Western Environmental
Testing Laboratory
Contaminant: Arsenic

Arsenic is a well-known inorganic element, and it is one of the many routinely monitored contaminants in drinking water.  WETLAB tests for Arsenic in drinking water through EPA Method 200.7 and 200.8.  But how does Arsenic make its way into drinking water, and what are the potential health effects from increased Arsenic load?

The EPA requires that ground water systems monitor for Arsenic every three years, and surface water systems every year.  These frequencies may be increased if  Arsenic is found to be at or above the MCL (Maximum Contaminant Level), defined as 10ppb (parts per billion).  This MCL was lowered from 50ppb in 2001 to better protect public health.

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element found in soils and rocks, and is also a by-product of several industrial and agricultural processes. Drinking water contamination can occur from naturally eroding deposits, and from runoff of various processes.  Some water will be naturally higher in Arsenic due to the rocks and soils that make up the aquifer.  Arsenic contamination can be treated in many ways, including Iron treatment and adsorption, which helps precipitate Arsenic out of water.

Ingesting water with Arsenic levels greater than the MCL can cause adverse health effects if the water is consumed for many years. These health effects include skin damage, circulatory problems, and an increased risk of various cancers.

To find out more about Arsenic in drinking water, visit this guide, published by the EPA.

Nitrate levels are regularly monitored in drinking water to ensure compliance with EPA standards.  WETLAB regularly tests for Nitrate, Nitrite, and Total Nitrogen concentration in water and soils using a variety of methods, including EPA 300.0, EPA 353.2, and EPA 9056. But how does increased Nitrogen load in drinking water occur, and what are the possible health risks associated with high levels?

Increased Nitrogen concentration in surface water is observed in areas with fertilizer runoff, often from agricultural areas.  Increased Nitrogen concentration in ground water is also observed in areas with farming, and areas with high concentrations of septic systems.  In farming and agricultural areas, fertilizers (such as potassium nitrate and ammonium nitrate) are essential for growing crops, but decompose into the soil to increase nutrient concentration.  This is also observed from decomposing animal manure, and from decomposing human sewage from septic tanks.

This increased Nitrogen concentration is often referred to as “Nutrient Pollution,” as Nitrogen and various other elements are essential to our soils and atmosphere, but can cause problems when the concentration reaches a certain threshold.  The EPA has defined this threshold for Nitrate as 10.0 mg/L, and for Nitrite as 1.0 mg/L.  Potential health effects from increased Nitrogen concentration are most often seen in infants less than 6 months old, resulting in methemoglobinemia, a temporary blood disorder referred to as “blue baby syndrome.” Adults are usually not as susceptible to this condition.

More information about Nitrate contamination in drinking water can be found through the EPA here.

One of the ways WETLAB strives to better serve our clients is to understand what they do at every level.  We believe that by knowing what our clients do, we can help them reach their goals.  Hollie Timmons, Client Services Manager, and Michelle Sherven, WETLAB President visited long-time client Lyon County Utilities to better understand what they do, and what role WETLAB can play in their success.  To learn more about Lyon County Utilities, watch their client testimonial here.  Below, Hollie tells us about the visit.

On Cinco De Mayo, Michelle and I went to Lyon County Utilities to tour the wastewater treatment plant and one of their drinking water well houses. It was very interesting to see the whole process from start to finish! We started at the entry point where all the wastewater enters the plant and got to see the headworks building, where augers keep the pipes from getting clogged with hair and paper (among other things). This was the most disgusting part seeing all the hair wound up in a mass, which we were told gets all “roped-up” every so often and jams the augers, so someone has to get in there and remove all the sewage-soaked hair, which made me really appreciate my desk job! This building also had the strongest odor, which was a humid combination of raw sewage and a burning, overwhelming ammonia scent that was enough to make your eyes water! After that, we got to see the grit separator and their huge jet-engine aerators that pump air to all the tanks, where a combination of certain bacteria/microbes are added to the mixture. These bacteria do their job to break down the organic matter, and the solids settle to the bottom of the tanks to further decompose. Once this process is complete, the water is decanted/skimmed from the top and passes through a winding series of channels where the water is chlorinated for disinfection. This treated water then goes into a covered pond (to control algae growth) where it slowly seeps into the ground and is eventually returned to the ground water, completing the full circle of sewage life. The sludge (essentially the dead bacteria/microbes, killed off by the chlorination) is transferred to a drying bed, which some treatment plants then sell to farms for use as fertilizer. This treatment plant requires so much power to run, that they have the largest 12-cylinder generator I have ever seen, to ensure the plant operations do not come to a halt in the event of a power outage. After the tour was finished, we had lunch and then drove to one of their drinking water wells that takes in surface water from a nearby river/stream. The water is pumped through the well house, chlorinated, and piped to the nearby homes. While we were in the pump house, we experienced a sudden torrential hail-storm, which stranded us inside. We watched the marble-sized hail shred the leaves off nearby trees and pelt the building with a thunderous roar, falling like frozen bullets from the sky. It made for the perfect ending to a very fun day!!
Michelle and Hollie with our great clients from Lyon County Utilities

Michelle and Hollie with our great clients from Lyon County Utilities

 

Hollie is always striving to serve our clients better

Hollie is always striving to serve our clients better

Bruce Metals, Inc. has been a WETLAB client since mid-2012.  BMI is an interesting client because of their project and the way that we process their samples.  Many clients have fairly standard tests, especially those that are dictated by the state in permits.  Bruce Metals is different; WETLAB worked with them to develop tests that meet their unique matrices and concentrations.  Due to the uniqueness of working with Bruce Metals, we decided to highlight them in a client testimonial.

BMI works with several mining clients to draw metals in parts-per-billion ranges from leaching solutions.  This specialized process requires specialized testing, which is where WETLAB comes in.  We have worked with BMI to make testing procedures and data that meets their needs, ensuring a long and prosperous relationship.

If you missed our client testimonial with Andy Roberts of Bruce Metals, Inc., check it out here.

After a heavy rainfall, water runs off of non-absorbent surfaces like roads, driveways, and parking lots. While the rain pours off the pavement, it carries away all of the pollutants with it, including oil, gasoline, and sediment. These pollutants flow with the water into natural rivers, streams, and lakes. However, it’s not only the larger waterways that are affected; drainage ditches and storm water retention ponds become polluted as well. This runoff is referred to as nonpoint source pollution because it does not stem from one specific source such as an industrial facility. Due to the lack of rainfall in Nevada’s arid climate, several months of pollutants can be released during one large storm event. Characterizing the levels of pollutants in water runoff is an important task in protecting our water sources.

WETLAB has developed specialized testing suites for characterizing this runoff. These tests include turbidity, to measure the amount of sediment that has escaped the roadways, and metal levels, including lead and mercury. To find out how WETLAB can help you characterize water runoff, call us at (775) 355-0202 and talk to one of our talented project managers.

To find out more about nonpoint source pollution, visit the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP) website here.

At WETLAB, we are often approached by members of the community who are interested in having one of talented scientists come talk to students about chemistry.  We try to oblige as much as we can, and this year, we were able to do two completely different presentations for different classes.

One of the thank you letters sent in by the students.

One of the thank you letters sent in by the students.

First up was Andy Smith, our esteemed Quality Assurance Manager, who performed four “chemistry magic” experiments for 2-5 year old students at the Goddard School.  The first experiment was a re-appearing ink sign.  The ink was phenolphthalein indicator on paper, and once the paper was sprayed with Windex (making it basic) the message “Chemistry Magic” appeared.  Next, he created a blueberry Kool-Aid drink that, due to an oxidation- reduction reaction, would turn from blue to colorless.  With a quick shake of the bottle, it would return to blue for a few minutes before the reaction completed again. Third, he changed the color of a Bunsen burner flame to blue (with copper sulfate), orange (with sodium chloride), green (barium chloride), and  brilliant red (with lithium sulfate).  Last, Andy crushed aluminum cans by boiling a small amount of water in them to create steam.  Once the steaming can is turned over in ice water, the instant cooling causes the cans to crush themselves!

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Andy Smith helps to inspire some future scientists.

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Andy shows Chemistry Magic!

The next was Ellen Messinger-Patton, Kat Langford, and Andrew Tobey, who showed a presentation on water purity to sixth graders.  In order to show that tap water is just as safe to drink as bottled water, the kids compared and contrasted three samples, including bottled water, tap water, and an untreated sample from the Truckee River.  They used odor, color, pH, metals concentration, and turbidity to determine which water sample was the cleanest.  At the end of the hour, bottled water and tap water were a tie, and many of the kids agreed to try to drink tap water now.  The WETLAB presenters also spent a small amount of time relaying the importance of conservation, and what our hydrologic system looks like in the Truckee Meadows.

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Ellen Messinger-Patton and Kat Langford begin water purity demonstration.

At WETLAB, we think that science education is incredibly important.  We are happy to foster the next generation of scientists, and show them that science is not only useful, but also really fun.

Nevada is home to many beautiful, expansive, and green golf courses.  But, Nevada is also a dry, arid desert which is currently going through a severe drought, and there’s no end in sight.  How are these two seemingly irreconcilable realities coexisting?  Well, that’s a multi-faceted answer.

Golf courses go hand-in-hand with Nevada’s hospitality and luxury industries, and companies would be hard pressed to simply let their green investments die a brown, crunchy death.  So companies, and courses, have gotten a little creative.  While they started with the obvious measures of reducing overall usage, and examining pipes for leaks, the reduction was simply was not enough.  Golf courses have now started using treated effluent water as a means for watering their massive lawns.  Many courses in Nevada, especially those lining the Las Vegas strip, have used gray water for several years, but effluent water is a newer usage concept.  Effluent water differs from gray water in that it must be more treated, since it can contain sewage.  Using effluent water, instead of fresh water or even gray water, means a reduction of demand for potable water, which in turn means that our dwindling water supply can hold out a bit longer.

Northern Nevada golf courses have capitalized on the use of treated effluent water as a means to water their grass.  It’s clear that the water-saving measure isn’t negatively impacting the golf courses, too, because the lawns are bright green and thriving.  You just have to drive by Washoe County’s Sierra Sage Golf Course in Stead to see that this is a great way to water the turf.  Sierra Sage gets their water from the City of Reno’s Stead Water Reclamation Facility, where the effluent water is treated to the point where it is no longer dangerous, but still not potable.

Another impact of this ever-worsening drought?  Shorter winters mean more time on the putting green.

 

WETLAB tests effluent water for EPA compliance, and water for golf courses is no exception.  WETLAB will also test all of your runoff and fertilizer samples, call (775) 355-0202 for more information.

Nik Shulenberger and Ellen Messinger-Patton at WETLAB’s booth on turbidity and water clarity.

 

Three WETLAB staffers spent their day volunteering at U.C. Davis’s Tahoe Environmental Research Center’s Children’s Environmental Science Day on August 2, 2015.  This wonderful event presented many different environmental topics to kids of all ages, and each booth was hosted by a different interested organization.  WETLAB hosted a booth on turbidity and water clarity, which simultaneously exposed children to modern science and helped them understand a specific aspect of Lake Tahoe conservation.

 

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A portion of the booths set up to expose children to environmental science and conservation.

 

 

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Jasmine shows kids how to test various water samples with a turbidimeter.

 

Effluent water could soon become part of your normal drinking water in Northern Nevada.  According to KTVN, reclaimed water is around 30% cheaper than potable water, but the problem is that waste water is not drinkable yet. Yet is the key word here, because regulations that define how much the water will need to be treated are working their way through the Nevada state legislature, and lawmakers are hoping to see them adopted by the 2017 session.

As everyone knows, Northern Nevada is suffering a severe drought.  Having another way to reuse water will have a great, positive environmental impact on our already low waterways.  Effluent water is already being used in some ways, mostly to irrigate parks and golf courses, but more could be put back into eventual use by the proposed measure.  The process involves injecting semi-treated water directly into the ground, so that it will later make its way back into our pipes.  This will ease the strain that is currently put on the Truckee River, which will in turn help with our ecosystem.

Effluent water is defined as waste-water, whether treated or not, that flows out from an industrial treatment plant or sewer.  Secondary effluent is that same water that has been treated, but not to the point of purity.  Obviously, the main difference between potable and effluent water is the cleanliness of the water, and its fitness for human consumption.

WETLAB preforms several tests on effluent water for many different clients, including public and private companies.  Some of these tests are Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD), which tests how much oxygen demand the effluent water has, and Total Suspended Solids (TSS), which tests the amount of suspended solids within an aqueous sample.  Several other tests are often performed in tandem on effluent water samples, including Total Nitrogen, Nitrate + Nitrite, Ammonia, Total Phosphorous, and Fecal Coliform.  These tests all provide a detailed profile of what exactly is contained in an effluent sample, and allow proprietors to know how to best treat their water.

Singapore and Texas have already implemented effluent-to-drinking-water purification systems, with positive results.  To read more about this program in Nevada, and to see an interesting news report on it, click here.

According to a recent article in the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s Tahoe in Depth Newsletter, the clarity levels of Lake Tahoe are improving.  Lake clarity increased due to several factors, high among them being the continuing drought.  Lower amounts of precipitation means less runoff into the lake, which means that fewer pollutants find their way into Tahoe’s waters.  The extreme regional drought has brought a small glimmer of good news, but that news pales in comparison to its terrible effects elsewhere.  However, if we focus on the bright side, Lake Tahoe clarity levels are at a decade long high.

Water clarity in Lake Tahoe is measured using a Secchi Disk.  The Secchi disk is a white disk that is lowered into a body of water.  The clarity measurement is then obtained by seeing how far the Secchi disk can lowered into the water while still remaining visible.  In Lake Tahoe, the clarity has historically been remarkable, with data suggesting clearness to approximately 120 feet.  While the lake is nowhere near that clear now, currently hovering around 70 feet, it is still a measure of how the lake is currently faring in its ever-expanding use.

Water clarity is an important indicator of lake health.  One of the reasons for Lake Tahoe’s remarkable clarity is due to the amount of rain that falls directly on the lake.  Approximately 40% of rainfall that contributes to the lakes watershed is directly onto the lake itself.  This is a very large amount of water that does not have to flow into the lake via runoff, meaning that the clarity is not negatively impacted.

Several measures have been taken to increase Lake Tahoe’s clarity levels, including the very popular “Keep Tahoe Blue” campaign (more information can be found here).  Another important tactic is the institution of the Lake Tahoe Total Maximum Daily Load, which WETLAB has previously written about here.