Learning From History

June 6, 2017
Using lessons from contamination crises to better the future

About the author: Susan White is a freelance writer and marketing consultant for water treatment professionals. White can be reached at [email protected].

This is the third and final installment of Susan White’s series on water contamination issues across the U.S. Parts one and two can be found in the April and May issues of WQP or at www.wqpmag.com.

Concerns over pipeline and oil spills have continued to make headlines. Sometimes, however, the news cycle overshadows contaminants like chromium-6 that made a splash years ago. Others, such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), are starting to get the attention of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Chromium-6 Contamination Continues

Chromium-6 has not gone away, and recent reports show how the contamination continues to occur throughout the U.S., either from natural sources or industrial runoff. For instance, Channel 2 Investigates in Houston found that tap water in some local homes contained high levels of chromium-6.

“We know for a fact that there are levels above the threshold that’s known to cause adverse human health effects,” said Jackie Young, executive director of the Texas Health and Environment Alliance, to Channel 2. “So we’re educating and engaging residents to ask the city of Houston to go above and beyond their legal federal standards and test and isolate where this source is coming from.”

Acknowledging PFOA & PFOS

In an effort to better distinguish the health problems associated with exposure to PFOA and PFOS in drinking water, EPA took a step forward last November: It established PFOA and PFOS health advisory levels of 70 ppt. According to the EPA fact sheet on the contaminants, “When both PFOA and PFOS are found in drinking water, the combined concentrations of PFOA and PFOS should be compared with the 70-ppt health advisory level. This health advisory level offers a margin of protection for all Americans throughout their life from adverse health effects resulting from exposure to PFOA and PFOS in drinking water.”

EPA health advisories are established from peer-reviewed studies on the effects of contaminants on laboratory animals and epidemiological studies of human populations that have been exposed to the contaminants. PFOA and PFOS exposure beyond certain levels can have negative effects on developing fetuses and breastfed infants; increase chances of kidney and testicular cancer; damage liver tissue; impair antibody production and immunity; and adversely affect cholesterol.

Education Is the Key

The role education plays in addressing water contamination cannot be emphasized enough. When it comes to getting the word out, water treatment distributors and dealers can capitalize on current issues and help their constituency for the good of all. Rather than just selling a product, the mission is to help people live healthier lifestyles.

Research on the best technologies to efficiently and effectively remove contaminants also is crucial. Many water systems in the U.S. struggle to find funding to update aging water infrastructure to combat new contaminant threats, but all hope is not lost.

Water treatment industry leaders today have the wherewithal to work together and fix the ever-growing water quality problems facing the U.S. Unfortunately, it is not a one-off fix. Leaders must brainstorm to find the best solutions to provide the best treatment modalities.

Selecting Solutions

Water treatment technology choices range from reverse osmosis (RO) to ultrafiltration (UF) to reduction-oxidation filter media.

Lead contamination can be reduced or removed with point-of-entry or point-of-use water treatment systems. Inline filters certified to NSF/ANSI standards offer cost-effective protection against lead and chlorine for drinking water fountains, refrigerators and sinks. Electroadsorption products are another option that has been independently tested and certified for 95% reduction of lead; 99% reduction of viruses, bacteria and cysts; reduction of PFOA and other perfluorinated compounds; and reduction of chromium-6, arsenic and mercury. Using adsorption technology, carbon block filtration with special media also can provide significant reduction of lead and many other contaminants.

Some contaminants, such as residual oil and chemicals from fracking, are more difficult to remove and require multiple technologies. Onsite remediation now includes multi-stage truck systems that treat the water before pumping it into the wastewater treatment stream.

Radioactive contaminants such as uranium also are difficult to remove, but they can be reduced by cation and anion media, depending upon their state. UF, RO and activated alumina all can be used to reduce uranium, as well. 

About the Author

Susan White

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