U.S. Drinking Water Contamination Far Worse Than Previously Thought

Dark humor comedian George Carlin liked to say that he didn’t consider himself a good American if he didn’t let his food and water poison himself a bit every day. For real though, if you want at least some defense against the contamination, the people in the know recommend robust water filtration systems.

America is great again! Keep this version of America great 2020, don’t change it! Only over a hundred million people there drink contaminated water every day!

The contamination of US drinking water with manmade “forever chemicals” is far worse than previously estimated with some of the highest levels found in Miami, Philadelphia and New Orleans, said a report on Wednesday by an environmental watchdog group.

The chemicals, resistant to breaking down in the environment, are known as perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. Some have been linked to cancers, liver damage, low birth weight and other health problems.

The findings here by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) show the group’s previous estimate in 2018, based on unpublished US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data, that 110 million Americans may be contaminated with PFAS, could be far too low.

“It’s nearly impossible to avoid contaminated drinking water from these chemicals,” said David Andrews, a senior scientist at EWG and co-author of the report.

The chemicals were used in products like Teflon and Scotchguard and in firefighting foam. Some are used in a variety of other products and industrial processes, and their replacements also pose risks.

Of tap water samples taken by EWG from 44 sites in 31 states and Washington DC, only one location, Meridian, Mississippi, which relies on 700ft (215m) deep wells, had no detectable PFAS. Only Seattle and Tuscaloosa, Alabama had levels below 1 part per trillion (PPT), the limit EWG recommends.

In addition, EWG found that on average six to seven PFAS compounds were found at the tested sites, and the effects on health of the mixtures are little understood. “Everyone’s really exposed to a toxic soup of these PFAS chemicals,” Andrews said.

In 34 places where EWG’s tests found PFAS, contamination had not been publicly reported by the EPA or state environmental agencies.

The EPA has known since at least 2001 about the problem of PFAS in drinking water but has so far failed to set an enforceable, nationwide legal limit. The EPA said early last year it would begin the process to set limits on two of the chemicals, PFOA and PFOS.

The EPA said it has helped states and communities address PFAS and that it is working to put limits on the two main chemicals but did not give a timeline.

In 2018 a draft report from an office of the US Department of Health and Human Services said the risk level for exposure to the chemicals should be up to 10 times lower than the 70 PPT threshold the EPA recommends. The White House and the EPA had tried to stop the report from being published.

Even Minor Dehydration Can Make Thinking More Difficult

If climate change leads to increased temperatures throughout the world, people will sweat off water faster, meaning that they will become dehydrated more quickly. This has clear implications for possibly reducing the average level of decision making among humans.

If you’re finding it hard to get your thoughts straight, dehydration could be to blame. An analysis of previous research has found a link between dehydration and poor performance in tasks that need serious focus or advanced mental processing.

While we know that staying hydrated is good for us for all kinds of reasons, this new meta-study was designed to take a closer look at exactly which brain processes might be affected and at what level of dehydration.

It turns out that at just a 2 percent level of body mass loss due to dehydration – so losing about a litre of water through sweat – the mental imbalance starts. That underlines how crucial it is for us to keep up our water intake, and how damaging it might be to the mental agility we all rely on if we don’t.

“We find that when people are mildly dehydrated they really don’t do as well on tasks that require complex processing or on tasks that require a lot of their attention,” lead researcher Mindy Millard-Stafford, from the Georgia Institute of Technology, told Allison Aubrey at NPR.

Millard-Stafford and her colleague Matthew Wittbrodt looked at 33 previous studies linking dehydration with mental performance. In total, the studies covered a total of 413 individuals experiencing between 1 percent and 6 percent of body mass loss through dehydration.

That 2 percent point seems to be the tipping point when it comes to staying mentally sharp. According to the experts, it would maybe take an hour’s hike to get to that level.

What’s more, it’s a level of dehydration that we might not actually notice through triggers like increased thirst: so mental performance could decline even when we don’t feel like we need to take on any water.

The analysis backs up previous research suggesting that dehydration impairs some mental processes more than others, with attention, executive function, and motor coordination particularly hard hit. Lower-level tasks like reaction time aren’t as badly affected, the meta-study shows.

While it’s different for every individual, experts recommend that women get up to 2.7 litres or 95 fluid ounces (11.5 cups) of water every day, and men up to 3.7 litres or 130 fluid ounces (15.5 cups).

The body as a whole is 60 percent water, which it leverages for jobs like transporting nutrients around the body and lubricating our eyeballs.

When there isn’t enough water available – it’s regularly lost through sweating and urination – these vital functions start to break down. We become thirsty, start to feel nauseous, and become more likely to feel exhausted.

Solar-Powered Device Makes Water Out of Dry Desert Air

It shows a lot of promise, although the efficiency needs to still be improved more.

When it comes to future challenges, one of the biggest will be water scarcity – on a warming planet we’re going to have plenty of seawater, but not enough fresh, clean water in the right places for everybody to drink.

And while a lot of research has focussed on desalination, a team of scientists have now come up with another possible solution – a device that pulls fresh water out of thin air, even in the middle of the desert. All it needs is sunlight.

Called the ‘solar-powered harvester’, the device was created by teams from MIT and the University of California, Berkeley, using a special type of material known as a metal-organic framework (MOF).

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As ambient air diffuses through the MOF crystals, water molecules attach to the interior surfaces. X-ray diffraction studies of the system have shown that the water vapour molecules often gather in groups of eight, forming cubes.

Sunlight then heats the MOF up and pushes the bound water towards the condenser, which is the same temperature as the outside air. This vapour condenses as liquid water, and drips into a collector to provide clean drinking water.

EPA Blocked Release of Major Water Contamination Report

All of the wealth in world history’s wealthiest country and it still isn’t using those resources to provide access to safe drinking water for tens of millions. America is a plutocracy though, and while it remains that way, the society’s structure will primarily prioritize making the rich richer over much else.

The chemicals that were under review are PFOA and PFOS, which, as Politiconotes, “have long been used in products like Teflon and firefighting foam”—as well as by the Department of Defense, when it conducts exercises at U.S. bases—despite the fact that they “have been linked with thyroid defects, problems in pregnancy, and certain cancers, even at low levels of exposure.”

The study, conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), reportedly shows that these chemicals are dangerous to human health at far lower levels than previously known or disclosed by the EPA, and have “contaminated water supplies near military bases, chemical plants, and other sites from New York to Michigan to West Virginia.”

Scientist Claims to Have Found the Solution Alternative to Plastic Water Bottles

The material needs to be tested by a trustworthy source for safety, but this invention could represent an advance that would drastically reduce the harms (such as the contaminants in the plastic) caused by the water bottles.

A British scientist claims to have invented a plastic-free, single-use water bottle that can decompose within three weeks.

The Choose Water bottle, developed by James Longcroft, aims to replace plastic bottles and help save the world’s oceans from plastic waste.

The outer lining of the bottle is made out of recycled paper donated by businesses, while the waterproof inner lining is made with a composite material Longcroft has developed himself.

All the constituents of the bottle can fully decompose within three weeks when left in water or landfill, and can be eaten by sea creatures, the company told Business Insider in a statement.

The steel cap on the bottle will also rust and fully decompose in about a year, Longcroft told the Evening Standard.

Plastic usually takes hundreds of years to break down.

Longcroft, who lives in Scotland, is still waiting for patents and started crowdfunding for the bottle on Monday. He has set a goal of £25,000 ($US34,000), of which he has raised about £8,000 ($US11,000) so far.

He hopes to see the bottles available in stores by the end of the year, and that they will be sold for about 85p and 90p (about $US1.2) so that they become a viable alternative to plastic, according to The Times.

Improved Process for Making Clean Drinking Water Out of Salt Water Developed

It would be helpful in creating much more safe drinking water if it actually becomes mass produced.

Using an innovative combination of sunshine and hydrogels, a new device just unveiled by scientists is able to produce clean drinking water from virtually any source – even the salty waters of the Dead Sea.

This new technique could prevent tens of thousands of death every year, since access to safe drinking water is at a premium in many developing nations, not to even mention the wake of a natural disaster or emergency anywhere in the world.

The technology is compact, inexpensive, and uses ambient solar energy in order to evaporate water and remove impurities, making it a substantial upgrade over similar processes that have been used in the past.

“Water desalination through distillation is a common method for mass production of freshwater,” says one of the researchers, Fei Zhao from the University of Texas at Austin.

“However, current distillation technologies, such as multi-stage flash and multi-effect distillation, require significant infrastructures and are quite energy-intensive.”

“Solar energy, as the most sustainable heat source to potentially power distillation, is widely considered to be a great alternative for water desalination.”

The new filtering device works by combining several gel-polymer hybrid materials that mix both hydrophilic (water-attracting) and semiconducting (solar-adsorbing) properties.

The nanostructure of the gels enables more water vapour to be produced from less solar energy, and without the complicated series of optical instruments that existing devices use to concentrate sunlight. Here, that concentration isn’t needed.

When a jar of contaminated water is placed in direct sunlight with the hydrogel evaporator on top, vapour is released that’s then trapped and stored by a condenser.

“We have essentially rewritten the entire approach to conventional solar water evaporation,” says lead researcher Guihua Yu, from the University of Texas at Austin.

To give their new contraption a thorough testing, the researchers tried it out at the Dead Sea, which borders Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. With a salinity of around 34 percent, it’s about ten times as salty as your standard ocean water.

The hydrogel filtering device passed its test with flying colours, producing drinking water from the Dead Sea that met the accepted drinking water standards put down by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Possibility of Stopping Hurricanes Using Air Bubbles

As 2017 showed, hurricanes can do immense damage. The effects of climate change will also make hurricanes worse, as warmer air means more water vapor, and more water vapor translates to more superstorms. It’s uncertain how much using air bubble technology would actually help, but there might be beneficial truth to using it.

Tropical hurricanes are generated when masses of cold and warm air collide. Another essential factor is that the sea surface temperature must be greater than 26.5°C.

“Climate change is causing sea surface temperatures to increase,” says Grim Eidnes, who is a Senior Research Scientist at SINTEF Ocean. “The critical temperature threshold at which evaporation is sufficient to promote the development of hurricanes is 26.5°C. In the case of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in the period August to September 2017, sea surface temperatures were measured at 32°C”, he says.

So to the big question. Is it possible to cool the sea surface to below 26.5°C by exploiting colder water from deeper in the water column?

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Researchers at SINTEF now intend to save lives by using a tried and tested method called a “bubble curtain”.

The method consists of supplying bubbles of compressed air from a perforated pipe lowered in the water, which then rise, taking with them colder water from deeper in the ocean. At the surface, the cold water mixes with, and cools, the warm surface water.

SINTEF believes that the Yucatan Strait will be an ideal test arena for this technology.

“Our initial investigations show that the pipes must be located at between 100 and 150 metres depth in order to extract water that is cold enough” says Eidnes. “By bringing this water to the surface using the bubble curtains, the surface temperature will fall to below 26.5°C, thus cutting off the hurricane’s energy supply”, he says, before adding that “This method will allow us quite simply to prevent hurricanes from achieving life-threatening intensities”.

Discovery from Last Year: Device to Pull Water Out of Thin Air Developed

This discovery has immense potential to help people in areas that lack water. Only 3 percent of the world’s total water is freshwater — the rest is saltwater, with inadequate desalinization advances — so access to water indeed looks to become a more major issue in the years ahead.

Scientists have developed a device that can suck water out of desert skies, powered by sunlight alone. They hope that a version of the technology could eventually supply clean drinking water in some of the driest and poorest parts of the globe.

The device is based on a novel material that can pull large amounts of water into its many pores. According to a study published in the journal Science on Thursday, a kilogram of the material can capture several liters of water each day in humidity levels as low as 20 percent, typical of arid regions.

The technology could help address a big and growing problem. A report last year in Science Advances found that four billion people, nearly half in India and China, face “severe water scarcity at least one month of the year.” That means water shortages affect two-thirds of the world’s population. These shortages—and the resulting conflicts—are only expected to become more common in large parts of the world as climate change accelerates.

A team at MIT developed the technology with Omar Yaghi’s laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. The key component is a promising class of synthetic porous materials called metal-organic frameworks, composed of organic molecules stitched together with metal atoms, which Yaghi pioneered (see “A Better Way to Capture Carbon”). The size and chemical character of the material’s pores can be customized to capture particular types of molecules or allow them to flow through. The material also has a massive surface area, on the order of a football field per gram, enabling it to bond with a large quantity of particles.

In this case, the scientists employed a previously developed version of the material that Yaghi optimized to efficiently capture water molecules. The prototype bonds with water at night or in shade. But during the day, sunlight hitting the material adds enough energy to convert the water molecules into vapor. In turn, they slip out of the material’s pores and into an adjacent acrylic enclosure. A condenser at the bottom of the vessel collects the water droplets and funnels them into a chamber below, from which clean water can be collected.

The process is completely passive, with no need for solar panels, batteries, or additional energy. Previous water-harvesting technologies have been limited to areas with fog or other high-moisture conditions.

Though they plan to continue refining the technology, they’re “not that far away” from a viable product, says Evelyn Wang, head of MIT’s device research laboratory. She notes that materials of this type are already being mass-produced, at increasingly affordable prices, by the German chemical giant BASF.

Yaghi says the technology could be paired with solar panels or other equipment to boost water production for industrial or agricultural purposes. But the big hope, he says, is that these devices could become household fixtures in poorer parts of the world. That would allow families to reliably produce their own water instead of rationing whatever they can carry, or whatever is available, from community wells.

Oil Giants Investing $180 Billion in Plastics

There may actually be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050 if some current pollution trends continue, unfortunately. Plastic can also be a problem for humans because of how much tap water (83% worldwide, according to one study) is contaminated with tiny plastic fibers that can absorb nearby toxins.

Scientists and environmental protection advocates are warning that a coming plastics boom could lead to a permanent state of pollution on the planet—and denouncing the fossil fuel industry for driving an increase in plastics production amid all that’s known about the material polluting the world’s oceans.

“We could be locking in decades of expanded plastics production at precisely the time the world is realizing we should use far less of it,” Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law (CEIL), told the Guardian. The CEIL has compiled several reports about the plastics industry since September.

The American Chemistry Council, a trade organization, has acknowledged that fossil fuel companies including Exxon and Shell Chemical have poured more than $180 billion into the creation of plastics facilities that are expected to create a 40 percent rise in production of the material over the next decade.

The rise in shale gas exploration in recent years has caused the price of natural gas liquids, used to make plastic, to drop significantly, causing companies to begin more than 300 plastics production projects since 2010.

“Around 99 percent of the feedstock for plastics is fossil fuels, so we are looking at the same companies…that have helped create the climate crisis,” said Muffett. “There is a deep and pervasive relationship between oil and gas companies and plastics.”

The report follows the CEIL’s recent study, released earlier this month, which showed that the plastics industry has known its products were polluting the world’s oceans since the 1970s and has spent decades fighting regulations that aim to keep the crisis from getting worse.

“We are already producing more disposable plastic than we can deal with, more in the last decade than in the entire twentieth century, and millions of tons of it are ending up in our oceans,” Louise Edge, senior oceans campaigner for Greenpeace UK, told the Guardian.

New Desalination Process is Potentially Cheaper

It’s difficult to find a lot of good news on some days, but I try to look for the most relevant developments of it. The access to clean drinking water is set to become a bigger problem than it is now, and that’s with the ocean being about a third of the Earth. An efficient desalination process is needed to make use of the immense water of the ocean, especially when freshwater is roughly 3 percent of water in the world.

Engineers at the University of Illinois have taken a step forward in developing a saltwater desalination process that is potentially cheaper than reverse osmosis and borrows from battery technology. In their study, the researchers are focusing on new materials that could make desalination of brackish waters economically desirable and energy efficient.

The need for practical desalinization technology is rising in the context of global climate change. Coastal regions, where the rise of seawater could encroach upon and contaminate groundwater aquifers, present just one area of concern. As demand for diminishing clean water sources increases, the need for desalination of lower-salinity brackish water from inland and industrial sources will increase, the researchers said.

Illinois mechanical science and engineering professor Kyle Smith and his co-authors have published a study demonstrating the viability of this batterylike technology in the journal Electrochimica Acta.

In a previous study, Smith and his co-authors used theoretical modeling to show that technology used in sodium-ion batteries may efficiently desalinate seawater. Their theory states that by using electrodes that contain sodium and chloride ions, salt is drawn out and held in a chamber separate from the purified water.

Study: 83% of Tap Water Worldwide Contains Tiny Plastic Fibers

Early research suggests that the tiny plastic fibers are possibly harmful to human health. In general, it’s also disturbing that such widespread problems with water exist in the 21st century.

“Microscopic plastic fibers are flowing out of taps from New York to New Delhi,” according to a recent investigation by Orb Media, which found plastic contamination in 83 percent of drinking water samples gathered from more than a dozen countries on five continents.

For what’s been deemed the “first global tap water survey of plastic pollution,” Orb worked with researchers at the State University of New York and the University of Minnesota to test 159 samples.

The U.S. had the highest levels of contamination, with 94 percent of its 33 samples testing positive for plastic fibers. Sources of contaminated tap water in the U.S. included Congressional buildings, Trump Tower in New York City, and even the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency headquarters.

plastic-water-guardian-orbmedia-graphic

“This should knock us into our senses,” Muhammad Yunus, the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said in a statement to PRI. “We knew that this plastic is coming back to us through our food chain. Now we see it is coming back to us through our drinking water.”

Precisely what that means for humans, though, will require additional studies. As Lincoln Fok, an environmental scientist at the Education University of Hong Kong, told PRI: “The research on human health is in its infancy.”

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Although the new Orb study “raises more questions than it answers,” as former New York City water commissioner Albert Appleton told PRI, among scientists’ highest concerns is the fact that studies have shown tiny plastic fibers absorb nearby toxins—meaning dangerous chemicals that may otherwise be filtered out before reaching household taps could be trapped in the microplastics and consumed.

According to Sherri Mason, a microplastic expert at the State University of New York in Fredonia who supervised the analyses for Orbwhile more research is needed to understand the full human impact, studies of plastic contamination’s impact on animals have revealed enough to raise alarms about what high levels of plastic fibers in drinking water worldwide will mean for humans.

“We have enough data from looking at wildlife, and the impacts that it’s having on wildlife, to be concerned,” she said. “If it’s impacting them, then how do we think that it’s not going to somehow impact us?”

In 2014, Mason and some of her students studied the guts of fish caught in Lake Erie. “Her team found plastic in the majority of the fish they tested,” PBS reported, and “the biggest source they found were minuscule plastic fibers.”