Monthly Archives: March 2011

Radiation detected on the East Coast

Radiation warning

Reports are starting to come in from monitoring stations around the country indicating that trace levels of radioactive materials have been detected in the United States. In some states testing has revealed an increase in the presence of radiation in rainwater. This increase in radioactive material is linked to the incident at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.

The most recent reports from the EPA continue to show that the increased levels of radiation detected are expected and still “far below levels of public-health concern”. The EPA is stepping up monitoring across the country to keep an eye out for public safety. Right now there is very little cause for concern as the increase in radiation levels is expected to be short-lived.

If you are concerned about the radiation level in your drinking water you can try a water filter to remove it. The NSF lists water filter systems that are certified to reduce radium here. A basic carbon filter will not remove radium or radon. These contaminants require a Reverse Osmosis (RO) or Ultraviolet (UV) filter to remove them from drinking water. For more information on radium in water you can check out this page from the Palm Beach County Health Department. It is important to remember that we are all exposed to small amounts of radiation every day and that low level exposure over a short period of time is not a significant health risk.

Vermont says “No” to bottled water

Say-no-to-bottled-water 250"/>

A bit of news from a Businessweek article I read today (special thanks to @MyWaterOurWater for sharing it, follow him on twitter!), the state of Vermont is putting a stop to the purchase of bottled water in state buildings. State employees will have access to clean tap water, which the state government feels is a better use of their budget. Every year the state invests in public water so why spend extra on bottled water?

Even more important is the acknowledgment by Deb Markowitz of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources that bottled water has a negative environmental impact on the state ecology. New York, Colorado and Illinois have also taken steps to reduce waste by switching from bottled water to tap water.

It just does not make sense to buy bottled water when we should be investing in public water infrastructure. Tap water is readily available and can be dispensed into re-usable bottles. A simple water filter can reduce chlorine taste and odor to make your tap water taste much better. If you live in an area with poor water quality you should have your water tested. Odds are you can probably get a water filter set up in your home that will remove most of the contaminants in your tap water.

The Incident at Tower 37

Incident at tower 37

A lot has been happening this week as we celebrate World Water Day 2011. Over at TakePart.com they featured this exclusive video and interview with Chris Perry, the director of Wall-E about his new animated short “The Incident at Tower 37″. The entire video is only about 10 minutes long and presents the story of a community threatened by the loss of their water supply. In the short film a large corporation is taking the water and leaving the community without enough water to support their own livelihood.

Perry is trying to raise awareness of a very real issue that faces many small communities, both human and those found in nature. While his animated vision may seem too sci-fi or distopian for some viewers, the process depicted in his work is taking place all over the world. Bottled water companies take groundwater and package it in single-use plastic containers to be resold at a huge profit for the company. In many cases the water sources that they are harvesting are an essential life line for local communities and ecosystems.

In Perry’s short and bittersweet tale the little guys triumph over big business through a guerrilla effort that sabotages the extractor, but in real life we do not have to do anything that drastic. Bottled water companies rely on basic business principles of supply and demand to profit off their industry, and business has been booming for most of the 21st Century. The best way to strike back at bottled water is to STOP BUYING IT! It is time that we stopped letting bottled water be the trendy way to drink up on the go. Switch to a re-usable bottle and fill it from your own home tap. You have the ability to be responsible and take control of your water. It is cheaper and safer for you and the environment, which means that in the end we can all win.

World Water Day 2011

World water day

Today is world water day and I think it is important that we remember how lucky we are to have access to safe drinking water. According to the UN report “Sick Water” released last year on March 22, dirty water kills more people each year than violence, including war. According to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon The world’s water supply is contaminated every day with “millions of tons of untreated sewage and industrial and agricultural waste”.

Have you ever had to walk a mile or more to get water from a dirty well? Take a moment to think about where your water comes from and how amazing it is to be able to turn on the tap and have fresh water delivered directly into your home! Because it is so easy for us to access clean water we often take it for granted and leave the tap running longer than necessary.

Here is a simple challenge that we can all do to help on World Water Day 2011: see how little water you can use today. Try not letting the water run while you brush your teeth, or see if you can take your shower just a couple of minutes faster. Don’t run your washing machine or dishwasher unless it is a full load. Remember that everything we buy takes water to produce.

Every little bit counts. Once you see how easy it is to reduce your own water footprint think about using those same good practices every day and tell your friends how they can help too!

Your water, your health

Water pollution

Yesterday marked the first day of spring and even though the temperature outside is still somewhere between cool and cold in most parts of the country, I find myself looking forward to the warmer weather. You know, the days when you go out and enjoy the warm rays from the sun and a refreshing swim in the neighborhood pool. Or better yet, a day out at the lake, or the beach?

Of course, you probably would not want to go swimming in water that looks like this…but you might be drinking it.

Water is a basic necessity, but it is also a resource we often take for granted. Do you know what is in your drinking water? Do you want to find out?

Here are 3 ways to take control of your tap and be sure your drinking water is safe.

  • Ask for a water-quality report. Your local water utility is required to test the water they provide and create a report with information about the source of the water, any contaminants detected and also any potential health risks from consuming those contaminants.
  • Find out what your plumbing pipes are made of. The EPA regulates the amount of lead that can be detected in the water coming from your supplier, but if your home still has lead piping you may be picking up additional levels of lead from your own plumbing. If you cannot get access to the pipes to find out (in some cases the older lead piping may be buried underground) you can have your water tested to find out how much lead is present in your water. Water test kits are available to purchase online and can be used to test for possible lead contamination.
  • Consider using an in-home water filter. Water filters come in all sizes and serve a wide variety of purposes. Choosing the correct filter may seem daunting at first, but once you know what contaminants are in your water you can make sure the filters you buy can reduce or remove those contaminants.

Remember, do not be afraid to ask questions and get the information that you need. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have safe drinking water. When it comes to the water you use to cook, shower and especially drink, the more you know the better.

More plastic than plankton

Plastic bottles washed up on the beach

We use plastic for a variety of functions because it is cheap and easy to use. The problem is how much of that plastic that we use every day is not handled responsibly and recycled. We have reached the point where pollution from plastics waste is having a severe effect on the environment. I am not talking about landfills, though there is definitely an argument to be made for the work we have to do there. What I wanted to talk about today is the accumulation of plastic in the ocean. Researchers, like Captain Charles Moore and his team, have discovered that plastic are polluting our oceans in a big way.

Ever take a trip down to the beach? Did it look like this image? Let’s hope it did not, but more and more beaches are becoming receptacles for plastic water bottles and other trash that are thrown into lakes and rivers and eventually find their way into the ocean. What many people do not realize is that plastic is forever. It cannot be dissolved or used up and instead is merely broken down into smaller pieces. While plastic waste on beaches is certainly not something we want to see the issue that Captain Moore and the researchers at the Algalita Marine Foundation are focusing on is the pollution found in the oceanic gyres.

Water sample from the north pacific gyre

Have you heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? You can take a tour and get out there to see it for yourself, but it is not a popular destination. Located in the Pacific gyre, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an area where oceanic tides have created a gathering point for much of the plastic waste that has found its way out to sea. Samples drawn from the gyre have revealed that there is more plastic than plankton in the water. After being buffeted around and stirred up in the ocean water much of the plastic that has made it to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch has been broken down into small colorful pellets. With the number of these little plastic pieces floating in the water having exceeded the amount of plankton there many fish are starting to eat the plastic. Instead of eating their natural food source, plankton, the fish are eating our trashed plastics.

The garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean is not unique. Researchers have found trash build up in gyres in the North and South Atlantic, Indian, North and South Pacific oceans. Some of the most commonly discarded items are plastic water bottles. With only a small percentage of water bottles actually recycled in the U.S. there is plenty of room for each individual to make a difference. Try to drink from re-usable containers whenever possible and if you do buy a plastic bottle or other container make sure to recycle when you are finished. These are small steps, but together it can make a big difference.

Widely used pesticides impair male reproductive health

Tractor at work

A new study has found that many common pesticides block male hormones and may be a contributor to the decline in male reproductive health. This is one of the only recent studies to focus on human exposure to new chemicals. The majority of studies to this point have been about pesticides that are no longer used. The study found that 30 of the 37 pesticides tested were anti-androgenic and may play a significant role in blocking normal hormone activity.

Pesticides are widely used to protect crops from insects, diseases and weeds. The purpose of pesticide use it to keep people safe by preventing crops from being contaminated. Since agriculture is an essential part of maintaining our food supply we have to be careful of the effect that pesticides have on humans.

Human exposure to pesticides often occurs when the chemicals leach into groundwater after a heavy rain. Once a chemical has made it into the water supply it can eventually end up in our public water system. Pesticides in public water are most likely to be found in more agricultural areas. Hopefully as we learn more about the health risk posed by pesticides we will be more responsible about what chemicals we are exposed to. In the meantime it is always a good idea to have your water tested to find out exactly what contaminants are in your local water supply.

How does your state rank for water-system violations?

Water-contamination-chart

I found this great article and graphic today over at Mother Nature Network. If you click on the picture above it will take you to the interactive version on their site where you can scroll over your state and see how it ranks for water-system violations.

Looking at the graphic it seems the good news is that most of the water that we get from water treatment plants and public water utilities is safe. The bad news is that there are still many Americans whose drinking water does not meet safety guidelines. To further muddy the waters, so to speak, there are currently only 91 chemicals covered under the safe water act. There are thousands of other chemicals that are still unregulated and many of these are on the EPA watch list as potentially dangerous to humans. So your water is only tested for 91 chemicals out of thousands that have been found in drinking water.

So while tap water is generally safe for most people living in the United States I would definitely recommend knowing what is in your water. The use of a home water filter can make a big difference in the taste and quality of your water. Even safe water can often have small particles that have not been removed and is usually treated with chlorine which many people find gives the water a poor taste. A basic carbon filter will reduce the chlorine content and catch much of the sediment and other particles to help you get the best taste from your tap water.

Your link to safer water

I have talked in great detail about the various contaminants that end up in bottled water and the tap water that comes from your local water utility. The best way to reduce your exposure to impurities in your water is by using a home water filter system. Many homeowners already have a water filter system for their refrigerator’s ice and water dispenser. A refrigerator water filter is the easiest way to filter water and should be replaced about every 6 months to maintain optimal filtration. If you do not have a filter system in place already, a great place to start is by finding out what is in your water.

The Environmental Working Group has compiled reports from water utilities across the country to give you easy access to your water quality report. Once you know what contaminants are present in your water you can make a better decision about what type of water filter to use in your home. I have attached my own water report as an example. As you can see the water is tested regularly and certain chemicals are consistently tested higher than health guidelines, but are not considered to be over the legal limit. So my water utility is not breaking the law, but my water is still unsafe to drink.

Because of this I do not drink any water from the tap in my apartment unless it has been filtered first. I use a Brita faucet filter that was easily attached to the kitchen sink to filter water for drinks and cooking. It works great and took about 5 minutes to set up.

Raleigh water report

There are many ways to filter the water that enters your home and reduce the contaminants in it. Whatever kind of water filter you choose just make sure that it has been certified by the NSF, an independent organization that tests filters to make sure their filtration claims are accurate. Once you have a water filter that reduces impurities in your water you will probably notice that it tastes better too! A sweet bonus.

Fun facts you may not know about water

Our planet earth

How much do you know about our planet’s water supply? It might be a lot or very little, but how much you know is not as important as how much you care. Our water supply is a precious resource because it is what sustains life for all the living beings, human or otherwise, here on Earth.

So let’s start with the easy stuff. How much of the earth’s surface is covered by water? About 80%. You knew that one, right? See how many of the next group you can guess correctly. The answers are at the bottom of the post.

  1. What is the most common substance found on earth?
  2. How much of the earth’s water supply is drinking water?
  3. How many gallons of water are dropped by an inch of rain?
  4. How much water does a dairy cow drink to be able to produce a gallon of milk?
  5. Which uses more water, the average dishwasher or an average person washing dishes by hand?
  6. How long can a person live without drinking water?
  7. How many gallons of water does the average person use in one day?
  8. What is the annual cost to supply water to all U.S. citizens?
  9. How much does a gallon of water weight at room temperature?
  10. What percentage of the human body is made up of water?

So how did you do? I must confess I did not know a lot of these fun little bits of trivia either. Our most important natural resource often gets forgotten about or left out of the discussion entirely. So next time you turn on the tap stop and think about the importance of our water supply and how we all have to work together to keep it clean.

Answer Key

A1 = (water) A2 = (1%) A3= (7,000) A4 = (4) A5 = (hand washing) A6 = (1 week) A7 = (123) A8 = ($3.5 billion) A9 = (8.33 lbs) A10 = (66%)