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Water Pollution - Water Contamination


Do you live close to one of these "Hot Spots" for water pollution ?

Common Water Quality Problems and Their Treatment Methods

List of Known Water Contaminants and Their Health Effects

polluted water1) Perchlorate Contamination in the Southwest

A toxic chemical used to fuel Cold War-era missiles and the rockets that put man on the moon has left a legacy of contamination across the Southwest, where it pinches the region's already tight supply of drinking water.

The chemical, called perchlorate, pollutes much of the lower Colorado River -- the main water source for 20 million people across the Southwest -- and has forced the shutdown of hundreds (300+) of wells in California.

State and federal officials are still debating how much risk perchlorate poses when ingested and what limits should be set for the chemical, a process slowed partly by lawsuits filed by defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin Corp. that worry they could be on the hook for billions of dollars in cleanup costs.

Thousands of people have sued the companies that once made or handled perchlorate, alleging years of drinking water laced with the chemical have caused cancers and other illnesses.

Adrienne Wise-Tates, 46, has had tumors of the brain and ovaries, multiple cysts in her breasts, cancerous cells found when she had a goiter removed and, most recently, an unknown mass in her left kidney.

The mother of three blames the perchlorate-tainted water she drank while growing up in Redlands. There, 70 miles east of Los Angeles, nearly 1,000 people are suing Lockheed Martin over perchlorate pollution associated with a former rocket engine testing facility that closed in the 1970s.

"I played in the water, drank the water, everything. The normal things a child does," Wise-Tates said. "Since it was so much in this area, in the water, that's what I attribute it to."

"Anything that explodes seems to be associated with perchlorate," said David Spath, chief of the division of drinking water and environmental management for the California Department of Health Services.

Along with explosives, naturally perchlorate-rich fertilizer imported from Chile has contaminated wells on New York's Long Island, forcing some to close.

"We need to be able to say to people that this is a problem, it is a big problem. It is moving rapidly. It is in 22 states and we need to address it," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. "We don't need to panic, but we need to do it in a way that's cost-effective and makes sense."

Across the nation, millions more eat vegetables grown with Colorado River water. What risk the vegetables could pose, if any, is unknown.

"It's really one of the most massive pollution problems the water industry has ever seen," said Timothy Brick, a member of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

2) Florida-- Groundwater Contamination/ Wells

Sunday, April 20, 2003

PALM CITY -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has renewed its investigation into spreading groundwater contamination in Old Palm City.

The move comes amid growing concerns from residents who that worry cancer-causing chemicals found in 64 private wells could harm their health.

The CDC's Atlanta-based Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, which investigates the health effects of exposures to chemicals, started looking at the wells contaminated with chemicals used in gasoline, including benzene and naphthalene, in 1998.

The agency, however, soon dropped that investigation. CDC officials said they found the contamination, which has been linked to leaking gas tanks more than a decade ago, posed no health threat.

But after neighborhood residents petitioned the CDC this month, CDC officials reopened their investigation Thursday.

The agency plans to issue a report on the contamination in the next few weeks.

"We are going to review the environmental data to determine if it's at levels that might be of a health concern," said Tammie McRae, a technical project officer with the CDC who is researching the contamination.

Although that bodes well for residents of the neighborhood bounded by Martin Downs Boulevard, Mapp Road and the St. Lucie River, many say state and county health officials have done little to prevent the contamination from spreading.

Since 1988, residents have watched the chemicals seep into more wells.

A recent sampling by the Martin County Health Department showed that contamination exceeding state standards has been found in 25 wells in the neighborhood.

That study of 142 neighborhood wells found that 39 wells had those chemicals in trace amounts that did not exceed state standards.

County health officials are quick to say that short-term exposure to the contamination poses little health risk. The only threat, they say, is if residents are exposed to contaminated water throughout their lifetime.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has paid to connect 21 homes to county water.

The DEP also has installed special filters on contaminated wells at six homes.

John Wisecup, a resident of 33rd Street, has one of those filters. The DEP paid for the system after water from his well tested at 22 times the safe level for benzene.

Wisecup has lived in the neighborhood since 1994, and like many Old Palm City residents, he says he's watched the quality of his drinking water deteriorate during the past few years.

Before the filter was installed in January, Wisecup said it was not uncommon for his morning cup of coffee to have an oily appearance.

"There would be an oil sheen on top of the coffee," he said. "It looks just like a little a film of oil that you see floating on water."

Health officials say the contamination is linked to three gas stations on Mapp Road. Jack's Service Station, Texaco Minit Mart and Speedway all reported "discharges" between 1988 and 1999.

The DEP now oversees cleanups at all three stations. Since October 2001, more than 1.7 million gallons of petroleum-contaminated groundwater has been recovered and treated at Jack's Service Station, which no longer sells gasoline, a DEP report shows.

Much to the chagrin of neighborhood residents, the agency monitors and treats groundwater only at the three stations. The agency doesn't monitor groundwater flow in the neighborhood, DEP spokesman Willie Puz said.

Instead, the health department samples water from neighborhood wells yearly. If contamination is found, a filter is installed or the home is connected to county water.

But neighborhood residents say that's not enough.

"Where are the plumes?" said Tissa Harrah, a 30-year resident of All American Boulevard who has gone door to door alerting neighbors of the contamination.

DEP officials "have known about this since 1988. Nobody knows where the plumes are."

Like Wisecup, Harrah has noticed a change in her water's smell and taste in recent years.

"It smells like a petroleum product," she said. "We buy bottled water."

3) Vermont -- Elevated radioactivity in water

April, 2003

You’ve heard of radon gas. But uranium and radium are also becoming household words for residents in some Vermont towns, where radioactivity in the water systems has disrupted their lives.

Take the town of Milton. Three years ago, testing on two residential wells there turned up high levels of naturally occurring radioactivity in the water.

State health officials became alarmed at the test results from the wells in Temer Subdivision, on the Colchester town line, and asked for further testing of area wells, said Milton Zoning Administrator David Joachim.

“It was higher than what the state told us was anything we wanted to deal with,” said Joachim, who is also Milton’s assistant health officer.

Geologist Jonathan Kim, of the Vermont Geological Survey, said 28 wells in the two towns eventually were found to have elevated levels of alpha radiation, a type of energy released when radioactive elements decay or break down. Radioactive elements found naturally in the Earth’s crust include uranium and radium minerals and radon gas.

Milton and Colchester, in some instances, had all three.

Residents are now filtering and drinking their well water, Joachim said.

“It’s always been expected there’s good water quality in Vermont,” he said, but the radioactivity problems are widespread.

“This phenomenon occurs all over Vermont,” said Joachim. “It occurs at random. You can have two different wells on two different properties right near each other, and one has it and one doesn’t.

“You don’t know because you don’t know what’s in the underlying bedrock.”

The village of Marshfield found that out last month when officials from the Agency of Natural Resources Water Supply Division wrote to village trustees notifying their residents to stop drinking water from a municipal well.

The well, wrote state officials, is contaminated with uranium levels more than twice the federal limit and three times a state limit of 20 micrograms per liter adopted in January 2002. Marshfield’s well, during tests in December and February, had about 70 micrograms per liter — similar to parts per billion.

“We were shocked for one thing,” said village President Gordon Derkee of trustees’ reaction. “Secondly, we wondered what we’d do in such short notice to protect (residents).”

What Marshfield did was have 2,400 gallons of bottled water hauled in, Derkee said.

Three weeks later, 120 families in the village, along Route 2 in north-central Vermont, are still picking up gallons of bottled water at the local fire station and using it to drink, cook and rinse toothbrushes.

“It’s surprising. It takes almost a gallon to cook spaghetti at night,” said Derkee.

So far, residents have been “very good about it,” Derkee said.

“Everybody is concerned,” he said. “It’s just until we find out a little more about it, and what the options are, there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Other towns affected

According to the state Health Department’s Web site,, uranium increases one’s risk of kidney damage and radium increases the likelihood of bone cancer at elevated levels “over a long period of time.” Radon, released into the air in homes from taking showers, doing laundry and running the dishwasher, can increase a person’s risk of lung cancer.

Marshfield joins a half-dozen other state-regulated public water systems with elevated levels of radiation. The others are two condo complexes in Killington, Telemark Village and Wiffletree Condos; the Murray Hill residential subdivision in Montpelier; Pinecrest Mobile Home Park in Morristown; St. George Villas trailer park in St. George; and Sundown Two Trees condos in Warren, according to Jean Nicolai, operations and compliance chief for the Water Supply Division.

The Warren condominiums’ water supply is improving. The levels of radiation had been high in 2000 but have since dropped, Nicolai said.

And Wiffletree is just reviewing its treatment options now after radium was found last year in its water supply, Nicolai said. The remainder are treating and drinking their water, she said.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency limits alpha radiation to 15 picocuries per liter for public drinking water. Further testing determines the type of radioactive element present, such as uranium or radium. Radium is a daughter product of uranium, said State Geologist Larry Becker.

Some areas more vulnerable

While radioactivity could show up anywhere in Vermont, Becker and the Vermont Geological Survey have mapped where radioactivity might be more likely to occur.

Becker said the map, completed in September 2002, was created after the wells in Milton and Colchester were found to be contaminated and the Health Department asked for a history of the area.

The Vermont Geological Survey gathered information from 1960s and 1970s uranium exploration efforts in Vermont. The hope had been to mine uranium for energy production, but increasing state regulation and the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident in Pennsylvania in 1979 halted explorations before mining could take place, Becker said.

Investigations in Vermont included a 1964 look at some older rock formations in the southern part of the state and a 1976 flyover with a sophisticated Geiger counter of much of Vermont, particularly Chittenden and Franklin counties and the area around a geological formation in the western part of the state.

About 500 million years ago, Vermont was covered by ocean, Becker said. Burlington was a shallow, warm-water sea, and Becker believes radioactive minerals washed in from the Adirondacks. When the continents crashed together and the Green Mountains were thrust up, the dolomite layer of rock in Vermont containing radioactivity from the Adirondacks folded in a vertical layer along the western side of the state.

Other radioactivity is found in molten granite that came from below and crystallized, trapping radioactive material in the erosion-resistant rock, Becker said.

“It’s not a map of elevated radioactivity in the water. It’s not a map of radioactivity in the air. It’s just a map that shows indications of elevated radioactivity because of these (1964 and 1976) surveys,” Becker said.

“It’s an education tool,” he continued. “The only way to know is to test.”

“There’s really no good way to say, ‘I think I’m in a hot area,’” agreed Jay Rutherford, director of the Water Supply Division.

Little warning

Marshfield is an example.

“Based on our map, there wasn’t any previous evidence to indicate Marshfield would have problems,” Becker said. Marshfield’s well is in granite and was drilled in 1995 and put on line for the first time in October 2001.

The new water source was created after old springs were found to be high in bacteria, and a court ordered Marshfield to develop a new water source, Rutherford said.

The new well had initially showed high levels of uranium, said village Trustee Arthur Gilman. But he said, “there was no standard (for uranium) at that time.”

The water also turned up high levels of radon, Rutherford said.

The Water Supply Division required Marshfield to install equipment to treat the radon. Now, 18 months later, Marshfield is without a clean water source once again.

Although residents drank the water with elevated uranium for a year and a half, health officials are saying residents are not likely to be affected.

“The levels found, while exceeding the drinking water standard, are not at the level at which kidney damage would result,” State Toxicologist Bill Bress said in an earlier interview. Bress was not available last week for further comment.

Gilman said Marshfield could treat its water through a device similar to a water softener that concentrates the uranium in a small portion of wastewater. The question is then how the village would dispose of the highly contaminated wastewater, he said.

The village could also develop a new source — an expensive prospect — or redevelop its old source, Gilman said.

If the village were to redevelop its old source, a 7,000-foot water line would be brought from one spring, called Depot Spring, to the well, Rutherford said.

Water from that spring would have to be free from contaminants and sufficient to dilute the well by a three-to-one ratio so that uranium levels dropped below the state limit, Rutherford said.

While public systems are tested by the state, private wells are currently not tested. A bill before the Legislature would mandate testing of drinking water when property is exchanged, Rutherford said.

In the meantime, the Health Department recommends Vermonters test private wells for radioactivity every five years.

A test kit from the Health Department costs $45. If radiation is found, follow-up testing will add to the cost.

Rutherford recommended the test as well. The Water Supply Division head admitted, however, that he hasn’t tested his own well in Waterbury Center.