Water News Briefs

Posted March 21st, 2023

Water News Briefs for March 2023

New studies reveal that toilet paper can be a serious contributor to PFAS levels found in wastewater. Phys.org. For information about the origin of PFAS in toilet paper and significance, see the excellent Guardian report.

Lake Mead continues to shrink and is now at the lowest level it has been since it was first filled. “Lake Powell, the nation’s second-largest reservoir and one that provides water and power to millions of people in southern California, has reached its lowest levels since its first filling in the 1960s,” USA Today reported. “If the lake’s level falls much lower, it won’t be possible to get water out of it … If the lake falls another 32 feet — about the amount it fell in the past year — power generation concerns become more urgent.”  Pure Water Gazette. Ironically, as many areas suffer with record drought, recent storms have filled some California lakes to their highest level in years. Newsweek.

Alarmingly high levels of PFAS have been found in lakes in Alaska’s two largest cities,  Fairbanks and Anchorage.  Some lake water has PFAS levels 1000 times what is considered safe for drinking water. “Use of PFAS compounds began in the 1950s, and there are thousands of them. Most famously, they are found in flame-suppressants. Most of the environmental PFAS contamination in Alaska and many other places is believed to have been caused by use of those firefighting foams at airports, where their use is mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration. Military sites are also known for using such foams. But the PFAS compounds are widespread in consumer and industrial products like nonstick cookware, clothing, upholstery and personal-care goods such as shampoos. They are called “forever chemicals” because they do not degrade.”  Alaska Beacon.

An estimated 8,100 gallons of latex finishing material, a water-soluble acrylic polymer solution, was released into Otter Creek in Bristol, Pennsylvania, on March 25. Boil water alerts are expected. Yahoo.

The EPA has determined that US military bases with cancer-linked PFAS-contaminated drinking water have been significantly undercounted. “Data obtained from the Department of Defense (DOD) by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), under the Freedom of Information Act, show that locations with notably high levels of total PFAS include Fort Leavenworth, in Kansas; the Joint Forces Training Base, in California; Belmont Armory, in Michigan; McChord Air Force Base, in Washington; Fort Hunter Liggett, in California; and the Sierra Army Depot, in California.” When water at military bases is contaminated, communities in their vicinity are usually at risk as well.  Water Online.

The EPA has released new draft Maximum Containment Levels (MCL) for PFOA and PFOS (collectively part of the group of chemicals known as PFAS) permissible in drinking water at a national level.  The new allowable levels are 4 ppt for PFOA and 4 ppt for PFOS.  For context, one part per trillion is one drop per 21 million gallons of water.  See the full article below from Environmental Health News for details.

Chinese archaeologists discovered what may be one of the world’s oldest manual flush toilets — dating back 2,200 to 2,400 years, per Live Science.

A massive 5,000-mile seaweed bloom is approaching the Florida coast and threatening water quality. The seaweed, known as sargassum, can tangle up boats and other marine machinery, release dangerous hydrogen sulfide, and inundate beaches. The seeweed is laced with heavy metals like arsenic which make disposal and reuse extremely difficult. Research suggests the causes for this massive bloom are related to climate change and are similar to those that have been driving increases in source water algal bloom, which threatens drinking water quality, across the country.  Water Online.


Are We Slowly Dying of Thirst?

The world is facing an imminent water crisis, with demand expected to outstrip the supply of fresh water by 40% by the end of this decade, experts have said on the eve of a crucial UN water summit. Governments must urgently stop subsidising the extraction and overuse of water through misdirected agricultural subsidies, and industries from mining to manufacturing must be made to overhaul their wasteful practices, according to a landmark report on the economics of water. Nations must start to manage water as a “global commons”, because most countries are highly dependent on their neighbors for water supplies; and overuse, pollution and the climate crisis threaten water supplies globally, the report’s authors say.  — The Guardian.  Lkewise, the U.N. issued a warning that “vampiric overconsumption” is rapidly depleting the world’s water supply. BC Water News.


The world’s oceans are permeated with plastic waste, from surface waters to some of their deepest reaches. And we know from numerous studies that fish, turtles, seabirds and smaller sea creatures are ingesting bits of plastic when they feed. Now, scientists are starting to pin down the effects of a plastic diet.

Marine scientist Matthew Savoca explains findings from a recent study that identified a new illness, which the authors call plasticosis, in seabirds. Scarring in the birds’ digestive tracts resembles effects in humans who are longtime smokers or have been exposed to asbestos. As Savoca sees it, plasticosis “could be a sign that a new age of disease is upon us because of human overuse of plastics and other long-lasting contaminants, and their leakage into the environment.” The Conversation.