What’s In Your Water?

Groundbreaking Investigation Finds Alarming Levels of Arsenic, Lead and Toxic Chemicals in U.S. Tap Water

A joint investigation by the Guardian and Consumer Reports found drinking water samples from systems servicing more than 19 million people in the U.S. contained unsafe levels of multiple contaminants.

On Tuesday, the Guardian released the results of a nine-month investigation conducted jointly with Consumer Reports (CR) which showed alarming levels of heavy metals like arsenic, lead and chemicals from plastic PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in drinking water samples across the U.S.

According to the Guardian, millions of people face serious water quality problems in the U.S. because of contamination, deteriorating infrastructure and inadequate treatment at water plants.

As part of the study, CR and the Guardian selected 120 volunteers to provide tap water samples which were then tested for heavy metals like lead and arsenic, contaminants and PFAS — a group of compounds found in hundreds of household products that are linked to learning delays in children, cancer and other health problems.

The samples came from water systems that service more than 19 million people.

Here are four key findings from this report:

  • A total of 118 of 120 samples analyzed had concerning levels of PFAS, arsenic or lead exceeding safety thresholds set by CR scientists and other health experts.
  • Almost every sample had measurable levels of PFAS and more than 35% of samples contained the potentially toxic “forever chemicals,” at levels that exceeded CR’s  maximum safety threshold.
  • About 8% of samples contained arsenic at levels above CR’s recommended maximum.
  • One tested water sample in New Britain, Connecticut, had a lead concentration of 31.2 ppb — more than double the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) action level of 15 ppb, and 25 ppb higher than the water quality report sent to people who use the water.

In response to the findings, EPA spokesperson Andrea Drinkard said 93% of the population supplied by community water systems get water that meets “all health-based standards all of the time” and that the agency has set standards for more than 90 contaminants. That includes arsenic and lead but not PFAS.

However, according to an analysis of more than 140,000 public water systems published by the Guardian in February, millions of people in the U.S. are drinking water that fails to meet federal health standards, including limits for dangerous contaminants.

‘Forever chemicals’ (PFAS) in tap water

CR’s results showed PFAS in 117 of 120 samples tested, from locations across the country. Two CR samples had PFAS levels above the federal advisory level of 70 ppt, with the highest amount at 80.2 ppt.

PFAS chemicals have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries in the U.S. since the 1940s, according to the EPA. They can be found in food packaging, commercial household products, stain and water-repellent fabrics, nonstick cookware, polishes, waxes, paints, cleaning products, fire-fighting foams, oil and plastics industries and contaminated drinking water.

PFAS chemicals seep into water from factories, landfills and other sources. They’re often called “forever chemicals” because they can accumulate in the body and don’t easily break down in the environment.

An investigation into the health effects of PFAS involving research of 69,000 people revealed a “probable link” between exposure to a type of PFAS chemical and six health problems: high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, pregnancy-induced hypertension, and testicular and kidney cancers. Research has also linked PFAS to learning delays in children.

As reported by The Defender, science suggests links between PFAS exposure and a range of health consequences, including possible increased risks of cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, liver damage, kidney disease, low birth-weight babies, immune suppression, ulcerative colitis and pregnancy-induced hypertension.

At least 2,337 communities in 49 states have drinking water known to be contaminated with PFAS, according to a January analysis by the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization.

Despite evidence of widespread contamination and health risks, the EPA has not set an enforceable legal limit for PFAS in drinking water. It has established only voluntary limits, which apply to just two forever chemicals — perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) — at 70 parts per trillion combined.

Harvard environmental health professor Philippe Grandjean has suggested that the limit should be just 1 ppt for PFOA and PFOS, citing his 2013 research published in Environmental Health.

Most municipalities don’t test for PFAS, and when they do, it’s only on a small scale.

Toxic arsenic in tap water

Almost every sample CR tested had measurable levels of arsenic, a common groundwater contaminant, including 10 samples with levels between 3 and 10 ppb, according to the Guardian.

CR scientists and environmental advocacy groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) have said the limit should be 3 ppb or lower, but the EPA allows arsenic in drinking water up to 10 ppb to balance the costs for water system operators against reducing health risks.

Research suggests exposure to minimal levels of arsenic can pose long-term health risks. A 2014 study in Environmental Health found that arsenic at 5ppb or greater was associated with reduced IQ in children.

As The Defender reported in March, arsenic was “ranked number one among substances present in the environment that pose the most significant potential threat to human health,” according to a congressional report that resulted from an investigation into heavy metals like lead and arsenic found in baby food.

According to the report: “Exposure to toxic heavy metals causes permanent decreases in IQ, diminished future economic productivity, and increased risk of future criminal and antisocial behavior in children. Toxic heavy metals endanger infant neurological development and long-term brain function.”

Dangerous level of lead in tap water

Concerns of lead in drinking water first made national headlines during the Flint, Michigan water crisis in 2015. Scientists and the EPA have agreed there is no safe exposure level for lead, though the EPA’s action level for lead is set at 15 ppb.

While New Britain’s annual water quality report for customers indicated that its average lead level was 6 ppb, one sample tested by CR showed lead concentrations of 31.2 ppb, more than double the EPA’s action level of 15 ppb.

Lead typically works its way into drinking water through lead pipes leading to peoples’ homes or in the homes’ plumbing. An estimated 3 to 6 million homes and businesses in the U.S. still get water through older lines that contain lead, according to EPA estimates, and an unknown number of homes have plumbing fixtures made of the heavy metal.

It is well established that inorganic arsenic and lead found in tap water are neurotoxic and can result in reduced IQ as well as adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes, such as autism spectrum disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) — two conditions that have been steadily climbing for several decades, reported The Defender.

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, lead can also cause reproductive issues, low bone density, poor kidney function, cognitive decline and negatively impacts every organ system in the body. High levels of exposure can cause encephalopathy or death.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has identified no “threshold or safe level of lead in blood.”

Next steps — solving the problem

Although people can seek cleaner drinking water by using filters and home filtration systems that remove dangerous contaminates, CR says fixing the problem shouldn’t be up to consumers.

The NRDC has called on the Biden administration and Congress to enact legislation requiring the expeditious removal and replacement of lead lines and to take immediate steps to address PFAS contamination in drinking water.

from:    https://childrenshealthdefense.org/defender/arsenic-lead-toxic-chemicals-tap-water/?utm_source=salsa&eType=EmailBlastContent&eId=8a2338f9-c91c-4d41-816c-8533cf90d2d8

San Juan County New Mexico Pollution & Activism

Aztec woman says her ‘Toxic Tour of Hell’ points out San Juan County sites that pollute the air

San Juan County officials say air quality is improving, complaints about pollution are few
by James Fenton The Daily Times


Environmental activist Shirley "Sug" McNall stands in front of an XTO Energy well on March 19 on Martinez Lane in Aztec. McNall added the well,

Environmental activist Shirley “Sug” McNall stands in front of an XTO Energy well on March 19 on Martinez Lane in Aztec. McNall added the well, which is near McCoy Elementary School, to her “Toxic Tour of Hell,” which includes sites in San Juan County she says are polluting the air. A spokeswoman for XTO Energy says a leak did not occur at the well site. (Megan Farmer — The Daily Times)

AZTEC — Shirley “Sug” McNall says the San Juan Basin can be an outdoors paradise for visitors. But for those who live here and breathe the air, she says, it’s just plain hell.

McNall, 69, is a member of an ad hoc environmentalist group — with friends Tweeti Blancett, Jan Rees and Kris Dixon — called the Four Grans.

“Tweeti’s family, like mine, were homesteaders and ranchers, with a long feuding history of dealing with the oil companies,” McNall said. “… Jan is our group’s expert on wildlife and the environment, and Kris is our statistician and organizer.”

The four Aztec grandmothers, who met at a clean-air conference more than a decade ago, work toward improving San Juan County’s air quality.

A well, which is owned by XTO Energy, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, is shown on March 19 on Martinez Lane in Aztec. Shirley "Sug" McNall says the

A well, which is owned by XTO Energy, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, is shown on March 19 on Martinez Lane in Aztec. Shirley “Sug” McNall says the well site was emitting strong gas fumes last month. An XTO Energy spokeswoman says there was no leak at the site. (Megan Farmer — The Daily Times)

For eight years, McNall has taken people on tours of the area in her small, sky-blue pickup truck, its tailgate plastered with progressive bumper stickers that stand out in Republican-dominated San Juan County. Her tour skips popular stops like Aztec Ruins or Quality Waters in favor of gas pads and waste disposal sites she says are guilty of polluting the air with noxious chemicals.

What McNall calls the “Toxic Tour of Hell,” began in 2005 after she attended a summit on oil and gas industry accountability in Farmington. She started with seven sites around the county she says are polluting.

“The summit brought together scientists, tribes, officials, and they wanted to actually see the sites they were hearing about, and I said I’d show them,” she said.

Over the years, McNall said she’s given the tour to a number of people, including film crews from Japan and South Africa and an official from the Natural Resources Defense Council’s office in Washington, D.C. She can also be seen in the 2010 HBO documentary on hydraulic fracturing — or “fracking” — called “Gasland.”

McNall’s family homesteaded more than 700 acres in the Crouch Mesa area and moved to her home off of Navajo Dam Road near Tiger Park in 1976. In the years she has lived there with her husband, Warren, McNall says she has seen wells pop up around her property.

Shirley "Sug" McNall is pictured on March 6. McNall is a member of the Four Grans, an ad hoc environmentalist group of four Aztec grandmothers

Shirley “Sug” McNall is pictured on March 6. McNall is a member of the Four Grans, an ad hoc environmentalist group of four Aztec grandmothers who say oil companies are polluting San Juan County’s air. (Megan Farmer — The Daily Times)

In 2010, McNall and a group of friends formed the San Juan Bucket Brigade, a local program of Global Community Monitor, a nonprofit human rights organization, to take air quality samples at three oil and gas facilities in the county. McNall said all three came back with elevated levels of carcinogens that are above what the Environmental Protection Agency recommends.

“This county has higher than average rates of asthma, especially among children, and elevated rates of cancer, which is alarming,” said McNall, who says the air pollution has caused her and others eye irritation and trouble breathing. “The problem is that a lot of the oil field workers know what’s going on, but they don’t dare say a word. Of course, the workers get protective gear to wear, but what do us residents get?”

San Juan County Operations Officer Mike Stark argues air quality in the area is cleaner than in the past and is showing signs of improving even more with the planned unit reductions at two major power plants, Four Corners Power Plant and San Juan Generating Station, both near Farmington.

“We should actually see some improved air quality in the Four Corners with these environmentally friendly unit reductions,” Stark said. “And oil and gas drilling has been light the last three years. So, once again, less pollution. Things should be getting better.”

McNall said she understands the need for energy. Born and raised in the area, her grandparents, uncles and first husband worked in the oil patch. Despite that, McNall says she is enraged refineries can get away with emitting carcinogens and chemicals that pollute the air and do so in close proximity to neighborhoods.

The latest addition to her tour, stop No. 8, is a well site near McCoy Elementary School’s playground along Martinez Lane.

McNall added the well site, owned by XTO Energy Inc., a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, early last month when her friend, former City Commissioner Jack Scott, drove by the school and smelled gas fumes.

“Warren and I got a call from Jack telling us that the gas pad was stinkin’ something fierce, despite their car’s windows rolled up when they drove by,” McNall said.

She said she quickly wrote to Aztec Municipal School District Superintendent Kirk Carpenter, Aztec City Manager Josh Ray and Brandon Powell, a field inspector with the Aztec division office of the Environment Department’s Oil Conservation Division.

Emily Snooks, a spokeswoman for XTO Energy, said no leak occurred at the well site.

Inspections of the company’s well sites by an XTO Energy Lease Operator are conducted approximately every other day, Snooks wrote in an email.

“In February, XTO Energy staff responded to a complaint of an odor,” Snooks wrote in an email. “An XTO employee met an inspector from the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division at the well site. No leak was detected and XTO Energy was not fined or sited by the NMOCD.”

Snooks said XTO staff reviewed several days of automated reports at the well and did not find a loss of gas volume or pressure, which would have indicated a leak.

“The XTO employee noticed a manual water dump valve on the separator was not as pliable as a new valve would be so just as a precaution, it was replaced,” Snooks wrote.

San Juan County Commissioner Scott Eckstein, whose district includes Aztec and Bloomfield, said that in his eight years of service he has only received about four or five complaints over air pollution.

“I refer people who have complained to the state’s Air Quality Bureau. They deal with refineries as far as emissions and regulations go,” Eckstein said. “The handful of complaints over the years (have been) over a strong chemical smell from a refinery, for instance, but the state is in charge of that.”

An air quality index report for San Juan County on the Environmental Protection Agency’s website gives the county a “good” rating, with pollution in the air posing no threat to human health.

Despite that, McNall is adamant more should be done to regulate the county’s oil and gas industry to ensure a clean and safe county for its residents, present and future.

“It’s my purpose on the tour to show how people have to live among the wells and refineries and what that means to their pursuit of happiness and well-being,” she said. “In this county, big oil always reins supreme.”

from:    http://www.daily-times.com/farmington-news/ci_25454587/aztec-woman-says-her-toxic-tour-hell-points


Untested Food Additives

SFDA Allows Chemicals in Food Despite Lack of Toxicity Testing

Jennifer Sass

Posted August 14, 2013 in Health and the Environment, U.S. Law and Policy

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Chemicals are added to food to preserve, flavor, thicken, or otherwise alter it in some desirable way. Used this way, the chemicals are called ‘food additives’. In other contexts the same chemicals may be considered industrial chemicals or pesticides.

For example, sulfites were banned by FDA in 1986 for use on fruits and vegetables that are eaten raw, but are still allowed as a preservative in cooked and processed foods, and they occur naturally in wines and beers. They are also approved by EPA as pesticides, to prevent fungus and preserve grape crops. When eaten in foods, they induce allergy-like reactions in many people (FDA estimates that 1 in 100 people are sensitive to sulfites in food). When FDA approved their use as a food additive in the 1970s, sulfites were deemed to be Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) and exempted from FDA premarket approval requirements.

In 1974, the FDA allowed asbestos-contaminated salt produced by one company, United Salt in Houston, to be sold as table salt, as GRAS. FDA had even received comments from the trade group Salt Institute that it had looked at this type of salt – called diaphragm salt – and seen asbestos fibers by optical microscopy. Only in response to public outrage did FDA do a proper analysis of the salt at outside labs, using the more powerful electron microscopy, whereupon tens of millions of asbestos fibers per gram was found and FDA revoked its approval.


The black box of FDA food regulations came under the spot light when technical experts at The Pew Charitable Trusts started working to answer these questions and others about how chemicals in our food are regulated.

Today, Pew released a report in the scientific journal Reproductive Toxicology reporting that less than 38% of over 8,000 FDA-regulated additives (including those added directly to food intentionally, and food contact materials that may contaminate foods) have a published feeding study. (Feeding studies comprise the basic toxicology test – the first test a scientist would do to evaluate the safety of a chemical additive.) For the direct additives (added intentionally to the food) only 21.6% (out of almost 4,000) have the feeding studies necessary to estimate a safe level of exposure, and only 6.7% have reproductive or developmental toxicity data in FDA’s database.

It appears FDA and companies were often making safety decisions by comparing one chemical to another rather than doing an actual toxicology study.  They were building a house of cards based on assumptions and unsupported extrapolations instead of direct scientific evidence.

How did our food regulations go so terribly wrong? The Pew team has a few insights:

Once a chemical use is cleared to be added to the food supply, it is seldom re-assessed for ongoing safety. So, the manufacturer has no incentive to support additional toxicity testing. And the FDA doesn’t have the authority to require testing if it has questions about a chemical.

GRAS determinations are permitted to be made by the chemical manufacturer, not FDA (unless the additive affects food color). If the additive is self-determined to be GRAS by the company, then it can choose whether or not to alert the FDA about the new food additive. In other words, even reporting GRAS additives to FDA is voluntary. Had the company selling the asbestos-contaminated table salt opted not to notify FDA, it may have stayed on the market.

In fact, the Pew team believes that about one thousand food additives are in the food supply without FDA’s knowledge. An example is the 2010 debacle with caffeine-alcohol drinks marketed for young people without informing the FDA. The manufacturer had considered the additives to be GRAS, until alcoholic poisonings and blackouts resulted in public outrage and Congressional scrutiny.

A 2010 report by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), providing Congressional oversight, called the whole messed-up GRAS process into question when it learned that engineered nanomaterials were being deemed GRAS food additives. GAO concluded that, “FDA does not know to what extent, or even whether, companies track evolving scientific information about their GRAS substances. FDA’s approach to regulating nanotechnology allows engineered nanomaterials to enter the food supply as GRAS substances without FDA’s knowledge.” It is disturbing that nanomaterials are deemed to be GRAS food additives, when the legal definition of GRAS is that there is, “a reasonably certainty in the minds of competent scientists that the substance is not harmful under the intended conditions of use”, and there is no scientific consensus on how to even test the toxicity or safety of nanomaterials.

Last week, the Pew team published a report in The Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine showing that “financial conflicts of interest are ubiquitous” in the process leading to determining that a chemical is GRAS. Considering the lack of toxicity data for thousands of chemicals (many of which are designated as GRAS) allowed in food, one wonders 1) who made the decision that they were safe and 2) whether their judgment was influenced by the manufacturer.

A commentary by Dr. Marion Nestle highlights the obvious conflicts of interest as one of the biggest problems with chemical food additive regulations (or lack thereof). She emphasizes the fact that Pew reported that all – that’s 100% – of the members of the expert panels that review food additives to make GRAS determinations have financial relationships with companies that manufacture the food additives being reviewed. Follow the money! (An editorial today in the prestigious journal Nature discusses the Pew study and highlights the problems of financial conflicts)

I’ve extensively documented the problem of chemical manufacturers testing the safety of their own products. It isn’t rocket science to think that a bias and a financial conflict may lead to a misrepresentation of the potential toxicity of a chemical. But, when those chemicals are intentionally added to the food supply, well, things just got a lot more serious!

This past spring, NRDC officially requested a copy of the FDA database of food additives that includes both the names of the chemicals and the basis for the FDA’s approving them for use in food. FDA failed to respond, so we had to file a lawsuit against FDA for this public information. What is FDA hiding from the public? Thanks to the Pew team, the public is starting to learn about failures in the food additives regulatory process.