Water News — August 2023
Toxic “forever chemicals” in water systems around the nation.
Here are some highlights from an article from The Hill.
Toxic “forever chemicals” have contaminated water systems around the nation, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced.
Those chemicals could affect the drinking water of 26 million people, an environmental advocacy organization called the Environmental Working Group estimated based on the new EPA data.
Cities where high levels of some of the most toxic types of the chemicals were found include Fresno, Calif., and Dallas, Texas.
The EPA said that two of the most dangerous types of forever chemicals, known as PFOA and PFOS, were found at unsafe levels in between 7.8 and 8.5 percent of public water systems.
An official at the Environmental Working Group told The Hill he was “gobsmacked” by the results and said, “Millions of people have been drinking dangerously high levels of PFAS all of their lives and are learning about it today.”
PFAS are a group of toxic chemicals that have become pervasive in both U.S. water and in people. They have been used to make a variety of waterproof and nonstick products including Teflon pans, cosmetics, raincoats and stain removers.
Earlier this year, the EPA proposed regulating PFOA and PFOS, saying it would limit them to just 4 parts per trillion — but the new data shows that even some water systems serving big cities have levels of the chemicals that are higher than this.
A sample from Fresno, for example, saw 16 parts per trillion of PFOA and 29 parts per trillion of PFOS — 4 and 7.25 times the proposed regulatory level from the EPA.
Exposure to PFAS has been linked to illnesses including kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease and high cholesterol. They are sometimes referred to as “forever chemicals” because they build up and accumulate in a person’s body over time instead of breaking down.
A sample from Dallas also showed PFOA and PFOS above the EPA’s levels, at 4.7 parts per trillion and 5.1 parts per trillion respectively, while the Dallas sample had a total PFAS concentration of 53.4 parts per trillion.
The findings add to a body of literature indicating that these chemicals are widespread. A July assessment from the U.S. Geological Survey found that PFAS were in 45 percent of U.S. taps.
For PFAS overall, which is a broad class of thousands of chemicals, Fresno had 194.3 parts per trillion.
Release of water from Fukushima
The long-anticipated and very controversial release into the ocean of contaminated cooling water from Japan’s failed Fukushima nuclear power plant has begun. The main issue from a water quality perspective is the discharge of tritium, which cannot be removed by treatment before the water is released. There is significant disagreement about the impact of tritium on water quality. See the Guardian for a full discussion.
Other Water News
A 127-year-old water main under New York’s Times Square gave way on Aug. 29, flooding midtown streets and the city’s busiest subway station.
The 20-inch (half-meter) pipe gave way under 40th Street and Seventh Avenue at 3 a.m., and quickly delivered a wet reminder of the perils of aging infrastructure beneath the city’s crowded streets.
The rushing water was only a few inches deep on the street, but videos posted on social media showed the flood cascading into the Times Square subway station down stairwells and through ventilation grates. The water turned the trenches that carry the subway tracks into mini rivers and soaked train platforms.
New York City has about 6,800 miles (10,900 kilometers) worth of water mains — enough pipe to stretch from Times Square to Tokyo — and has spent $1.9 billion in the past three years upgrading outdated water and sewer lines. Breaks happen somewhere in the city almost every day, though the city said the 402 water main breaks last year were the second lowest number on record, and better than average for a U.S. city if the size of the system is taken into account. AP.