Lead Tests On New York City Schools’ Water May Have Masked Scope Of Risk

When the results of tests for lead in the water at more than 1,500 New York City school buildings were announced in July, officials said that fewer than 1 percent of all the samples taken showed lead concentrations that exceeded Environmental Protection Agency guidelines. Given other safety measures in place, officials assured parents, the water was safe to drink.

But a review of how the testing was conducted suggests that the amount of lead in the water that students consume could be greater than the results indicate.

According to the city, every water outlet in each school was turned on fully for two hours the night before the samples were taken — a practice known as pre-stagnation flushing that cleans most soluble lead and lead particles from pipes and thus reduces lead levels temporarily.

In February, the E.P.A. recommended against the use of pre-stagnation flushing when sampling water in homes, saying that the step “may potentially lower the lead levels as compared to when it is not practiced.”

Because the E.P.A. does not regulate the testing of water in schools, its guidance on pre-stagnation flushing does not apply directly to New York’s procedures. But the agency’s voluntary guidelines for schools do not recommend such flushing and generally direct schools to mimic normal consumption patterns when taking samples.

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N.J. Has Among Highest Risks For Lead-Contaminated Water in U.S., Study Says

A new U.S. Geological Survey assessment of more than 20,000 wells nationwide shows that untreated groundwater in 25 states — including New Jersey — had a potentially high risk of lead contamination.

The states with the largest percentage of wells with a high prevalence of being potentially corrosive are located primarily in the Northeast, the Southeast and the Northwest, according to a release from the USGS.

Two indicators of potential corrosivity were combined to determine that corrosive groundwater occurs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Corrosive groundwater, if untreated, can dissolve lead and other metals from pipes and plumbing fixtures, according to the release.

“The corrosivity of untreated groundwater is only one of several factors that may affect the quality of household drinking water at the tap,” Don Cline, USGS associate director for water, said in the release. “Nevertheless, it is an essential factor that should be carefully considered in testing for water quality in both public and private supplies nationwide.”

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America’s Water Supply: The Corrosion Of A Proud Tradition

The debacle in Flint, Michigan was a betrayal of the public trust at every level of government. The horror of people drinking poisoned water is a microcosm of the sad deterioration of one of America’s greatest accomplishments: the creation of infrastructure to provide virtually universal access to clean water and wastewater treatment.

Across America, water and sewer plants, pipes, and valves are reaching or beyond the end of their useful lives. By failing to invest in maintaining the city’s drinking water infrastructure, Flint officials acted no differently than those in thousands of other communities – high- and low-income – who are neglecting the promise of government that all residents have the right to clean water.

In early twentieth century America, it was not safe to drink water from public taps. Cities routinely dumped raw sewage into nearby rivers, thus causing their downstream neighbors to suffer epidemics of waterborne diseases, such as cholera, dysentery, and typhoid. This practice finally ended after Congress passed the 1972 Clean Water Act, which underwrote the costs of municipal water treatment plants.

In the 1980s, Congress’s taste for funding the construction costs waned, and it created a revolving funds program, which provided low-interest loans to states and cities. That worked pretty well for a while. But, in subsequent decades, spending on water and wastewater infrastructure plummeted.  In the aftermath of the Great Recession, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Mr. Obama’s stimulus program) devoted only $6 billion out of $800 billion to our water systems. That’s not chump change but the scale of the problem is immense.

Our water infrastructure consists of approximately 54,000 drinking water systems, with more than 700,000 miles of pipes, and 17,000 wastewater treatment plants, with an additional 800,000 miles of pipes. A 2012 report of the American Water Works Association concluded that more than a million miles of these pipes need repair or replacement. That’s why communities across the nation suffer 240,000 water main breaks per year. The major cause of pipe failure is age.

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Map: U.S. Coal Fire Plants Ranked By Water Pollution

Nearly a year ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalized its Steam Electric Power Generating Effluent Guidelines. The new rules set the first federal limits on the amount of toxic metals — including arsenic, lead, mercury, and selenium — that can be discharged in wastewater from power plants, which are some of the biggest industrial water polluters in the country. Almost 100 public drinking water intakes and more than 1,500 public wells in the United States are located near discharges from power plants, according to the EPA. The agency says the substances covered by its guidelines can contaminate fish and drinking water supplies, in some cases leading to cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurological disorders, kidney and liver damage, and reduced IQs in children. When the rules are fully implemented, between 2018 and 2023, they will cut pollution released into waterways by an estimated 635,000 metric tons (1.4 billion pounds) each year.

While the guidelines apply to all steam electric power plants, including nuclear and natural gas plants, a report released this month by the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Integrity Project focused on the amount of pollution currently discharged by coal-fired power plants. The report analyzed data from 216 coal plants contained in the EPA’s 2015 Toxics Release Inventory and identified those that are releasing the most arsenic, lead, and mercury into waterways. The rankings, shown in the map above, are relative to the other plants that were analyzed and do not indicate that the power stations were in violation of their environmental permits.

To read the full article, click here.

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Flint’s Water Crisis And The “Troublemaker” Scientist

Near the railroad tracks on the outskirts of Flint, Mich., there is an old pump house, the walls of which have long served as a kind of communal billboard. The Block, people call it. People paint messages there — birthday wishes, memorials for the dead. In January, after Gov. Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency in response to Flint’s water crisis, a new message appeared, addressed implicitly to Snyder but also to the world: YOU WANT OUR TRUST??? WE WANT VA TECH!!! In the history of political graffiti, “We want Va. Tech” may sound like one of the least stirring demands ever spray-­painted on a wall, but in the context of Flint, it was charged with the emotion and meaning of a rallying cry.

By “Va. Tech,” the message’s author meant a Virginia Tech professor of civil and environmental engineering, Marc Edwards. Edwards has spent most of his career studying the aging waterworks of America, publishing the sort of papers that specialists admire and the rest of us ignore, on subjects like “ozone-­induced particle destabilization” or the “role of temperature and pH in Cu(OH)₂ solubility.” Explaining his research to laypeople, he sometimes describes it as “the C.S.I. of plumbing.” Edwards is a detective with a research lab and a Ph.D. In 2000, after homeowners in suburban Maryland began reporting “pinhole leaks” in their copper pipes, the water authority there brought in Edwards. In 2002, after receiving a report that water in a Maui neighborhood had mysteriously turned blue and was giving people rashes, Edwards took on the case.

Until last year, the most famous case Edwards investigated was the lead contamination of the water supply in the nation’s capital — still the worst such event in modern American history, in magnitude and duration. In Washington, lead levels shot up in 2001, and in some neighborhoods they remained dangerously elevated until 2010. Edwards maintains, and spent years working to prove, that scientific misconduct at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention exacerbated the D.C. crisis. A congressional investigation culminated in a 2010 report, titled “A Public Health Tragedy: How Flawed C.D.C. Data and Faulty Assumptions Endangered Children’s Health in the Nation’s Capital.” It confirmed many of his allegations, but the experience was for Edwards a decade-­long ordeal that turned him into a reluctant activist — or as he prefers to say, “a troublemaker.”

For television appearances, Edwards will put on a suit and tie, and the tie almost always bears a picture of some endangered animal: a giant panda, for instance, or a water buffalo. But on the morning we met, in his lab at Virginia Tech, he was dressed in a black track suit and a pair of running shoes — the uniform he prefers. At 52, he has the youthful yet slightly skeletal good looks of an avid long-­distance runner, which he is. “Before Flint, I was running 50 miles a week,” he told me. “Now I’m down to 27.” Running keeps him sane, he says, or at least saner than he would be otherwise. More than once during his investigations into D.C. and Flint, he wondered if he might be losing his mind.

To read the full article, click here.

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