Series: Please stop complaining about your water!

This is post is for all of the people who have asked me lately if the water in my town will cause them to sprout a third eye (or something similar in ridiculous-ness) and those that complain about the cost of the new Reverse Osmosis treatment. And also, for everyone that just has something ‘against tap water’. Yes, I am getting up on my soapbox (but this is the only place I am allowed to do that so give me a little bit of a break and hear me out.)

Did you know that 3.575 million people die each year from a water related disease?

 (That is equal to the population of Los Angeles.)

Except, drinking water chlorination and filtration have helped to virtually eliminate these diseases in the U.S. and other developed countries.

So why does a child die every 20 seconds from drinking contaminated water?

If we have the technology, why do 884 million people lack access to clean water? (By the way, that is equal to the U.S. population… times 3.)

How can you complain that your water bill went up (even though you can get more than 10 gallons of water for less than a penny) when people living in the slums of third world countries often pay 5-10 times more per liter of water than wealthy people living in the same city.

Did you know that by taking a five-minute shower you use more water than a typical person in a developing country slum uses in a whole day?

Turns out the average person in the developing world uses 2.64 gallons of water a day.
The average person in the United Kingdom uses 35.66 gallons of water per day.
The average person in the United States uses between 100 and 175 gallons every day.
Also, It takes 1.32 gallons of water to make just 1 bottle of water.
To make just the meat of one-quarter pound hamburger, 2900 gallons of water are used.

How about the fact that the water and sanitation crisis claims more lives through disease than any war claims through guns.

Or maybe that diarrhea, yes diarrhea, remains the second leading cause of death among children under five globally. Nearly one in five child deaths – about 1.5 million each year – is due to diarrhea. It kills more young children than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined.

In just one day, more than 200 million hours of women’s time is used collecting water. This time is equivalent to the number of hours worked by WalMart, UPS, McDonald’s, IBM, Target, and Kroger employees over a week’s time, combined.

 So much work put into trying to collect water (safe or not) for their families. But yet, you complain:

1. That the chlorine gives the water a bad taste, but that is what protects you from a water-borne illness.

2.  The pipes leading to your house may deposit hard minerals into your water damaging your appliances and leaving an after taste in your mouth, but that is what keeps you from having to walk 3 miles for water.

3.Water prices may have gone up, but compared to your income, you still pay less than a person in a developing country trying to survive on $3 or less a day.

You joke that the city water will kill you one day, but water around the world kills more than 4000 children TODAY.

 This is why I defend our city’s water because we are blessed. Not just because we have a Reverse Osmosis Treatment Plant or because it is my job to tell you the water is great, but because someone right now in another country would gladly drink the water you think is disgusting straight from the tap.

If you are interested, these are other posts I have written about water.

(Disclaimer: I have no problem with valid concerns about water quality. Also, this site is where I gathered most of my information.)

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Series: To fluorinate or not to fluorinate

That is the question.

At least it is today, on this blog. Why am I spending a whole post on this one issue? Because it seems that a lot of people are concerned about it. First off I want to make sure that you realize that I in no way have the right answer to this debate. This post is going to be entirely my opinion (where as the others in this series were not). Are you ready for my opinion?

Personally I don’t think that anyone should have to drink water from their tap that has been fluorinated. Why? I have two main reasons:

1. To me, this issue falls along similar lines as forced vaccinations. No one should ever be forced. Personally, I would like for everyone to get vaccinated and I would like for everyone to get the proper amount of fluorine to help prevent cavities, but I would never condone forcing either of these things on anyone.

Like with vaccinations there is research emerging that claims fluorination can cause a number of very nasty adverse effects. While I’m not going to get up on my soapbox about people jumping to conclusions over a single piece of research when the benefits of something have been very well-documented, I do want to encourage everyone to do their research. But make sure that you are getting your information from high quality sources. What do I mean by that? Look for studies that have been done by a university, not just an individual. Also studies that have been ran by numerous unrelated groups and have still came to the same conclusion. Try to look at the study from all angles asking yourself if the group being studied and the manner in which they were studied was unbiased. A scientific article should never produce an emotional response in you (ie, you shouldn’t feel riled up or angry but instead you should feel enlightened(ish)). It should layout the experiment, the results, and the experimenters conclusions based on the findings and leave you to think about that conclusion and whether or not you reached the same one given the same findings. It should never be persuasive. When an article tugs at my emotions too much I tend to think “what are they trying to cover up by trying to get me worked up?”

(Okay, sorry, that was longer and more soapboxy than I originally meant it to be. Moving on…)

2. The cost. Yes, there are figures out there saying that it costs less than a dollar a year per person to fluorinate, but I honestly don’t buy it. In my city if we had been forced to fluorinate when we were on our previous system (before starting the water clean-up project we are undertaking and building a Reverse Osmosis treatment plant) all of the wells around the city would have had to be fluorinated individually. That in itself wouldn’t have been too bad except that fluorine would have had to be stored at each site and constantly monitored. That is where the cost comes in. You are talking man hours and telemetry systems that aren’t exactly cheap. It may not seem like a lot of money, but it is something to think about when those taxpayer dollars and manpower could be spent somewhere else.

What are your feelings, if any, on fluorination? Does your area fluorinate (or have naturally occurring fluorine in) its water?

Series: How do they clean my water?

Other posts in this series: Bottled water, what’s in my water, and where does it come from?

All water treatment plants have a process for cleaning out your drinking water. They use one or, in most cases, multiple of these techniques. You can find out which of these techniques your treatment plant uses by reading your Annual Water Quality Report, or in some cases checking out your municipalities website.

Flocculation/Sedimentation
After screening out large objects like fish and sticks (if pulling from a surface water source), coagulant chemicals are added to the water to cause the tiny suspended particles that make the water cloudy to be attracted to each other and form “flocs.” Alum and iron salts or synthetic organic polymers (used alone or in combination with metal salts) are generally used to promote coagulation.

Filtration
Many water treatment facilities use filtration to remove all particles from the water. Those particles include clays and silts, natural organic matter, precipitates from other treatment processes in the facility, iron and manganese, and microorganisms. Filtration clarifies water and enhances the effectiveness of disinfection. Conventional, direct, slow sand, and diatomaceous earth filtration systems all do a good job of removing most protozoa, bacteria, and viruses.

Conventional filtration: After flocculation, the mixture is then allowed to settle out of the water. Once this is complete, water is passed through filters so that remaining particles attach themselves to filter material.

Direct filtration is different from conventional filtration only because the water is not allowed to settle before being filtered.

Slow sand filtration systems have no coagulation step. Water is allowed to pass slowly downward through a bed of sand two to four feet deep. A biologically active layer forms along the upper surface of the sand bed, trapping small particles and degrading some organic contaminants. Diatomaceous earth filtration uses the fossil shells of tiny marine organisms as the filter through which raw source water is fed. The earth physically filters particle contaminants from the water.

Membrane Filtration
Membrane water treatment systems were originally used only in desalination projects. But improvements in membrane technology have made them an increasingly popular choice.

Water treatment membranes are thin sheets of material that are able to separate contaminants based on properties such as size or charge. Water passes through a membrane; but depending on their size, larger particles, microorganisms, and other contaminants are separated out.

Some of these systems are pressure driven, depending on water pressure to separate the particles based on size. Microfiltration employs the largest pore size, and can remove sand, silt, clay, algae, bacteria, Giardia, and Cryptosporidium. Ultrafiltration can also remove viruses. Nanofiltration systems provide nearly complete protection against viruses, remove most organic contaminants, and can reduce hardness in water. Reverse osmosis systems are dense membranes that remove almost all inorganic contaminants and all but the smallest organic molecules.

Adsorption
Organic contaminants, unwanted coloring, and taste-and-odor-causing compounds can stick to the surface of granular or powder activated carbon and are thus removed from the drinking water.

Disinfection
Water is often disinfected before it enters the distribution system to ensure that potentially dangerous microbes are killed. Chlorine, chloramines, or chlorine dioxide are most often used because they are very effective disinfectants, not only at the treatment plant but also in the pipes that distribute water to our homes and businesses. Ozone is a powerful disinfectant, and ultraviolet radiation is an effective disinfectant and treatment for relatively clean source waters, but neither of these are effective in controlling biological contaminants in the distribution pipes.

Series: “Where’s my Water coming from?”

{Check out the other posts in this series here and here.)

Actually that is a very simple answer, either it is ground water or surface water.

Ground water originates from precipitation that falls in the form of rain or snow and seeps into the ground, filling the open spaces, or pore space, within layers of sand or gravel (formations) beneath the land surface.   Under the ground there is a zone of saturation where the subsurface is completely saturated with water.  Layers of sand and gravel in this saturated zone are called aquifers.  An aquifer is a geologic formation containing water in quantities sufficient to yield water to a well.  The well pumps water to the surface where the Water Treatment Plant treats it to ensure that it is safe to drink.  It is then pumped into a storage tank and upon demand by the customer, flows through distribution pipes into the home and ultimately to the faucet.

Surface water also originates from precipitation.  The precipitation reaches the land surface and recharges rivers, lakes, wetlands, and other surface water bodies directly.  Water is pumped from the water body to a treatment plant and then follows the same path as ground water on its way to the consumer.

More water systems have ground water than surface water as a source, but more people drink from a surface water system. Water utilities treat nearly 34 billion gallons of water every day. The amount and type of treatment (which I will go over in another post) varies with the quality and source of the water. Because surface water systems are exposed to more directly to the atmosphere and runoff they generally require more treatment. Ground water systems have the advantage of being filter as the water seeps into the ground.

Not sure where your water comes from? Well, your water department knows and is required to tell you about it on your Annual Water Quality Report. Go check it out!

Series: “How Do I Know What is In My Water?”

Welcome back! If you missed my first post in this series: “Does Your Tap Water Scare You?”  go here.

All municipalities are required to extensively monitor your water. Sample upon sample is collected, sent to a certified laboratory, and then tested. If results violate the EPA’s MCL (maximum containment level) then guess what happens? More samples are collect, letters are written, and the public is notified. They are required to notify you when it happens and again in the Annual Water Quality report.

The Water Quality Report is your friend. When you get, and you should always get it by July 1 of every year, don’t just glance over it. READ IT and KEEP IT! It will tell you a lot about your water and should include:

  • The source of the drinking water, be it a river, lake, groundwater aquifer or some other body of water;
  • A brief summary of the state‚ source water assessment of the susceptibility of the source water to contamination and how to get a copy of the complete assessment;
  • EPA regulations and health goals for drinking water contaminants;
  • A list of all detected contaminants and their levels;
  • Potential health effects of any contaminant detected at a level that violates EPA‚ health standard;
  • An educational statement for people with weakened immune systems about cryptosporidium and other microbial contaminants;
  • Contact information for the water system and EPA‚ Safe Drinking Water Hotline

I bolded the one line above to make sure you saw it. If the contaminant cannot be found on your report than that means detectable levels were not found of it. What does that mean exactly? Every test preformed in a lab has a MDL (minimum detection limit). That is the smallest number that your are allowed to report and maintain certainty in the accuracy of your results. These limits are tested and verified, so if the contaminant falls below this number you can rest assured that there is little to none of it in your water. Not sure you believe it? Then call your Water Department and ask them. However, with a well maintained Water Treatment Plant it is not unreasonable to find little to no contaminants in the water supply.

Now how many of you know how to read (and understand) your Water Quality Report? Do you know what all the numbers and abbreviations mean? Well this graphic from FoodandWaterWatch.org should help:

If after reading you report you still aren’t sure and want to check into it for yourself, go here to find the certified labs in your state. Make sure you use a certified laboratory, otherwise your results will not be considered valid.

One last thing, if you are interested in what kind of contaminants can be found in the water supply, what the maximum level for them is, and how they get into our water go here: EPA Drinking Water Contaminates List. Everything that you know exists (and some that you many not have realized) is on that list.

Also, if you want to learn more about the research that the EPA uses to determine MCL check out the Water Treatability Database.

Questions or Comments? Let me know what you’re thinking!

Sources:

Food and Water Watch
US EPA on Water

Series: “Does your tap water scare you?”

I want to give you a little background before I jump right into this series. First of all, as I have mentioned before, I work for my city’s NELAC accredited laboratory. We test many samples, some of which are tap water samples. I also collect tap water samples on a regular basis for routine testing. I consider myself knowledgable about tap water (particularly Reverse Osmosis  (RO) water because that is the type of facility that we have). I do not, however, consider myself all-knowing so I will be doing quite a bit of research on this subject. (I have been working on this series for a while now.)

I felt compelled to write this series because I was surprised by how many people out there know almost NOTHING about the water they are drinking. Many people tend to ‘bash’ their water or just assume that it is bad water because ‘all city water is bad’. My goal is to help you learn about your water and the ways to know whether your water is ‘good’.

One thing that got me started on creating this series was a conversation I had with my father-in-law in Florida. He is a very smart guy and after asking him a few questions about the water in his town I felt pretty sure I knew what was going on at their Water Treatment Plant. Turns out I didn’t. Not because he is unusual (as I said before, very few people know what is going on with their water), he just assumed they used surface water because of how close they were to the ocean. Turns out, they use groundwater and RO it. This may not seem like a big difference, but it can be. (That I will talk about in another post).

Anyway, in this post I would like to talk to you about bottled water.

Why?

Because there is a good chance that you are actually better off drinking your tap water. But I don’t want you to take my word for it. I will present you with the information that I have, but you need to apply it to your location.

Location?

Yes. Because not only do treatment facilities differ by location but so do the pollutants that you need to be concerned about. How do you know what is a concern for your location? Well, check back here because I have a blog post about this coming up. Knowledge is power no?

Back to the point: Bottled water.

A lot of people believe that bottled water is better for you than tap. Or at the very least that it is ‘cleaner’ than the water from your tap. However, in 2009 almost 50% of all bottled water came from city tap. Why is this a big deal? Well, not only are you getting ripped off by paying lots more for something that you could have got from your tap, but this also is threatening the publics water resources and putting strain on water treatment facilities that are tax payer funded.

Now, for the water that isn’t bottled using municipal water: As many of you know, all water is regulated.

But is it all regulated the same?

Bottled water is regulated by the FDA. Tap water is regulated by the EPA. But what is the difference?

Basically it comes down to the fact that FDA lacks the regulatory authority of EPA.

“The Safe Drinking Water Act empowers EPA to require water testing by certified laboratories and that violations be reported within a specified time frame. Public water systems must also provide reports to customers about their water, noting its source, evidence of contaminants and compliance with regulations.”

Sara Goodman, New York Times

However, the FDA does not. Because they regulate bottled water as a food they cannot require the company to verify results with a certified lab or report violations to the public in a timely manner. They also do not have to tell you where they got the water or how they treated it. In addition, Water Treatment Plants are inspected on a more regular basis than water bottling facilities. And, when it comes right down to it the regulations for tap water are more stringent in a number of cases than bottled water, but they are getting closer and closer to being the same.

So, what am I really trying to say? In the end, you will save a lot of money using your tap water in a reusable container than carrying around a plastic bottle of water. But, what should you do before switching? Learn about your tap water and the tap water of the place that the water bottling company is pulling from. Chances are, the quality will be the same (or pretty darn close!) How do you do this? Well, that is a whole other post!

Sources:

Food and Water Watch
Fewer Regulations for Bottled Water Than Tap, New York Times article
United States Government Accountability Office, Report to Congressional Requesters