Spring Drinking Water Tune-Up

Home appliances require periodic maintenance to ensure they last and operate effectively. This is especially true if they have filters such as a vacuum or heating/air conditioner. Your water supply and filtration system also needs regular attention. Water quality is very important to your health, so understanding your water supply, its quality, and treatment is essential.

Depending on your supply (public or private well), tune up procedures will vary. For public water supplies, which go through extensive testing and treatment, there may be little to do unless you have older plumbing pipe and fixtures. In this case, testing for lead and copper is recommended. 

If you are on a drinking water well, have your water tested annually for coliform bacteria, E.coli and nitrate (animal waste and sewage contaminants), and every three years test for chloride, copper, lead, iron, pH, manganese, sulfates, and total dissolved solids. In some areas, there may be other contaminants such as arsenic or radium (local health departments can provide information), which you can test for. Be sure to use a certified lab – your local county health department should have a list. If your water results indicate treatment is needed, go to this resource to find out more about filters: http://dwit.psiee.psu.edu/dwit.asp.

Whatever type of water filter you use — faucet, pitcher, refrigerator or under the sink filter – they all require maintenance. Simply be sure to change the filters as recommended by the manufacturer. Not changing them can lead to reduction in water flow and filtration performance, and can also result in contaminants no longer being trapped, which can then be released into the water. Water filters can also build up bacteria if not changed as recommended. If you have a whole house or faucet filtration system, be sure to follow the manufacturers’ recommended maintenance schedule. 

Investing a little time to check on your water and filtration system can help ensure safe drinking water for you and your family.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Fluoride in Drinking Water? 

Fluoride was originally added to public drinking water in the 1950s as a way to reduce dental cavities or tooth decay. There are some natural water supplies that contain fluoride, and public utilities will test to determine if removal or addition is warranted. 

The American Dental Association, Centers for Disease Control and others supported this effort then and still do today. The Environmental Protection Agency established a maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 4 mg/l or ppm and most utilities will add fluoride at 0.5 – 1.5 mg/l. 

In the years since initiation of fluoridation, there have been numerous studies which have investigated the potential health impacts associated with fluoride. Several studies have shown a link of ingested fluoride with an increase of dental and skeletal fluorosis (staining or pitting of teeth in children, or bone weakness), cognitive impairment, hypothyroidism, enzyme and electrolyte derangement, and uterine cancer. However, the American Cancer Society recently has stated that research has not shown a link of fluoride and cancer. 

Concentrations of fluoride in these studies varied, but some show a link to health effects at levels of 1-2 mg/l, well below the EPA MCL. The Department of Health and Human Service has recommended an optimal level of 0.7 milligrams per liter is set to promote public health benefits of fluoride for preventing tooth decay while minimizing the chance for dental fluorosis and other health issues. 

Currently the EPA is reviewing the new risk assessment of fluoride to determine whether to revise the drinking water standard. 

Given the increasing concern over potential health impacts with fluoridated water, there are efforts by various groups to lobby for utilities to stop adding fluoride to drinking water. One argument used is that since the use of fluoridated toothpaste and other topical products, which have been shown to be more effective than a water source, fluoridation is no longer warranted, especially given the potential harm to certain individuals or populations. In recent years, over 75 cities have stopped adding fluoride to their drinking water supply. Further the U.S. Public Health Service has lowered its recommended level of fluoride in drinking water. 

If you are concerned about fluoride in your drinking water, check with your public water utility. An annual Consumer Confidence Report is available and will inform you of the amount of fluoride in the water supply. If you are using a private well, you can have your water tested. There are several filters that will remove fluoride including anion exchange, activated alumina, and the most common is reverse osmosis which can be installed under the sink to treat your drinking water. 

For more information on water quality and testing, check out our website.

Drinking-Water Quality and Environmental Justice

Samuel T. Coleridge coined the phrase ‘‘Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.’’ This may surprisingly reflect some of our drinking water quality in the U.S. In such a technologically advanced society, it is easy to assume that all of our drinking water is safe and of good quality. Unfortunately, that is not the case. 

We have all heard that our nation’s infrastructure is deteriorating and is in need of huge investment for replacement. This certainly applies to our water delivery systems. Lower-income and minority communities in particular, have a greater risk of exposure to pollutants, whether from air or drinking water. There are numerous factors that contribute to this disproportionate risk including proximity to pollution sources (landfills, industry, agriculture, etc.) and related lower land values, greater risk of flooding, failing water supply infrastructure, and lower allocations of funding for public water technologies. In addition, those on private wells often are not testing their water as recommended, nor have the funding for treatment systems. 

The lead crisis in Flint, Mich., is just one example of drinking water contamination situations that have brought attention to the wide-ranging socioeconomic disparities in the risk of drinking water contamination. 

Violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act have been observed to be more prevalent in lower-income communities with higher proportions of Hispanic or African-American residents. For example, a 2010-2014 study showed that 5.6 million people served by a small community water system had average nitrate concentrations above 5 mg/L. Though below the Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum contaminant level (MCL of 10 mg/L), the observed levels have been shown to increase the risk of cancer and birth defects. 

Small community water supplies, especially those that supply low-income and minority communities, may have poorer water quality to begin with, due to closer proximity to pollution sources. Further, these water supplies may have reduced technical, managerial, and financial capabilities in managing drinking water, and may lack the needed resources to comply with testing and treatment requirements. Another study showed the percent Hispanic residents and those living in urban areas were associated with an increased likelihood of detection, or exceedance of health guidelines, of several unregulated industrial, inorganic, and disinfection by-product contaminants. 

The situation with private wells and drinking water quality can be even more concerning. Surveys indicate that private wells in the United States often exceed health standards for at least one contaminant. Two studies in the south and Mid-Atlantic have shown that 15-24% of private wells exceeded the 15 parts per billion EPA action level for lead, thereby exposing children to increase risk of behavior, growth, and neurological disorders. One factor in the incidence of contamination of well water quality is that private well supplies are not regulated, as are public supplies, therefore the responsibility for testing and treatment is on the well owner. Unfortunately, most well owners do not test their water as recommended, often not knowing when and what to test. 

Further exasperating this issue is the financial constraints of lower-income and minority populations in affording water testing and installing and maintaining necessary treatment systems.   

Greater attention to enacting policies to address disparities in water supply quality, and educating all consumers is needed to ensure justice for a fundamental health requirement of safe and quality drinking water. 

Home Maintenance and Water Check-Up

Maintaining your home and the various appliances helps them last longer, saving you money, but can also benefit your health. You might first think of your air conditioner/heating system, or your refrigerator and vacuum cleaner needing maintenance such as filter changes, but your water supply and filtration systems need attention too. In fact, your water quality is very important to your health, so why not use the beginning of the New Year to do a water supply tune-up! 

Depending on your supply (public or private well), tune-up procedures will vary:

For public water supplies, which go through extensive testing and treatment, there may be little to do unless you use some type of filtration – faucet, pitcher, or refrigerator or under-the-sink filter. With these, simply be sure to change the filters as recommended by the manufacturer. 

As with any filter, they have to be changed regularly to function effectively. Not changing them can lead not only to a reduction in performance and potentially lifespan, but also contaminants can no longer be trapped and are released into the water you’re drinking. Water filters, in particular, can potentially build up bacteria if filters are not changed as recommended. If you have a whole house or faucet filtration system, be sure to follow the manufacturers’ recommended maintenance schedule. 

If you are using a water well, have your water tested annually for coliform bacteria, E.coli, and nitrate (animal waste and sewage contaminants). Every three years test for arsenic, chloride, copper, lead, pH, sulfates, and total dissolved solids. If there are known local sources of contaminants (local health departments are a good resource), you can test for these also. 

So, for peace of mind follow these simple water tune practices to ensure good drinking water quality.

Winter Tips for De-icing Walkways Sustainably

Using salt to de-ice roads, parking lots, and sidewalks is a common practice to reduce driving and walking hazards but can result in a significant cost to aquatic habitats and drinking water quality. The growth and reproduction of fish, aquatic bugs, and amphibians are affected by excess amounts of sodium and chloride in deicing salts, as is drinking water quality in both surface and groundwater supplies. As homeowners, we can play a role in reducing salt use and thereby reduce impacts to our water quality: 

  • The best approach to reducing slipping hazards and the use of potentially harmful deicing salts is shoveling sidewalks to reduce snow accumulation and ice formation. 
  • Covering small areas such as your steps with heavy, waterproof plastic or a tarp before the storm can reduce shoveling and deicer use.
  • Focus use of deicing products on high use areas and slopes where traction is most important. 
  • Spreading the deicer before snow and ice start helps reduce accumulation and usage of salts. Note that salt and deicers are not effective when snow is more than three inches deep. 
  • If applying deicers after snow and ice is present, remove as much snow and ice as possible before application. 
  • Try adding sand for traction to reduce salt use.
  • Consider more sustainable alternatives like calcium magnesium acetate (CMA), more effective at melting ice and snow when temperatures are above 25 degrees. See the EPA list of safer products: https://www.epa.gov/saferchoice/products. 
  • Follow the label directions. If only a handful of salt per square yard is required, using more is not more effective, just more expensive. It also increases the risk to plants, animals, vehicles, and impact to groundwater. 

Stay green this winter and help to protect our wildlife, our drinking water, and our environment. Wishing you all a safe holiday season!

Staying Hydrated for Health!

Water is a life-giving nutrient and is essential for our organs to function properly. Humans are made up of 60% water (about 78% for babies) so it makes sense that water is critically important for good health. 

Water allows our bodies to: 

  • regulate temperature 
  • flush out wastes 
  • lubricate and cushion
  • and provide protection to our spinal cord and other tissues. 

Keeping properly hydrated can also help our skin and brain function. We do get some needed water through foods, mostly fruits and vegetables, but drinking fluids is the primary means to stay hydrated. 

You have probably heard the recommendation to drink eight-12 ounce glasses a day to prevent dehydration. 

Dehydration, even for short periods, can cause:

The rule of thumb to drink at least 96 ounces of water applies year-round – in hot and cold climates. Certainly, we know the importance of drinking water in summer, when exercising, or when sick, but even the winter and indoor dry air requires us to be diligent in staying hydrated. 

With our busy schedules, we can often forget to drink enough water. We have to train ourselves to drink water regularly. 

Some tips to staying hydrated include: 

  • waking up with a glass of water 
  • carrying a water bottle or two when at work 
  • keeping a few bottles in your car when running errands 
  • freeze a bottle to take on outings 
  • serve water during meals
  • and substitute sugary drinks with water with or without a wedge of fruit. 

Whatever the way you choose, you must remember to keep hydrated, so you make an important contribution to your health!

There’s a Filter For That

Water makes up at least 60% of our bodies and it is essential for our organs to function properly. Therefore, it makes sense to drink quality water free of harmful contaminants. Where do we start?

There are numerous types of water filters and filtration systems for homes. Some filters are installed where you get your drinking water, or point of use (POU) and can be fit on the faucet or under the sink. Other filters treat the entire home water supply, or point of entry (POE), such as a water softener.

It is important to remember that since filters can be expensive, depending on type and size, only purchase what you need based on your test results. Also, all filtration requires maintenance! Be sure to change filters and follow the recommended maintenance. Filters that are not changed can actually reduce water flow, and not take out the contaminants they are intended to.  

 Yes, there is a solution to drinking water quality. Being informed and the proper use and care of filtration are essential! 

Everyday Contaminants Affecting Water Quality

Consider the multitude of chemicals that we use daily – beauty products, cleaners, cosmetics, over the counter and prescription drugs, fire retardants, food packaging, flame-retardants, hormones, nutraceuticals, pesticides, petroleum products, sunscreens, and stain repellents and numerous others. What happens to all these chemicals when they are washed down household drains or breakdown in municipal waste facilities? Where do they go?

There are hundreds, possibly thousands of compounds known as “contaminants of emerging concern” or CEC’s, including endocrine disrupting compounds (EDC’s), organic wastewater compounds (OWC’s), pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCP’s), polyflourylalkyl substances (PFAS), and volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), amongst others. This variety leads to a mixture in our waters resembling an alphabet soup of contaminants, of which we play a part as “cooks” as we rinse, wash away, and throw out various household items like lotions, soaps, cleaning chemicals, plastic packaging, and numerous other products.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have been investigating CEC’s for years to understand their effect on the environment and ecology, yet there remains much that we do not know. The USGS sampled 139 streams in 30 states for 95 contaminants, and found one or more of these chemicals in 80% of the streams. Further, half of the streams contained seven or more, and one-third contained an astounding ten or more of these contaminants. 

While those numbers are disturbing, drinking water is sourced differently and treated. EPA and USGS scientist’s sampled 29 drinking water plants and their source water for 210 pharmaceuticals, OWC’s, and PFAS’s. Almost 150 chemicals were detected at least once in the source water, and 121 were detected at least once in the treated drinking water. Some of the pharmaceuticals and OWC’s were observed to be more easily removed during treatment, whereas PFAS’s were more frequently detected and more resistant to treatment. 

Concentrations of these CECs tended to be relatively small, in parts per trillion, however, a few are approaching levels of concern due to known toxicity. Public drinking water supplies are increasingly testing for more contaminants and updating filtration to remove contaminants, but continued discharge of these compounds will contribute to environmental accumulation, increasing the risks to both environmental and public health.

Being aware of this threat is the first step. You can take action to reduce the amounts of these chemicals being introduced into our environment by making more informed purchases, proper recycling, and following label recommendations of disposal, especially of hazardous chemicals such as pharmaceuticals.

For more information on proper disposal of pharmaceuticals, go to https://mde.maryland.gov/PublicHealth/Pages/drug_disposal.aspx. For more information on the disposal of household chemicals, go to https://mde.maryland.gov/programs/LAND/RecyclingandOperationsprogram/Pages/hhw.aspx.