Water Pollution Prevention News - Water Pollution Special – Global Drinking Water ScandalsLiving in a first-world country with plenty of sensible regulations, rules, laws and guidelines in place plus an enforcement agency to make sure they're met, you'd think our drinking water was perfectly clean and safe. It isn't always so, and in other countries people are getting an even worse deal from their drinking water. Welcome to our drinking water scandals and water pollution prevention special. SUBSCRIBE
Water Pollution Special – Global Drinking Water Scandals
Living in a first-world country with plenty of sensible regulations, rules, laws and guidelines in place plus an enforcement agency to make sure they’re met, you’d think our drinking water was perfectly clean and safe. It isn’t always so, and in other countries people are getting an even worse deal from their drinking water. Welcome to our drinking water scandals and water pollution prevention special.
The USA’s EPA lets water pollution monitoring slide
Over 350 organisations across the USA have stopped monitoring their water pollution during the pandemic thanks to a temporary Environmental Protection Agency ruling that allows it. They include fossil fuel companies, water treatment plants, and even schools. The EPA’s relaxation of the Clean Water Act requirements has seen environmentalists raising the alarm about these organisations, claiming the damage caused by their failure to monitor pollution levels in water will last a lot longer than the expiry date of the temporary policy on 31st August 2020.
Climate change impacts New Zealand’s water supplies
The fast-growing city of Auckland, New Zealand, is struggling to source enough water. The Mayor says residents are going to have to accept that their drinking water has, “been through somebody’s kidneys a dozen times” unless they’re happy to be ‘at the mercy’ of nature and the officials who run the Waikato river.
The city, currently suffering an unprecedented drought, needs new sources of water. Local dams, which are usually 80% full at this time of year, are at just 55% capacity despite a recent week of heavy rain. As a result the city has negotiated a plan to temporarily take water out of the Waikato river. On the downside, the Waikato River Authority said Aucklanders would be charged 10c a litre for the water, 64 times water’s current price for households and adding up to an average water bill of two thousand NZ dollars a month.
In the longer term, better plans are needed, including recycling wastewater. It isn’t uncommon for drinking water to go through someone else’s kidneys several times. In Singapore, tap water has already been drunk by someone else at least 12 times, purified to perfection each time. In the words of those in charge in Auckland, “That is the guaranteed source of water as our city hits two million people – we simply recycle the water. We treat it into total purity.”
At the same time businesses in Christchurch, NZ, which connect to the water system and pose a pollution risk, face a total bill of over $21 million to stop backflow from polluting the city’s drinking water. It looks like more than nine thousand businesses will have to lay out an average of two thousand NZ dollars each to install specialist kit, although the cost could be as high as sixteen thousand. It’s important because around a third of Christchurch’s commercial and industrial water connections currently don’t have adequate backflow prevention.
The UK Environment Agency launches its new 5 year plan
The Environment Agency has just launched their new five year plan for a greener, healthier future. Like a growing number of organisations, they’re saying that simply returning to normal isn’t good enough. We need to do better post-Covid-19. The plan calls for a new approach focusing more on health, equity and environmental enhancement, delivering a golden opportunity to ‘reshape a better future’ and help society understand the threat of climate change better.
The aim? To have, by the year 2025, ‘more climate resilient places and infrastructure’. This involves making sure we’re properly prepared for the inevitable flooding, coastal change and drought we face. There are also plans afoot to focus harder on improving the health of air, land and water for people and nature, as well as encouraging ‘green growth for a sustainable future’.
Atlanta USA votes on a new tax to fund clean water and better sewer systems
People in general don’t like taxes, especially new ones. In Atlanta, USA, it’s different. They’ve just voted for a one percent ‘sales and use’ tax to raise cash for better water supplies and sewer systems. The tax has been applied before, back in 2004, now it’s coming back in an effort to raise $750 million more for the city’s drinking water and wastewater services. The vote was approved by over 70% of residents.
Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management says that last time around the tax helped repair and replace more than 387 miles of sewers, reducing dramatically the number and seriousness of sewer spills. It’s also helping local people by reducing the water rates, which are already high. Atlanta suffers the third highest monthly residential bills for ordinary residential water services.
Water supplies in Ireland’s County Leitrim exceed safe pesticide levels
Far too much of the dangerous pesticide glyphosate has been found in drinking water supplies in four places in County Leitrim, Eire. The herbicide, used to control annual broadleaf weeds and grasses, was discovered in Balinaglera, Dromahair, Ballinamore and Mong.
Irish Water’s Regional Drinking Water Compliance Specialist said while the water pollution from glyphosate isn’t currently a threat to public health, it is ‘undesirable’. They say providing safe, clean drinking water for all is their first priority. It is therefore vital that farmers and others who use the pesticide should use it a lot more carefully from now on.
More news from Ireland. While the EPA says the country’s drinking water is ‘significantly pure’, more than a million Irish people are vulnerable if things go wrong. The EPA discovered 99.9% of samples complied with bacterial limits and 99.6% complied with chemical limits. But during 2019 people were asked to boil their drinking water on 67 different occasions, impacting over 650,000 residents.
In total fifty two treatment plants supplying more than a million people are vulnerable to failure. The fault lies – no surprise – with Irish Water’s planning and delivery failures around critical improvements to treatment plants.
Poor children in the USA at risk from lead poisoning
Apparently ‘poor and black’ children in the USA are at increasing risk of lead poisoning thanks to drinking water from private wells. American children whose homes only have access to private wells for drinking water are 25% more at risk of high levels of lead in their blood than kids who have access to regulated water supplies.
The lead exposure is worse for these children simply because of ‘historic discriminatory public policies’. Lead is a highly toxic suspected carcinogen, already known to cause brain and nervous system damage. It also affects every other organ in the body in one way or another.
The news taps into the infamous Flint water scandal, in Michigan USA, when 2014 saw increasing worries about lead in the city’s regulated water supplies. But issues like this aren’t rare. In fact unregulated private wells provide drinking water to 42.5 million Americans, 13% of the total population.
Scientists analysed water sources along with the medical records of nearly 60,000 children in North Carolina, finding those relying on private wells suffered 20 times higher concentrations of lead in their blood than children who drank from a community water source. Older, lower value homes were also at more risk than average, as were children living in ‘majority-black’ areas.
There’s more to report from the USA, namely a scandal affecting two counties in Pennsylvania. This autumn will see federal health officials recruiting 1000 adults and 300 children in the counties for a national research project looking into the impacts of PFAS chemicals on the thyroid gland, cholesterol, the kidneys and immune system, liver and more, including behavioural problems. The people in the area have already suffered from polluted drinking water contaminated by nearby military bases.
It matters because exposure to PFAS, the man-made chemical compounds used in non-stick cooking pots, fire retardant furniture, and firefighting foam, is known to come with an increased cancer risk, hormone interference, infertility, high cholesterol, and all sorts of problems around human growth, learning, and behaviour.
Will the UK start running out of water within two decades?
There’s a risk some parts of England will run out of water within two decades, according to MPs. The public accounts committee claimed the organisations responsible for water in the country had taken their eye off the ball, with resulting leakage of more than three billion litres a day. Obviously this level of leakage is completely unacceptable, and the report that fell out of the analysis is damning. Water companies have by all accounts made no progress in reducing leaks for the last two decades.
As a result of all this greed, mismanagement, and the need to keep shareholders happy with regular pay-outs, there’s a real risk parts of England will actually run out of water fairly soon. Water companies and their regulators (Ofwat and the Environment Agency) have all been criticised, and numerous scandals revealed – including the fact that the country’s nine privatised water companies managed to spill raw sewage into rivers via storm drains more than 200,000 times in 2019 alone.
Avoid environment fines and penalties by mitigating your risk of causing water pollution
It’s our job to help businesses of every kind avoid environment fines and environment penalties through good practice, following the rules, and anticipating chemical spill and other issues before they happen. If you’d like to talk about keeping your business clean and compliant, get in touch.
If spill containment and CIRIA c736 compliance is currently a consideration for you please do not hesitate to call 0330 223 4372 or email us, we will be very happy to discuss our solutions with you.
David Cole MSEE
David is a pioneer of the spill containment and water pollution prevention industry with 30 years experience. David was instrumental in the development of the CIRIA c736 guidance along with The Environment Agency and is passionate about preventing water pollution.