Standards for Bottled Water vs. Standards for Tap Water

by Ed R Published 2.13.2014

“The elephant in the room” is probably one of the most overused phrases in the last several years. It is basically meant to call attention to an impending situation which we know is looming but choose to ignore in the hope that it goes away. A current example of this elephant is the overall health of our drinking water. A recently published report by the DWRF (Drinking Water Research Foundation) is a must read. Entitled “Microbial Health Risks of Regulated Drinking Waters in the United States”, this report provides a comparative assessment of health risks associated with drinking tap water vs. drinking bottled water. It was authored by Dr. Stephen Edberg of Yale University who is an internationally recognized expert in the field of public health especially as it pertains to water and water treatment. (I had the opportunity to meet him in 2002 at the World Health Organization symposium on HPC Bacteria in Drinking Water in Geneva, but that’s another story.) The purpose of Dr. Edberg’s report is to help educate the public with regard to the risk of contracting a waterborne illness from a public water supply by contrasting it to bottled water. It does so by focusing on the differences in the following areas: regulations, standards, monitoring, advisories and distribution. For those of you that are not going to read the report (although I urge you to, it’s actually a pretty quick read), here is the “CliffsNotes” version with some commentary at the end.

Read the full report

Regulations: Both public drinking water and bottled water are heavily regulated. Public drinking water is regulated by the EPA under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). Bottled water is regulated by the FDA under The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) as it is considered a food product.

Standards: “Federal law requires that FDA’s regulations for bottled water must be at least as protective of public health as EPA standards for tap water.” Where these two differ is in microbial contaminants. EPA currently has no standards for total coliform or E. coli in source waters, only in finished water. In contrast, if a bottler is drawing water from a source other than a public water supply then both the source water and the finished water are subject to the standards.

Monitoring: It is in this section that the author shows the greatest discrepancy of the two. On a gallon for gallon basis the report shows that bottlers are required to test on a far greater frequency than public suppliers.

Advisories: What happens when the water fails to meet either EPA or FDA Microbiological Standards? Under the SDWA this typically involves issuance of a “Boil Alert”. Two things trigger a boil alert, 1.) Detection of E. coli or any other pathogenic organism, 2.) Loss of system pressure, such as in the case of a water main break. Under the FDA Standards, contaminated water is prohibited from entering the food supply, and is subject to a recall. Public notification in both cases is required.

Distribution: Bottled water is processed, monitored, packaged under sanitary conditions, held and transported with no further outside influence of potential contamination. Tap water is processed, monitored, disinfected and delivered to consumers through a system of underground piping. (You should start to see the elephant now.)

Throughout this report the author purposely calls attention to the differences in the two most common forms of water used for human consumption, with the goal of pointing out to the reader where the source of the problem lies…the distribution system elephant. It’s not at the water treatment plant that we have a problem. The personnel there do a fantastic job of taking water from all kinds of sources and qualities to provide us with a clean, abundant and safe supply. Many of us absolutely take it for granted. When we turn on the tap we expect clear, cold, clean water and we expect it now. The report addresses some of the causal factors for the loss of quality as it pertains to the distribution system, things like source protection, cross connection, backflow prevention, and leaks. Let’s face it; some of the pipes have been in the ground for a hundred years. All of this is considered infrastructure. Numerous reports have identified the need to repair and replace our aging Infrastructure. So why are we ignoring it? There are only 300-500 billion reasons. You guessed it, dollars. But, there may be an alternative solution, and mark my words, you will be hearing more about it, it’s the final barrier concept. Take some time to read the report; it’s not too long or too technical.

Contact Ed R.


Is drinking water your home's only water safety concern?

by Keith B Published 10.24.2013

As water treatment professionals, most of our time is spent thinking about improving the quality of either drinking water or working water. (Working water is water used for cleaning, washing clothes, cars, dishes etc.) For drinking water, we often focus on aesthetics and health concerns, and for working water we typically just focus on the aesthetics. However, there is a third category when considering water used for bathing, swimming or playing where aesthetics and some unique health effects are of concern.

Recently several articles have been written, including one by Matthew Hamilton on latimes.com, about the “Brain Eating Amoeba” found in the drinking water supply of a parish in Louisiana. The amoeba is said to cause a fatal brain infection called Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM) by being introduced into the sinus through the nose. Infections created by this amoeba are quite rare with CBS Houston reporting a total of 32 cases in the US from 2001 to 2010. Of concern is an amoeba called Naegleria fowleri, which is found quite frequently in warm, relatively stagnant waters throughout the southern United States. Louisiana state health officials report that drinking the water containing the amoeba does not cause illness, since stomach acid kills it. Most previous infections have been contracted by people swimming in these warm waters, getting water in their nose in the process. Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that Naegleria fowleri is commonly found around the world in warm fresh water, the number of reported cases is surprisingly low.

Tragically, these most recent articles recount the death of a 4 year old boy from this disease, which he contracted after playing on a “Slip 'n' Slide” fed with municipally-supplied water in that parish. Jonathan Yoder, an epidemiologist with the CDC, stated that this was the first time that Naegleria fowerli has been found in a treated water supply in the US. CBS Houston and several other news agencies are raising the question if Hurricane Katrina might be the cause of the contamination. Their thought process is that after Katrina, so many people left the parish that the water lay dormant in the supply pipes for longer periods than it had before the hurricane, when the system was serving more people. As a result, the chlorine residual may have dissipated, allowing the organisms to grow. Presently, the parish is increasing chlorine content and flushing the water lines, which has some residents complaining about the taste.

Once again, we find ourselves faced with questions about the quality of our tap water—not because of problems at the central treatment plant, but possibly because of conditions outside of its control. In this case, buying bottled water is of little help since taking a shower, bath or playing in the water would be the cause of infection. As a home owner, options for treatment might include a point of entry (POE) solution like ultraviolet (UV) treatment or whole house water filtration, sized properly by an authorized source. Or, if your municipality has increased chlorine content in your water, you could use a point of use (POU) treatment system to remove the taste of chlorine from your drinking water.

Even if you don’t live in a warm climate like Louisiana’s, it never hurts to get your water checked out. I have been in the water treatment industry for a long time, and I have seen how contaminants in your water can cause all kinds of problems for your family and home. As I wrote in an earlier post, I find that it’s best to be proactive and informed about my home’s water quality, just in case.

Contact Keith B.


Water Issues' Effect on Conflict and Civil Unrest

by Keith B Published 8.26.2013

In the May 18th Sunday Review of The New York Times, Thomas Friedman wrote a very thought provoking article entitled “Without Water, Revolution.” It covers what is going on today in Syria and how water issues play a big role in the civil unrest that plagues that country today. He describes how the drought that hit the country from 2006 to 2011 significantly changed the distribution of the population, forcing small, independent, proud farmers to abandon their rural lands and move to cities to try and eke out an existence; and how many of the few jobs that did exist were given to favorites of the government. What I found interesting was that when previously I had thought about the unrest in Syria, I did not think about water, and also that one of the main issues some of the people had with the existing government was that they hadn't done enough in reaction to the drought.

Further research on this topic found the article recently published in Science Magazine by Hsiang, Burke and Miguel entitled “Quantifying the Influence of Climate on Human Conflict.” While most of this article (especially those parts relating to statistics) flew clearly over my head, it was easy to see that this subject has been studied in depth, and that with the many associated variables, coming up with a direct cause and effect is a challenge. Variables such as economic conditions, normal average temperature of a region, and interrelations between temperature and rainfall levels can all affect the data. There are even data presented linking high rainfall levels with unrest such as Hindu-Muslim riots. Hsiang et al state in their conclusions that “We do not conclude that climate is the sole—or even primary—driving force in conflict, but we do find that when large climate variations occur, they can have substantial effects on the incidence of conflict across a variety of contexts.”

In her review of this article, Rebecca Morelle of BBC News states “They estimate that a 2°C (3.6°F) rise in global temperature could see personal crimes increase by about 15%, and group conflicts rise by more than 50% in some regions.” She also found some opposing views where Dr. Halvard Buhaug, from the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Norway finds that civil war in Africa was linked not to climate-related issues, but to other factors such as high infant mortality, proximity to international borders and high local population density. I might suggest that water quality could also play a role in the infant mortality issue and that the population density might be a product of previous drought conditions.

Refocusing from these studies covering centuries of change and human history to our lives in the USA today, I wonder what is going on right under our noses today that may someday become a blip in a future professor’s study. We know in American history, farms, towns, and cities were all built in close proximity to water supplies or areas with sufficient precipitation, or both. This was done for human consumption, irrigation or transportation needs. Immediate changes in the supply or quality of the water were readily apparent. Times in history like the famed Dust Bowl of the 1930s in the Great Plains saw major changes in populations and occupations. Farmers left the dried up land and headed for cities like Los Angeles. This was an obvious change. But slow changes in water availability, like a dropping water table or increasing contaminants, are harder to see and react to. And now that most of us rely on underground pipes to “magically” supply us with water, we really don't give it much of a thought—until the day when we open the faucet and nothing, or something not exactly like water, comes out. When that happens will we look to our government, just as many Syrians have, and ask, “how could you let this happen?” Will this be a type of climate change that will bring conflict?

We all need to continue to increase our attention to the wide variety of water issues that surround our neighborhoods, towns, cities, workplaces, counties, countries, and world. We must become more aware of changes in our fresh water supplies, learn to use those resources more efficiently, and embrace recycling concepts as often as possible. While we may not be able to affect climate temperature issues that drive conflict and unrest, it is possible that we can counteract somewhat those related to water changes.

Update February 6, 2014: I wrote another post about water and conflict…but this time it's about how water was part of a conflict's resolution!

Contact Keith B.


Drink Local. Drink Tap.: Bringing Safe Drinking Water to Uganda

by Guest Bloggers Published 8.5.2013

Erin Huber is the founder and executive director of Drink Local. Drink Tap., Inc.™ a non-profit organization focused on creatively reconnecting people to local water. She inspires people to become better stewards of water through education and awareness in the west and she designs and implements sustainable water projects in the east (Africa). Huber’s passion for safe drinking water is supported by more than a decade of volunteer work and awards, a B.S. of Environmental Science and an M.S. of Urban Studies from Cleveland State University, emphasizing sustainability policy and new economics.

When I last wrote, Drink Local. Drink Tap. had just returned from drilling 180 foot deep borehole (new water source) in Uganda for St. Bonaventure Primary School. Previously, children had been walking miles each day to collect water they did not know was even safe to drink. We’ve learned a lot in the past few years and made a positive impact in the world thanks to Kinetico, all of our sponsors, volunteers, Wavemaker Program students and you.

This year, we plan to build three sustainable water projects in Uganda at two orphan schools so that children and their community can be healthy, experience a better education and stay safe. In late 2013, we will install a tap system for the children at St. Bonaventure. This phase of the project will help students hydrate, wash, complete chores, cook, grow food, get a better education and experience even less sickness and death. In Masindi, Uganda, we will build a two part project at Family Spirit AIDS Orphanage. A shallow borehole and gravity fed farm irrigation system will be built for the children in order to remove the cumbersome walk for water and increase sustainable food production. This will help the orphan school save funds, improve health and increase nutrition for the already vulnerable children. Just this summer two children have died from HIV and TB; we cannot leave them to continue to worry about death from dirty water too.

We are excited to get back to Uganda, but we can only help others with your help. Youth and adults everywhere are getting inspired and involved, especially the students involved in our Wavemaker Program for schools. We have already worked directly with 30 classrooms this year and can reach another 20 in the fall thanks to recent support from Kinetico Incorporated. The students in our Wavemaker Program take action to care for our water locally, but understand that all water is connected and it’s important to help other students in need of access to safe water. They have been raising funds to help build our safe water projects, volunteering at beach and river cleanups, conserving water and reducing their plastic waste to become positive wave makers in the world.

Drink Local Drink Tap founder Erin Huber in Uganda with a group of schoolchildren

We’ve also had the help of individuals and organizations to raise money and spread awareness for our next three water projects. In the spring of 2013, David Christof ran and biked from Prague to Morocco (Africa) 3,000 kilometers in 63 days to support phase three at St. Bonaventure. We celebrated World Water Day at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium with Wavemaker Program students and also hosted a private documentary screening event.

It can be overwhelming to think about all of the pollution in the world, the one billion people without access to safe drinking water or the fact that more people have access to a cell phone than to a toilet. But, if we work together to make positive change, we can truly impact those unimaginable statistics- we’ve proved it and will continue to work hard, with you, to save our water and save lives.

Ways to get involved:

  • We are able to offer our Wavemaker Program to a number of schools this fall because of the generous support of Kinetico Incorporated. Send us an email at info@drinklocaldrinktap.org if you’d like us to work with your school.
  • Additionally, you can help by hosting a fundraiser or a documentary screening. You can also donate directly. For information on these fundraising programs, to donate or to read about our recent or upcoming events and projects please visit the Drink Local. Drink Tap. website at drinklocaldrinktap.org.

Weakening Nicaragua's Cycle of Poverty With Drinking Water Technology, Part 2

by Mark B Published 8.9.2012

In May, 2012, I returned to Nicaragua with Aqua Clara International and Fairmount Minerals. We worked with the slow sand filters that Aqua Clara and a group called AMOS have been installing throughout the country. Access to safe drinking water is a major health issue Nicaragua and in many other places around the world. Slow sand filtration is not new, nor is it unique to Aqua Clara or Nicaragua. The ones I’m talking about provide drinking water to a single household but they can also be bigger to serve a school or community. Household filters come in different shapes and sizes, depending on whose design it is and what materials are available. Basically, it is a container with a layer of coarse gravel at the bottom with smaller and small gravel on top of that, until finally the topmost layer is fine sand. Dirty water is poured in at the top and displaces filtered water so the good stuff just pours out the tap. The sand does more than simply strain out the bad stuff – it supports a biological environment that gives the harmless microbes the opportunity to eat or out-compete the ones that make people sick. It’s a simple but highly effective technology for the prevention of water-borne diseases.

Household slow sand filters are normally made by local people with locally available materials, which serve an overarching goal of helping people to help themselves. When parts and materials are not specially imported, a drinking water filter becomes more financially accessible to the end user and more serviceable. Another important benefit of this strategy is that the builders develop an intimate understanding of how these things are supposed to work – this enables them to also teach about and repair the units.

One of the interviews we had in May included a family that had been using the slow-sand filter for about six months. The father reported that he can now work every day because he no longer feels weak, and specific health issues were better than they had been in years. He felt this was because he was now drinking the filtered water. That made sense considering the consequences for an adult body to be constantly fighting off infections in the gut.

Simply put, slow sand filters can and do change and save lives every day. If you’re interested in exploring further, here are just a few links to some of the many resources available on the subject.

 

An additional list of resources for slow sand filters can be found here.

Contact Mark B.


Weakening Nicaragua's cycle of poverty with drinking water technology, Part 1

by Mark B Published 6.21.2012

Aqua Clara provides point-of-use water filters to impoverished people in developing countries. Kinetico hosted an information session where employees from Kinetico and Fairmount Minerals learned how these slow-sand water filters are made and about the programs that train people in rural communities how to make and maintain them. 

Nicaragua is the second poorest nation in the western hemisphere: the average income is about three dollars a day. There are major health problems, especially in rural areas, caused by drinking contaminated water. As a result, people have to spend money on medicines to treat water-borne diseases. Because they are sick so often, they have less time for work or going to school. This reinforces a cycle of poverty and disease that can be difficult to break without outside resources.

The Aqua Clara program includes educating the end-users on why the slow-sand filters are important and how to build, use and maintain them. A key part of program success is regular follow-up visits for additional support. In November 2011, I went to Nicaragua to be part of a team that included folks from Fairmount Minerals, Aqua Clara and Nicaraguans. We went to remote villages to see whether existing slow-sand filters were being used properly and to find out how effective they actually were. Deep in the tropical volcanic hills, we were greeted by village leaders and taken to homes where filters had been installed. The water filters were frequently located in a hot, dark kitchen that was sometimes just 6’ x 7’, had a swept dirt floor, a tin roof, and walls made from whatever was available. Often chickens and other animals were present. 

The filters we examined ranged from months to years old. Our assessments included household interviews mostly with the matriarchs. In many places, it is not unusual for women and older girls to be responsible for making sure the home has enough water for their cooking and cleaning as well as for the family to drink. In many African villages this can mean a child has to walk for miles to bring the water back home, though where we were in Nicaragua water was drawn from nearby wells. Our site visits also included measuring turbidity and taking water samples from the raw source and the filter outlet so we could grow bacteria on special plates and find out just how bad the situation was.

As you can see from the photo, these filters dramatically reduced the amount of bacteria in the water. The blue spots are actually colonies of dangerous E. coli, and the red spots are coliform bacteria.

Once the bacteria plates had time to incubate and I saw the results, I took a moment to look around again. What I saw were toddlers exploring and children laughing, playing and going to school. I saw families who depend on being healthy enough to make whatever living they could from small plots of land way out in the hinterlands. As a former Peace Corps Volunteer, it not only brought back memories, but also reinforced why this kind of work continues to be so important. Health in rural communities like the ones we were in starts with clean water. It’s good to be part of a company that intimately knows the value of water and is committed to sharing our knowledge to help others gain access to safe and adequate supplies.

 

Photos courtesy of Dave Chew.

Contact Mark B.


Why are boil water alerts so important?

by Cathy J Published 6.8.2012

A boil water alert (BWA) is issued when there is a threat of disease causing microorganisms such as Giardia lamblia and Cryptosporidium eDrinking Cautionntering a water system. Contamination can be caused by several different factors, most commonly due to water main breaks or severe flooding which might allow the possibility of foreign substances to enter the water system.  In less common instances a BWA can be issued when there is a significant change in the turbidity reading. A BWA is issued after careful consideration among representatives from public health, regulatory agencies and municipal departments. 

When there is a BWA, it will be broadcast on the local news (radio, television, web) with instructions on what to do and how long it will last. 

The best way to make sure your water is safe for drinking, cooking or brushing your teeth is to boil your water.  To effectively kill the disease causing organisms, boil the water for at least one to five minutes.  Allow water to cool before use.  The water will taste “flat” but will be safe to use.  If you are unable to boil your water, you can use bleach or iodine.  Bleach will kill some, but not all, types of disease-causing organisms that may be in the water.  Add 1/8 teaspoon of regular, unscented, liquid household bleach for each gallon of water, stir it well and let it stand for 30 minutes before you use it. Store disinfected or boiled water in clean, air-tight containers with covers in the refrigerator. 

Hot (not boiled) soapy water will be sufficient for dishwashing and surface cleaning.  As a precaution, add one tablespoon of bleach per gallon. Unless specifically list in the BWA, laundry water and water for showering does not need to be treated.

Boil alerts are mostly for city and community water supplies.  If you have a well, you would want to boil your water after severe flooding or if your well pressure drops to almost non-existent (indicating a potential problem).  After correcting the problem or when the water recedes, it is recommended that you have your water tested by your local EPA certified laboratory to make sure it is safe to drink.

For a list of local certified laboratories or more information on safe drinking water, a very informative, reliable source is the EPA. 

 

Contact Cathy J.


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