Thursday, February 27, 2020

Volunteers Needed!!


On-River volunteers with canoes, kayaks or jon boats are needed for the annual Occoquan River clean up. On Saturday, April 18, 2020 from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. (rain date April 28, 2020), is the 11th annual clean-up of the upper Occoquan River, from nine different sites along 25+ miles of the Occoquan River. The clean-up ranges from Cedar Run/Broad Run, through Lake Jackson, and from the base of Lake Jackson Dam to Hooes Run (south of Lake Ridge Marina). This cleanup is part of the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s (www.fergusonfoundation.org) Potomac River Watershed Cleanup.

This massive collection of trash from the Occoquan River happens every year and on the river is the combined effort of the Prince William Trails and Streams Coalition, Trash Free Potomac Watershed, Penguin Paddling, Prince William County Parks and Recreation Department and the Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District . Come on out and help our community. Trash bags, gloves, water and refreshments will be provided to all participants. This is a true on the river cleanup and is done primarily by boat.

Experienced kayakers, canoeists, jon boaters, and pontoon boaters are needed. To sign up for this major on-the-water conservation effort. Some kayaks and canoes will be available for loan provided by Penguin Paddling (at Hooes Run) and the Prince William County Parks and Recreation Department (at Lake Ridge Marina). As in previous years, the cleanup will be staged from multiple sites along the river, from the canoe/kayak launch area below Lake Jackson dam, down to Lake Ridge / Hooes Run. If you are not a boater, you might want to join another of the cleanups that are happening practically every spring weekend.

Please visit www.pwtsc.org for more information and to register for this event or contact Bill McCarty at whmccarty101@gmail.com or Veronica Tangiri at waterquality@pwswcd.org (571-379-7514) . The signup has all the launch and take-out locations. 

This cleanup is part of the 31st Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup coordinated by the Alice Ferguson Foundation working with the region’s soil and water conservation districts, community groups, employers, and schools happens in spring throughout the region. The Potomac River Watershed Cleanup is the largest regional event of its kind so that you or your group can still participate this year. It is a great single day volunteer opportunity.

Unfortunately, it is necessary to hold these river cleanups annually. Year after year volunteers clean our roadways, streams, rivers, and streambeds of trash that started as litter and carried along by stormwater and wind into our waterways and parks. We also remove items that were illegally dumped in the woods or carried by off by storms. Every year rain flushes huge volumes of debris off the landscape. During last year’s clean-up more than 205 Volunteers  (45 on-water) collected 241  trash bags, 9 tires and other items.   Over 4495 pounds of trash was collected. Volunteers cleaned up debris on the water, six stormwater retention ponds and other land sites. This year we hope to get even more help! If we do not collect this trash ultimately it is washed into the Chesapeake Bay.

Monday, February 24, 2020

MDE will Sue Verso under RCRA

Last week t he Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), issued notice that it intends to bring a lawsuit in federal court against the owner of the Luke Paper Mill for seepages into the North Branch Potomac River that threaten public health and the environment.

A federal lawsuit is the next step in the ongoing investigation and enforcement action against the owner of the now closed paper mill. It would build upon the suit now in state court by adding to the water pollution, the full range of potential impacts under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Once the plant closed the site became subject to regulation and enforcement under RCRA. Essentially, if it is not an operating plant it is a waste disposal site with an ongoing release. According to the Maryland news release:

“Seepage into the Potomac River from the paper mill jeopardizes the health of fish and wildlife, and the health of citizens,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh. “We intend to file suit in federal court to halt further damage and force the company to take action to repair the damage that has been done.”

In April 2019, an angler observed and reported to the State of Maryland that “pure black waste” was entering the North Branch Potomac River near the mill, this was confirmed by the investigation of the site done by the Potomac Riverkeepers organization that also took samples, including sampling that showed high pH levels, high sulfur and sodium contents and metals such as mercury and boron.

The discharge appears to be some combination of the “pulping liquors” that are created and sometimes reused as part of the paper-making process. Pulping liquors are considered caustic and corrosive materials that can cause severe skin and eye burns and respiratory problems. To the Riverkeepers the analysis suggested the presence of ‘black liquor,’ possibly mixed with coal ash.”

Black liquor, a caustic mix of chemicals and wood waste from the paper-making process at the plant, in addition to having a high pH, contains hazardous constituents at concentrations that are harmful to aquatic life and humans. Coal ash contains a range of harmful constituents, including arsenic, mercury and boron, all of which were found in the Potomac Riverkeepers sampling. A petroleum odor was also noted by MDE.

The pulping liquors were stored in tanks on the West Virginia side of the river. In November, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection issued an order to Verso to empty the tanks on their side of the river. In response, Verso piped material from the tanks in West Virginia to tanks in Maryland.

Starting April 2019, MDE directed Verso to determine the source of the seepage and take steps to contain and remove the discharge. Verso submitted a report on field work done by a contractor and, in February, submitted to MDE a “Remedial Investigation & Corrective Action Plan” describing the company’s next investigative steps, but the seepage continues.

MDE had directed Verso to put up signs in the vicinity of the seepage stating: “Keep Out, No Trespassing, Hazardous Materials Present, Do Not Drink of Have Contact with the Water in the Immediate Area.” However, Verso had put up signs stating, “Restricted Area, Do Not Enter,” in the vicinity of the discharge, but would not put up signs with the language directed by MDE.

The paper mill is located in Luke, Maryland, and includes land across the river in West Virginia. Paper products were manufactured at the location from 1888 until the mill’s closure last June. This seepage into the Potomac showed high pH levels, high sulfur and sodium contents and metals such as mercury and boron and continues.

Action to protect the Potomac has been painfully slow. This is the upper portion of the Potomac River. The river flows approximately 385 miles from West Virginia where it begins to the Chesapeake Bay increasing in size and flow from its tributary streams and rivers. The Potomac River grows from a small spring to become the Chesapeake Bay's second largest Tributary. The River provides more than 500 million gallons of freshwater daily to those living in its watershed, as well as irrigation water , and the more than 2 billion gallons of water a day for power plants. River water is drawn by the Washington Aqueduct Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (WAD), the Fairfax County Water Authority (FCWA), the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), and City of Rockville and recently by Loudoun Water.

If you recall, the Potomac Riverkeeper Network (PRKN) filed a Notice of Intent to Sue Verso Corporation, for the ongoing unlawful discharges of a toxic waste called “black liquor” into the North Branch of the Upper Potomac River back in November 2019 and has been important in keeping this regulatory action moving forward to protect us all.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

APAK Paving SUP

Last night I attended the hearing at the Prince William County Planning Commission at the county complex. I attended because a neighbor had applied for a Special Use Permit (SUP) to allow them to operate a rural home business for a paving company with vehicle storage, in the A-1, Agricultural, zoning district. This business use is incompatible with the protection of our groundwater and surface water. Many of our neighbors voiced their concerns that the use was incompatible with the rural area. Ultimately at 11 pm the Planning C omission voted to deny the request. 

My objection to this SUP was the risk to groundwater. Every day after use the spreader and other equipment must be cleaned to remain usable. Asphalt cleaning solvents are used to clean tools and equipment. According to the VDOT  Waste Management and Pollution Prevention Guide
there is no single standard used, but they note that these solvents may be classified as hazardous waste especially when used.

Diesel fuel and kerosene may be used as a cleaning solvent, though there are commercial blends of cleaners. According to VDOT “disposal of solvents, even so-called “biodegradable” solvents, onto the ground is a violation of the Solid Waste Management Regulations and potentially the Hazardous Waste Management Regulations.” VDOT also warns “Do NOT mix spent cleaning solvent into the asphalt mix or reintroduce it back into the asphalt distributor / kettle as it will negatively affect the quality of the asphalt / emulsion. “

Every night after use the equipment must be cleaned. At Apak Paving there is no place but their property. According to VDOT if the asphalt equipment is cleaned on the lot it should be cleaned over a bed of absorbent material with plastic laid under the absorbent material, and the operator should “remove the solvent/asphalt/absorbent mixture immediately after each use and properly dispose of the material.”
According to the VDOT Equipment should only be cleaned  in a location where:
  • There will be no major effects of runoff,
  • Solvent will not leave the property, and
  • Solvent will not enter a storm drain, ditch/drainage way, or salt pond or be absorbed into the gound.
There is nowhere but the open dirt and some asphalt paved areas that would be ruined to clean the equipment. The subject property is sloped to the south and west, there are no storm drains only some paved areas and dirt. This house and all the neighbors depend on the groundwater for potable water supply. 

The quantity and quality of ground water in Prince William County varies across the county depending on the geologic and hydrogeologic group you are in. According to the U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report by D.L. Nelms and A.R. Brockman hydrogeologic group B underlies this area of the western part of Prince William County and consists of sedimentary rocks of the Culpeper Basin.

Rocks within hydrogeologic group B tend to have moderate to excellent water-bearing potential because it is a fractured rock system with very little overburden. The highest reported yields in the county are from wells located in this area where my home is just down the road from this property. The downside is that this hydrogeologic group is very susceptible to contamination-the fractures that carry water can easily spread a contaminant and without adequate overburden spills could flow to depth through the natural fracture in the rocks.

The asphalt cleaning activities are a threat to the drinking water supply not only for Apax Paving, but for all their neighbors because of the nature of the geology. Apax has demonstrated that they are neither cautious nor compliant. These Asphalt equipment cleaning activities are permitted activities so I called the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and spoke to Richard Doucette, the Hazardous & Solid Waste, Program Manager for Northern Virginia. After researching the applicant, Mr. Doucette informs me that Apak Paving does not have any permits as generator or transport manifests on record. Mr. Doucette informs me that he searched all hazmat filings for Prince William County, and suggested that if the SUP is approved I file a pollution response complaint.

Without a clean water supply our homes have no value and our very health is at risk. Neither I nor my neighbors want to trust our drinking water to Apax Paving. The property owners have a history of violations of the usage of the property. There can be no assurance that the owners will follow proposed conditions or comply with regulations they are currently in violation of. The site also threatens the surface waters of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

Granting this SUP is opening the door to incompatible uses that destroy the value of the real, permitted uses in the area, creates a downward spiral that attracts more incompatible uses. Businesses shopping to avoid costs of actually finding a right place to operate their businesses or comply with regulations are incented to follow the successful example of the “one little exception” that drags down the area at great cost to the legitimate homes, farms and agribusinesses.

An incompatible business in a residential area doesn’t create growth as cited by the staff report, it reverses it. The area gets a reputation as declining or going downhill. All the good intentions of “one little exception” are lost when homes and successful agricultural/agri-businesses (wineries, horse farms..) that are in the area or might chose the area realize that it no longer has the same character and they go elsewhere. No one wants a million dollar home adjacent to this kind of industrial activity.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Support SB 106 a Prohibition of Fracking in Groundwater Management Areas


SB 106 is a BILL to amend the Code of Virginia by adding  62.1-195.3, prohibiting hydraulic fracturing in a groundwater management area. This bill will protect the essential drinking water supplies for about half of all Virginians from contamination from hydraulic fracturing also known as fracking. This bill was sponsored by Senator Surovell and passed the Senate with 32 Y and 13 N and one abstention. Now it faces the House. So, I ask you to urge your delegate to support the bill to protect this essential drinking water supply. .

“No person shall conduct any hydraulic fracturing in any well that has been drilled through any portion of a groundwater management area declared by regulation pursuant to the provisions of the Ground Water Management Act of 1992 (§ 62.1-254 et seq.). For purposes of this section, "hydraulic fracturing" means the treatment of a well by the application of hydraulic fracturing fluid, including a base fluid and any additive, under pressure for the express purpose of initiating or propagating fractures in a target geologic formation to enhance production of oil or natural gas.”

Senator Surovell was the primary patron of the bill before it was amended by the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources to broaden the prohibition to all groundwater management areas from just the original proposed Eastern Shore groundwater management area. Currently, Virginia law prohibits drilling in the Chesapeake Bay waters and all of the tidal tributaries, but outlines the path for drilling to proceed in the Thomasville shale areas of the tidewater region.

The Eastern Virginia groundwater management area is the sole source of drinking water for much of this area and is currently under stress. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) found that the available groundwater supplies in the Eastern Virginia groundwater management area are insufficient to meet the demands of current and future groundwater users, so we are already scrambling to have an adequate sustainable water supply. It would be insanity to risk contamination of the drinking water for 4 million Virginians for a profit to a drilling company or a landowner.

Fracking is the current method of extracting unconventional oil and natural gas that is locked inside impermeable geological formations. Fracking is enabled by horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (thus the name fracking). Fracking or hydraulic fracturing as it is more properly known involves the pressurized injection of fluids made up of mostly water and chemical additives into a geologic formation. The pressure used exceeds the rock strength and the fluid opens or enlarges fractures in the rock. As the formation is fractured, a “propping agent,” such as sand or ceramic beads, is pumped into the fractures to keep them from closing as the pumping pressure is released. The fracturing fluids (water and chemical additives) are partially recovered and returned to the surface or deep well injected for disposal. Natural gas or oil will flow from pores and fractures in the rock into the wells allowing for enhanced access to the methane or oil reserves.

While Geologists and engineers believe that in hydraulic fracturing the intervening layers of rock prevent a fissure from extending into the water table, there have been instances of contamination of groundwater aquifers. The problems typically occur when fracking fluid seeps into drinking water wells through improperly sealed or abandoned drilling wells. The cause is human error or poorly designed wells. There has been no testing of proper well construction in shoreline sediment deposits. Virginia does not yet have a regulatory structure to ensure proper well construction and protection of drinking water supplies and there are thousands of current and old wells of unknown quality and construction in the aquifer. It would be impossible to prevent all accidents.

In addition, the water that is absorbed into rock formations may change the formations and the hydraulic balance in ways we do not understand and drawing large quantities of water in a short period of time may impact the groundwater whose level has been falling for decades from over pumping. It would be beyond foolish to risk contamination of the essential resource for profits to few.

This bill will not impact southwestern Virginia. Currently, there are more than 8,000 natural gas wells in the Appalachian plain where drilling required fracking in the extraction process. To date, there have not been any reports of adverse effects on water quality from the fracking, though the methodology used in coal gas fields is not the same as used in shale.

The Taylorsville Basin is located north of Richmond and extends across the Virginia Coastal Plain in the tidewater region of the state. In a 2011 study by the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that the area could contain up to 1.06 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, not huge, but potentially worthwhile economically. Shore Exploration, a Texas-based energy company, has reportedly leased the mineral rights from more than 80,000 acres in Virginia’s Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula spanning large sections of King George, Caroline, Westmoreland, Essex, and King and Queen Counties. This area will be affected by this law.

Please email your delegate to support this bill and protect water resources in Virginia.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

2020 Prince William Well Clinic


Prince William County Extension will be having a well water clinic again this year. Water samples will be tested for: iron, manganese, nitrate, lead, arsenic, fluoride, sulfate, pH, total dissolved solids, hardness, sodium, copper, total coliform bacteria and E. Coli bacteria. There are a limited number of test kits and pre-paying is the only way to guarantee that you get one

Sample kits will be $65  this year. Pre-payment can be made in person or by mail at the VCE office at 8033 Ashton Avenue, Suite 105, Manassas VA 20109. Make checks out to “Treasurer, Virginia Tech”. To register for this class, or to ask questions about the program, please call 703-792-7747 or mastergardener@pwcgov.org

Also, you can pre-pay online by going to https://tinyurl.com/PWVCE-2020VAHWQP.
 (This option is supposed to be available until 3/20, but I was unsuccessful in completing the transaction last week.)

The Prince William Drinking Water Clinic has 3 parts:

1. The Kick-Off Meeting on March 30th 2020 from 7-8:30 pm at PWC Board Chambers in the McCoart Building, 1 County Complex, Woodbridge, VA 22192 introduces water quality concerns in our area and hands out the water sampling kits.

2. The Sample Drop Off on April 1st, 2020 from 6:30am-10am ONLY at the VCE Office, 8033 Ashton Ave., Manassas 20109

3. The Results Interpretation Meeting on May 4th 2020 from 7-9 pm at PWC Board Chambers in the McCoart Building, 1 County Complex, Woodbridge, VA 22192 will explain the report, include a discussion and answer questions on dealing with water problems.

Water Samples must be dropped off on Wednesday April 1st , between the hours of 6:30am and 10am at the VCE - Prince William Office, 8033 Ashton, Suite 105, Manassas, 20109. NO EXCEPTIONS for sample drop off. However, if you are unable to attend the kick off or results meetings arrangements can be made to pick up a test kit or your results at another time, please call 703-792-7747 or mastergardener@pwcgov.org for assistance.

Water samples will be tested for: iron, manganese, nitrate, lead, arsenic, fluoride, sulfate, pH, total dissolved solids, hardness, sodium, copper, total coliform bacteria and E. Coli bacteria. These are mostly the naturally occurring contaminants and common sources of contamination: a poorly sealed well or a nearby leaking septic system, or indications of plumbing system corrosion. Though this is by no means an exhaustive list of potential contaminants, these are the most common contaminants that effect drinking water wells.

Household water quality is driven by geology, well construction and condition, nearby sources of groundwater contamination, and any water treatment devices and the condition and materials of construction of the household plumbing. To ensure safe drinking water it is important to maintain your well, test it regularly and understand your system and geology.

According to the 2018 Annual Report for the Virginia Household Water Quality Program from Virginia Tech, there are 1.7 million Virginians or 22% of the state’s population get their household water from a private well. Municipal water supplies are regulated and regularly tested under the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Act. Private wells are the responsibility of the well owner. Over 2,000 households have their water tested each year through the Virginia Household Water Quality Program.

The chart below shows what we found in the 101 private wells tested in the first round of testing we did in Prince William County in 2019.


Monday, February 10, 2020

Feeding the World without Wrecking the Planet

In January researchers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany published a study to see if it is possible to feed the 10 billion people 2050 projected to occupy our planet in a sustainable way. The article “Feeding ten billion people is possible within four terrestrial planetary boundaries” was published in Nature Sustainability in January 2020 (the proper citing is at the bottom).

The researchers ask the question how many people could be fed while keeping a strict standard of environmental sustainability worldwide. Their study addresses for four of nine sustainability boundaries most relevant for agriculture: Biosphere integrity (keeping biodiversity and ecosystems intact), land-system change, freshwater use, and nitrogen flows. Based on a detailed simulation model they built, the impacts of food on these boundaries are examined at a level of spatial and process detail never reached before, and were also able to aggregated the data for the entire planet.

The researchers found that almost half of current food production is harmful to our planet – causing biodiversity loss, ecosystem degradation and water stress. “When looking at the status of planet Earth and the influence of current global agriculture practices upon it, there’s a lot of reason to worry, but also reason for hope – if we see decisive actions very soon,” says Dieter Gerten, lead author of the article from PIK and professor at Humboldt University of Berlin. He goes on to say: “Currently, almost half of global food production relies on crossing Earth’s environmental boundaries. We appropriate too much land for crops and livestock, fertilize too heavily and irrigate too extensively. To solve this issue in the face of a still growing world population, we collectively need to rethink how to produce food. Excitingly, our research shows that such transformations will make it possible to provide enough food for up to 10 billion people.”

In theory, 10 billion people can be fed 2,600 calories a day without compromising the Earth eco-system. Unfortunately, the solutions put forward by the researchers do not seem either politically or practically possible. They found that agriculture in many regions (India and Sub-Saharan Africa for example) is using too much water, land, or fertilizer. Production in these regions needs to be brought into line with environmental sustainability. The question is how. In other places, however, farming is so far off local and Earth’s boundaries that even more sustainable systems could not completely balance the pressure on the environment, such as in parts of the Middle East, Indonesia, and to in Central Europe.

Thus the researchers propose: Relocation of food production. Large-scale dietary shifts away from animal proteins towards more legumes and other vegetables. Another crucial factor is reducing food loss pointing out that the most recent IPCC Special Report on land use found that currently, up to 30% of all food produced is lost to waste. Perhaps the most sensitive and challenging implication of the study relates to land. The manner, location and types of food grown would need to be managed seemingly by some global management entity. And even after recalibrating agricultural production, international trade would be required as a key element of a sustainably fed world because not all nations would be able to produce enough food to feed their people. Under that scheme it is easy to imagine that many would prefer to continue farming in an unstainable way rather that submit to global management.

While the topic of how to feed the future population has been in broad discussion for several years. This analysis is unique in that it demonstrates the current form of agriculture is not sustainable. Supplying a sufficient and healthy diet for every person while maintaining the planet’s biosphere intact would require adopting radically different ways of farming, reduction of food waste, significant dietary changes, and central management and planning of food production. The study's publication coincided with the World Economic Forum in Davos and the International Green Week in Berlin, the world's biggest food and agriculture fair.

If you are interested in this topic, you might want to look at “How to Sustainably Feed 10 Billion People by 2050, in 21 Charts” from the World Resource Institute at this link https://www.wri.org/blog/2018/12/how-sustainably-feed-10-billion-people-2050-21-charts.

Gerten, D., Heck, V., J├Ągermeyr, J. et al. Feeding ten billion people is possible within four terrestrial planetary boundaries. Nat Sustain (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-019-0465-1

Thursday, February 6, 2020

PFAS Detected in Prince William Water

Last month WSSC water announced that they will resume testing its drinking water for the presence of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) substances in response to the Environmental Working Group study that found PFAS levels to be 17.8 parts per trillion (ppt) at one location within WSSC Water’s service area. I decided to at the Environmental Working Group study for findings at other locations nearby. While there were no PFAS found in Fairfax, Prince William County Service Authority Eastern service area was found to have 12 ppt of PFAS.
from EWG
 
Though the level found is well below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) health advisory level of 70 ppt, that level is screening level for groundwater contamination, not a health based maximum contaminant level (MCL) for drinking water. In 2009 the EPA set the first health advisory level (HAL) for PFOA and PFOA at 400 ppt each. In 2016 EPA reduced the health advisory level to a combined 70 ppt for PFAS. They have not yet established a health based MCL. The other sites in Virginia with measured PFAS were the James River in Richmond a private well in Chincoteague, and the military bases in Norfork, Hampton and Newport News area. All these other areas have much higher measured levels of PFAS than Prince William Service Authority.

Is the level found in here in Prince William a concern? I don’t know, probably not.  Some states with extensive PFAS drinking water contamination have set more health-protective limits or lower advisory levels than the EPA to protect their residents. For example, New Jersey has set a legal limit of 13 ppt for perfluorononanoic acid, or PFNA, and proposed enforceable limits of 14 ppt for PFOA and 13 ppt for PFOS. Other states such as Washington, Michigan, and North Carolina are conducting additional testing to further evaluate the extent of contamination in drinking water. Concern seems very limited for the level of PFAS found in Prince William. Still, it does bio-accumulate. The Service Authority should consider additional monitoring as WSSC Water has, and there are in home treatments that are very effective.

PFAS dissolves in water, and combined with their chemical properties means that traditional drinking water treatment technologies used at water treatment plants are not able to remove them. However, activated carbon adsorption, ion exchange resins, and high-pressure membranes have been found to remove PFAS from drinking water, especially Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), which have been the most studied of these chemicals.

NSF, UL, Water Quality Association or CSA Group certification are organizations that certify water treatment products. To earn certification, a manufacturer must undergo testing to confirm that the unit meets all chemical reduction claims and is structurally sound. NSF International, a testing and certification company, developed a certification standard for removal of PFOS and PFOA in 2016. The certification requires that the filter reduce these two chemicals only to EPA’s health advisory level of 70 ppt, but that level may not satisfy your current concerns. Units that are labeled as effective for removing pesticides (such as Aldrin) and volatile organic compounds should also be effective for PFOA and other PFCs.

Activated carbon treatment is the most studied treatment for PFAS removal. Activated carbon is commonly used to adsorb natural organic compounds, taste and odor compounds, and synthetic organic chemicals in drinking water treatment systems.

Activated carbon or commonly granulated activated carbon (GAC) has been shown to effectively remove PFAS from drinking water when it is used in a flow through filter mode after particulates have already been removed. EPA says, “GAC can be 100 % effective for a period of time, depending on the type of carbon used, the depth of the bed of carbon, flow rate of the water, the specific PFAS you need to remove, temperature, and the degree and type of organic matter as well as other contaminants, or constituents, in the water.”

Another treatment option is anion exchange treatment. There are two broad categories of ion exchange resins: cationic and anionic. Only the positively charged anion exchange resins (AER) are effective for removing negatively charged contaminants, like PFAS. Water softeners remove cations (positively charged ions such as calcium and magnesium) and are not what you need to remove PFAS.

AER has shown to have a high capacity for many PFAS; however, it is typically more expensive than activated carbon filtration. According to the EPA “of the different types of AER resins, perhaps the most promising is an AER in a single use mode followed by incineration of the resin. One benefit of this treatment technology is that there is no need for resin regeneration so there is no contaminant waste stream to handle, treat, or dispose.” It is unclear what the regulatory requirements are for the PFAS waste stream.

The final option is high-pressure membranes, such as nanofiltration or reverse osmosis. These have been found to be extremely effective at removing PFAS.. This technology depends on membrane permeability, and reverse osmosis membranes are tighter than nanofiltration membranes. A standard difference between the two is that a nanofiltration membrane will reject hardness to a high degree, but pass salts; whereas reverse osmosis membrane will reject all salts to a high degree (which is why it’s used for desalinization). This also allows nanofiltration to remove particles and hardness while retaining minerals that reverse osmosis would likely remove.

EPA states that “research shows that these types of membranes are typically more than 90% effective at removing a wide range of PFAS, including shorter chain PFAS.” As EPA points out: “Approximately 20% of the feedwater is retained as a high-strength concentrated waste. A high-strength waste stream at 20% of the feed flow can be difficult to treat or dispose, especially for a contaminant such as PFAS...” 

Overall, activated carbon filtration is the least expensive and simplest solution. It can be point of use or whole house and an added advantage is that is polishes the water leaving it tasting very good. In 2007 the state of Minnesota commissioned a study of the effectiveness of activated carbon filtration and reverse osmosis devices in removing PFAS you see the entire report at the link.  they found to be effective.   

Monday, February 3, 2020

WSSC will resume testing water for PFAS

On January 24th 2020 WSSC Water announced that they will resume testing its drinking water for the presence of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) substances at its Potomac and Patuxent Water Filtration Plants. These plants provide drinking water to 1.8 million residents in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

This announcement follows the release of a study by the Environmental Working Group that reported WSSC Water’s PFAS levels to be 17.8 parts per trillion (ppt). The study only tested one location within WSSC Water’s service area. Though the level found is well below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) health advisory level of 70 ppt, that level is screening level for groundwater contamination, not a health based maximum contaminant level (MCL) for drinking water.

If you recall in February 2019 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.

There are currently no federal PFAS drinking water standards despite widespread drinking water contamination, ubiquitous population-level exposure, and toxicological and epidemiological evidence of adverse health effects. Communities across the U.S. are discovering drinking water contaminated by PFAS and determining appropriate actions. While there are currently no federal or Maryland state regulations mandating the monitoring or treatment of PFAS, WSSC Water’s PFAS testing program will resume in the next few weeks and results will be posted on its website: www.wsscwater.com/pfas.

WSSC Water conducted extensive water quality testing for six PFAS compounds, from July 2013 through March 2014 and again from April 2015 through October 2017, and reported that all the results of the PFAS were below the EPA detection limits. WSSC Water plans to reach out to the Environmental Working Group study authors to determine their PFAS sampling and testing protocols to better understand why their results differ from WSSC findings. Scientific knowledge of PFAS, including analytical methods, are constantly evolving and now can yield lower detection limits than in the past. The difference in findings may simply be a lower detection limit.

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. Manufacture of these substances did take place in West Virginia, and these substances were widely used.

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.