Sunday, January 2, 2011

Lead in my drinking water?

I just received a letter from the West View Water Authority, which serves the area where I live in the North Hills. The letter states that "The Municipal Authority of West View found elevated levels of lead in drinking water in some homes/buildings. Lead can cause serious health problems". The letter go on to explain the various health problems associated with ingesting lead, including kidney and brain damage.

The letter is very vague about specific levels and the cause, explaining that lead is not present at their water source, but explains that lead can come from very old plumbing or fixtures that contain lead. While they never discuss it, I would be willing to bet that the infrastructure of our water distribution system is a lot older than the plumbing in most of our homes!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Scary stuff in the news!

Following are highlights of an article from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette on December 21, 2010:

Probable carcinogen in water found in cities including Pittsburgh
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
By Lyndsey Layton, The Washington Post

WASHINGTON -- An environmental group that analyzed the drinking water in 35 U.S. cities, including Pittsburgh, found that most contained hexavalent chromium, a probable carcinogen that was made famous by the film "Erin Brockovich."

Last year, California took the first step in limiting the amount of hexavalent chromium in drinking water by proposing a "public health goal" for safe levels of 0.06 parts per billion. If California does set a limit, it would be the first in the nation.

Hexavalent chromium was a commonly used industrial chemical until the early 1990s. It is still used in some industries, such as in chrome plating and the manufacturing of plastics and dyes. The chemical can also leach into groundwater from natural ores.

The new study found hexavalent chromium in the tap water of 31 of the 35 cities sampled. Twenty-five of those, including Pittsburgh, had levels that exceeded the goal proposed in California. The report is available at

Among the 35 cities whose water was tested by the Environmental Working Group, the highest levels of hexavalent chromium were found in these 10 cities: Norman, Okla.; Honolulu; Riverside, Calif.; Madison, Wis.; San Jose, Calif.; Tallahassee, Fla.; Omaha, Neb.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Pittsburgh; and Bend, Ore.

The highest levels were found in Norman, where the water contained 12.90 parts per billion, more than 200 times the California goal. Pittsburgh -- ninth highest of the cities tested -- had levels of 0.88 parts per billion, or more than 14 times the California goal.

"This chemical has been so widely used by so many industries across the U.S. that this doesn't surprise me," said Erin Brockovich, whose fight on behalf of the residents of Hinkley, Calif., against Pacific Gas & Electric became the subject of a 2000 film. In that case, PG&E was accused of leaking hexavalent chromium into the town's groundwater for more than 30 years. The company paid $333 million in damages to more than 600 townspeople and pledged to clean up the contamination.

"Our municipal water supplies are in danger all over the U.S.," Ms. Brockovich said. "This is a chemical that should be regulated."

Max Costa, who chairs the New York University School of Medicine's department of environmental medicine and is an expert in hexavalent chromium, called the new findings "disturbing." In an e-mail, he wrote: "At this point, we should strive to not have any hexavalent chromium in drinking water" or at least limit the amounts to the level proposed by California.

Hexavalent chromium has long been known to cause lung cancer when inhaled, but scientists only recently found evidence that it causes cancer in laboratory animals when ingested. It has been linked in animals to liver and kidney damage as well as leukemia, stomach cancer and other cancers.

"The problem in all of this is that we lose sight of the water drinkers, of the people at the end of the tap," he said. "There is tremendous push-back from polluters and from water utilities. The real focus has to be on public health."

Our Drinking Water

I've never really paid much attention to my drinking water. I grew up around Pittsburgh and always had municipal water from one of the suppliers around the area. Now that I work in the industry, for Culligan (that's right, I'm the Culligan Man!), I've learned quite a bit about the contaminants that we put in our body's through our drinking water.

While my job involves water treatment such as softeners, iron and sediment filters and so on, I started this blog to focus what we drink.