Recent reports of Trichloroethylene in public water systems have been surfacing and gaining media attention. The Environmental Working Group, (EWG) a research non-profit agency, released an analysis of tests from public utilities nationwide. The analysis stated that approximately 14 million people are impacted by the carcinogenic pollutant, also known as TCE. They also conclude that a person drinking water at or below the updated guidance value, whether exposed briefly, occasionally, or daily for a lifetime would have little or no risk of health effects. Moreover, the trend for TCE-use has been experiencing a consistent decline in usage and the exposure appears to be declining in the general population. Consumers should research the consumer confidence report for their specific water agency to obtain accurate information on their water quality and not rely solely on the information provided on the analysis provided by the EWC.
What is Trichloroethylene?
According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Trichloroethylene is a colorless volatile liquid that is produced in large volumes for commercial use. It is used to make other chemicals and as a solvent that is found in processes from dry cleaning, auto maintenance, aerosol cleaning products, and a variety of other commercial industries. The Institute goes on to explain that TCE can be released into the water, air, and soil in the area where it is handled and stored. TCE can become problematic if people experience chronic exposure or consumption since it has been recently categorized as a carcinogenic. According to the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for determining what level of contaminants, such as Trichloroethylene, in drinking water is safe for human consumption based on extensive testing, monitoring and research. The EPA creates enforceable drinking water standards for maximum contaminant levels (MCL). The MCL is the maximum allowable contaminant concentration, which a public water system can deliver to a customer. The current maximum contaminant level (MCL) for Trichloroethylene is 5µg/L (5 ppb).
What are public health goals?
The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, sets public health goals. These goals are based on concentrations that pose no significant health risks if consumed for an entire lifetime. These public health goals are utilized by public water agencies to provide customers with information about drinking water contaminants in their annual consumer confidence report. Public health goals are not regulatory standards, nor are they intended to be. They are a guideline for the State Water Resources Control Board when determining the appropriate MCL for a contaminant. To find out more information from your specific water agency on levels of TCE, visit their website and evaluate the consumer confidence report, also known as water quality report.
Where to find additional information on Trichloroethylene:
Drinking water, including bottled water, may reasonably be expected to contain at least small amounts of some contaminants. The presence of contaminants does not necessarily indicate the water poses a health risk. More information about contaminants and potential health effects can be obtained by calling the U.S. EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791 or visit the EPA’s web site at www.epa.gov. Trace chemicals are measured in parts per million (ppm), which is the same as milligrams per liter (mg/L). Some constituents are measured in parts per billion (ppb). Some people may be more vulnerable to contaminants in drinking water than the general population. Those who may be particularly at risk include cancer patients, organ transplant recipients, people with HIV-AIDS or other immune system disorders, as well as some elderly individuals and infants. These people should seek advice about drinking water from their health care providers.
Innovative technology has helped improve many aspects in our quality of life and medical advancements are no exception. Medicine plays an integral role in people’s daily life; whether taken for a one-time ailment or as a daily medication, it has truly evolved and can help maintain healthy communities. But what happens when medications need to be disposed of?
It is important that we safeguard our natural resources from unwanted materials and this includes medicine. The Federal Drug Administration advises, “When your medicines are no longer needed, they should be disposed of promptly. Consumers and caregivers should remove expired, unwanted, or unused medicines from their home as quickly as possible to help reduce the chance that others accidentally take or intentionally misuse the unneeded medicine, and to help reduce drugs from entering the environment.” Essentially, proper disposal of medication has various benefits, including keeping potentially strong medicine out of the hands of children and those who may abuse it, and to minimize any environmental impacts, including impacts on our watersheds.
Local organizations, such as Eastern Municipal Water District (EMWD), are helping customers and Riverside County residents properly dispose of unwanted medicines. “EMWD’s SewerSmart Healthy Sewers campaign educates on proper medication disposal in order to reduce the impacts of unwanted medications in local wastewater. Toilets are not trashcans,” shares Roxanne Rountree, Senior Public Affairs Officer at EMWD. “We provide free medication disposal bags. Simply place the medications in the bags, add water and throw away in a trashcan. Historically, the District has promoted disposing medications by mixing it with undesirable substances, such as kitty litter or coffee grounds, and discarding it in the household trash. This option provides convenient onsite disposal that ultimately ends up in a lined landfill. However, some consumers prefer off-site disposal, citing environmental concerns and the possibility of disposed medications ending up in the wrong hands,”
EMWD, like many of SAWPA’s partners regard what they call highly reliable water, recycled water and wastewater service as their top priority and do so by protecting the health and safety of the community and the environment, as well as meet all regulatory requirements.
How much of a concern is it when medicine enters the environment and what kind of impact does it have on our watershed?
This is a multifaceted answer that has been the central topic in many discussions and studies throughout the years. The World Health Organization released a technical report that states, “Pharmaceuticals are normally governed by stringent regulatory processes and require rigorous preclinical and clinical studies to assess their efficacy and safety before commercialization. Therefore, pharmaceuticals are generally better characterized than other environmental contaminants.” However, the Santa Ana River Watershed still relies heavily on its local communities and partners to engage in safe disposal of unwanted medications, trash, and other forms of debris to maintain the vitality of the habitat and the integrity of the resource.
Some of the pharmaceutical contaminants in our environment do not come directly from the actual medication being disposed of in our waterways or down our toilets and sinks. In fact, the World Health Organization established “that raw sewage and wastewater effluents are a…source of pharmaceuticals found in surface waters,” and, the Federal Drug Administration reinforces the notion that the “majority of medicines found in water are a result of the body’s natural routes of drug elimination (in urine or feces).” The pharmaceutical contaminants make their way into our water supply via our natural sewer and water cycle. Nevertheless, almost every individual person can have a direct and positive impact on the watershed by following proper pharmaceutical disposal of medication they no longer need. The individual and community level preventative actions that people take help sustain a healthy and reliable source of water. They also support the habitation and give people ease of mind when participating in recreational activities along watershed.
How do we know that our tap water quality still maintains its integrity? The World Health Organization goes on to explain, “Even though wastewater and drinking-water treatment processes are not designed specifically to remove pharmaceuticals, they may do so to varying degrees. Pharmaceuticals are not “unusual” chemicals; their removal efficiencies during wastewater and drinking-water treatment are dependent on their physical and chemical properties. In cases where regulations require controls to mitigate risks from exposure to pesticides, treatment barriers may already be optimized to remove pharmaceuticals. Conventional wastewater treatment facilities generally have activated sludge processes or other forms of biological treatment such as biofiltration. These processes have demonstrated varying removal rates for pharmaceuticals, ranging from less than 20% to greater than 90%.”
The FDA released a statement saying that “To date, scientists have found no evidence of harmful effects to human health from medicines in the environment. In addition, to better understand the human health and ecological risks from medicines in our water, the FDA works with other agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).” Governing agencies are constantly searching for improvements in treatment processes to uphold water quality standards and protect our watersheds. To reduce overall medicine levels in our waters, FDA recommends that if readily available, consumers first consider disposing of these drugs as quickly as possible through programs. Available options include:
- Using disposal events at your local pharmacy to return unused medication
- Disposing of medicines in household trash in the following steps
- Mix medicines (do not crush tablets or capsules) with an unpalatable substance such as dirt, cat litter, or used coffee grounds;
- Place the mixture in a container such as a sealed plastic bag;
- Throw the container in your household trash; and
- By being cognizant of what we are disposing of in our waterways
EMWD has partnered with other public agencies to provide a myriad of options, including local events, to dispose of pharmaceutical medication including:
- Department of Justice / Drug Enforcement Administration’s “National Prescription Drug Take Back Day” events
- Riverside County Department of Waste Resources’ “Household Hazardous Waste Collection” events for non-controlled substances
- EMWD webpage link to a Drug Take Back location/event map
- Medicine Disposal System biodegradable pouch giveaways at local community events. Customers can also pick up a pouch at the district’s headquarters in Perris.
We shouldn’t contaminate our waters by pouring fat, grease, or oil down our pipes. Adopting the same mentality when it comes to pharmaceuticals can only help maintain the liveliness of our water supply and watershed, and promote overall public health.
Have you ever wondered what that giant tank on the hill was? You are looking at a water tank reservoir storing water for your community. Water reservoirs are a means to store both drinking (potable) and non-drinking water (non-potable). Reservoirs can be in the form of a lake or tank. Beneath the ground you can also find natural underground reservoirs where water is stored until it can be pumped, treated (cleaned) and delivered to homes.
Potable water tank reservoirs store water that has already been treated and is waiting to be delivered to homes and businesses. In California, due to the mountainous terrain, reservoirs are usually placed in higher elevations. The reason for placing the tanks higher than the homes and businesses is because pressure is needed to push water through the pipes. The water that leaves the tanks travels by gravity flow. The water pushes through the distribution system (pipes) and the pressure depends on the elevation and distance of the reservoir that provides water to a home. A water pressure regulator is a device that can be installed to regulate pressure to ensure the correct amount of pressure is present.
Reservoir tanks ensure that the correct amount of water is treated and ready to be distributed to the areas they provide water to. When people turn on the tap to take a drink of water, enjoy a shower or wash their hands, water travels directly from a nearby reservoir, through pipes and into homes. The process happens so efficiently that most people never think twice about where their water comes from or how it gets to them. Besides residential, commercial and industrial water demands, reservoirs also store surplus water held in reserve in case of high fire flow water demand. This ensures adequate water is supplied to fire hydrants when firefighting is needed.
“There are several benefits of a tank reservoir versus an open reservoir,” shares Liza Muñoz, Inland Empire Utilities Agency Senior Engineer. “Tanks allow you to store a large amount of water in a smaller footprint than in an open reservoir. They also avoid water evaporation, which can reduce supply. Tanks are designed to supply water at the appropriate system pressures needed to deliver the water.”
Inland Empire Utilities Agency (IEUA) has five above ground tank reservoirs to store treated recycled water for non-potable (not for drinking) water. The recycled water is stored in the reservoirs and then distributed to IEUA’s member agencies for non-potable use in agriculture, irrigation, industrial cooling processes, and groundwater replenishment. The water stored in these tanks comes from IEUA’s regional water recycling plants and are governed by California Title 22. Stringent water quality testing is conducted so that recycled water quality meets/exceeds regulatory standards in order to be reused for non-drinking water purposes.
Both drinking water and treated recycled water can benefit from being stored in tank reservoirs. Next time to you look up at a hill and see a tank reservoir, be sure to remember that inside that large tank there are possibly millions of gallons of water inside waiting to travel through your city.
Water is a finite resource. We cannot make more of it. The same water on earth today is the same water that was here during the times that dinosaurs roamed.
Southern California’s dry climate with little rainfall requires the need for a sustainable and secure supply for water. With record breaking dry periods, such as the most-recent drought that took place over the course of five years from 2012 to 2017, water agencies throughout California are looking for solutions for maintaining a sustainable drinking water supply. It is more important than ever to become less dependent on imported water and reduce costly sources of water to support the region’s demand. Dry years forced water agencies to look for innovative and progressive avenues that create local viable supplies of water.
Advancements in technology, water treatment facilities and innovative thinking have created wastewater recycling and groundwater recharge. This approach to water supply management gives Southern California agencies a feasible option to meet the needs of its commercial and residential customers while preserving groundwater basin levels.
What exactly does wastewater recycling mean? It is a highly sophisticated process that the Environmental Protection Agency describes as “reusing treated (cleaned) wastewater for beneficial purposes such, as agricultural and landscape irrigation, industrial processes, toilet flushing, and replenishing a groundwater basin (referred to as groundwater recharge).” California’s Department of Water Resources describes groundwater recharge as “the augmentation of groundwater, by natural or artificial means, with surface water or recycled water.”
This wastewater treatment and reuse process is currently being used for both non-potable (not consumable) and potable (consumable) via recharge across the region. Orange County Water District (OCWD) has led the way in developing and implementing a water purification system for indirect potable reuse. Its Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS) is considered the world’s largest of its kind and serves as a global model for water reuse.
“Wastewater is a resource. That is why OCWD has made a significant investment in implementing and expanding the Groundwater Replenishment System . In fact, by 2023 the GWRS will produce 130 million gallons of water a day. The GWRS creates local water reliability and helps OCWD diversify its water portfolio. These types of projects have tremendous potential throughout California, and beyond. As water managers, we must look at all available options in our region to create long-term water reliability and water reuse should be considered,” shared OCWD General Manager Mike Markus.
The GWRS takes highly treated wastewater that would have previously been discharged into the Pacific Ocean and purifies it using a three-step advanced treatment process consisting of micro-filtration, reverse osmosis and ultraviolet light with hydrogen peroxide. In order to simultaneously maintain the groundwater basins integrity that was no longer being sustained by natural recharge, and to satisfy the demands of their ever-growing population, Orange County Water District will replenish the supply with purchased imported sources as needed. Although the GWRS creates more local water reliability, Orange County Water District is still reliant on other water sources. The GWRS does reduce dependence on other water sources by 30 percent.
GWRS enabled the water district to reduce the need to purchase imported supplies and instead allowed them to recharge their basin with their wastewater that had been extensively treated. Their process is often described as a state-of-the-art production that creates a high quality, local indirect potable supply which is beneficial to all its consumers. Different types of this supply model, albeit smaller in production, are imitated throughout the region.
Although treatment plants and techniques have become increasingly modified, using recycled wastewater to meet demands is not entirely new. In fact, according to the Department of Water Resources, it is a technique that has been used for over a century. During the late 1800s farmers began using wastewater to grow crops and others started using it for landscape irrigation. Investing in infrastructure for these operating systems usually requires a larger upfront cost but provides multifaceted benefits that often offset and surpass the cost. The Department of Water Resources list the following benefits for recycled water:Restores wetlands and marshes;
• Forestalls a water shortage by conserving fresh water;
• Provides additional reliable local sources of water, nutrients and organic matter for soil conditioning;
• Provides drought protection;
• Improves the economic efficiency of investments in pollution control and irrigation projects, particularly near urban areas;
• Improves social benefits by creating more jobs and improving human and environmental health protection.
Water districts understand the public health concerns regarding the use of recycled water, which is recharged in the groundwater basin and later used for potable water. They battle the misperceptions by ensuring quality tests meet and exceed mandatory state and federal regulations for drinking water. With increasing demands and an unpredictable future in California’s climate, building infrastructure for recycling wastewater for groundwater recharge is an option that is becoming increasingly popular to increase local control of water of resources.
BPA has made headlines repeatedly over the years and prompted a public outcry for more information over the topic. Many people have called for its ban and expressed concerns over the presence of BPA in everyday household items. The overwhelming presence of BPA in food and drink containers may be negatively impacting a wide range of bodily functions independent of age, race, or gender. The long term consequences of involuntary and long-term ingestion of the chemical raises the question of how to avoid it.
What is exactly is BPA? The Mayo Clinic defines BPA, short for bisphenol A., as an industrial chemical that has been used to make certain plastics and resins since the 1960’s. The Clinic further explains that “BPA is found in polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. Polycarbonate plastics are often used in containers that store food and beverages, such as water bottles.” Essentially, BPA is a chemical that has been used in plastic productions for nearly 70 years and is universal among plastic-based container goods. BPA becomes problematic when used in everyday items such as water bottles and Tupperware due to the susceptibility of the chemical leaching into the contained product, i.e. food or beverages. This in turn leads to the chemical unknowingly being ingested and causing short and long term ailments. The Mayo Clinic reinforces that notion and states, “Some research has shown that BPA can seep into food or beverages from containers that are made with BPA. Exposure to BPA is a concern because of possible health effects of BPA on the brain, behavior and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children. Additional research suggests a possible link between BPA and increased blood pressure.”
Your So Cal Tap Water previously had the opportunity to interview Brenda Meyer, an engineer and water scientist from Western Municipal Water District, about the regulations that tap water is mandated to follow. We learned that besides BPA contamination concerns, bottled water also faces looser regulations in the filtering process compared to tap water. This is not to say that bottled water is unsafe to consume, but does reinforce the notion that tap water faces strict regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and is monitored to maintain its quality. Bottled water is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is subject to weekly test for bacteriological contamination in California; while regular bottled water testing is suggested, it is not always enforced and often goes loosely regulated. Municipal water districts are subject to more rigorous quality tests on a frequent basis and take pride upholding the integrity of the resource.
Time Magazine online shares a recent study, conducted by Orb Media, on the contamination of 9 of the 11 bottled water tested for Microplastic contamination testing positive. The findings were nearly universal discovering Microplastics in 90% of the samples tested. Compared to bottled water from around the globe, those tested from U.S. sources ranked higher for contamination. Furthermore, the environmental impacts of the bottled water are also a concern if not addressed.
We know that tap water is BPA free, regulated, and wallet-friendly to consume, but still the United States is experiencing an increase in sales of bottled water. According to data released by Beverage Marketing Inc., “Theamount of bottled water sold rose 7.9 percent in 2015. That’s on top of a 7 percent increase in 2014. Looking over a long term time span, from 2000 to 2015, bottled water consumption more than doubled, from 16.7 gallons a person to 36.4 gallons.”
Americans are consistently purchasing and consuming more bottled water than ever before and potentially exposing themselves to hazardous chemicals in the process. Besides the convenience of purchasing bottled water, packaging is valued for its aesthetic components and media ‘worthiness.’ National Geographic speaks to the anti-bottled-water campaigns “which have been concentrated on the nation’s college campuses and focus on the environmentalimpact of bottled water as a packaged product, compared to simply refilling a reusable water bottle,” but concludes that the movement needs more engagement from the public.
Staying BPA free is possible and there are many simple steps you can take to avoid it. Using a reusable bottle and filling it with tap water helps avoid environmental and health consequences that plastics containing BPA can produce. Choosing the right refillable bottle identified with ‘BPA free’ stickers or signage are also instrumental to avoiding the chemical in your household items. Whatever the case, be reassured that filling it with tap water is safe and monitored as well as economically friendly for any home!
To read our interview with Brenda click here.