Researchers call for changes in 50 year-old drinking water standards

Researchers call for changes in 50 year-old drinking water standards
Andrea Dietrich, Virginia Tech professor of civil and environmental engineering, discusses the licorice odor that can linger in drinking water with one of her graduate students, Amanda Sain. Credit: Virginia Tech

Changes in drinking water quality in the 21st Century are coming from a myriad of circumstances, and not all are for the best. Top contenders for why water-drinking quality might become suspect to the average consumer include California's drought conditions, the technology of fracking, and the nationwide aging infrastructure of rusty, degrading pipes.

Citing these and other relatively recent scenarios, Andrea Dietrich, professor of civil and at Virginia Tech, and her colleague Gary A. Burlingame of the Philadelphia Water Department, are calling for a critical review and rethinking of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) secondary standards for maintaining consumers' confidence in tap as well as in its sensory quality.

Most of the "current secondary maximum contaminant levels" implemented by the EPA are more than 50 years old, they wrote in a published journal paper. During these past five decades, Dietrich and Burlingame point out that environmental water availability and treatment practices have changed, advances have occurred in sensory science, and consumer perceptions, attitudes and health expectations toward drinking water have transformed.

Dietrich and Burlingame published their paper in American Chemical Society's Environmental Science and Technology, the top environmental engineering journal, in December of 2014.

These secondary contaminants in drinking water include: aluminum, chloride, color, copper, corrosivity, fluoride, foaming agents, iron, manganese, odor, pH, silver, sulfate, total dissolved solids, and zinc.

Of these contaminants, Dietrich and Burlingame stated that recent advances in sensory and health sciences indicate that the EPA standards for chloride, copper, iron, and manganese are "too high" to minimize sensory effects. Furthermore, the standards for corrosivity and foaming agents "may be outdated." Corrosivity, according to the EPA, is the quality of being corrosive, or gradually releasing structural components of the materials by chemical reaction with the environment. Corrosion of distribution system pipes can reduce water flow.

Also, the standard for odor "requires rethinking as the test does not correlate with consumer complaints," they argued.

As an example of consumers' anxieties about smell and significance of aesthetic guidelines, Dietrich pointed to a major chemical spill of an odorous 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol in West Virginia's Elk River a year ago. The persistence of odors in the tap waters of more than 300,000 West Virginians "made residents fearful" even after officials had lifted the "do not drink the water" ban.

"The lingering licorice odors" lowered public confidence and hundreds of people went to the area hospitals reporting symptoms of nausea, headaches, vomiting, itching, sore throat, eye irritation, rashes, abdominal pains, and diarrhea, said Daniel Gallagher, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech. He, along with Dietrich, played a major role in the research conducted after the spill, including the receipt of a National Science Foundation rapid response grant to do the initial work. Gallagher and Dietrich also published their paper on the odors of 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol in Environmental Science and Technology in December of 2014.

The financial damage from the spill was estimated at $61 million for the first month alone.

Taste is another problem with drinking water quality, and Dietrich and Burlingame point to the salty taste that comes from . With little or no rain, increases occur in inorganic total dissolved solids, causing a salty or mineral-water taste. The current secondary contaminant levels are designed to avoid salty or mineral tastes, but a drought can play havoc with water sources that end up in drinking water.

Hydraulic fracturing for new sources of gas can also result in a failing taste test because it is done in conjunction with brines that seep through the water tables.

"Since secondary maximum contaminant levels are not monitored or enforced nationally, there is no systematic collection and interpretation of consumer feedback. Research is necessary to develop standardized procedures for the collection of consumer feedback on aesthetic, cosmetic, and technical concerns at individual community water systems and centralized in a national data base," advocated Dietrich and Burlingame.

Since the EPA's secondary standards are designed "to be a viable assessment of consumer acceptability and a means to instill confidence in ," they should be reviewed and reassessed for chloride, copper, fluoride, iron and manganese, concluded Dietrich and Burlingame. The current outdated standard for corrosivity "is a challenge to implement and interpret as there is no method to measure corrosivity." They also suggested new standards should be considered for ammonia, hardness, sodium, and specific odorants.


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So... do you know what is in your water?

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Jan 13, 2015
Why are we still pumping the public with manipulated water? Fluoride and chlorine are poison, yet they're still infused into our water. Health benefits my ass...

Jan 13, 2015
screw the drinking water standards as completely irrelevant. stop watering lawns and flushing toilets with potable water.

Jan 13, 2015
Why are we still pumping the public with manipulated water? Fluoride and chlorine are poison, yet they're still infused into our water. Health benefits my ass...

In proper measure, they are beneficial to and used by the human body.
"Proper measure" is kinda what needs to be questioned...

Shootist.
I am gonna have to agree with you on that one...

Jan 13, 2015
Why are we still pumping the public with manipulated water? Fluoride and chlorine are poison, yet they're still infused into our water. Health benefits my ass...


Poison's in the dose, you'll be well served to remember that.

Jan 13, 2015
WG,
What if the "proper measure" is zero? The science is unsettled when it comes to the benefits of these chemicals.

Shootist,
Poison is poison, the dose is just the threshold at which it kills

Z99
Jan 13, 2015
Not only do we need a national database on taste and smell of the local water, we need one on belly-button lint and creepy neighbors. You'll note that the word "health" wasn't used. Our government needs to spend YOUR money to collect information on everything. After all, what you don't know CAN hurt you. And besides, its not like this paper is advocating that the writers get government grants so they can gather even more information. That would be a conflict of interest, and I'm sure they wouldn't want to appear venal.
BTW
Poison is poison is one of the stupidest comment that have recently been posted here.
It is utter rubbish.

Jan 13, 2015
There is something strange in the water of Los Angeles. Does anyone know what chemical the county adds that has a strange odor? It is very obvious when passing by landscape sprinklers but upon another visit the odor is abscent

Jan 13, 2015
There is something strange in the water of Los Angeles. Does anyone know what chemical the county adds that has a strange odor? It is very obvious when passing by landscape sprinklers but upon another visit the odor is abscent

Might be combination tween water and the lawn care products (Fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, etc...)

Jan 13, 2015
There is something strange in the water of Los Angeles. Does anyone know what chemical the county adds that has a strange odor? It is very obvious when passing by landscape sprinklers but upon another visit the odor is abscent

Hard to say.

But knowing Los Angeles City and County, it's probably 30-40% undocumented illegal additives, allegedly allowed to be put there because they're less expensive and legal reactants won't do the same type of work the illegal ones will do.

Until the undocumented illegal additives are removed from the system, the residents... as well as visitors to the area... must suffer the issues caused by these undocumented illegal additives, because things can't get better until that happens.

But, to be honest, the water quality in LA is much better than the water where these undocumented illegal additives may have come from.

Jan 13, 2015
WG,
What if the "proper measure" is zero? The science is unsettled when it comes to the benefits of these chemicals.

Shootist,
Poison is poison, the dose is just the threshold at which it kills


You are wrong.

digitalis. you idiot. The poison is in the dose.

Jan 13, 2015
What's really scary is where a succession of towns and cities on a big river abstract, distribute, process and return their water, but don't talk to each other...

Jan 13, 2015
Hard to say.

But knowing Los Angeles City and County, it's probably 30-40% undocumented illegal additives, allegedly allowed to be put there because they're less expensive and legal reactants won't do the same type of work the illegal ones will do.

Until the undocumented illegal additives are removed from the system, the residents... as well as visitors to the area... must suffer the issues caused by these undocumented illegal additives, because things can't get better until that happens.

But, to be honest, the water quality in LA is much better than the water where these undocumented illegal additives may have come from.

Metaphor is such a tuff thing to play with..

Jan 14, 2015
Poison is poison, the dose is just the threshold at which it kills


Scroof - even water is poison by your definition, then.

Jan 14, 2015
Scroofinator claimed
Why are we still pumping the public with manipulated water?
Really ?
Versus what source of NON-manipulated water would U prefer ?

Eg. A mountain stream where animals & insects upstream r doing their business of living & dying discharging bacteria into the water that looks 'clear' ?

How long will u maintain health being exposed to E.coli, Staph Aureus toxins, or even Salmonella which most mammals have as commensals ?

What about rainwater, how do u collect it, want to avoid contaminants, so distil it but, that diminishes minerals most are necessary, where Scroofinator will U get water & how to store it ?

Scroofinator claimed
Fluoride and chlorine are poison, yet they're still infused into our water
No. Nothing (except ionising radiations) have static & fixed definitions of 'poison'/harm.

Ever eaten salt, chloride ions abound in your stomach, low doses gas Cl in H2O r safe.

Fluoride well bound
Health benefits my ass..
Education ?

Jan 14, 2015
Shootist might have a point
screw the drinking water standards as completely irrelevant. stop watering lawns and flushing toilets with potable water
But, the economies & distinction are raised, do U want two water pipes to each home, with one potable, cost is significant.

Bulk treatment of best quality sources to treat & remove pathogens work out best overall but, obviously we shouldn't misuse the resource & the energy to get it to us.

Ex washing water, kitchen waste etc are clearly helpful to recycle minerals & cleaved amino acids to compost just fine :-)

So from that perspective, yes its innappropriate to use potable water (direct from the tap) on the garden in terms of energy/minerals, best to, if you have to dilute the kitchen, laundry waste with tap water moderately - saves it being wasted down the sewer...

I'd favour return to septic tanks with enlightened use of that waste water to retain minerals, so sadly lacking in so many soils for our crops :-(

Jan 14, 2015
There was no mention of pharmacological contaminants. Excreted, pills and medicine discarded, etc. Maybe a moving target, as the stuff with which people medicate themselves and their farm animals changes year to year.

Jan 14, 2015
Well, groups that have opted out have not fared well. How is that relevant you ask? Because our media determines what we want. Green lawns, etc. What is in our water is dictated by our big business , fluoride isn't fluoride its power plant chimney scrapings, chlorine seems to be a direct consequence to degraded water piping. Most of us would love to have our own well, and septic but our lot laws do not allow.
I wonder what results the consumer feedback would have? Consumers dont want fluoride but its still there. I rather imagine that consume feedback info would serve to create yet another media campaign to assure us of whatever we didn't want was good for us.

Jan 14, 2015
Scroofinator,

I am 77 and have had chlorinated water all my life. My body seems to be able to rid itself of Cl rather than absorbing it.
When I was a child, I had exceptionally soft teeth which caused many terrible trips to the dentist for fillings. My dentist was afraid to give me a needle.
Had fluoridated water been available then , my dentist visits would have been for painless checkups. How lucky you young people are.

Jan 14, 2015
katesisco claimed
.. fluoride isn't fluoride its power plant chimney scrapings, chlorine seems to be a direct consequence to degraded water piping
No. Not seems to be, Chlorine is necessary to reduce pathogens, so u can drink the water without worrying about bacterial infections. Fluoride, despite its low concentration here in Western Australia is helpful re reducing dental decay as so much sugar is in our diet. U katesisco desperately need utilities education !

katesisco suggested
Most of us would love to have our own well, and septic but our lot laws do not allow. I wonder what results the consumer feedback would have?
When yah'all get sick then sue the state for allowing U to drink untreated water !

katesisco claimed
Consumers dont want fluoride but its still there. I rather imagine that consume feedback info would serve to create yet another media campaign to assure us of whatever we didn't want was good for us
Consumers obviously need education !

Jan 15, 2015
Scroofinator claimed
What if the "proper measure" is zero?
Fine, it is for ionising radiation sources such as decay products from radio-nucleotides

Scroofinator claimed
The science is unsettled when it comes to the benefits of these chemicals
In your world sure, U don't get out much or get to grips with utilisation & the imperative of education. Many respects quite settled, permutations still subject to investigation & in concert with genetic predisposition.

Scroofinator claimed
Poison is poison, the dose is just the threshold at which it kills
No. It is NOT that simple by any means, take the weed U are on - got any strychnine in that to add as a stimulant & to offset long term anti-depressants ?

Correct phrase
"Only difference between a poison and a medication (or a neutral) is the dose"

Strychnine, small qtys a useful stimulant, high dose a poison. Also caffeine
Water, high dose brain swells U die

https://en.wikipe...racelsus

Jan 18, 2015
screw the drinking water standards as completely irrelevant. stop watering lawns and flushing toilets with potable water.


Are you suggesting laying pipe for non-potable water supply for toilet and lawn? Dont see how that would be an improvement.

Jan 18, 2015
Some thing really does need to be done about the "green lawn" and watering. It sure is a shame in desert states and places like florida sling all this ground water on st Augustine grass and such.

Ulg
Jan 18, 2015
Daqddyo the State of New Jersey is the only State in the country which still does not add fluoride to its water and it is not a big deal- there is not a single reason it needs to be in the water supply when 99.99% of the water does not end up on your teeth. Just maybe we should have toothpastes with higher levels, if people want to protect their teeth with it.

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