Thursday, May 15, 2014

Guest Interview - Water Quality In America

With an estimated 240,000 water main breaks each year in the US, the aging water infrastructure is posing a health risk for the consumers who are drinking water that is contaminated with lead, pathogens, arsenic, and other carcinogens, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Blue Ocean Sciences, a bioremediation technology company, is preparing for the launch of Hope2o this summer. Hope2o is an affordable and accurate water analysis kit that allows the individual homeowner to test their tap and filter water for any heavy metal and organic chemical contaminants, and to see if their filters are still effective. Using Hope2o, Blue Ocean Sciences is working to map water quality around the world and provide an easy-to-read database for individuals to understand.

I recently had the opportunity to interview, via email, the founding CEO Dr. Andrea Neal on America's water quality. Her answers are informative and quite revealing:

What factors determine water quality?

Water quality will be influenced by many factors including the waste treatment processes, condition and material of water pipes, groundwater, natural occurrences of certain chemicals and minerals in the geographic area, and the presence of industrial pollutants. Heavy metals, pesticides, organic chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and hormones are some of the common contaminants that can be found in drinking water.

Water requires an in-depth chemical analysis to accurately determine the quality. Analysis can determine the chemical condition of the water including what chemicals are present and in what concentration. Water with high levels of contaminates will usually have a taste or a smell that is distinct. However, major birth defects and other health issues have been linked to the long-term exposure of low levels of contaminants found in water. For example, dioxins, nitrates, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), hormones or pharmaceuticals can cause severe health issues. They would not be visible or have a detectable taste in water, and some will also go unnoticed with outdated systems of analysis.

Water quality is analyzed in ranges of parts-per-million (ppm), parts-per-billion (ppb), and parts-per-trillion (ppt). This just means how diluted substances are in water on a percentage basis – one out of a million, billion, or trillion respectively. To give an idea, Engineering Scientist, Zane Satterfield said, “One ppb is like adding a pinch of salt to a 10 ton bag of potato chips.” It’s critical to have the right testing. Some companies are still testing in the ppm (parts per million) range. Newer technologies however test water in the ppb (part-per-billion range) and some chemicals require ppt (part-per-trillion range) to be visible. In today’s science, ppm would be equivalent to the dial-up modem, ppb is cable-internet access, and ppt is high-speed wireless.

Also it’s important to note that when organizations like the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) report about the maximum contamination level (MCL) of certain chemicals in water, this refers to the threshold point where the body’s ability to detoxify itself has been exceeded. In most cases, there is just one standard set for adults. It is well known though that children, fetuses and pets will be impacted differently and more than likely have a much lower threshold. Also the adult threshold generally varies for men versus women because of their common differences in body size and weight.

Generally speaking, is tap water in the US safe to drink?

The safety of drinking water in the U.S. varies region to region. There is a useful website that shows how much the quality of water can differ state-to-state and city-to-city. For example certain cities in New England are known to still have lead piping.
Guest Interview - Water Quality in America
The quality of tap water
varies region to region
Many other cities in the U.S. have piping that is over 100 years old and has never been retrofitted. Tap water studies have good information to reference, and it’s important to be aware that every day possible new contaminants are being introduced which is why updated real-time information and regular testing is so essential. Also it’s important for people in the U.S. to realize that all the local and state water quality reports are assessing the water quality at the facility. Who is testing the quality of the water once it has traveled the long distances from the facility, through the pipes and into people’s homes?

How does the quality of well water differ from municipal water?

This depends on the source of the municipal water and the well water. Sometimes, well water may be impacted by substances naturally occurring in the soil (for example radon or arsenic). Well owners are responsible for being aware of this and testing their water. Some benefits of well water are that the common additives used in municipal water such as fluoride and other chlorinated compounds are not used.

What is the difference between hard & soft water?

The concentration of minerals in the water will determine if it is hard or soft.
Which is preferable and what can homeowners do to ensure that they have the right kind?

Some minerals are safe and they simply leave a residue on dishes, etc. Other minerals particularly in the “heavy metals” category can cause serious health problems. Again, it’s important to find out the type of minerals in the water and in what concentration levels. People can purchase water softeners and other equipment to take out some of the unwanted minerals. It’s also important to recognize how the minerals are taken out of the water because some systems use salt that gets added into the water that then becomes its own health risk when the concentrations are too high.

If water tastes and/or smells like iron, is there a problem?

Potentially the smell of iron indicates a high level of iron oxide that could be related to a high level of arsenic because it is used in a treatment process to remove arsenic from water.
What if it smells like rotten eggs?

This usually indicates that there is a sulfur compound in the water like hydrogen sulfide. This is not poisonous -- just smelly. There are other sulfurs that can be toxic. Again, it’s important to get a comprehensive in-depth water test done.

For more information, follow the Hope2o Facebook Page.