Sodium and Drinking Water
Too much sodium in our diets has long been known to raise blood pressure and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. A modeling study published in the journal Hypertension (Coxson, P.G., et al. 2013. Mortality Benefits From US Population-wide Reduction in Sodium Consumption: Projections From 3 Modeling Approaches) suggests that even a small reduction in sodium consumption could save hundreds of thousands of lives. I’ve been involved with a lot of research on the contamination of shallow aquifers from road salt (sodium chloride) runoff, but we typically focus on chloride and not sodium. Chloride is a conservative ion, so it travels in groundwater basically at the speed of the water, whereas sodium is more reactive and thus more difficult to predict in the subsurface. But sodium is definitely increasing in these aquifers. This sodium study got me wondering how much sodium we ingest through drinking water.
Drought and Algal Blooms
During the 2012 drought, the hot, dry conditions caused blooms of blue-green algae (also known as cyanobacteria) in some water bodies. These blooms can produce a toxin known as microcystin, which has a World Health Organization (WHO) drinking water standard of 20 µg/L. They can also foul the taste and odor of drinking water. Elgin and Aurora reported serious issues with algae in the Fox River in 2012, making the water difficult to treat. Here’s what this stuff looks like:
(photo by Mike Bundren, Illinois EPA)
Please Remove Pigs Before Drinking Water
I was looking through the front section of The New York Times the other day (March 13, 2013), and there were several articles having to do with water and water quality. There was an article about the lack of potable water in India, including the depletion of some groundwater supplies. Another article told how public schools in New York City are saving large volumes of water as a result of replacing thousands of old toilets with low-flush models. There was also an op-ed piece about how the melting of ice in the Arctic Ocean is opening up sea lanes and what that might mean. But the article that really caught my attention was in the World Briefing section about how 6,000 dead pigs were found floating in the Huangpu River in China, which provides drinking water to Shanghai. Ugh.
'Removing' Micropollutants from Wastewater
We ask a lot of our wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs). We expect them to clean up our sewage, so that the effluent that is returned to our water resources is environmentally benign. A century or more ago, the main goal was to prevent the spread of water-borne diseases, and treatment mainly consisted of dilution. Since that time, our environmental sensibilities have increased, and treatment techniques have been vastly improved to disinfect wastewater and remove pollutants to protect receiving waters. At first those pollutants were primarily limited to nutrients. Now we’re asking WWTPs to remove other things. Any idea what this compound is?
Our Stressed Great Lakes
A recent study investigated the cumulative effects of human activities on the health of the Great Lakes, and concluded that Lakes Erie, Ontario, and Michigan face the greatest threats, while Like Superior is the least threatened. The most stressed areas are along coastlines, especially near major metropolitan areas, which is not surprising. Threats include invasive species (especially zebra mussels and lampreys), climate change (affecting lake temperature and water levels), phosphorous from erosion of agricultural soils, and contaminants from urban areas. Stressed areas almost always have multiple stressors, complicating restoration efforts. The authors of the study note that restoration efforts in the Great Lakes are almost exclusively focused on high-stress sites, but almost never have information about the full range of stressors.
Bottled Water vs. Tap Water: And the Winner is'
One of the first posts I wrote for this blog was that the quality of bottled water was no better than tap water. And now comes a study showing that, in fact, the quality of tap water may actually be BETTER than bottled water.
Drug Resistance in River Water
A paper just published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology (Chen et al. 2012, A Survey of Drug Resistance bla Genes Originating from Synthetic Plasmid Vectors in Six Chinese Rivers, vol. 46, pp. 13448−13454) reports on the detection of environmental microbes with antibiotic resistance genes in six rivers in China. Researchers have known for some time about drug-resistant bacteria in hospitals and nursing homes, where the large use of antibiotics has allowed such “superbugs” to proliferate. Infections caused by these drug-resistant bacteria can have very high death rates. In recent years, scientists have discovered that antibiotic resistance genes have been finding their way into the natural environment.
Update on European Regulation of Estrogens
In a post last May, I wrote about the European Commission’s intent to regulate the synthetic estrogen compound ethinyl estradiol (EE2) under the Water Framework Directive. According to a recent article in Nature, those regulations will be not approved by the European Parliament. Intense lobbying by the water and pharmaceutical industries has apparently convinced the European Union member states that the financial costs are too much.
How would you feel about drinking treated wastewater? Ick, right? But what if you were assured that it met all federal and state drinking water standards? Still doesn’t sound too appetizing? If that’s how you feel, you’re not alone. Proposals to reuse treated wastewater as a drinking water have been consistently shot down in the U.S.
Bag It Redux: Plastics in the Environment
The movie "Bag It: Is your life too plastic?", which was shown at the Art Theater in Champaign last fall and which I reviewed, is again being shown in town. It will be at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), 1 E. Hazelwood Drive, Champaign, on Thursday October 25, at 7:00 PM. It's located just west of the Research Park. Dr. B.K. Sharma, a senior chemist at the ISTC who is doing research on converting plastic bags into oil to potentially be used as fuel or lubricants, will give a 15 minute presentation before the film. Go!