawed animals. Basically it’s the first branch off the evolutionary tree where these reproductive strategies started.”
You can read the full account of Dr. Long’s discovery and see a computer simulation of a 385 million year old placoderm tryst on the Archaeology News Network.
Water News for the Week
A desalination plant in San Diego County will pump out 50 million gallons of water per day to provide residents with water. See video.
Flooding is an environmental disaster in heavy pig farming areas where excrement ponds wash into the local water supply. North Carolina is the home of 8.9 million hogs—nearly as many as its human population of 9.8 million—making it the second largest pork producer in the nation. And despite a $17.1 million research project on waste options, it seems no one, in this state or elsewhere, quite knows what to do with all that hog manure.
What to do about pig manure? North Carolina fights rising tide. North Carolina and other hog-heavy states such as Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois and Indiana are the leading suppliers of meat to a nation with an abiding love of cheap pig flesh. But residents must contend with waste from millions of hogs, which fouls the air near operations and can contaminate local water supplies.
In Florida, a water-pollution warning that glows at night. Karen McLaughlin normally carries a flashlight for her nighttime kayak trips along Florida’s Banana River to spot any alligators resting on the banks. But these days, it’s the river itself that glows in the dark.
Michigan, New York, Minnesota test fisheaters’ blood for contaminants. Health authorities in New York, Michigan and Minnesota are waiting for the results of tests for elevated levels of chemicals and metals in people who eat lots of Great Lakes fish.
Will Boston someday look like Venice? Sea levels are rising, the land is sinking. It’s going to become a big problem for some cities on the US East Coast, so in Boston people are thinking the unthinkable – copying Venice and Amsterdam, and becoming a city of canals. How Boston is rethinking its relationship with the sea.
McKenna Martin of the Lodi Flames reaches back before firing a shot during a varsity girls water polo game against Tokay High School in Lodi on Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014. The Tigers did a good job defending against the reigning MVP in their 7-6 win.
Numerous local water polo players were recently honored when the All-Sac-Joaquin Section team was announced. Leading the way were McKenna Martin of the Lodi Flames and Taylor Brown of the Tokay Tigers, with both being named to the first team.
Martin led the Flames to a league championship and a playoff berth while Brown, a goalkeeper, helped the Tigers pull off a first-round upset in the playoffs and nearly another upset in the second round.
Making the second team were Lodi’s Olivia Grim and Tokay’s Brooke Mahoney. Full story.
Research indicates gasoline can seep through concrete, probably in vapor form.
Fuel drips at gas stations may add up to big problem, study says. Little things can become a big deal, especially if they happen over and over again. A recently published study suggests that may be true of the many small spills that occur when motorists refuel their vehicles at service stations. Researchers estimate that roughly 1,500 liters of gas are spilled at a typical gas station over a decade, where as many as 10,000 vehicles refuel in a month. At the newer mega-stations that have been built in recent years, the fuel loss — and impacts — could be even greater over time.
The Outrageous Camp Lejeune Water Scandal Continues
Despite promises by the Department of Veterans Affairs, critics of the agency say they don’t trust it to help Marine Corps family members exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune because the VA is still fumbling the cases of sickened veterans two years after Congress ordered they be treated for free or at low cost.
The VA announced last week that it’s ready to begin compensating family members for the out-of-pocket costs they have incurred since March 2013 for 15 medical conditions associated with exposure to chemicals that entered the drinking water at the Eastern North Carolina military base. The Marine Corps has said the water was contaminated with more than a dozen chemicals, including known carcinogens, between 1957 and 1987.
The military has said that between 750,000 and 1 million people – veterans, family members and civilian workers – may have been exposed to contaminated water before the tainted sources were shut down. Diseases or conditions they may have developed that are named in the law are: bladder cancer; miscarriage; breast cancer; multiple myeloma; esophageal cancer; myelodysplastic syndromes; female infertility; neurobehavioral effects; hepatic steatosis; non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; kidney cancer; renal toxicity; leukemia; scleroderma; and lung cancer.
In 2012, after years of pressure, Congress ordered the VA to take care of veterans and their families who had suffered ill effects from the exposures. The law took effect when President Barack Obama signed it in August of that year. Read the rest in the Charlotte Observer.
In October, a team of scientists linked the tumors like these in seven species of marine turtles to pollution being absorbed by sea grass that turtles eat.
Tumors in Florida’s endangered sea turtles linked to polluted oceans. For decades, green sea turtles have been plagued by a virus that causes cauliflower-like tumors to sprout from their eyes, mouths, fins and soft tissue. Now researchers think they have an answer for what’s causing the tumors.
Election-year water crisis taking a toll on Brazil’s economy. After a grueling election campaign in which officials faced fierce criticism for downplaying the effects of a year-long drought, Brazil’s most populous state is finally coming to terms with an uncomfortable reality: It is running out of water.
3 California counties voting on fracking bans. Voters in three coastal California counties vote Tuesday on whether to ban fracking and other intensive oil production, even as slumping prices globally are leading companies to start to scale back on production
Chevron, ExxonMobil and other oil companies have donated about $7 million to try to defeat the fracking bans in Santa Barbara, San Benito and Monterey counties. In Santa Barbara and San Benito counties, the ballot measures would ban not only fracking — a method of injecting water and chemicals into rock at high pressure to force out oil — but one of the most commonly used drilling methods in the state, steam injection.
Chevron money rains down on Richmond election. With its mighty East Bay refinery under attack from environmentally minded politicians here, Chevron is pouring staggering sums of money into this blue-collar town’s local election — raising eyebrows across the nation and questions about the role global corporations should play in local politics.
Judge blames toxic Kewaunee County wells on ‘massive regulatory failure.’ An administrative law judge says “massive regulatory failure” led to groundwater contamination in a dairy farming region and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources must use its powers to prevent further pollution.
Report: Majority of Montana’s waters impaired. Many think of Montana’s lakes and streams as being clean, but a closer look shows that state waters have a number of issues, as described in the latest state water quality report.
In Praise of Tap Water
From the press release announcing American Water’s 125th Anniversary celebration:
“The seemingly small decision to drink tap water rather than bottled water can have a major impact on the environment,” commented Dr. Mark LeChevallier, director of Innovation and Environmental Stewardship for American Water. “Disposable plastic bottles are burdening our landfills and increasing fuel consumption through their production and delivery.” More than 1.5 million gallons of oil are used each year to produce the disposable plastic water bottles consumed in the U.S., and significant amounts of fuel are required to transport the bottles, as well.
Additionally, consumers can realize significant savings by relying less on disposable water bottles and more on tap water in refillable bottles. Tap water is typically available from the faucet for less than a penny a gallon as a national average. Depending on the brand, bottled water costs 250 to 10,000 times more than tap water. Consumers drinking their recommended eight glasses of water a day from the tap, may spend approximately $3.65 (based on a glass of water being 8 ounces) a year. Purchasing the same amount in bottled water can add up to $1,400 annually. Ounce-for-ounce, bottled water can cost more than gasoline or even milk.
The Occasional’s Comment: Assuming even a five to one usage ratio, home-produced reverse osmosis water would cost (according to American Water’s figures) about $18 per year vs. $1,400 for bottled water. This puts all the “RO wastes water” concerns in a different perspective. From the environmental point of view, saying “I don’t want to waste water with a home RO unit, so I’ll drink bottled water,” ignores the water and energy used in producing the bottled water and the bottle, plus the large energy expenditure for transporting it to the consumer. Long live tap water, but make it better than bottled water by treating it in your home with a point-of-use drinking water filter or reverse osmosis unit.
The above was reprinted from the Occasional for April of 2011.
Gazette Numerical Wizard Bea Sharper brings you up to date on the current water news in numbers.
Estimated loss to leakage in the water system of drought-stricken Sao Paulo — 40%.
Percentage of the wells tested in the Kinnard Farms dairy region of Kenaunee County, WI that showed unsafe levels of nitrates and E. coli –30%.
According to the 2014 Montana state water quality report, the rank of “grazing on riverbanks and shorelines” as a cause of water “impairment”– #1.
Rank of irrigated farm crops — #2.
Percentage of Montana’s natural waters that do not support aquatic life because of chemical pollution, excess sediment or bank degradation — 70%.
Estimated number of seabirds killed by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill — 700,000.
Estimated number of seabirds killed by the Exxon Valdez oil spill — 250,000.
Fraction of Britain’s rice imports (including Rice Krispies and Smooth Baby Rice) that exceeds new EU arsenic standards — 1/2.
Estimated personal cost of drinking bottled water for a year — $1,400.
Pure Water Gazette technical writer Pure Water Annie explains how to determine your well’s water output.
If you own a well, you will want to determine how much water it can put out on a sustained basis before you purchase water treatment equipment. This is especially true for backwashing filters. If the iron filter you’re considering, for example, requires a sustained 10 minute backwash at nine gallons per minute, you have to find out if your well is capable of furnishing a sustained 9 gallons per minute. It isn’t enough to fill a five-gallon bucket in five seconds and assume that you have 12 gallons per minute at your disposal. What you need to find out is how much water the pump, without assistance from the pressure tank, puts out after the tank is empty. Here’s how you do it.
Turn off all taps and water-using appliances in the home.
Find an outdoor spigot in a place that will allow you to observe your well pump’s activity. You’ll need to know when the pump turns on and off. The output capacity of the spigot itself doesn’t matter.
Run water from the spigot until the pump comes on, then close the faucet and let the pump fill the tank and shut off.
With the tank now full, find a container, or multiple containers (e. g. 5-gallon buckets) that will allow you to measure the content of your well tank. Turn on the spigot and catch the water until the pump comes on.
When the pump comes on, immediately close the faucet and time the seconds it takes for the pump to turn off. (This means that the tank is full.)
Now you know the amount of water the tank holds and the number of seconds it takes to refill it. You can determine the well pump’s gallon-per-minute capacity by using the following formula:
Gallons collected, divided by seconds it took to refill the tank, multiplied by 60. (You multiply by sixty to convent the seconds to minutes, because your answer needs to be in gallons per minute.)
For example, if you collected 15 gallons and it took 75 seconds for your pump to refill the tank, your equation would look like this: (15/75)X60 = 12 GPM.
If you collected 18 gallons and it took 55 seconds for your pump to shut off, the formula would be: (18/55) X 60 = 19.6 GPM.
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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