Category Archives: Featured
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 >>
People urinate in swimming pools. It’s been a widely discussed topic since we published the results of our 2009 survey concluding that one in five American adults admit to having “peed in the pool.” Now there is physical evidence for this unsavory act, and it appears in the form of an artificial sweetener, of all things. A Canadian research team has identified a chemical compound in pool water that indicates the presence of urine. The “chemical marker” is acesulfame-K, or “ACE,” a synthetic sweetener found in prepackaged foods. ACE passes through the body essentially unaltered, and is excreted exclusively in the urine. The researchers posit that ACE could be a useful indicator of pool water quality.
The Problem with Peeing in the Pool
Besides being a rather discourteous thing to do, peeing in the pool contributes to poor pool water quality. Urine contains nitrogen-containing compounds that combine chemically with … READ MORE >>
Superbugs are sneaky creatures. A new University of Virginia (UVA) study reveals how these microbes, once washed down the drains of hospital sinks, colonize the drainpipe and rise up slowly along the sides of the pipe, eventually reaching the sink strainer. The researchers hypothesize that when the sink faucet is operated, the potential pathogens and superbugs may be splashed from the strainer over a distance of more than two feet, presenting an infection risk to vulnerable hospital patients.
A Significant Issue
Superbugs are multidrug resistant bacteria that are responsible for two million cases of illness and some 23,000 deaths per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. A CDC report notes that over 720,000 infections were contracted in hospitals in 2011 and that 75,000 of those patients died. The UVA researchers found over 32 recent reports describing the spread of bacteria resistant to the … 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
A “superbug” infection contracted in a hospital in India killed a Nevada woman in September 2016 as doctors stood by, powerless to intervene with an effective antibiotic drug. The woman in her 70’s had fractured her leg in India, leading to multiple hospitalizations in that country. She returned to the US in early August 2016 and was admitted to an acute care hospital later that month.
The pathogen responsible for the woman’s death, Klebsiella pneumoniae, was found to be resistant to 26 antibiotics. A co-author of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report on the incident noted in a Reno-Gazette-Journal article that the CDC “basically reported that there was nothing in our medicine cabinet to treat this lady.”
A Global Problem
Antibiotic resistant germs are a serious global public health threat. In the US, there are over two million infections and 23,000 deaths caused by antibiotic … READ MORE >>
Norovirus, the dreaded “stomach flu” or “winter vomiting disease,” is spreading misery far and wide this winter. The Wall Street Journal (January 24) reported on multiple school closures across the US and unhappy households in which family members are falling sick in succession like a line of dominoes.
Meet the Virus
Not a flu but a virus, norovirus has been called the “perfect pathogen1” because it is highly contagious and evolves more quickly than humans can develop significant immunity against it. Norovirus spreads through close personal contact with an infected individual; by ingesting contaminated food or water; or by contact with contaminated surfaces. It is the world’s most common cause of gastrointestinal illness, inflicting severe diarrhea or vomiting. Symptoms begin to appear from 12 to 48 hours after becoming infected with the virus and last a few days. Unfortunately, people remain contagious for several days after they feel better. As they resume normal activities, therefore, the lingering “perfect pathogen” may be transmitted easily to new, unsuspecting hosts.
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 >>