WATER CONTAMINATION: WHY REPORTING IS CRITICAL?

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WATER CONTAMINATION: WHY REPORTING IS CRITICAL?

Posted on 22 March 2017 by Hubert Colas
Posted in FluksAqua insights, infographie, Innovation, Utility management, Tagged chemical contaminants, public health,

reporting contamination

Millions of people use clean drinking water every day without realizing the technology and expertise required to make the water flow. It is only when there is a problem with water contamination that people decide to pay attention.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires public and private water systems across the U.S. to report water issues regularly. This is an important function because it helps ensure the quality of the water supply across the country and creates a national database of vital information.

According to the Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) database compiled by the EPA, there were more than 7,500 health-based violations in 2015.

FluksAqua analyzed the data with a focus on potentially harmful health-based violations including coliforms, nitrates, arsenic, radionuclides and disinfection byproducts. The analysis only looked at Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) violations which mean that a system had an unacceptably high level of a specific contaminant. The full interactive infographic is available here.

By tracking and analyzing water quality, the national infrastructure can be improved. While not all violations result in a health issue, a violation does indicate a failure in operation or treatment that can affect public health even though water contamination can be beyond the control of the water system in some cases.

The good news is the average violation rate dropped from eight per cent in 2015 to five per cent in 2016. At a time when water quality is a hot issue, overall individual States performed better in 2016 in reducing water contamination.

A detailed analysis of the data provides a view into the violations at the state level to see where improvements can be made. After reviewing the 2015 and 2016 data, there can be some conclusions from the data

  • Coliforms and disinfection byproducts are the most common violations across all states.
  • In 2015, coliforms and disinfection byproducts accounted for about 70 per cent of the violations (41% coliforms, 31% disinfection byproducts) in all states.
  • The following year, disinfection byproducts accounted for 65 percent of the violations (24% coliforms and 50% disinfection byproducts). Overall the amount of violations due to coliforms dropped by half.

 

STATES WITH HIGHEST VIOLATIONS 

  • Maryland, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Ohio were in the top five worst states in both 2015 and 2016. This does not mean residents were drinking unsafe water but the systems in the States did report the most health-related violations. Approximately 80 per cent of the violations occurred in very small and small systems.

2015ViolationsBySystemSize_top5worst         2016ViolationsBySystemSize_top5worst

  • In 2015, four out of the five worst States all had at least one very large system report a water contamination violation. Overall, Texas had the most with 12 very large system violations.
  • In 2016, three of the five worst states had one very large system with violations. They were Louisiana, Ohio and Maryland.

 

STATES WITH THE BEST RECORDS 

  • Delaware, Nevada, Colorado, Minnesota, Washington and North Dakota can take pride in being the best States in 2015 and 2016. Less than one per cent of the population was affected by a health-based violation.

There is a great deal of expertise involved in not only delivering safe, clean drinking water to a community but managing clean water should be appreciated. Water utilities are to be commended for reporting their violations and working to mitigate the most important issues.

 


FluksAqua focused its analysis on five health-based violations:

Arsenic: Tasteless and odorless, it is a semi-metal element found naturally in the earth. Exposure to high levels of arsenic can lead to thickening and discoloration of the skin, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, numbness in the hands and feet, partial paralysis and blindness.

Coliforms: A type of bacteria found in feces. By themselves, they are not always harmful but they are associated with other disease-causing bacteria. The microbes can cause diarrhea, cramps, nausea, headaches and other symptoms.

Disinfection by-products: Chemical compounds generated when a disinfectant reacts with naturally-occurring materials in water. There are four types: total Trihalomethanes (TTHMs), Haloacetic acids (HAA5), Bromate and Chlorite. Long term exposure is associated with cancer or nervous system problems.

Nitrates: Nitrogen-oxygen compounds commonly found in fertilizers. When ingested or absorbed into the bloodstream, they can interfere with the blood's ability to carry oxygen especially in children.

Radionuclides: Unstable atoms which emit radiation energy. Long-term exposure is associated with an increased risk of cancer.

All of the data used in the infographic was drawn from the EPA’s ECHO database. The ECHO database contains drinking water data for public water systems regulated under the Safe Drinking Act. Water systems report their drinking water data to a primary agency, usually in the State it operates and focuses on health or the environment, who then report the information to the EPA. The EPA stores this data in its federal database that is accessible to the public. Continuing to collect this information is vital to the health of the infrastructure of the national water system.
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About the author

Hubert Colas, Eng., Ph.D., is a senior executive at FluksAqua with more than 25 years of experience in consulting engineering and technology development.
In previous functions, Mr. Colas spearheaded a world-class leader in the design and operation of real time control of urban drainage systems. Hubert Colas implemented complex solutions to manage wet weather in real time and provided services and solutions to water and wastewater utilities.