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.

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.

On January 8, 2014 the water supply for one of the largest water treatment plants in West Virginia was contaminated.  The contaminant was 4-methylcycolhexene methanol, a chemical used to remove impurities from coal. It leaked from a storage container at Freedom Industries, a company that specializes in making chemicals for the coal and steel industries.  The leak was caused by barrier failures that allowed the chemical to flow down a bank and into the Elk River where it traveled one mile downstream to the water treatment plant.

The chemical spill caused a pungent odor to overtake the surrounding area resulting in lead officials from the EPA Air Quality division to discover the leak. Upon investigation, Air Quality division officials notified the EPA Water Quality division, along with management at the treatment plant. A non-use order was immediately put in place for all residents.

The non-use order prohibited water use for all purposes including drinking, cooking, bathing, laundry or cleaning, affecting businesses such as hospitals, motels/hotels, restaurants, schools and grocery stores. And while the water treatment plant serves just 100,000 customers, reports estimated that up to one-fourth of the state’s population was affected by the spill.

TIMELINE

Jan 8th – Spill Occurred; Non-Use Warning Issued

Jan 9th – News and Radio Reporting on Issue

Jan 10th – West Virginia Governor and President Obama declare a state of emergency for 9 Counties

Jan 13th – Limited Use of Water Allowed After Water System Flush

At the time of the spill the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) did not have a healthy concentration consumption standard for 4-methylcycolhexene methanol; therefore, the chemical was not regulated and had been deemed “non-hazardous.”  The CDC is currently working on the total maximum daily load (TMDL), which is a “calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant that a waterbody can receive and still meet water quality standards” (EPA).

Some interesting points that are highly relative to WETLAB work:

The chemical has a low odor threshold which helped the detection of the leak

A representative from the West Virginia Water Research Institute said the closest thing he could find to 4-methylhexene methanol for water quality are foaming agents (MBAS).

The CDC decided that a “safe” level for the contaminant is less than 1p.m.

 

References:

NPR.org

Huffington Post EPA

 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded $15 million to the State of Nevada this month, aimed at improving pollution control and drinking water infrastructure, things we think are of the utmost importance here at Wetlab.

The funding goes to the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP), broken down into a $6.5 million grant for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, according to an article found on waterworld.com, and $8.5 million for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.

The grants are just the latest in more than $320 million in EPA funding awarded over the last 24 years, according to Jared Blumenfeld, the EPA’s regional administrator.

“Without this investment and creative financing at the federal level, many communities would not be able to provide for Nevadans’ basic needs for clean, safe drinking water and proper wastewater treatment,” Blumenfeld said.

In the past, according to the article, EPA money has funded new well construction aimed at decreasing arsenic levels in Tonopah, as well as advanced wastewater treatment in Clark County to reduce bacteria and chemicals making their way into Lake Mead.

Other water quality projects from the NDEP have ranged from non-point source pollution control, watershed protection and restoration, water efficiency improvements, wastewater reclamation, and other wastewater treatment projects on the Clean Water State SRF side, as well as drinking water infrastructure on the Drinking Water SRF side.

Water Supply News

On the supply side of our state’s water news, southern Nevada looks like it’s going to get some reprieve from dry conditions thanks to a wet fall on the Rocky Mountains’ west slope, according to mynews3.com.

The Colorado River Commission reported rainfall in some areas of up to 50 percent above normal for the month of September, which will help the more-than-half-empty Lake Mead, the primary water supply for Las Vegas.

Lake Mead is at 1,104 feet, anything below 1,075 is considered a shortage.

Michelle Obama.JPEG-00c49

First Lady Michelle Obama has been advocating for people to drink more water in an effort to improve health.

If you’re a fan of WETLAB on Facebook, you’ll know that’s something we whole-heartedly agree with.

According to an Associated Press report, Obama launched the campaign earlier this month in Watertown, Wisc., saying drinking more water is the “single best thing Americans could do to improve their health.”

“Water is so basic, and because it is so plentiful, sometimes we just forget about it amid all the ads we watch on television and all the messages we receive every day about what to eat and drink,” she said in the article.

Mrs. Obama spoke about seeing improvements in her two daughters’ health after deciding to drink more water, but was careful not to attack the soft drink industry, according to the article, because she said healthy changes won’t happen without buy-in from the food industry.

In fact, this campaign is backed by the American Beverage Association, which represents makers of soda, sports drinks and energy drinks, according to the article, but many of those companies also make bottled water.

This is where some environmental groups take issue.

“We applaud the first lady’s initiative to encourage people to choose water over sugary beverages, but we do have concerns that this partnership is working in conjunction with the bottled water industry and with that instead she were encouraging people to choose the much more affordable, more regulated option of tap water,” said Emily Wurth, water program director for Food and Water Watch in the article.

The issues are two-fold: the waste created by disposable water bottles (about ¼ of plastic water bottles are recycled according to Wurth) and tap water is held to higher quality standards than bottled water, which often comes from municipal water systems anyway, making the premium price questionable, according to the article.

Local Water News

In northern Nevada Water news, winter forecasts are starting to turn up, offering interesting predictions into Sierra snow pack and our subsequent water supply. The Farmers’ Almanac is calling for a cool winter with near-normal precipitation, which would be an improvement over the last two years. But the National Climate Prediction Center is having a tough-time nailing down a prediction, reporting “equal chance of being below normal or above normal for snowfall for the western states.” Only time will tell, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

As we’ve discussed before, Lake Tahoe gets a lot of attention from both Nevada and California regarding water quality.

Tahoe’s clarity – measured by the depth at which a white disk can be seen from the surface – is the standard used to gauge the alpine lake’s health. But the measurement is taken near the middle, not the shore, painting an incomplete picture of Tahoe’s true health.

But that’s about to change, according to an article from the Nevada Appeal, when the Desert Research Institute (DRI) launches a boat that will collect new water quality data. Thanks to new funding, DRI will conduct regular testing in shallow water environments around Lake Tahoe for the next three years.

“This will give us an idea of what areas of the lake are threatened, what are the hot spots,” DRI staff scientist Brian Fitzgerald told the Nevada Appeal.

The group is using a jet-powered craft, which can go into shallower water than a prop-driven boat, according to the article, and can take continuous readings as it moves along the lakeshore.

The DRI boat will take water quality measurements including turbidity, translucidity and chlorophyll content, all components of clarity.

As explained in the article, this new data should give scientists a much better handle on what impacts Tahoe’s clarity, as the majority of clarity-reducing pollutants enter the lake as runoff in these shallower zones.

“The near-shore is where it happens,” Fitzgerald said to the Nevada Appeal. “It’s where the interactions are, where the sediment is coming in.”

The study should identify the most impacted areas, allowing cleanup efforts to be focused in the right places to improve water quality and clarity.

We’re interested in following the results of this study, to see what the near-shore water quality monitoring does beyond the already-successful measures taken in the past to bring back Lake Tahoe’s legendary clear waters.

In this blog, we spend much of our time talking about water quality testing news, science and politics that we find interesting; but with this month’s blog, we decided to do something a little different.

Here at WETLAB we care about maintaining and improving water quality, above and beyond our roll in monitoring it. When we came across some tips for average citizens to help from www.cleanwateraction.org, we thought it was a great fit.

First is some news that’s been getting quite a bit of attention in the last few years: Don’t flush medicines, pharmaceuticals or personal care products down the toilet or down the drain. That includes anything from over-the-counter drugs to cosmetics and even sun screen or vitamins. They can all impact both the environment and our drinking water down the road.
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Don’t use antibacterial soaps when you don’t need to. These products often contain chemicals that harm aquatic life, and can lead to antibiotic resistant germs.

Don’t put motor oil, detergents, fertilizers, pesticides or anything but water down storm drains. And speaking of motor oil, fix any drips or leaks on your car or truck so it doesn’t wash into the water supply with the rain.

Try to use natural gardening products over pesticides or chemical fertilizers. The same goes for inside the home–stay away from toxic household products in cleaning and home care.

Pick up after your pets! Their waste contains bacteria that can end up in the water supply when it’s washed down the storm drain.

Pave less of your property. The more water runs across pavement instead of seeping down into the soil, the greater chance it has to pick up pollutants, pick up speed and cause flooding or erosion.

These are just a few tips we thought were worth sharing. Please add your ideas by commenting on this post or on our Facebook page.

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Water quality testing is constantly changing and evolving to keep up with new and changing potential contaminants – and at WETLAB we work hard to insure we have the knowledge and the equipment to keep up.
For example, beyond the usual suspects of industrial and agricultural pollutants, pharmaceuticals and personal care products are making their way into the drinking water supply in some places around the world – not just from manufacturing but from what goes down average people’s drains and what’s flushed down their toilets.

Incompletely metabolized hormones, antibiotics and other over-the-counter and prescription drugs have been detected in sewage treatment plants, rivers, lakes and aquifers.
Nitro musks – a fragrant or preservative component in cosmetics have also been detected and are of concern due to possible negative environmental impacts, and sun screen agents have been found in lakes and even fish.
Researchers Christian G Daughton and Thomas A. Ternes described the amount of pharmaceuticals and personal care products going into the environment each year is similar to the amount of pesticides, in fact, according to The University of Arizona’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

As of 2008, the Truckee Meadows Water Authority hasn’t reported any pharmaceutical contamination in Reno drinking water – testing for 31 compounds at a sensitivity of one part per trillion, “or one drop in 1,000 Olympic-size swimming pools,” according to tmwa.com.

But it’s an issue that water quality specialists like WETLAB need to keep an eye on, as more and more such contaminants are being found around the country and around the world.
A United States Geological Survey nation-wide assessment has found caffeine, codeine, cholesterol-lowering agents, anti-depressants, and estrogen replacement drugs in tested waters.
This has already had measurable affects on aquatic life – for example, British research found that estrogen has deformed reproductive systems in fish, according to The University of Arizona.

But the effects on human’s aren’t as clear, according to the university document, with some experts believing levels are generally too low to pose a risk to people, while others believe long-term exposure could  potentially cause problems from interfering with hormone production to the creation of more antibiotic-resistant disease-causing bacteria.

Arid western regions, where streams can be more reliant on effluent, could be more susceptible, which is why water quality monitoring will continue to be critical in our region.