Category Archives: Drinking Water

Climbing the Rungs of the Safe Water and Sanitation Service Ladders

Workers in Haiti install chlorinator equipment to disinfect a community water supply a measure that will help prevent waterborne illness

Workers in Haiti install chlorinator equipment to disinfect a community water supply a measure that will help prevent waterborne illness

The humble ladder can be a symbol of progress toward lofty goals. The lyrics of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young,” for example, include a moving wish for the singer’s newborn son: “May you build a ladder to the stars and climb on every rung…” Symbolic ladders are also used by the Joint Monitoring Program of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to communicate progress toward the goal of universal safe drinking water and sanitation.

In “UN-speak,” that ambitious goal is Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goal #6, which includes specific targets and indicators that will help track progress toward a world in which waterborne illnesses are rare and sanitation is safely managed.

Ladders to a Better Life for All

Clean water and safely managed sanitation are … READ MORE >>

Keeping Your Reusable Water Bottle Clean

Louisville Water Company promotes filling reusable water bottles with tap water

Louisville Water Company promotes filling reusable water bottles with tap water

The reusable water bottle is one of those “grab and go” items that travel with many of us on a daily basis. The filled water bottle provides a handy means of hydrating on the spot. As we’ve noted, many water fountains now conveniently include water bottle-filling features. There’s just one caveat to deriving the maximum health benefit from reusable water bottles: They should be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized on a regular basis to avoid contamination.

Germs Love Moist Environments

Germs thrive in moist environments such as parts of the cap and interior of your water bottle. As Dr. Charles Gerba of the University of Arizona notes, if you use your fingers to open and close the water bottle cap, there is a good chance that bacteria will be introduced into the cap, where moisture will support its … READ MORE >>

The Once and Future Water Fountain

water fountainIn the years since we last wrote on this topic, drinking water fountains—a once ubiquitous feature of the U.S. public health landscape—continue to decline in diversity, maintenance and numbers.1 Yet because many people, including commuters, tourists and the homeless, often rely on fountains for (usually) free and safe municipal water, they should not be taken for granted.

Concerns over drinking water quality, particularly lead and other metals associated with aging infrastructure but also waterborne diseases, continue to make headlines. But are these concerns well-founded? And if so, what can be done to reinvent public drinking water fountains in the era of the smart city and smart phone?

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Three Tips to Help You Prepare for a Home Water Emergency

Water flows into your home on a daily basis for essential uses, but how much do you know about your water supply and its circulation through your living space? Are you ready for a household water emergency? These tips can help you prepare for the unexpected.

  1. Main Shut-Off ValveKnow how to turn it off: In the event of a plumbing failure in the home, the first order of business is to turn off the water at its point of entry. This is done at the “main water shut-off valve.” Locate and label this valve. Make sure the valve is easily accessible at a moment’s notice (e.g., don’t store items in front of it).
If your house is to be evacuated and left unheated during cold weather, the water supply should be turned off at the main shut-off valve and pipes drained. This will help prevent water freezing and bursting the pipes, leading to extensive water damage. Remember that water expands at 4 degrees Celsius (39 degrees Fahrenheit), a phenomenon that keeps plumbers busy in winter!
 
  1. Know how to drain the pipes: Once the shut-off valve is closed, drain valves should be opened to drain the water remaining in the pipes. Drain valves are usually located on the downstream side of the shut off valve; sometimes they are separate valves. Draining water can be collected in a bucket. When draining water pipes, it is a good idea to open all faucets.
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Finished Drinking Water and Treatment Fundamentals

Finished Drinking WaterDrinking water has been called the 2nd most essential human need (after the air we breathe). Every day, over 50,000 community drinking water systems serve over 300 million Americans, with just 3 percent of these systems serving almost 80 percent of the US population.1,2 Regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act, and supported by the work of federal, state, tribal and local governments and utilities, the US drinking water system has been recognized as one of the nation’s most significant advances in public health.3

Raw and Finished Drinking Water

About two-thirds of Americans served by community drinking water systems obtain their raw (i.e., untreated) water from surface water sources, such as rivers, lakes and reservoirs.4 The remaining third are served by municipal groundwater systems using wells, while some systems use both sources. In addition to source water protection, transforming raw surface water or groundwater into … READ MORE >>

Sticker Shock and the Nation’s Drinking Water Infrastructure Challenges

WaterMainBreak

Water main break
Photo credit: EPA.gov

Over five years have passed since I wrote a 2-part series of articles titled “Pain at the Pipe.” Part 1 focused on why the US should respond to systemic drinking water infrastructure needs, while Part 2 addressed the consequences of failing to address those needs. Since then, drinking water infrastructure-related needs, as well as public health failures like Flint, Michigan, continue to make the news nationally and regionally, and have been highlighted in recent WQ&HC perspectives. In this article, I would like to focus on recent estimates of the magnitude and cost of the problem, and share some ideas regarding the need to establish realistic priorities, keeping in mind the axiom: If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.

Size of the Problem

There are over 150,000 active public drinking water systems in the US that collectively deliver treated water … READ MORE >>

World Water Day 2017: Why Waste Water?

3_Card_WWD2017Every year on March 22, the world community celebrates World Water Day by highlighting a water-related theme. This year’s theme, “Why Waste Water?” is linked to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #6, to “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.” With a clever play on words, “Why Waste Water?” encourages us to (a) question the wasteful use of clean, treated water and (b) give some thought to “wastewater.”

Why a Focus on Wastewater?

In a circular economy, many resources are reused successfully, but wastewater remains a largely untapped resource. Does it seem odd to classify wastewater as a resource? Despite the fact that more than 80 percent of wastewater produced globally is discharged untreated into the environment, in a few places, especially where water is scarce, wastewater undergoes extensive treatment to produce high quality drinking water.

In addition to being a source of drinking … READ MORE >>

Chlorine Odors and Why Drinking Water Systems Change Disinfection Practices

Drinking Water Treatment Facility Photo credit: FedCenter.gov

Drinking Water Treatment Facility
Photo credit: FedCenter.gov

Earlier this year, I wrote an article called “Smells Like Chlorine” that discussed the chemistry of odors that can arise from chlorine and other chlorine-based substances in drinking water and in poorly maintained swimming pools. Other WQ&HC articles have focused specifically on drinking water and chlorine smell, why some individuals are more sensitive than others, and why the water remains safe to drink. But did you know that the odor, taste, and sometimes even the appearance of drinking water often changes when a treatment facility alters its method of disinfection1 or when the the quality of the source water, especially rivers and lakes, change with seasons of the year?

Why Make a Change?

A public drinking water system, and there are over 150,000 in the US alone, may decide to change its treatment or disinfection practices permanentlyREAD MORE >>

Life is About Choices and their Inherent Risks, Here’s One: De-Iced Roads or Drinkable Water

Salted Roads

Salt unevenly applied in a Maryland parking lot in winter, 2017

Salting roads, highways and walkways in winter helps prevent injury and save lives by reducing the risk of accidents on icy surfaces. As with everything in life, however, there is no “free lunch.” Everything has a downside; sometimes we have to look for it. As I told my son years ago, when something is “free” (i.e., has no cost), “WATCH OUT.” In this case, the use of salt, as an immediate safety measure on icy roads has a downside that is playing out over the long term. Applying salt on pavement raises the salinity of natural waters, leading to ecological and human health effects;1 it also promotes pipe corrosion. In Flint, Michigan, for example, pipe corrosion from elevated chloride levels contributed to lead leaching into the water supply. And elevated sodium levels in drinking water can be harmful … READ MORE >>

Update: New Zealand’s Largest Drinking Water Outbreak

Drinking Water OutbreakIn August 2016, more than one-third of the 14,000 residents of the community of Havelock North in New Zealand were sickened with gastrointestinal illness after drinking untreated groundwater contaminated with Campylobacter bacteria. It was New Zealand’s largest drinking water outbreak in recorded history. Although accounts vary, the outbreak has been linked to the deaths of up to three persons. Other recent reports have noted that many people, especially the elderly, continue to suffer physically and have not fully recovered from the outbreak.1 The regional cost of the outbreak now exceeds $2.7 million in New Zealand dollars.2 Once the problem was identified and shortly after chlorination was implemented, there were no further cases of Campylobacter enteritis due to water system contamination.

Campylobacter and the Government Inquiry

Initial reports suggested that livestock were the most likely source of the Havelock North Campylobacter—a common food- and waterborne … READ MORE >>

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