Western Environmental
Testing Laboratory
Science Education with WETLAB

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.

The EPA revised the Total Coliform Rule (TCR) in 2013, but these changes need to be implemented soon. By April 1, 2016, all compliant public water systems will have to implement the revised TCR requirements. At WETLAB, we take a great interest in the new regulatory measures that affect our clients, and we decided to take a closer look at what the Revised Total Coliform Rule entails.

According to the EPA, the RTCR is intended to “protect public health by ensuring the integrity of the drinking water distribution system and monitoring for the presence of microbial contamination.” Which essentially means that the RTCR confirms what the TCR has already established since 1989, and then expands upon the initial rule. The RTCR requires that all public water systems (PWS) show that they meet the legal limit for E. coli through expanded required monitoring. The rule also goes on to specify what the actual frequency and timing of the required microbial testing is; which is based on the populations served by the PWS, the type of PWS, and what type of source water the PWS uses.

To find the exact requirements of the new rule, we highly suggest visiting the EPA’s page on the RTCR here. These changes do not have to be implemented until April 1, 2016, but it is crucial to have an accurate understanding of the new rule.

At WETLAB, we strive to provide our clients with the most accurate and up-to-date information available.  If you have any questions, about this rule or any other, please call us at (775) 355-0202. 

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.

Effective March 6, 2014: The Bureau of Mining Regulation and Reclamation (BMRR) announces updated certified methods for mercury analysis required in Part I.D of the Water Pollution Control Permit.

WETLAB will no longer utilize the analytical method 200.8, Determination of Trace Elements in Waters and Wastes by Inductively Coupled Plasma using Mass Spectrometry, for testing non-potable water from Nevada mine sites.

The updated required EPA analysis is 245.1, Determination of Mercury in Water By Cold Vapor Atomic Absorption Spectrometry. Along with this change, the BMRR is requiring that all tests that occurred in January and February are updated, using the 245.1 analytical method.

WETLAB is currently certified by EPA 245.1 and has already begun to process samples that still remain within the EPA suggested hold time.

WETLAB has also contacted clients to inform them how this change has affected their 1st quarter samples.

Please contact the WETLAB Client Services Manager Kurt Clarkson at 775-355-0202 with any questions.

Thank you

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

 

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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.

A recent water quality story caught our eye out of Southern Nevada – mysterious brown foam found floating on Lake Mead.

According to an Associated Press Report, officials urged people to avoid the Overton Arm, a northern area of the lake, when several dozen carp were found dead in the foam, which extended for about eight miles from the mouth of the Virgin River to Echo Bay.

Water quality testing is underway, and the Nevada Department of Wildlife is investigating the fish deaths, according to the article, but the Southern Nevada Water Authority, monitoring water quality at two intakes, hasn’t found any problems.

The article quotes Southern Nevada Water Authority Spokesman Bronson Mack as saying no pollutants have been found at the intakes.

“It really is a massive body of water, and that’s one benefit from a drinking water perspective,” he told the Associated Press in regards to dilution, adding that water from the Overton Arm takes about a month to make it to the intakes.

In an www.8newsnow.com story, there was speculation of a virus killing the fish and an increase in water temperatures killing off algae to create the foam, meaning the two could be unrelated.

But in an editorial on lasvegascitylife.com, Peabody Award-winning reporter George Knapp raised some concerns.

“I would probably feel a bit better about drinking tap water from the lake if I hadn’t heard so many similar statements from our water officials in years gone by. SNWA and the Water District have spent millions over the years on touchy-feely TV commercials that assure all of us how great our water tastes and about all of the incredibly rigorous tests which are conducted thousands of times each month to ensure that every drop is perfectly safe,” Knapp wrote, referring to missed pollutants in Lake Mead like perchlorate that went undetected by testing for decades.

This will be an interesting story to follow, and one that drives home the importance of water quality monitoring.

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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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