Category Archives: Drinking Water
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 >>
Every 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 >>
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?
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 >>
In 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
Providing safe drinking water requires a multi-barrier approach that includes protecting source water from contamination, physically and/or chemically treating (including chlorine disinfection) the raw surface- and groundwater, and storing and delivering the treated water in a manner that prevents re-contamination. Every day, more than a billion glasses of tap water are consumed from over 150,000 public drinking water systems across the US, and it is often taken for granted that the water is safe and wholesome.1
Many types of pathogenic (disease-causing) germs can be found in contaminated drinking water, including bacteria, viruses and parasites like Cryptosporidium—the cause of the largest documented waterborne disease outbreak in recent US history.READ MORE >>
They say “the nose knows,” but I say the nose can be confused. Chlorine odors are a good example. Several different chlorine odors can arise from various chlorine-based substances and in different circumstances. They are not all simply due to “chlorine.” A prime example is the irritating smell commonly attributed to chlorine around some poorly managed swimming pools. That smell is from a couple of chemical compounds in the chloramine family. Some chloramines form when chlorine disinfectants react chemically with nitrogen-based substances from the bodies of swimmers, including urine. The poolside pronouncement of “too much chlorine in the pool” may be more aptly described as “too much peeing in the pool.” Ironically, the odor could signal that more chlorine is needed in the pool.READ MORE >>
As Perspectives readers gather with family and friends to celebrate the holidays, the Water Quality and Health Council invites you to share a mesmerizing time-lapse view of our home, the Blue Planet, from space.
Hovering in a gravity-neutral zone between Earth and the sun, a million miles over the Blue Planet, the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite recently completed one year of photographing the sun-lit side of Earth and monitoring the weather in deep space.... READ MORE >>
The ability of microorganisms to attach to diverse surfaces and form complex colonies known as biofilms vastly improves their survival and growth in environmental niches. Biofilms form when bacteria adhere to surfaces by excreting a slimy, glue-like substance, and can include algae, protozoa, and other microorganisms. Nationally, biofilms cost the US billions of dollars every year in energy losses, equipment damage, product contamination, and medical infections.1 Although we have written in the past about biofilms, the good and bad, this article focuses on their role in microbiological drinking water quality—specifically biofilms in distribution systems.
A Widespread Problem
All water distribution systems eventually develop some type of biofilm. Because biofilms can protect pathogenic (disease-causing) microbes from disinfection, they can present a threat to public health. Biofilms can also discolor water … READ MORE >>
A Cautionary Tale of Untreated Groundwater, Campylobacter, and New Zealand’s Largest Drinking Water Outbreak
Havelock North is a suburb of the City of Hastings on the North Island of New Zealand with 14,000 residents. By the end of August 2016, over one-third of the residents of this entire town had been sickened by drinking water contaminated with Campylobacter bacteria, the most common source of foodborne illness in New Zealand.1 How did a wealthy country with national drinking water standards come to experience the largest documented drinking water outbreak in its history?
Like most waterborne disease outbreaks, Havelock North’s began when a few residents stayed home from work assuming they had food poisoning or a seasonal illness. The trickle soon grew to dozens, then hundreds, and ultimately thousands of residents suffering from debilitating cramps, headaches and nausea. “By Friday August 12 schools reported hundreds of … READ MORE >>