Monday, April 29, 2019

EPA Opens Comment Period on Draft PFAS Cleanup Guidance

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is seeking public comment on a draft set of interim recommendations for addressing groundwater contaminated with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) andr perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) at sites being evaluated and addressed under federal cleanup programs, including the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund) and corrective action under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The complete guidance can be read at this link. 

PFOA and PFOS are synthetic fluorinated organic chemicals belonging to a large group commonly referred to as per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances or PFAS. Manufacturers have produced PFAS for a variety of industries and products, including surface treatments for soil/stain/water resistance; surface treatments of textiles; paper; metals; and for specialized applications, such as fire suppression for hydrocarbon fires, and have been widely used on military bases. PFOA and PFOS are resistant to metabolic and environmental degradation; and therefore, are highly persistent in the environment and can bioaccumulate in humans.

Studies indicate that high concentrations of PFOA and PFOS can cause reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects in laboratory animals. Both chemicals have caused tumors in animal studies. The most consistent findings from human studies are increased cholesterol levels among exposed populations, with more limited findings related to cancer, thyroid hormone effects, other reproductive and developmental impacts in humans, infant birth weights and adverse effects on the immune system.

Drinking water can be a source of exposure in communities where these chemicals have contaminated water supplies. Such contamination is typically associated with a specific facility, for example: an industrial facility where PFAS were produced or used to manufacture other products, or locations where firefighting foam was used such as oil refineries, airfields or other training facilities for firefighters.

PFAS include a large number of important chemicals that can be used in some food packaging and can make things grease- and stain-resistant. They were used in firefighting foams and in a wide range of manufacturing practices. Unfortunately, some of these substances don’t break down over time. That means they build up in the environment and in our bodies. The result is that according to the CDC more than 95% of the U.S. population has measurable levels of PFOA and PFOS in their blood; and babies are born with PFOA in their blood.

If you recall in February the EPA announced their Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Action Plan, taking the first steps in the process to create a maximum contaminant level (MCL) for PFOS and PFOA to regulate these chemicals under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The current guidance provides interim recommendations for screening levels, and preliminary remediation goals (PRGs) to inform final cleanup levels for PFOA and/or PFOS contamination of groundwater that is a current or potential source of drinking water.

The interim guidance will be open for public comment for 45-days from 04/25/2019 to 06/10/2019.Submit your comments, identified by Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OLEM-2019-0229, at Follow the online instructions for submitting comments. Once submitted, comments cannot be edited or removed from

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Earth Day 2019

Monday was the 49th Earth Day and the Earth Day Network, the organization that leads Earth Day worldwide, has launched its Earth Day 2019 campaign, Protect Our Species. However, given the challenges of plastics pollution and the recent changes in recycling rules, Prince William County is maintaining our focus on reducing plastics pollution and plastics use.

Environmentalists tell us that plastics are responsible for a vast array of ills from poisoning and injuring marine life, disrupting animal and human hormones, littering beaches and landscapes and clogging our waste streams and landfills, the exponential growth of plastics is now threatening the survival of our planet.

Plastics that we use once and discard, or single-use plastics, are a growing critical problem of global proportion. Plastics are some of the most commonly littered items in the world and are most of what is collected on the spring river cleanups. Plastics are present in furniture, construction materials, cars, appliances, electronics and countless other things.

 Scientists studied the amount of plastics that have been manufactured since 1950’s and determined it’s fate and found that virtually all the plastic we ever made is non-degradable and is still with us. Much of the plastic ends up in landfills, or worn into smaller particles in the soil, in the ocean, or in our rivers, streams, lakes and estuaries.

The scientists estimated that more than 9,000 million metric tons of virgin plastics have been produced since the dawn of the age of plastics. As of 2015, approximately 6,300 million metric tons of plastic waste had been generated, around 9% of which had been recycled, 12% was incinerated, and 79% was accumulated in landfills or the natural environment. The amount of plastic waste keeps growing. If we do not make some changes it will not be too long until we are all knee deep in plastic waste.

This year Prince William County will continue to emphasize reducing plastic waste and learning the new curbside recycling rules  ONLY THESE ITEMS CAN BE RECYCLED CURBSIDE:
  • Plastics bottles and jugs:  #1 and #2 containers with necks including soda, water, juice, milk and detergent containers.  Rinse out containers.  Bottle caps may be replaced after rinsing.  No bottles that previously contained hazardous materials (such as oil, flammable materials, chemicals, etc.).    
  • Aluminum and steel food and beverage cans and empty aerosol cans.   Empty and rinse out cans.
  • Newspapers, magazines, catalogs, junk mail, office paper and paperboard boxes, such as cereal, cookie, cracker and tissue boxes.
  • Cardboard (flattened and cut down to sizes up to 2 ft. X 2 ft. in size if taking to the drop-off trailers.)  Please note: large boxes may be taken to the County Landfill or Balls Ford Road Compost Facility. Do not include cardboard with food residue or plastic liners.  

Prince William County Landfill and Curbside recycling DO NOT ACCEPT:
  • Plastic bags - accepted at most grocery stores
  • Glass containers and jars, window glass, mirrors, light bulbs or ceramics
  • Plastics 3 through 7 (such as yogurt, margarine and wide mouthed containers and buckets, styrofoam, bubble wrap, air pillows, etc.)

Monday, April 22, 2019

Stop Invasive Water Chestnut this Spring

An invasive species of plant has recently arrived in our Potomac River Watershed. If we act soon we can still stop it. This new species of water chestnut is a relative of the well-known invasive species Eurasian water chestnut. Once water chestnut shows up in a water body, it spreads to cover large areas and, if allowed to flower and reproduce, can spread far and wide carried by Canadian geese and other wild life. This plant forms dense floating mats that cover the water surface, blocking sunlight and killing aquatic grasses and vegetation. Dr. Nancy Rybicki formerly of the U.S. Geological Survey and now teaching at George Mason University came to the Potomac River Watershed Roundtable to ask for our help in stopping the spread of this water chestnut.

Right now this new species of water chestnut is confined to Fairfax and Prince William counties, but its sites are doubling each year. It is spreading in stormwater ponds, farm ponds, golf water hazards, and ponds in parks. Once it flowers with a pink flower it produces a 2 horned fruit with barbs that attach to wildlife, but are sharp enough to puncture a shoe. The water chestnut is an aquatic annual herb. The fruit though horned and barbed is edible and has medicinal qualities. It sprouts from seeds in spring and the plants die off in winter after a hard frost, but the seeds can lie dormant for several years and be washed from a spill way down river. 
from USGS
It can still be stopped. If it is pulled out before it flowers in July, it can be easily killed with a little follow up in early summer and in the following couple of years. It can be eradicated in 2-5 years at a site. The photo below is from Pohick Bay in Lorton, Virginia in 2014 when the USGS and Virginia Game and Inland Fisheries Program studied and worked with Volunteers to remove the water chestnut from Pohick Bay. The picture is from John Odenkirk of VGIF. 

If you spot the plant please report it to or 540-899-4169. If you would like more information or help in in spreading the word, please contact Dr. Rybicki at or call her at 703-624-1318

Thursday, April 18, 2019

DC Water Failed to get the Lead Out

Washington DC’s recent internal audit has found that, based on reports submitted to the EPA there is still measurable amounts of lead in Washington DC households' drinking water. From testing it is know that lead is not present in the water before it enters the DC Water distribution system. The lead is coming from either the piping delivering water to the homes (the laterals) or from the household plumbing. The most effective way to minimize exposure to lead is to remove the source of lead, DC Water did not design its regulatory mandated system of controls to identify and remove all sources of lead in the piping and pumps that delivers water throughout the city. Furthermore, the DC Water did not ensure that all sites with lead service lines have been identified, and in  the testing that does take place all wards of the city are not equally represented. In short, DC Water and their plan to replace lead service lines has failed the city residents.

For decades instead of replacing lead pipes urban water companies, not just DC Water have used chemicals to control lead and other chemicals from leaching into the water supply. Many at the American Water Works Association and other trade groups have questioned the wisdom of this strategy, there is always some lead leaching and many of us believe that there is no safe level of lead in drinking water. Yet, having the Washington Aqueduct use chemicals to control lead has been DC Water's  strategy of choice.

In 2001 Washington DC had a lead in water problem much larger than the Flint Michigan “crisis.” The problem in Washington DC was sparked by the Washington Aqueduct’s change from chlorine to chloramine in its disinfection process. As in Flint, the change in water chemistry resulted in a disturbance in the bio-film on the pipes which resulted in lead leaching into the drinking water. It is, however; likely that the lead laterals in Washington DC were leaching lead at a lower level all along.

In 2003, the EPA required DC Water to begin an accelerated lead pipe replacement program. In support of this mandate, the city passed a resolution to fund an accelerated lead pipe replacement program in 2004. This resolution required DC Water to replace all known lead service lines in public space by September 30, 2010, and replace any newly discovered lead service lines within 90 days of discovery. The resolution also required DC Water to encourage customers to replace their private side portion of the lead service lines when the public side is replaced, offering the property owner the same rate as DC Water’s actual cost.

DC Water’s ownership of the distribution system stops at the property line when the homeowner or building owner becomes responsible. DC Water management indicated that the portion of the lead lateral on private property is not DC Water’s responsibility and would not be replaced at DC Water’s expense. Replacing only a section can induce a chemical reaction from the addition of other metals, like copper, in new sections of pipe. So, in 2008 the Board redirected DC Water to replace public lead service lines only with water main replacements. The Board instructed DC Water to use discretionary funds to replace public lead service lines only when a customer requests replacement and agrees to pay for their portion on their private property.
from DC Water

Based on information in DC Water’s service line inventory database, there are a total of 125,574 service lines in Washington DC. There are 19,103 sites with known lead service lines throughout the District. However, the pipe material for 98,969 of 125,574 service lines on customers’ properties were unknown. DC Water can not identify the pipe material for 79% of their customers. At the current rate of replacement, it would take 36 years to replace all 19,103 known sites with lead service lines. If a significant portion of the unknown service lines are made of lead, replacement could take many multiples of that estimate. 

From DC Water
When DC Water customers’ test their drinking water for lead, they did not equally represent all the District Wards. As you can see below, DC Water had fewer samples from Wards 1, 2, 7, and 8 than the other Wards. While the EPA's Lead regulations do not require samples to be evenly distributed throughout a city it is a problem. The material of 79% of the lateral pipes is unknown, so there is a potential risk of lead exposures for those areas not tested for lead. A geographically distributed sample is necessary to be representative of the population of homes with lead service lines in the District. 

DC Water needs a better plan for addressing the lead contamination in the city's drinking water. A few cities, including Madison, Wisconsin, and Lansing, Michigan, have taken steps to remove all of their lead pipes. Such projects can cost tens of millions of dollars for a small city and possibly hundreds of million of dollars for Washington DC. These costs have to paid for by an increase in water bills and also paid by property owners. It was estimated by the American Water Association that there are 6.5 million lead pipes still in service in the United States while the EPA estimates that number at around 10 million. That does not even consider all the homes in America that have copper pipes with lead solder or brass fittings with lead.

EPA regulates lead and copper in drinking water under the Lead and Copper Rule. This rule has undergone various revisions over the years, but requires that: (1) water utilities optimize their treatment system to control corrosion in customers plumbing; (2) determine the tap water levels of lead and copper for customers who have lead service lines or lead-based solder in their plumbing systems; (3) rule out the source water as the source of significant lead levels; (4) if lead levels exceed action levels (0.010 mg/L) the supplier is required to educate their customers about lead and actions they can take to reduce their exposure to lead. If a water utilities’ corrosion control treatment plan continues to fail to reduce lead below lead action level it must begin replacing the lead service lines under its ownership.

In the early 2000’s when the lead action level was lowered, water utilities discovered that just as changes in water chemistry can disturb the protective bio-film, removing lead lines improperly, or taking out only a portion of a line ends up disturbing the coating intended to prevent lead leaching inside old pipes. Replacing only a section can induce a chemical reaction from the addition of other metals, like copper, in new sections of pipe. DC Water needs to take action to address lead exposure now. Water rates will just have to cover the costs to supply a clean and safe water supply to all District residents. 

Monday, April 15, 2019

Comment Period Opens for WIP III Clean-up Plan

On Friday, April 5th 2019 the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), released the Draft Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP III) for meeting the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load for public review and comment. The comment period is now open and will end June 7, 2019. The WIP III in final form is due to the U.S. EPA on August 9th. The WIP III will need to account for population growth in our region and climate change in our plans to meet the EPA mandated sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus targets. This will result in the WIP III having significant impact on our personal costs to maintain our homes and gardens, land use rights, costs for property taxes, water and sewer, and the development of our communities.

Virginia achieved the 2017 reduction targets for nitrogen and phosphorus under the Phase I and Phase II WIPs through two major programs: expansion and improvements in our waste water treatment plants and a successful program to install exclusion fencing for agricultural livestock especially on large agricultural operations. Progress having individuals and small property owners adopt “best management practices” for their lawns, septic and small agricultural properties was sporadic. Yet, to meet the goals set for the Commonwealth by the U.S. EPA, our share of restoring the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries, will require significant action by all stakeholders- our state and local governments utilizing smart planning, wastewater utilities like AlexRenew resolving the combined sewer problem in Alexandria (at a cost of almost half a billion dollars to rate payers), farmers and the agriculture and forestry industries, landowners and homeowners, lawn care companies, the general public.

The WIP III Draft is 180 pages long. John Kennedy from the DEQ’s Office of Ecology came to the April 12th meeting of the Potomac Watershed Roundtable to share with the group some highlights from the WIP. You might want to take a look at the entire report and see how it is going to impact your life and your property rights. The WIP III Draft can be found at this link.
The entire Chesapeake Bay watershed is under a federal mandate to reduce sediment and fertilizer runoff into the bay in order to improve water quality. Excess nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment from waste water treatment plants, agriculture, urban and suburban runoff, pet waste, septic systems, air pollution and other sources have impaired the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal waters. These pollutants cause algae blooms that consume oxygen and create dead zones where fish and shellfish cannot survive, block sunlight that is needed for underwater grasses, and smother aquatic life on the bottom.

The EPA set a limit for release of nutrients into the Chesapeake Bay watershed. This limit is called a TMDL and under their recently revised model is of 201,413,934 pounds of nitrogen, 14,174,003 pounds of phosphorus and 6.45 billion pounds of sediment per year which was about 25% reduction in nitrogen, 24% reduction in phosphorus and 20 % reduction in sediment from the 2011 levels. The pollution limits were then partitioned to the various states and river basins based on the Chesapeake Bay computer modeling tools and monitoring data. Each year, Virginia, as well as the other Bay jurisdictions, reports information about implemented practices to the EPA, which takes the information and runs it through the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Model. The results estimate the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that would make it to the Bay under average conditions. By comparing the model results across a period of time, EPA can see the expected collective impact of our actions under the WIP III; and will use it to evaluate our WIP III.

Pollution can be from either a point source or a non-point source. Point source pollution is from an identifiable source, such as a waste water treatment plant. Non-point source pollution is more diffuse and harder to track, as runoff from lawns, farmlands and paved surfaces carry pollutants into streams draining to the Chesapeake Bay. Even seemingly harmless activities, such as washing your car, or not cleaning up your dog’s waste in your yard can contribute to nutrient pollution. A growing human population and increased development adds stress to forests and natural areas, which function as filtration and surface and groundwater recharge areas. Within my lifetime the population in the Washington Metropolitan area has more than doubled to 18.2 million. We and the rest of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed are under a federal mandate to reduce sediment and fertilizer runoff into the bay in order to improve water quality.

The new WIP III targets to a large extent the non-point source pollution. These are  the hundreds of small reductions in sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus released from our homes that each of us will have to make and keep making every years as well as reductions from our communities, schools, public buildings, parks, roads that will all need local action. Some of the programs and areas targeted in the WIP II In our urban/ suburban -developed sector include:
  • Better storm water management especially from the unregulated urbanized lands.
  • Stream and shoreline restorations on both private and public lands. Homeowners will need to restore the streambanks and shoreline on their properties.
  • Increase DEQ’s Stormwater Local Assistance Fund (SLAF);
  • Expand use of the Virginia Conservation Assistance Program (VCAP) to increase adoption of urban/ suburban best management practices to private property owners;
  • Expand the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act to cover all the area east of highway 95;
  • Enhance promotion of living shoreline techniques to address shoreline erosion; grass and forest buffers need to increase significantly
  • Expand septic pump out and other maintenance programs statewide-requiring homeowners to pump their tanks more frequently, improve their septic systems and verifying these actions. The nitrogen load from the onsite sector continues to rise with new construction in area that do not have sewer impacting groundwater and baseflow in rivers and streams.
  • The Soil and Water Conservation Districts will have to expand the reach of their programs to properties that have horses even those for recreational use. These will have to include horse pasture management; manure management, and promoting adequate land area for horses.

To increase the reductions from farmers the state Cost Share Program needs to be modified to:
  • Remove or increase annual participant caps for cost share
  • Bundle BMPs into single cost share contracts to increase reporting of BMPs;
  • Increase maximum tax credits for BMPs and conservation equipment;
  • Modify practice specifications for cover crops, animal waste and stream protection, forest buffers and nutrient management; and
  • Move towards requiring nutrient management plans for all crop lands.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The EPA Says we’re making progress in the Chesapeake Bay

In January the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) released their bi-annual State of the Bay health index score. The Bay received a depressing D+ down from the C- the Bay received in 2016. Their report is always a downer, and discouraging. However, last week the U.S. EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program office released their BayBarometer: Health and Restoration in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed 2017-18 report which was far more encouraging in its assessment. Though they remind us that we still have a long way to go to meet the EPA’s restoration goals, they found encouraging signs of resilience throughout the ecosystem.  I guess they want us to feel good about our progress towards their mandated goals. 

This year’s Bay Barometer found the highestwater quality score since monitoring began more than 30 years ago and an abundance of underwatergrasses though the government’s assessment only finalized data through 2017 possibly missing the impacts of last year’s big rains. According to the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Watershed Model, pollution controls put in place between 2009 and 2017 lowered nitrogen loads 11%, phosphorus loads 21% and sediment loads 10%. The Chesapeake Bay states and Washington DC exceeded their 2017 pollution reducing targets for phosphorus and sediment, but fell short of reaching its target for nitrogen by 15 million pounds.
from the EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program

The EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program measures progress using three environmental factors: dissolved oxygen, underwater grass abundance, and chlorophyll-a.
  • Chlorophyll-a: In 2018 we saw a reduction in chlorophyll-a, a measure of algae growth. Large algae blooms, called dead zones, can block sunlight from reaching underwater grasses, causing them to die. As they decompose, the water loses oxygen, which fish and other underwater life need to survive.
  • Underwater grasses: In 2018, the acreage of underwater grasses increased, indicating that the water was clear of algae blooms and excess sediment. Underwater grasses absorb excess nutrients and need clear water to thrive.
  • Dissolved oxygen: An increase in dissolved oxygen, was observed last year. This means that blue crabs, striped bass and other aquatic and estuary life had more access to oxygen, a resource they need to survive.

 Still, the EPA report identifies areas where the Chesapeake Bay States and Washington DC have fallen short of achieving our goals:
  • Stream health: While only 54% of our streams within the watershed have insufficient or absent data, of the streams sampled only 25% are in fair, good or excellent condition.
  • Toxic contaminants: In 2016, 83% of the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries were found to be partially or fully impaired by toxic contaminants. This percentage has continued to increase since 2010. 
  • Wetlands: With a goal of restoring or creating 85,000 acres of wetlands, most from agricultural lands, only 9,103 acres have been restored or converted to wetlands.
  • Forest buffers: The EPA target is for buffers is 00 miles of forest buffers to be planted along rivers and streams. In 2017 only 56 miles were planted, the lowest total of the last 22 years.

The EPA is also seeing progress that is exceeding their goals utilized in the preparation of the Watershed Implementation Plans for the Bay states and Washington DC.
  • Oyster restoration: Nine tributaries have been selected in Virginia and Maryland for oyster restoration. Of these, eight are in different levels of progress, and two, Harris Creek and the Lafayette River, have reached their restoration target.
  • Fish passage: Bay Program partners have exceeded the goal to open 1,000 miles of historical fish migration routes. Between 2012 and 2017, 1,236 miles were opened to fish passage.
  • Underwater grasses: In 2017, the highest acreage of underwater grasses was noted throughout the Bay since monitoring began over 30 years ago. At 104,843 acres, this marks the first-time total abundance has exceeded 100,000 acres since 1989.
  • Protected lands: Approximately 1,364,000 acres of land throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed has been permanently protected from development since 2010.

 The EPA points out that determining the health of the Chesapeake Bay is complex, as complex as the ecosystem itself. Across the 64,000 square miles of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, rainfall, temperature and other extreme weather can vary from month to month and year to year and place to place. In 2018, record breaking rain fell across the entire watershed. In addition our climate continues to change. Land use changes and population grows which impacts the watershed. 

Over the past century, the Chesapeake Bay waters have effectively  risen about one foot (partially from Virginia sinking and partially from sea level rise). Scientists are predicting that the waters will continue to rise between 1.3 and 5.2 feet over the next century. Between 1960 and 2010, the U.S. Geological Survey recorded an increase in the region's air temperature of 1.98 degrees Fahrenheit; and between 1960 and 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency EPA recorded an increase in the region's stream temperature of 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit.

Since 1950, the population in the Chesapeake Bay region has more than doubled to 18.2 million people. When more people move into an area, more land is cleared for agriculture and development. More roads, parking lots, lawns and golf courses can mean more impervious surfaces that block rainfall from soaking into the ground, more pesticides to grow those green lawns and the food we eat, and more human waste, pollution and trash. Each person that lives in this region affects the Chesapeake Bay.  

Monday, April 8, 2019

Checklist for Spring

To be a good homeowner is work. A home needs to be maintained, so every spring there are certain inspections and routine maintenance and cleanup that need to be done. Here is my list for Spring. If you have things I've missed, send them along and I will include them. 
  1. Garden Cleanup and mulch and tree service.
  2. HVAC inspection and service. Replace filters, test refrigerant levels, clean units and inspect condition of equipment. It’s best to know if your AC is working before it gets hot.
  3. Septic inspection (AOSS annually) Pump out standard septic every 3-5 years
  4. Water well testing and inspection (chlorinate as necessary)
  5. Termite trap monitoring and pest control
  6. Make sure exterior is sealed against mice
  7. Test sump pumps, Drain hot water heater and Snake septic line
  8. Turn on spigots, check hoses
  9. Generator service (check battery, switch and gas line)
  10. Power-wash house, deck, and patio
  11. Deck and railing inspection and repair as necessary. Make sure all boards and railing are sound and tightly attached.
  12. Clean and test grill. Make sure there is propane and the ignitor works.
  13. Repair any damaged screens
  14. Test smoke /CO2 detectors and replace batteries.
  15. Inspect exterior paint and caulking condition. Repair and repaint as necessary.
  16. Deep clean tile floors
  17. Shampoo rugs
  18. Clean windows
  19. Clean out and sweep garage. Wash garage floor.

Garden Cleanup and mulch. Tree service. Each spring I prepare my garden for summer, deadhead some of perennials (which maybe I should have done al little more aggressively last winter), cleanup the dead leaves and remove any dead plants. My ash trees remain under stress from the emerald ash borer and my plum trees that were pulled out of the ground in a tornado two years ago may be dying. Now that the garden is mulched and trimmed back, an arborest is coming by next week to examine the health of my stressed trees and help decide the proper course of action. I have been trying to create a garden along the principals of green-scaping. I am expanding the plantings in my garden, adding a few more trees and shrubs each year, replacing the losses and learning the principals and practices of green scaping and organic gardening. The EPA calls green scaping “the easy way to a greener, healthier yard,” but it really seems more challenging than they indicate. Gardening is work. In the spirit of full disclosure the spring cleanup, edging, enlarging a bed, hauling in the compost, and mulching has taken 36 man hours so far only about 4 of them mine.

Heating and Cooling equipment inspection and service. Despite the fact that my heat pump system is 7 years old and heat pumps should last 14 years, the evaporator coil corroded and had begun to leak. The blower unit is in the attic above the master bath. On a particularly hot day a couple of weeks ago I turned the heat pump to air conditioning and the upstairs cooled quickly. However, I thought I smelled something sweet. The refrigerant, R410a, that replaced R 22 has a sweet chloroform smell. I called my HVAC service company. The corrosion of the coil was obvious upon inspection, but the refrigerant level was barely below normal, so the leak was small. My technician checked and found that the coil was still under warrantee (though not the labor or refrigerant) and in stock. The next day (after removing the refrigerant), they installed the Carrier Infinity series replacement coil. This one is entirely made of aluminum, so hopefully will last longer. The system was recharged and worked great. The coil was just starting to leak (shinny oily patches), but looked terrible.

Septic inspection. The average lifespan of a septic system is 15 to 40 years, but it can last longer if properly maintained and frequently pumped. A traditional septic system should be inspected every three to five years by a septic system service provider; and an alternative septic system (called an AOSS) must be inspected at least every year in Virginia. My AOSS needs to be inspected each year, have the filter cleaned and replace any worn or broken parts as needed. Over the past 12 years, I've had to replace three blowers, install a new float gauge, and install two new zoners. The pump is nearing its expected life, so that's probably next. We’ll see what the service company says when they get here.

Inspect and test your well. The well casing should extend at least 12 inches above the ground surface and should not have any cracks or holes, but the pipe is rusting. The well should have a sanitary well cap that is securely attached to the well casing. One of the bolts on my sanitary well cap has been sheered. There are two types of pumps: a jet pump that is above ground and a submersible pump in the well. Jet pumps are only used on shallow wells that you do not want, so the pump should be submerged in the well. Make sure you know the age of the pump- submersible pumps are designed to last about 17 years with normal household use. The pressure tank and wiring should be examined for age and damage. My well is 14 ½ years old so I am beginning to think about refurbishing the well. In the next few years I plan to replace the pump, pressure tank and pressure switch and the pipe between the well to the house, check the pitless adaptor, and replace the well cap. Every couple of years I chlorinate the well to knock back the iron bacteria and clean the rust off the well pipe.

Our PrinceWilliam Rural Household Water Quality water clinics test for: iron, manganese, nitrate, lead, arsenic, fluoride, sulfate, pH, total dissolved solids, hardness, sodium, copper, total coliform bacteria and E. Coli bacteria each spring. This is a good list to test for and the analysis is subsidized by Virginia Tech. Since I assist in giving the clinic, I test my own water every year. If you have water treatment equipment in the house test both before and after the treatment equipment to understand the quality of the water, if treatment is necessary and if the water treatment equipment is working properly. You are responsible for providing clean and safe water to your family.

Termite trap monitoring and pest control. Termites have been a part of the ecosystem for thousands of years and aid in the decomposition of wood, freeing the nutrients in the decaying material for reuse by other organisms. Termites rely on eating the cellulose found in nature, wooden structures, furniture, stored food and paper. It is virtually impossible to reside anywhere in the United States without confronting termites at one point or another. Termites will attack any material with cellulose, including wood, paper coated wall board, and paper. Termites also require water. Wood that is at least 30% water saturated provides enough moisture. Additionally, termites will find free-standing water such as condensation, rain or plumbing leaks and use this moisture as their main source for survival.

Building codes require that a construction site be pretreated for termites. Proper construction techniques, such as isolating wood from the soil, elimination and prevention of moisture and the use of physical barriers such as crushed glass, basalt, granite, quartz or silica sand can prevent termite attacks. The treatment options for termites are bating for control of the perimeter with spot treatment both inside and out and traditional chemical barriers. Since I have a well, I prefer the low chemical method and use a baiting system with spot treatment. This requires bi-monthly monitoring of the bating stations and a pest control contract. Also, every few years I have my home inspected by a dog trained to identify termites.

Test sump pumps, Drain hot water heater and Snake septic line. Keeping moisture out of our house is important for pest control and preventing structural damage. Sump pumps have a limited life and require power to operate. My sump pumps are connected to my whole house generator, but there are models with battery back-up. Make sure to test the functioning of the pump (pour a bucket of water in the sump and see if it turns on) and the battery- replace the battery every few years. While you are testing the sump pump, drain your hot water heater to get rid of hard water minerals that have fallen out of solution. Also, the speed that a hot water heater drains is an indication of the level of mineral build up in the tank. Finally, I have a long line from the basement bathroom to the septic line that exits the house. I have this line snaked out every spring to keep the line clear and avoid unpleasant surprises . While I’m at it I soak all my shower heads in hot water and vinegar and run the dishwasher and washing machine on a cycle with vinegar to clean them out.

Generator service. Twelve years ago when we first bought this house, I had a Guardian 16 kilowatt automatic generator manufactured by Generac installed as part of our emergency planning. When the power to the house is cut, the generator automatically kicks in to power most of the house in under 20 seconds. The generator runs on liquid propane from a tank buried in my yard that also powers my hot water heater, backup furnace, fireplace, gas grill and stove. The generator can supply the house for 23 or more days depending on whether the gas furnace is running. (Note that if the generator runs more than a few days it will need oil.) The generator powers the well, septic, sump pumps, elevator, refrigerators and freezer, the cable and high speed internet and most, but not all, of the house. Like all motors the generator should have annual service and have its battery replaced every few years. Also, it is a good idea to keep and eye on the propane tank level.

Smoke Detectors. Change the batteries in your smoke detectors at least every year, but it may also be time to replace the smoke detectors. Combined smoke and CO2 detectors should be replace ever 7 years and standard smoke detectors should be replaced every 10 years.According to the Fire-protection association smoke detectors’ sensitivity to smoke tends to change over time. Sometimes becoming more sensitive and causing more nuisance alarms, sometimes becoming less sensitive and not alarming. Replace your smoke detectors every 10 years because that provides a reasonable margin of safety and after that time their sensors can begin to lose sensitivity. The test button you have been dutifully pressing each year only confirms that the battery, electronics, and alert system are working; it doesn’t mean that the smoke sensor is working. To really test the sensor, you need to use an aerosol can of smoke alarm test spray that simulates smoke.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

2019 Chlorine Flushing of the Water Mains

On March 25th Fairfax Water and the Washington Aqueduct switched from chloramine to chlorine to disinfect their water. Curing this time, Arlington Department of Environmental Services, DC Water, the Prince William Service Authority and Fairfax Water began flushing their water distribution systems. Each spring these water distribution companies flush their water mains by opening fire hydrants and allowing them to flow freely for a short period of time.

Fairfax Water will disinfect with chlorine from March 25th to June 17th and the water systems the flushing of the water mains in Fairfax and Prince William will occur during that time. Crews from the Service Authority and Fairfax Water will open hydrants throughout their service area in brief intervals in order to draw water more forcefully through the distribution system. This helps to dislodge sediment that may have collected in water mains over the past year. In DC, the flushing will occur from March 25 through May 6, 2019. DC Water purchases treated drinking water from the Washington Aqueduct. During the temporary switch to chlorine, the Washington Aqueduct will continue to add a corrosion control inhibitor during this temporary switch to prevent lead release into the water system.

For most of the year, chloramines, also known as combined chlorine, is added to the water as the primary disinfectant. During the spring the water treatment plants  for Fairfax Water and the Washington Aqueduct switch back to chlorine in an uncombined state, commonly referred to as free chlorine. This free chlorine reacts with sediments suspended during flushing and kills bacteria that may be in the bio-film that forms on the pipe walls. Many water chemistry experts believe this short exposure to a different type of disinfectant maintains a low microbial growth in the bio-film and improves the quality and safety of the water.

This change in disinfection is an annual program to clean the water distribution pipes and maintain high water quality throughout the year. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Washington Aqueduct provides water to the District of Columbia, Arlington County, and other areas in Virginia. Fairfax Water provides water to Fairfax County and parts of both Loudoun and Prince William County. WSSC does not switch their disinfectant.

You may notice a slight chlorine taste and smell in your drinking water during this time, this is not harmful and the water remains safe to drink. If you are a coffee or tea lover, use filtered water or leave an open container of water in the refrigerator for a couple of hours to allow the smell to dissipate. Water customers who normally take special precautions to remove chloramine from tap water, such as dialysis centers, medical facilities and aquarium owners, should continue to take the same precautions during the temporary switch to chlorine. Most methods for removing chloramine from tap water are effective in removing chlorine. The annual chlorination is important step to remove residue from the water distribution system.

Flushing the water system entails sending a rapid flow of chlorinated water through the water mains. As part of the flushing program, fire hydrants are checked and operated in a coordinated pattern to help ensure their operation and adequate flushing of the system. The flushing removes sediments made up of minerals which have accumulated over time in the pipes as well as bacteria on the bio-film. An annual flushing program helps to keep fresh and clear water throughout the distribution system. Removing the residue ensures that when the water arrives in your home, it is the same high quality as when it left the water treatment plant.

Drinking water in Fairfax comes from either the Potomac River or Occoquan Reservoir. The Washington Aqueduct draws its raw water from the Potomac. This water needs to be treated to remove impurities and disinfected to kill disease causing germs such as SalmonellaCampylobacter, and norovirus. Giant screens on the water intake pipes prevent trash, debris and fish, but the water is only screened and not yet drinkable. In the water treatment plant potassium permanganate (KMnO4) is added to the water to control taste and odors, remove color, prevent biological growth within the water treatment plant, and remove iron and manganese which are naturally occurring predominantly nuisance contaminants.

Then water is pumped into a series of water chambers where the pH is adjusted by adding either caustic soda or sulfuric acid and a coagulant to remove small particles of dirt suspended in the water. The water moves through a series of mixing chambers with progressively slower mixing to allow the particles to coagulate into larger and larger particles until dirt floc is formed. Then the water is held in sedimentation basins and the floc is allowed to settle to the bottom of basins by gravity where they are removed.

The next step in the water treatment process in Fairfax is the infusing of the water with ozone gas and the first of two disinfection steps. This step is not used in every water treatment plant. Ozone is highly effective in eliminating the Cryptosporidium bacteria and other naturally occurring microorganisms present in water. Unlike ultraviolet and chlorine disinfection systems (which are still used in many locations), there is no re-growth of microbes after ozonation. Ozonation also reduces the formation of trihalomethanes (chlorine breakdown products) because of the reduction of organic materials in the water before chlorination.

The final steps in the water treatment process is the second disinfection, fluoridation and the addition of a ammonium hydroxide to adjust the pH slightly to prevent corrosion of piping and fixtures of the plumbing systems in customer homes to prevent the leaching of lead from older plumbing systems and old connector lines into water. For most of the year Fairfax Water and the Washington Aqueduct use chloramine as the final disinfection step in water treatment. However, during the spring of every year they use chlorine to disinfect and flush the delivery network. Free chlorine is better suited to remove residue that may have collected in the pipes and a coordinated opening of fire hydrants serves to flush the system.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Boil Water Advisory in Prince George’s County

Following a water main brake on Sunday WSSC has issued a Boil Water Advisory for customers in a section of southern Prince George’s County, including Fort Washington and National Harbor. Sunday afternoon on a 36-inch pipe that runs along Indian Head Highway. This The precautionary boil water alert affects approximately 23,000 customers who are in the area west of Indian Head Highway to the Potomac River, and from the Washington, D.C. line south to Piscataway Creek. You can check if your home or workplace is in the Boil Water Advisory area at this link. Just type your address into the search box.

There are two types of boil water advisories: precautionary and mandatory. A loss of positive water pressure in the system from a water main break might allow contamination to enter the water distribution system. This is the most common type of advisory, which is issued as a precaution until water samples are collected and analyzed to confirm that water quality has not been affected. A mandatory boil water notice is issued when contamination is confirmed in the water system. Customers are instructed to boil the water to kill bacteria and other organisms in the water, until the issue is resolved and the notice can be lifted. Contamination from organisms, such as bacteria, viruses and parasites, can cause symptoms, including nausea, cramps, diarrhea and associated headaches.

After a water main break water samples must be collected to test for bacteria in the distribution system. The first samples are taken on the day when the water main break has been fixed, and then another set of samples are taken in the next 24 hours. Two consecutive days of "clean" test results are required before the water advisory can be lifted. (The process takes 24 hours for test results to come back from the laboratory, so final lab results to lift an advisory can take several days after the event.) The Boil Water Advisory will remain in effect for a minimum of 48 hours to provide adequate time for water quality testing. Once water safety has been confirmed, WSSC will lift the BWA and will notify customers that the advisory has been lifted.

Boiling the water kills microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, or protozoans that can cause disease. Boiling makes the tap water safe. Adding a tablespoon of household bleach such as Clorox to a sink full of tap water should be sufficient to treat the water used for washing dishes. Bleach should also be added to the water used for rinsing dishes. Allow dishes and utensils to air dry before reuse. Throw away uncooked food or beverages or ice cubes if they were made with tap water since Saturday night. If you live in the affected area, you should bring your water to a rolling boil for three minutes then cool it.

• Keep boiled water in the refrigerator for drinking
• Do not swallow water while you are showering or bathing
• Provide pets with boiled water after cooling
• Do not use home filtering devices in place of boiling or using bottled water; Most home water filters will not provide adequate protection from microorganisms
• Use only boiled water to treat minor injuries; When showering or bathing, avoid allowing the water to come in contact with an open wound
• Do not wash salad items with tap water during the period; Use bottled water or freshly boiled and cooled tap water