drinking water

What’s the Function of Functional Water?

Everything You Want to Know about the Hottest Trend in the Wellness World

With something so pure and simple as water, you’d think that when it came to hydration options that the choice should be clear. But leave it to the ever-growing consumer market to unleash a deluge of new drinking water trends. The already oversaturated bottled water market has led manufacturers to focus on setting their product apart. How are brands doing this with something as basic as water? The answer: Functionality.

Plain, old H2O is now having to stand up against hip, trendy options like protein water, alkaline water, and even caffeinated water. As consumers angle away from sugary, calorie-dense sodas,  functional waters are gaining more and more space on store shelves. Many of these brands are touting an array of health benefits–ranging from preventing cancer to reducing anxiety.

Reports suggest that the functional water market is set to double by 2020. We’ve done some digging into the most talked about functional water trends and are here to report what we’ve learned.

What Exactly is Functional Water?

Functional water is “enhanced” drinking water aspiring to improve your health. Some are chemically altered (i.e. by adding increased oxygen or hydrogen); some are simply infused with oils, extract, or flavors. While bottled water has long been criticized for contributing to environmental waste, the convenience and potential added perks of functional water has kept the industry not only afloat, but booming.

Some of the biggest players in the game have created not only new types of products, but all-out crazes. We’ve investigated the following functional water fads and will let you know if we’re drinking the kool-aid (so-to-speak):

  • Alkaline Water

  • Hydrogen-Rich Water

  • Electrolyte Water

  • Caffeinated Water

  • Infused Water

Alkaline Water

We’ve already done some myth-busting in regards to alkaline water on Tips for Taps. But we’ll do a little recap...

What is alkaline water?

The rage around alkaline water surrounds its pH (potential hydrogen). A measure of the relative amount of free hydrogen and hydroxyl ions in the water, pH is a logarithmic scale ranging from 0 to 14. Each step of the scale corresponds to a ten-fold change in acidity–liquids closer to 0 are very acidic, and those nearer 14 are very alkaline. Pure water has a pH of 7.0 (and is considered “neutral”).

Alkaline water generally has a pH between 7 and 9.5–and with that higher pH, it also has a higher concentration of alkalizing compounds (such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium).

What’s the claim?

Alkaline evangelists claim that by neutralizing acid in the body (via consuming alkaline food/beverages), the following will occur:

  • Increased fertility

  • Increased energy

  • Regulate your internal pH level

  • Prevent diabetes

The list goes on and on. Some even purport that that alkaline water prevents cancer. (Hint: it doesn’t). But, how did these grandiose, cure-all claims come to be? Here’s the general (and flawed) logic:

Cancerous cells can’t survive in a highly alkaline environment. This is true. Additionally, areas in close proximity to the cancer cells turn acidic–also correct. Therefore, it follows that if you increase your body’s overall alkalinity, you can kill/prevent cancer cells from growing.

What’s the verdict?

While that logic above appears to (almost) add up, there is one key issue with this claim: while cancer cells can’t live in highly alkaline environments, neither can any of your other cells.

So even if alkaline water were able to shift your body’s acid-alkaline balance (which it can’t, by the way), it wouldn’t be good news for any cells in your body (forget just the cancerous cells). Your body works hard to maintain a safe pH environment of around 7.4–pretty much no matter what. The scientific community has yet to rally behind the miracle properties of alkaline water. What is known is that if you do drink lots of the alkaline liquid, most of what happens is that you excrete alkaline urine.

Hydrogen-Rich Water

What is hydrogen-rich water?

There’s a lot of confusion surrounding this particular functional water fad–as it is often confused as alkaline water, or even as water molecules with “extra” hydrogens. It’s neither of these things. Simply put, hydrogen-rich water is just infused with molecular hydrogen by dissolving H2 gas dissolved in the water.  

What’s the claim?

The hype surrounding hydrogen-rich water is predicated on the fact that hydrogen shows antioxidant activity that results in lower “oxidative stress” which is associated with negative health outcomes. Proponents claim that hydrogen-rich water protects against free radicals, which can damage cells and lead to disease.

What’s the verdict?

Hydrogen-infused water is generally recognized as safe (GRAS Certified) by the FDA and continues to receive accolades and testimonials from folks who attest to the natural benefits of consumption. Scientists are continuing their research into the potential benefits surrounding hydrogen-rich water.

The bottom line is is that the jury is still out on this one. Stay tuned.

Electrolyte Water

The electrolyte water craze extends beyond dumping Gatorade on coaches at the end of a football game. In fact, the electrolyte-enhanced water market is one of the fastest growing sectors in the functional water world. It is estimated to generate revenues of over $8 billion by 2023–growing at a rate for 10% between 2018 and 2023.

What is electrolyte water?

Electrolytes are minerals in your body with an electric charge. Electrolyte-enhanced water is often infused with potassium and sodium, which can help your body absorb the water more quickly.

What’s the claim?

Useful after periods of fluid loss (intense exercise, bouts of vomiting, diarrhea etc.), electrolyte-enhanced water can help prevent and treat mild to moderate dehydration. It can also help prevent muscle cramping.

What’s the verdict?

While sports drinks do not necessarily contain enough electrolytes to be an adequate resolve for dehydration, after bouts of fluid loss they can be beneficial. However, if you spend your days sedentary, drinking water with electrolytes won’t help you achieve better hydration (than drinking regular water). We also recommend you always take a look at the sugar content on the label–as many enhance waters have additional (and unnecessary) sugar.

In sum, after sports or being sick, grab electrolyte water, but don’t rely on it for regular hydration–or you’ll just be consuming unneeded sugar and using environmentally harmful plastic.

Caffeinated Water

What is caffeinated water?

If you’ve ever had an early Monday morning, you won’t be surprised to know that caffeine is the most popular mood-altering drug in the world. We usually get it from coffee, tea, or colas–but now we have the option to get in from our water.

Unlike the confusion often surrounding alkaline and hydrogen-rich water, caffeinated water is pretty straightforward. It’s water mixed with caffeine–to create a tasteless beverage with a jolt.

Depending on the brand, caffeinated water contains anywhere from 45 milligrams to 125 milligrams per bottle. To put that in perspective, the typical cup of coffee has about 95 milligrams of caffeine.

What’s the claim?

Caffeine is a mild stimulant to the central nervous system and there’s evidence that caffeine may help improve memory, enhance workouts and boost concentration. The claims that have caffeinated water evangelists shouting from the rooftops are typically rooted in the following notions:

  • It’s a calorie-free way to get caffeine

  • Coffee is dehydrating, and caffeinated water is a good way to prevent possible dehydration

What’s the verdict?

We’ll address the “calorie-free” part first.

Yes, that’s true that caffeinated waters (the ones without added sugar) are calorie-free. But if you typically get your caffeine from coffee or teas–which clock in at 1 and 2 calories per serving, respectively–this isn’t the most compelling reason to switch. While it’s not wrong, we’re much bigger proponents of drinking something out of a nice chemical-free glass or ceramic mug, than a potentially BPA-laden plastic container.

Moving on to the issue of dehydration.

Caffeine–no matter the medium it comes in–is a diuretic. So, if that’s your concern-–it doesn’t totally check out. What’s more is that even if you get your caffeine intake from coffee, you are still consuming water (remember coffee is coffee plus water). Finally, despite increasing your need to urinate, drinking coffee isn’t actually dehydrating. So, that tick mark that caffeinated water fans put in the victory column is not quite as powerful as they may have you believe.

Infused Water

What is infused water?

From cucumber water at spas to asparagus water at Whole Foods (yes, that’s real….and expensive), infused waters can be a great option to add taste without calories. While we aren’t entirely certain why anyone is looking to drink asparagus flavored water, infusing water with citrus fruit or herbs can be a nice twist on the old classic.

What is the claim?

The biggest benefit is that you’re likely to drink more water throughout the day. You may also get some small plant-based health perks–like water infused with lemon can add some antioxidants to the mix.

What’s the verdict?

The greatest thing about infused water is that you can make them at home. No need to buy expensive water that’s packaged in plastic bottles in a store–which brings us back to our old friend…tap water.

How Does Tap Water Compare?

In general (and there are exceptions), these fancy, fad, functional waters won’t harm you. If you are buying them pre-packaged in plastic however, there is the guarantee of an environmental impact. Until more concrete evidence emerges, we recommend you keep to your (tested) tap water–as it will cost your wallet and the environment far less.

For any more questions about drinking water (bottled or tap) send us a message at hello@simplewater.us.

Article Sources:
https://alkalinewatermachinereviews.com/alkaline-water-benefits/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5806445/

https://www.nutraceuticalsworld.com/issues/2016-03/view_breaking-news/functional-waters-market-to-double-by-2020

https://mytapscore.com/blogs/tips-for-taps/bottled-water-when-is-it-worth-it

https://mytapscore.com/blogs/tips-for-taps/alkaline-water-a-critical-review

https://mytapscore.com/blogs/tips-for-taps/your-water-s-general-chemistry

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http://alkalinewatermachinereviews.com/alkaline-water-benefits/

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http://alkalinewatermachinereviews.com/alkaline-water-benefits/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2017/01/09/no-drinking-alkaline-water-will-not-treat-or-prevent-cancer/#241ec9d02abb

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2702352/

http://time.com/4907106/hydrogen-water-health-benefits/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5223313/

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https://www.fda.gov/food/ingredientspackaginglabeling/gras/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5806445/

https://www.reportsnreports.com/reports/1730940-electrolyte-and-vitamin-water-market-global-outlook-and-forecast-2018-2023.html

https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/hormonal-and-metabolic-disorders/water-balance/dehydration

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1150229/

https://www.menshealth.com/nutrition/a19692526/alkaline-water-electrolyte-water-activated-charcoal-health-benefits/

https://www.livescience.com/56603-interesting-facts-about-caffeine.html

https://www.livescience.com/5374-coffee-lessens-pain-exercise.html

https://www.livescience.com/29200-caffeine-hidden-sources.html

https://www.livescience.com/6520-caffeine-counteract-cognitive-decline.html

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https://www.thedailybeast.com/bottled-water-costs-us-2000-times-more-than-tap-is-it-worth-it

Heavy Metals And Bioaccumulation: What You Need to Know

Part 1: Why Heavy Metals Accumulate in Your Food and Your Body

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Picture the food web–an interconnected tangle of species, all relying on each other for energy and nutrients. Though most of what gets passed along from the tiniest microbes to humans enables us to live, a small fraction of it can be toxic. Heavy metals are natural elements that–in high doses–are poisonous to humans. They enter our bodies mainly from lower down on the food chain through a process called bioaccumulation.

What are heavy metals, and what does it mean for them to bioaccumulate? Why is heavy metals bioaccumulation dangerous for your health? We’ve got the answers–and some tips on what to do–below.

What are Heavy Metals?

Heavy metals are present in earth’s crust alongside other metals, minerals, and organic matter. Some examples include: mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, & thallium. Heavy metals are defined as “heavy” in comparison to water, meaning that they have a higher molecular weight than 18 g/mol. Heavy metals also find their way into watersheds from concentrated wastewater, sewage, industrial activities, and mining operations. These metals can contaminate soil systems and water sources.

People are exposed to heavy metals in a few different ways, primarily through drinking water or food (crops can uptake metals from contaminated soil or meat and fish products may contain bioaccumulated metals). Many heavy metals are poisonous to humans, even in small concentrations.

What is Bioaccumulation?

Bioaccumulation is essentially the buildup of contaminants such as heavy metals or pesticides in living organisms. Aquatic organisms are often subjectto bioaccumulation because they absorb contaminants from the water around them faster than their bodies are able to excrete them. Humans are alsosubject to bioaccumulation, either from consuming contaminated aquatic organisms or from exposure to contaminants in our food, air, or water. Heavy metals do not biodegrade, which means they can last for a long time in our bodies.

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Bioaccumulation in the food chain begins with the smallest microorganisms and ends with humans. Heavy metals are able to bind to the surface of microorganisms (like phytoplankton in oceans) and sometimes enter the cells themselves.

Once they enter the cell, heavy metals can react with chemicals released by the microorganism to digest food, and undergo chemical transformations. (An example is mercury becoming methylmercury, which is especially dangerous because methylmercury is more easily absorbed by living organisms.) Insects and zooplankton eat microorganisms, fish eat zooplankton, and eventually humans order a tuna to eat at a restaurant!

At every point in this process, heavy metals bioaccumulate in the bodies of each living organism — by the time they get to us, we consume the heavy metals in high concentrations. The increase of heavy metals concentration up the food chain is called biomagnification.

Health Effects of Heavy Metals

Unfortunately, heavy metals can have serious health effects for humans. Many play a role in cancer development or cause internal organ damage, even at low concentrations. Cadmium, cobalt, lead, nickel, and mercury are also known to affect the formation of blood cells–the metals can react with the surface of the cells, making them less elastic and therefore less able to circulate throughout the body. Here we’ve summarized five critical heavy metals and their known health effects:

Mercury

Mercury is known to cause brain damage in developing children, and if you’re pregnant, it can cause birth defects or possibly a miscarriage. Methylmercury compounds are also known to cause cancer. There is a deep concern about mercury exposure through predatory fish such as tuna, which is the second most popular fish in the US. An example to demonstrate the magnitude of the issue is if a 45 lb child eats one 6 oz can of white tuna per week, the child is already exceeding the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mercury limit.

Lead

Lead is particularly harmful for children. It is structurally similar to calcium and can therefore replace calcium in the growing bones of children. Once the child is grown, the lead can release into the body and cause brain and nerve damage. Lead can also cause anaemia, reproductive issues, and renal impairment. People are usually exposed to lead through contaminated food or water, or in the case of children, from ingesting objects with lead paint. Lead can be expelled at very low levels, but at high or continuous doses, lead bioaccumulates in the body.

Cadmium

Cadmium remains in human bodies for decades, and long-term exposure is linked to renal dysfunction. A high concentration exposure can also lead to bone defects and lung disease, which may eventually become lung cancer. People can be exposed to cadmium not only through food and water, but also from tobacco in cigarettes.

Chromium

At low levels, chromium only causes skin irritation and ulcers. Longer-term exposure, however, can lead to liver issues, renal tubular damage, and cancer. Similar to mercury, chromium easily accumulates in aquatic life.

Arsenic

Arsenic is technically considered a metalloid, but acts like a heavy metal in its toxicology. Arsenic exposure can cause breathing problems, lung and skin cancer, decreased IQ, nervous system issues, and even death at high levels. Arsenic easily enters groundwater and soils from natural sources and industrial operations. Some crops can uptake arsenic after irrigation or from the soil, an example being rice, leading to exposure through food.

How to Reduce Your Exposure

Though these health effects may seem frightening, there are a few simple ways to reduce your exposure to heavy metals and protect your health! A few include:

  • Avoid certain fish: Specifically, fish that are high in mercury such as king mackerel, swordfish, marlin, & tilefish. It is particularly important to reduce tuna consumption, especially in the form of tuna steaks or canned white albacore. For other options, check out this guide to eating sustainable and lower-risk fish.
  • Read medicine labels: Some may contain heavy metals as ingredients.
  • Minimize rice consumption: There is evidence that rice contains arsenic and thus increases cancer risk. Rinsing rice before cooking may reduce risk.
  • Stop smoking tobacco: Arsenic, lead, and cadmium levels have been detected in cigarettes and e-cigarette vaporizers.
  • Be aware of lead pipes & filter your water: This concept is addressed further in Part 2 of this article–where we’ll focus on heavy metal exposure and remediation. Essentially, because heavy metals can enter groundwater or leach from pipes, it is important to filter them out before drinking water.

Have more questions? This source offers extensive details about the environmental occurrence of specific heavy metals, how humans are exposed to them, and their toxicity/carcinogenicity.

Or, feel free to email us at contact@simplewater.us!

Sources: 

https://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bioaccumulation-heavy-metals

https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1205875/

https://saferchemicals.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/heavy-metals-2/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4144270/

https://www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/FoodScienceResearch/RiskSafetyAssessment/UCM486543.pdf

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214750014001292

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/pharmacology-toxicology-and-pharmaceutical-science/bioaccumulation

https://www.webmd.com/baby/4-common-causes-miscarriage#1

https://www.whoi.edu/oceanus/feature/how-does-toxic-mercury-get-into-fish

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19868909

https://data.web.health.state.mn.us/lead

https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/csem.asp?csem=34&po=6

https://www.merriam-webster.com/medical/bioaccumulation

https://www.jhsph.edu/news/news-releases/2018/study-lead-and-other-toxic-metals-found-in-e-cigarette-vapors.html

https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=51520&picture=fish-in-lake-2

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tara_River_Underwater.jpg

Chloramine, Chlorine, Lead and Pipes: How Water Treatment Turned Toxic

What do the most Common Water Treatment Chemicals–Chlorine and Chloramine–Have to do with Lead in Water?

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Flint’s water crisis is a disastrous story of negligence and environmental injustice. After the city switched its water source, lead–a neurotoxic metal– began leaching from pipes into people’s drinking water. Families drinking tap water found their children had increased blood lead levels. While the mayor of Flint announced in April that the water is finally safe to drink again, many are still skeptical and concerned.

How did simply switching from one river to another river have such drastic effects on people’s water quality? TapScore has written this guide to help you understand why switching water sources (e.g. in Flint) or water disinfectants (in the case of D.C. water) can cause lead to leach from pipes, what the dangers are, and how to protect yourself.

The Science Behind Lead in Flint and D.C.

To understand how lead leaches into water, we first need to know what water disinfectants are and how they can affect drinking water and human health. We’ll bring you through the science behind lead leaching in pipes through the stories of two different cities that made changes to their water: DC switched its disinfectant, while Flint switched its water source.

What Are Water Disinfectants?

The water that enters our homes is sourced from natural rivers, lakes, and man-made reservoirs. This water contains microorganisms, organic matter, soil, naturally occuring metals, and much more. The particulate matter and natural elements can be filtered out using physical barriers (e.g. reverse osmosis, carbon filtration, or other filtration methods). Microorganisms such as viruses and bacteria, however, must be killed using a disinfectant.

Chlorine is the most common disinfectant, but other disinfectants include chlorine dioxide, chloramines, UV light, and ozone. Since its introduction in the late 1800s, chlorine disinfection has become a major public health accomplishment, responsible for lowering the rates of infectious diseases such as typhoid, hepatitis, and cholera. Unfortunately, chlorine can also react with other naturally occurring materials in water to form disinfection byproducts (DBPs), which can be harmfulto long-term health. Regulation of DBPs inspired the use of chloramines as an alternative disinfectant because it forms less of the most common forms of DBPs. Chloramines are formed when ammonia is added to chlorine. But, as you may have guessed–chloramine has its own unintended consequences.

Switching from Chloramine to Chlorine

D.C. Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) switched from chlorine to chloramine to reduce risk of DBPs. Shortly thereafter, high lead levels became a concern–but WASA was slow to respond and communication to households failed to adequately portray the urgency of the water quality problem. Researchers (led by Dr. Marc Edwards, who later got involved in Flint) found that, between 2001-2003, blood lead levels in children were four times higher when compared to the year 2000. Edwards claims that D.C.’s lead crisis is 20-30 times worse that of Flint – with lead concentrations found to be three times higher than those in Flint and 6.5 times the amount of people exposed.

After these findings, the city of D.C. reverted from chloramine back to free chlorine in 2004. They subsequently found that water lead levels in some samples were up to 10-fold lower and that almost all samples were below the EPA limit of 15 parts per billion (ppb). WASA concluded that chloramine was not solely responsible for lead leaching, but that the absence of chlorine resulted in pipe corrosion.

Lead (or any metal) leaching occurs when corrosive water enters an old pipeline and easily reacts with the metal pipes, creating metal ions that enter the water. Chlorine can combine with lead to form an oxide, which acts as a passivation (protective) layer on the inside of the pipes. This protective layer was protecting pipes from corrosive water.

These findings left D.C. with a public health predicament: neither option was entirely safe. Fortunately, compounds such as zinc orthophosphate exist to help corrosion control while using chloramine as a disinfectant by reacting with pipes to form a passivation layer. While D.C. has kept corrosion control on a priority list, thousands of lead pipelines still remain in the city’s distribution system.

Switching Water Sources

When Detroit Water and Sewer decided to switch its water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River, the goal was to save costs. The city planned to switch to Karegnondi Water Authority pipeline to Lake Huron, but they had about a year before the project was complete–so they turned to Flint River. As we now know, engineers and officials failed to adequately manage the new source.

Health data showed that the number of children with lead levels in their blood had increased from 2.4% to 4.9% after the water source switch. One sample of Flint’s water had a record breaking level of 13,200 ppb lead, which is almost 900 times higher than the EPA limit. Lead is neurotoxic and dangerous for anyone, but especially for children because it can stunt their development and lead to behavioral problems and decreased IQ.

Lead leaching into drinking water shares similar water chemistry in Flint as in DC. The original water source that came in treated from Detroit had added orthophosphate to account for lead pipes, which created a strong passivation layer made of phosphate minerals. When Flint started treating its own water, they did not add orthophosphate and they did not adequately control the pH of their new water. When pH is too low (more acidic) in the absence of orthophosphate, lead can leach into the drinking water. The protection layer was quickly corroded, exposing Flint’s lead pipes and leading to lead leaching in water.

How can I protect myself?

An estimated 15-25 million homes are still connected to lead pipelines laid before they were banned in 1986. While most water systems actively manage the water quality and test for lead, the stories of Flint and D.C. illuminate how quickly things can go wrong. Hopefully, any metal leaching situation you may encounter is not as extreme. There are some things that you can do to protect yourself, depending on whether you are a private well user or are a public water system customer.

Public Water System

  • Check up on your local water treatment plant to ensure they are conditioning (filtering & disinfecting) your water properly
  • Encourage your city to replace old pipes, especially if they’re lead
  • If you own your house and are able to replace old pipes, faucets, and fixtures within your home, do so, or
  • Test your water for lead and use a (reverse osmosis) water filter if you have a lead concentration that the product can treat

Private Well

  • Keep up with conditioning (i.e. filtering & disinfecting) your water properly for the type and age of pipes that you have
  • If you drill a new well, monitor your water quality before and after switching to a new source
  • Replace old pipes, faucets, and fixtures in your home and within your well if they’re lead or
  • Consult the experts! Tapscore offers a lead specific test as well as an Advanced Well Water Test, and we can help discuss treatment options with you that will work for your unique water composition and chemistry.

More questions?

Feel free to chat with us a hello@simplewater.us!

Sources: 

https://archive.epa.gov/region03/dclead/web/html/chlorine.html

https://www.epa.gov/dwreginfo/chloramines-drinking-water

https://archive.epa.gov/region03/dclead/web/html/disinfection.html

https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es802789w

http://www.insidesources.com/whistleblower-traces-flints-roots-to-washingtons-own-water-crisis/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0043135417302099

https://cen.acs.org/articles/94/i7/Lead-Ended-Flints-Tap-Water.html

https://www.cnn.com/2016/03/04/us/flint-water-crisis-fast-facts/index.html

https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-09/documents/q3.pdf

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http://wiki.biomine.skelleftea.se/wiki/index.php/Leaching_%28mobilization%29

https://www.awwa.org/Documents/DCDFiles/15771/jaw_waternet.0065358.pdf

United States Earns a “D” on 2017 Drinking Water Infrastructure Report Card

United States civil infrastructure is deteriorating.

Aging and groaning under increasing strain year after year, massive investments are necessary in the near future to ensure that our nation's infrastructure can keep pace with a growing population and continue to operate in the way Americans have grown to expect: without much trouble.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) estimates that the United States must invest approximately $3.6 trillion in infrastructure repairs and improvements by 2020. In 2013 it was estimated that our country is shy of this amount by $1.6 trillion. Particularly maligned sectors include energy, transit, aviation, levees, dams, roads, schools, waterways, hazardous waste, wastewater, and, yes, drinking water.

All of the above sectors received a D+ score—or worse— in the most recent ASCE Infrastructure Report Card in 2017. The overall U.S. infrastructure grade was set at a D+, which not so inspiringly manages to be an improvement over the D grade the civil engineering body awarded U.S. infrastructure in 2009.

The drinking water category specifically was awarded a meager “D” in the 2017 report.

It’s clear that many challenges are ahead, but because we’re a water-focused company, let’s take a brief look at the problem of U.S. drinking water infrastructure and what it means for your water quality and your wallet.

What is the U.S. Drinking Water Infrastructure Situation?

The country’s drinking water infrastructure is now approaching the end of its useful life.

After all, U.S. infrastructure was originally constructed approximately 75 to 100 years ago. It was never meant to hold up for much longer than it has. We've more than reached our “due date” for a required infrastructure overhaul on many pipes, mains, and channels. 

The American Water Works Association (AWWA) documents that there are approximately 240,000 water main breaks every year in the United States. If one were to assume that each pipe required replacement, the cost from this alone would likely reach $1 trillion (per AWWA).

Fortunately, drinking water quality overall remains “high,” particularly in relation to other parts of the world. Still, there’s no getting past the fact that many of the mains and pipes in the U.S. are now more than a century old, meaning they require large scale investments sooner rather than later.

And despite an overall high quality of drinking water, cities like Flint, Michigan demonstrate that aging pipes can lead to dangerous health problems when not managed properly. If drinking water infrastructure needs continue to be ignored, water quality in this country will eventually experience a sharp downturn.

What the Government Can Do About the Drinking Water Infrastructure Situation

"We must commit today to investing in modern, efficient infrastructure systems to position the U.S. for economic prosperity," said ASCE President Gregory E. DiLoreto, P.E. to CBS News. "Infrastructure can either be the engine for long-term economic growth and employment, or, it can jeopardize our nation's standing if poor roads, deficient bridges, and failing waterways continue to hurt our economy."

Indeed, the best thing we can hope for on a macro level are government infrastructure investments. Elizabeth McNichol, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, says:

There’s lots to be done. Investments in well-maintained roads, railroads, airports and ports, as well as well-functioning water and sewer systems, help businesses and communities thrive. State-of-the art schools free from crowding and safety hazards improve educational opportunities for future workers.

McNichol also suggests that states target investment in their low-income areas, as she notes that these localities are at greatest risk for problems such as aging lead pipes that are known to leach lead into drinking water—a well-established human health risk.

 The ASCE estimates there are approximately 240,000 water main breaks every year in the U.S. Put differently, our aging pipes are wasting 2.1 trillion gallons of water a year. Put another way, Chicago’s Center for Neighborhood Technology estimates approximately 6 billion gallons of water is lost each day. These staggering numbers demand immediate action, but there remains a looming question: who will pay?

01-rethink-what-you-drink-faucet.jpg

Who will pay: private, public, or private equity?

Public, private, or private equity. These are the three main modes of financing infrastructure development in the U.S, with the latter being relatively new and potentially controversial.

Public sector funding often comes from tax-dollars through propositions in states like California or federally-sponsored bonds. Essentially this type of infrastructure financing is through taxpayer dollars.

Private sector funding requires companies to invest and operate water infrastructure projects. Cost-recovery for projects is often passed on to consumers through their water bill.

A third financing option is the basis for the public infrastructure funding strategy of the current president: private equity. Private equity financing brings bankers and hedge funds together with municipalities to finance projects. Though initially appealing–cities can get large sums of capital up front at low interest rates–cities experimenting with private equity water infrastructure investment have frequently found themselves beholden to shareholder values rather than citizen values of safe, affordable drinking water. Cost recovery for projects is often attended with an agreed-upon fixed return on investment for the investors. Private equity funding is currently a minority of drinking water infrastructure investment, and several deals have made headlines for controversial price hikes and poor management oversight.

What You Can Do About Your Drinking Water

While major investments by federal and state governments are critical to the U.S. drinking water infrastructure’s health in the near future, there’s no distinct timetable for their implementation.

Fortunately, you don’t have to wait for authorities to take action or learn about how our D-grade water infrastructure impacts your water quality. Check out Tap Score to learn more.

 

SimpleWater: We Test, Therefore We Know.

A note from the caring folks at SimpleWater — We are a water testing, analysis and health data company intent on providing the best water testing, analysis and reporting service ever created. 

We serve homes, families and businesses asking: “what’s in my water, what does it mean, and how do I ensure the safety of what I’m drinking?”

SimpleWater’s national team of certified laboratory scientists, engineers, health experts and designers provide each customer with a personalized Tap Score Water Quality Report. SimpleWater’s Tap Score is the Nation’s First Smart Water Testing Service for affordable and informative contaminant screening and personalized treatment recommendations.

Call Anytime :: 888 34 MY WATER (+1-888-346-9928)

Find Out What’s In Your Water at MyTapScore.Com

The Coal Ash Map

Coal Ash Map By SimpleWater, Inc —  https://mytapscore.com/pages/the-coal-ash-map

Coal Ash Map By SimpleWater, Inc — https://mytapscore.com/pages/the-coal-ash-map

The SimpleWater Coal Ash Map V.1

 

We created The Coal Ash Map to highlight the health risks posed by some of the most dangerous contaminants found in US waters: Arsenic, Beryllium, Boron, Cadmium, Chromium-6, Cobalt, Lead, Mercury, Nickel, Selenium, Thallium, and Uranium. The map visualizes where the United States Government is testing for, detecting, not detecting, and sometimes not even testing for these potential threats.

While each contaminant can come from a variety of industrial activities, and even from natural underground rock formations, what they all have in common is that they are all commonly found in coal ash, the largest solid waste stream produced by the US coal industry.

The map shows two things:

  1. The location of yellow, orange, red, and purple points represents sites where the contaminants have been tested for in the past decade. Their color represents SimpleWater’s evaluation of the health risk posed by the concentrations measured.
  2. The locations of coal ash disposal ponds and landfills are shown as a bright green points on the map. By clicking on one, you can see:
  • The name of the facility
  • Whether it is lined (i.e. less likely to leak into groundwater)
  • Distance to the nearest surface water body

You can find more information about our methods in the Appendix below.

Why Coal Ash?

Coal ash is a toxic byproduct of burning coal. It can take the form of a fine powder, wet slurry or coarse slag and it contains many of the world’s most harmful toxic metals. Because coal is burned for about 30% of US electricity production, it accounts for the second largest industrial waste stream in the United States.

The EPA has national rules for the management and disposal of coal ash due to the potentially harmful chemicals found within it. These rules, however, are highly controversial. In 2010, after several high-profile spills in Kingston, TN and Eden, NC many environmentalists and health experts fought to declare coal ash as a Hazardous Waste. With as much as $10B in annual coal ash recycling revenues potentially on the line, industry lobbyists fought back. After much deliberation on a complex issue, the EPA maintained coal ash as a Non-Hazardous Waste.

As with many toxic waste streams from industrial activity, coal ash doesn’t simply disappear. Trucks and trains carry approximately 130 tons of coal ash every year to more than 1,100 dump sites nationwide. Some States even allow the recycling of coal ash into other products like top soil. Contaminants in coal the ash have a way of sticking around, (scientists often say, “persisting”) and can readily leak into the environment if the holding infrastructure deteriorates. If things go wrong, these potentially harmful coal ash contaminants can find their way into our bodies through drinking water.

According to the US EPA draft report, Human and Ecological Risk Assessment of Coal Combustion Wastes people living within 1 mile of unlined coal ash ponds experience a 1 in 50 additional cancer risk from potential arsenic and cadmium exposure.

What makes this map special?

At SimpleWater, we care about the relationship between toxic contaminants and our water. With our access to one of the largest water testing datasets available and cutting edge geospatial technologies, we are able to paint this vivid picture for you.

One of the biggest challenges of showing different contaminants together on a single map is that they become dangerous to humans at different concentrations. Because of this, a useful map should not simply show the amount measured for each contaminant. We took this visualization a step further with our extensive contaminant health data, and made the map about human health impact, rather than just concentrations.

The map is for those who care about what may be in their groundwater well. It’s also for those who have a more general interest in the environmental impact of one of the dirtiest human activities. Establishing causality between the contaminants and the disposal sites requires intensive research and is beyond the scope of this version of the map.

One thing we can see is how many regions with a high number of disposal facilities have not engaged in substantial water testing for the contaminants found in coal ash. The regions with few points represent what we don’t know. States like California, with rigorous environmental testing programs, will appear brighter on the map due to the high number of tests performed.

See anything interesting or strange? Curious about how you can support our ongoing research? Send us your thoughts at info@simplewater.us.

How to Read It

What do the points mean?

Each of the almost 34,000 points represents an aggregate of all water quality tests performed in its vicinity.This means two sampling locations very near to each other are displayed as one. Moreover, we only show the most recent data available for each contaminant, so if a location has results for arsenic in 2008 reading 10 PPB and in 2015 reading 3 PPB we only show the 3 PPB result.

When you click on a location, you see the most recent test result for each of the tracked contaminants. You also see if they were tested for, and not detected. Each detection is shown as:

[ Contaminant Name ] : [ Detection Result ] / [ SimpleWater Health Recommendation ] [ Unit ] — [ Approximate Health Risk Evaluation ]

simplewater coal ash map details

 

What is the SimpleWater Health Recommendation?

Simply put, SWR is the most stringent of all Federal and State regulations and Public Health Goals set for a given contaminant. When official regulations are not available, as with new and emerging contaminants, we use our own research and other authoritative guidelines to make a safe recommendation. For more details on how we calculate health risk scores, contact us at info@simplewater.us.

Health Risk Evaluation Definitions:

  • BELOW DANGEROUS LEVELS: Contaminant concentration does not violate the SimpleWater Health Recommendation (SWR).
  • SLIGHTLY ELEVATED: Contaminant concentration is above SWR but within the range of sampling error.
  • ELEVATED: Contaminant concentration is above SWR and could pose a small health risk with prolonged exposure.
  • MODERATE: Contaminant concentration is significantly above SWR and could pose health risks to individuals drinking this water untreated for a prolonged period of time.
  • HIGH: In the case of carcinogenic contaminants, “HIGH” indicates a concentration that exceeds a 1 in 10,000 additional lifetime risk of death due to cancer from having that contaminant in your daily drinking water. For harmful but non-carcinogenic effects, “HIGH” represents SimpleWater’s best estimate for an equivalent non-cancer threat to the human body. Water with any contaminant present at this level should not be consumed without treating it specifically for the underlying contaminant.
  • VERY HIGH: Prolonged exposure to the contaminant could represent as much as a 1 in 1,000 risk of cancer or an equivalent threat to the human body.
  • SEVERE: 10x the ‘VERY HIGH’ Concentration.
  • VERY SEVERE: 100x the ‘VERY HIGH’ Concentration.
  • EXTREME: 1,000x the ‘VERY HIGH’ Concentration.
  • VERY EXTREME: 10,000x the ‘VERY HIGH’ Concentration.

Each of these risk levels was given a numerical score starting at 1 for Slightly Elevated and increasing by a factor of 10 at each stage. For example, 10 for Elevated, 100 for Moderate, and 1,000 for High. We determined the color of each point on the map by adding the scores for all the contaminants present at a given location.

Due to the inherent complexity of combining health risks from multiple contaminants, the colors and descriptions on the legend should be used as a general guide. The pop-up that appears when clicking on a point shows the individual contaminant results along with our Health Risk Evaluation.

A larger point indicates locations where more contaminants were tested for and discovered at potentially harmful levels. A smaller point indicates a location with a lesser variety of dangerous test results.

For mobile users, who might not see the legend on the map, it is also available below. A Low color corresponds to a penalty at or under 1,000; Moderatecorresponds to 1,001–10,000; High to 10,001–100,000; Severe to 100,001–1,000,000; Most Severe to 1,000,001 and above.

coal ash map legend simplewater

About non-detections:

Just because there are no points in an area, does not necessarily mean the water there is safe. It means that we found no data for tests performed recently near that location. In order to show a contaminant as tested and not detected, we only go back 5 years. In other words, if something was tested 7 years ago, and no detection was made, we consider it untested.

A point with a light yellow color means there are no serious violations for this specific set of 12 contaminants but says nothing about whether tests have been conducted. The only way to know is to click on a point and view the details. Even when all or many of the coal ash contaminants have been tested for and not found, there could be other dangerous contaminants on site. For example, nitrates and PCB’s are not tracked on this map.

We encourage you to use the map search tool (magnifying glass in lower left) to find your community and discover what kind of readings or gaps in testing are present. Contact us if you have questions.

Should I Panic?

In a word, no.

If you see a point with a severe risk assessment near your home, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are drinking dangerous water. If your drinking water comes from a Public Water System, the source for that water may be far away.

The only way to be sure about your water is to test it regularly, especially if you are drinking from a private well in a high risk area or getting your water from a Public Water System that serves under 10,000 people.

SimpleWater

SimpleWater is a social enterprise founded at the University of California, Berkeley with the mission of delivering the best water quality testing service imaginable. This means drawing the connection between water quality analysis and personal health factors in a way never done before. Access to safe drinking water is a basic human right, and continuous improvement to our testing, analysis, and reporting technologies is vital for enabling this.

We created the most informative water test ever conceived and called it Tap Score. The Tap Score water quality report includes detailed information about everything measured in your water, as well as personalized treatment product recommendations based on your contaminant profile and usage needs. We can help you determine what you should test for based on your water source and location. Visit http://mytapscore.com for more information about Tap Score and http://simplewater.us for more information about SimpleWater, Inc.

Appendix A: Methodology Summary

Legal Disclaimer: SimpleWater makes no claims or guarantees about the accuracy or completeness of the data in this map or in the informational pop-up windows.

Contaminant and Coal Ash Data

Data for the Contaminant Results was provided by the US EPA and represents the combined set of results from dozens of Federal and State agencies. Data for the coal ash sites was acquired and published by the Sierra Club through a Freedom of Information Act request.
In order to make the Contaminant Results Data usable for this map, it was cleaned in the following ways:

  • We removed sampling locations that do not properly represent environmental water. In other words, we made sure the points in the map represent wells, springs, streams, or sometimes waste effluent that is being released into the environment. We avoided contained sites that represent closed systems and do not interact with their environment.
  • We included only results where the sample was collected in the last 10 years as of 1-Feb-2017. We’ve made the assumption that the dates attached to the tests can be trusted, even though a small fraction of the reported dates may be inaccurate.
  • We included only samples of water, not solids found in sediment, etc.
  • We used only test results that can be converted to Parts Per Billion for this map. This means we ignored tests for radioactivity (pCi/L), for example.
  • We did not add any sort of penalty to the points for not testing the full set of contaminants, hence the important note about non-detections above.
  • As mentioned above, testing locations very near to each other were consolidated.
  • We ignored results with bad geocoding (e.g. in Cleveland but appearing in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean) to the extent possible. We know a few results have been recorded in incorrect locations and will try to address this once we have the resources.
  • While the health data represents intensive research by our team it is actively being improved by a team of experts from leading universities. This is a work in progress and will evolve as the scientific community’s knowledge about the health effects of these contaminants grows.

Health Data

Data used for the analysis of contaminant health risks is sourced from a variety of professional health institutions and publicly available resources. In particular, SimpleWater aggregates toxicological and epidemiological studies, then tracks the most concerning water-borne chemical contaminants. Contaminants are chosen if they fit any of the following rules:

  1. Regulated under the US Federal Safe Drinking Water Act
  2. Regulated under State laws
  3. Listed as Emerging Contaminants by US EPA
  4. Considered to be important to SimpleWater Customers

Toxicological and epidemiological reports prepared by health authorities and research institutions are then compiled for each contaminant. We categorize the key findings and structure the quantifiable health data according to the following analysis.

Exposure Pathway

  • Specific To Drinking Water?
  • Specific To Oral Route?

Quality of Scientific Rigor

  • Testing Sample Size
  • Quality Of Reporting Detail and Analysis
  • Ability to Generalize Findings
  • Subject Studied (Human, Ferret, Rat…?)
  • Sample Demographics
  • Hazardous Potential
  • Carcinogenicity data

Data pertaining to health effects on

  • Heart and Blood
  • Central Nervous System
  • Kidneys
  • GI
  • Liver
  • Reproductive System
  • Respiratory System
  • Thyroid and Adrenal Glands
  • Endocrine System

Special Thanks

None of this would be possible without the great efforts put in by the individuals in some of these organizations:

Carto — For generously providing the visualization platform for the data.
http://www.carto.com

The US Environmental Protection Agency
http://www.epa.gov

Sierra Club
http://sierraclub.org

California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment - OEHHA
Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessmentoehha.ca.gov

UC Berkeley and California Magazine
Well in Control: Berkeley Startup Helps People Find Out What They’re Drinking
Two factors that contributed to the poisoning of tens of thousands of Washington, D.C., residents through their…alumni.berkeley.edu

The J.M. Kaplan Foundation
J.M. Kaplan Fund Names Innovation Prize Finalists
J.M. Kaplan Fund Names Innovation Prize Finalists The selection process began nine months ago with the submission of 1…philanthropynewyork.org

Physicians For Social Responsibility
www.psr.org/environment-and-health/code-black/coal-ash-toxic-and-leaking.html

Coal Ash Reading Suggestions

Earth Justice

Coal Ash Contaminates Our Lives
Coal Ash is a Hazardous Waste. Coal ash, the toxic remains of coal burning in power plants, is full of chemicals that…earthjustice.org

Sierra Club

Coal Ash Waste | Beyond Coal
Every year, the nation’s coal plants produce 140 million tons of coal ash pollution, atoxic by-product of burning coal…content.sierraclub.org

Bitter Southerner

Say Hello to The Bitter Southerner
Amid mounting concern about clean drinking water, rural Southern communities are getting squeezed: They can take much…bittersoutherner.com

The Atlantic

The Violent Remaking of Appalachia
When mining a century’s worth of energy means ruining a landscape for millions of years.www.theatlantic.com

Mother Jones

New report: Poor Americans of color drink filthy water and breathe poisonous air all the damn time
The EPA is “failing” poor communities of color, says the US Commission on Civil Rights.www.motherjones.com

EPA Coal Combustion Wastes Risk Assessment

Journalists

We want to provide you with rich data concerning environmental health, water quality and contamination risks. Our analysis and mapping technology can support local, regional and national scale investigations. If you have particular needs or general questions about water contamination then please reach out to us. We want to support you and your work. Email info@simplewater.us to make an inquiry.

“Go to where the silence is and say something”



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