Startling – Elevated Levels of Arsenic Found in Nevada’s Private Wells

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Friday, December 2, 2022

Numerous residential wells need improved drinking water treatment and monitoring, according to the study. Private wells are the main source of drinking water for 182,000...

Numerous residential wells need improved drinking water treatment and monitoring, according to the study. Private wells are the main source of drinking water for 182,000...

Fresh Purified Drinking Water Concept

Numerous residential wells need improved drinking water treatment and monitoring, according to the study. Private wells are the main source of drinking water for 182,000...

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It’s hot, and your local river looks enticing. But is too germy for swimming?

Ensuring a swimming site is safe is key to getting people using it. That means giving people timely information about water quality.

Dan Himbrechts/AAPSwimming in rivers, creeks and lakes can be a fun way to cool off in summer. But contamination in natural waterways can pose a risk to human health. Waterborne pathogens can cause acute gastrointestinal illnesses such as diarrhea and vomiting. Other common illnesses include skin rashes, respiratory problems, and eye and ear infections. Unfortunately, it can be hard to find out if a waterway in Australia is safe for recreation. By contrast, a comprehensive system in Aotearoa-New Zealand, called Can I Swim Here?, provides timely water quality information for 800 beach, river and lake sites. We have investigated the benefits and barriers associated with opening up waterways for recreation. Unsurprisingly, ensuring a local swimming site is safe is key to getting people using it. That includes giving people access to accurate information about water quality. It can be hard to find out if a waterway in Australia is safe for swimming. Dan Himbrechts/AAP Can swimming really make you sick? Contaminated water can exist in swimming pools and spas, as well as oceans, lakes, and rivers, exposing humans to a range of pathogens. According to official advice in New South Wales, common waterborne pathogens include: enteric bacteria such as Escherichia coli (E.coli) or Enterococci, that live in the intestinal tracts of all warm-blooded animals and can enter water as faecal matter (or poo). They can cause gastroenteritis, skin and ear infections and dysentery viruses such as noroviruses and hepatitis. They can cause diarrhoea, vomiting, hepatitis and respiratory disease protozoa such as giardia which, once ingested, can live as parasites in humans and animals and cause diarrhoea. Australian research has documented a link between gastroeneritis and people swimming in public pools and freshwater sites such as rivers, lakes and dams. Other water quality hazards for swimming include toxic blue-green algae and exposure to chemical pollutants. Recent floods in Australia have led to an elevated risk of water contamination. As others have noted, flood waters can be highly polluted with disease-causing organisms, including from sewerage overflows. So how do swimming locations get contaminated? Pollution can come from untreated sewage, or runoff containing animal poo or fertilisers. The source could be chemicals from nearby industrial activities, or the water users themselves. Thankfully, most disease outbreaks from swimming are not fatal. An exception is the amoeba Naegleria fowleri. It lives in warmer waters and can cause amoebic meningitis, a potentially fatal brain disease. Read more: The stunning recovery of a heavily polluted river in the heart of the Blue Mountains World Heritage area Rain and flooding can cause pollutants to run into waterways. James Ross/AAP How safe is your local swimming hole? In Australia, guidance on recreational water quality tends to focus on ocean beaches. For example, NSW’s Beachwatch program cover more than 200 NSW coastal (and some estuary) beaches. The advice is based on likelihood of rain combined with testing swimming sites for faecal bacteria. The Victorian government also provides coastal swimming guidance for 36 beaches in Port Phillip Bay. But away from the coast, information on the water quality of our local rivers, creeks and lakes, is sparse. In NSW, advice exists for swimming and boating at four sites on the Nepean River in Western Sydney. Information is provided for a recently reopened swimming site at Lake Parramatta and for swimming at some Blue Mountains sites. In Victoria, the Yarra Watch program monitors four swimming sites in freshwater stretches of the Yarra River, upstream of Melbourne. And authorities in Canberra provide regular water quality monitoring and swimming advice for lakes and rivers. But in contrast to Australia, New Zealand provides far more detailed and broad guidance. Authorities in Canberra provide regular water quality monitoring and swimming advice. Lukas Coch/AAP How New Zealand does it New Zealand’s world-leading national program Can I swim here? enables people to find the best places to swim across 800 beach, river and lake sites across the country. The advice is provided by LAWA (Land, Air, Water Aotearoa), a collaboration between regional councils, the New Zealand government, scientific experts and academics, and a philanthropist organisation. The data available includes both the latest weekly water quality test results, and results dating back five years. The guidance also includes an interactive map (see below) where users can zoom to swimming sites in their region. The ‘Can I swim here?’ site features an interactive map. https://www.lawa.org.nz More work is needed Everyone loves to be around, on and in the water, especially during summer. As well as providing a way to cool down, local swimming holes are great places for people to socialise, exercise and engage with nature – especially for those not near a beach. Governments are recognising the real opportunity to open up underused waterways for recreation across Australia. But for the sake of our communities, more work is needed on improving water quality and sharing information. Australia has a lot to learn from New Zealand and other countries on how to manage our waterways for recreational use. And ongoing research, partnering with government and industry, is clearly needed. Read more: Travelling around Australia this summer? Here's how to know if the water is safe to drink Ian A Wright has received funding from industry, as well as Commonwealth, NSW and local governments. He formerly worked for Sydney Water Corporation.Nicky Morrison has received funding from industry, as well as NSW and local governments.

Death in the marshes: environmental calamity hits Iraq’s unique wetlands

Rivers and lakes that have nurtured communities since civilisation’s dawn are drying up, as drought leads to hunger, displacement and simmering conflictSmall gangs of buffaloes sat submerged in green and muddy waters. Their back ridges rose over the surface like a chain of black islets, spanning the Toos River, a tributary of the Tigris that flows into the Huwaiza marshes in southern Iraq.With their melancholic eyes, they gazed with defiance at an approaching boat, refusing to budge. Only when the boatman shrieked “heyy, heyy, heyy” did one or two reluctantly raise their haunches. Towering over the boat, they moved a few steps away, giving the boatmen barely enough space to steer between a cluster of large, curved horns. Continue reading...

Rivers and lakes that have nurtured communities since civilisation’s dawn are drying up, as drought leads to hunger, displacement and simmering conflictSmall gangs of buffaloes sat submerged in green and muddy waters. Their back ridges rose over the surface like a chain of black islets, spanning the Toos River, a tributary of the Tigris that flows into the Huwaiza marshes in southern Iraq.With their melancholic eyes, they gazed with defiance at an approaching boat, refusing to budge. Only when the boatman shrieked “heyy, heyy, heyy” did one or two reluctantly raise their haunches. Towering over the boat, they moved a few steps away, giving the boatmen barely enough space to steer between a cluster of large, curved horns. Continue reading...

Oil refineries are polluting US waterways. Too often, it’s legal.

Facilities release a "witches' brew" of toxins in their wastewater.

Oil refineries are a well-documented source of air pollution, but less attention is paid to the ways they also pollute the water. Transforming crude oil into petroleum produces millions of gallons of wastewater each day filled with toxic chemicals and heavy metals that pours out of the plants and flows into rivers and streams affecting nearby communities. While the Environmental Protection Agency, or the EPA, is legally required to regulate these pollutants and impose penalties, a new study released Thursday by the Environmental Integrity Project maintains that hasn’t been happening.  The project’s analysis looks at monitoring data, permit applications, and toxic release reports from the nation’s 81 oil refineries that discharge their waste into waterways directly or through off-site treatment plants. In 2021 alone, the plants released a total of 60,000 pounds of selenium, known to cause mutations in fish, and 15.7 million pounds of nitrogen, which feed harmful algal blooms. Some 10,000 pounds of nickel, also toxic to fish in trace amounts, streamed into waterways as well, plus 1.6 billion pounds of chlorides, sulfates, and other dissolved solids that can corrode pipes and contaminate drinking water.   Oil refineries released vast amounts of pollutants in 2021. The table above shows a selection of contaminants that are completely unregulated by the EPA in refinery wastewater. Environmental Integrity Project The totals in the report do not include contaminants released in stormwater runoff or spills that bypass water treatment systems, noted Eric Shaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project who previously served as director of the EPA’s Office of Civil Enforcement. “We think we’re understating the problem,” he said. Most of this pollution, the report found, happens in places where people have fewer economic resources and political influence to push back. More than 40 percent of the refineries in the study are located in communities where the majority of residents are people of color or considered low-income.  John Beard, executive director of the Port Arthur Community Action Network, which advocates for environmental justice in the refinery-dense communities east of Houston, Texas, joined a press call for the report. “They don’t build these facilities in Beverly Hills or River Oaks, Texas, and places that have a way and a means to seek justice and correction,” he said. “They take the ‘path of least resistance,’ [building near] people who can ill afford to fight back.” The “witches’ brew,” as the report calls it, flowing out of these refineries poses a real threat to aquatic life and communities. Wastewater from two-thirds of the refineries studied contributed to the “impairment” of downstream waterways, meaning they became too polluted to drink, fish, or swim in, or support healthy aquatic plants and animals. Yet much of this pollution is actually legal, the Environmental Integrity Project points out.  The federal Clean Water Act requires the EPA to limit industrial discharges of 65 toxins, but in fact they regulate only 10 pollutants for refineries. The agency is also supposed to update its limits every five years as technologies to treat wastewater improve, but the rules for refineries have not been changed since the 1980s. In addition, refineries are now twice the size on average than they were when those regulations were last made.  While the EPA does have rules about ammonia, for example, they are not reflective of the current technology that makes refineries capable of much lower discharge rates of the compound. And there are no limits to the amount of selenium, benzene, nickel, lead, cyanide, arsenic, mercury, and PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as forever chemicals, that can come out of these facilities. When it comes to the outdated rules the EPA does have for refinery wastewater, the agency has repeatedly failed to enforce them. The Environmental Integrity Project found that 83 percent of U.S. refineries violated regulations on water pollutants at least once between 2019 and 2021. The EPA is supposed to fine violators, but less than a quarter of the refineries received any penalty. One of the worst offenders, Hunt Southland Refinery in Lumberton, Mississippi, violated water pollution limits 144 times during the study period, but was subject to just two penalties, amounting to fines of $85,500. The Phillips 66 Sweeny refinery near Houston, Texas, exceeded its limits 44 times, mostly for excess cyanide, but was only penalized once. When refineries violate their water pollution limits, they are rarely penalized by the EPA. When they are fined, the amounts are negligible compared to industry profits. Environmental Integrity Project States also have authority to regulate refinery wastewater through permitting, but they often look to the EPA guidelines in setting their rules. While a few have included additional limits, the report notes that these are also rarely enforced. The EPA has made recent headlines for being short staffed and falling far behind on its own deadlines to create dozens of regulations that are central to the President’s climate goals, despite a new injection of funds from the bipartisan infrastructure law and the Inflation Reduction Act.  “What are we asking for? No more than what the Clean Water Act has required since the 1970s,” said Shaeffer. “We ask the EPA to comply with the law, rise to the occasion, and write new standards based on the advanced treatment systems we have in this century, instead of the ones we should have left behind in the last one.” This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Oil refineries are polluting US waterways. Too often, it’s legal. on Jan 26, 2023.

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