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WaterOperator.org Blog

Articles in support of small community water and wastewater operators.

The Problem With PFCs

The Problem With PFCs
There certainly has been lots of buzz over the scope and extent of perfluorinated chemical (PFCs) contamination of drinking water lately. A Bloomberg Environment analysis of EPA water contaminant data found 65 water utilities in 24 states and territories had at least one sample that came back above the threshold for these chemicals. Altogether, these utilities serve more than six million people. According to one Center for Disease Control official, the presence and concentrations of these chemicals is "one of the most seminal public health challenges for the next decades."

So what do we know about PFCs, then? PFCs are a family of synthetic chemicals used in a wide variety of products such as textiles, packaging, and cleaning products and are also additives in coating/plating processes. One of their most significant uses has been as a compound in firefighting foams used to put out jet fuel fires. In fact, most of the communities dealing with this contamination are ones that rely on groundwater and are located near military installations or airports.

Although scientists are still studying the link between PFCs and certain health issues, some research suggests that exposure to these chemical compounds can cause cancer, and/or liver, thyroid, pancreatic, kidney and fertility problems, among other things. Moreover, PFCs are stable in the environment and resist degradation, allowing them to seep out of underground storage tanks and build up in the bodies of animals and humans. 

While the U.S. EPA has issued health advisories of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFCs in drinking water, it is still evaluating health effects before taking any further action. These advisories are designed to provide drinking water system operators, and state, tribal and local officials who have the primary responsibility for overseeing water systems, with information on the health risks of these chemicals, so they can take the appropriate actions to protect people. But just exactly who will pay for these actions, or how the money will be located in the first place, is undetermined. The Seattle suburb of Issaquah, WA, for example, has already paid $1 million to install filters on its wells, and unless income can be generated from legal claims, this will certainly affect their customers' water bills. 

Earlier this year, U.S. Senator Shaheen (D-NH) introduced the Safe Drinking Water Assistance Act, bipartisan legislation that will help expedite the analysis of PFCs, and provide resources to states dealing with the health challenges posed by these potentially harmful substances. And last week, the President signed H.R. 2810 which includes an amendment for a nationwide health study to be conducted by the CDC on the implications for PFCs in drinking water. In addition, some states, such as Michigan, are creating multi-agency response efforts to address this rapidly evolving public health issue. 

If you need more information about PFCs, a good place to start is this EPA website or video. In addition, EPA has published a new fact sheet entitled “Protecting Public Health & Addressing PFAS Chemicals,” to provide basic information to the general public. And the AWWA has its own fact sheet on the prevalence and assessment of perfluorinated compounds in drinking water, as well as this listing of resources for identifying and managing PFCs.  

Featured Video: Water Exam Success

Featured Video: Water Exam Success
As the new year gets underway, many operators will have certification exams on their mind! Whether you're re-certifying or looking to level up, a little preparation can go a long way. Even if you're great at your job, tests are a different way of processing information, and it doesn't hurt to spend some time reviewing what you know. Some of you may already have surefire strategies for exam review, but even the best students can often pick up useful tips from each other. If you've ever wanted an experienced fellow operator to offer you exam prep advice, this week's featured video is for you.

In this 15-minute video, certified operator Ty Whitman (also known as the Water Sifu) offers tips on scheduling, choosing topics to review, study materials, and strategies for test day.



For more certification prep resources, visit our document database and search by the category Certification/Exam Prep. Try narrowing it by your state, or search by "distribution", "drinking water treatment", "wastewater", or "collection system" depending on the kind of exam you're preparing for. (Search without the quote marks though, because they confuse our database!)

EPA’s Arsenic Rule Results in Fewer Incidents of Cancer

EPA’s Arsenic Rule Results in Fewer Incidents of Cancer
A recent New York Times article reports that the EPA’s revised rule on arsenic contamination in public drinking water systems has resulted in fewer lung, bladder and skin cancers. This finding, published last month in Lancet Public Health journal, is the result of a study that compared the urinary arsenic levels of over 14,000 people in 2003, before the new rule went into effect, to those in 2014, well after the rule had been fully implemented. The researchers found a 17 percent reduction in arsenic levels in this time period and they estimate that this reduction has resulted in 200-900 fewer lung and bladder cancers and 50 few skin cancers annually.

This finding is reassuring to water systems that have spent time, money and effort on arsenic rule compliance – it is always good to know that regulations are truly making a difference in the lives of community members.

It also highlights the importance of water systems, and especially those with groundwater sources, working with their local and state officials to determine the best way to test for arsenic and, if necessary, treat their water supply.  And because two water systems with similar levels of arsenic in their source water often need two entirely different types of treatment technology, and because these technologies can be expensive, knowledge about arsenic compliance, treatment and funding sources is essential.

Luckily, WaterOperator.org can help point you in the right direction when you choose "arsenic" as the category in our document database. A good first stop is also this EPA webpage which offers lots of resources and tools to operators, such as a rule summary and steps to take towards compliance.

Top 2017 Resources from WaterOperator.org's Bi-Weekly Newsletter

Top 2017 Resources from WaterOperator.org's Bi-Weekly Newsletter

2017 was a great year for the WaterOperator.org newsletter team. We not only reached our 200th edition milestone this past fall, but we also were successful in connecting a significant number of water professionals with useful and relevant resources, resources that could be used on-the-spot to solve pressing issues, or help guide utility best practices, or help water decision-makers plan ahead for their communities. 

While many of the events, articles and resources featured in our newsletters garnered interest, here is a list of our most clicked-on resources of 2017.

Did you use one these resources at your utility this year? If so, we'd love to hear from you! Do you have a favorite "go-to" resource to share? Again, we'd love to know! Our email is info@wateropertor.org , or connect with us on Facebook or Twitter

Featured Video: Radionuclide Removal

Featured Video: Radionuclide Removal
Radionuclides are radioactive particles. They can be manmade or natural, existing in water, earth, and even living creatures. When they're consumed in drinking water, they can cause cancer or kidney problems. The USEPA has established drinking water standards to make sure radionuclides stay below dangerous levels in drinking water. If you're in an area with high levels of naturally occurring radionuclides, you are probably already aware of the issue and working to address it. But seeing how other small utilities are dealing with the same issue can still be useful.

In this week's video, the chief operator of the drinking water plant for Medicine Bow, Wyoming discusses the radionuclide treatment for his community, using a combination of ion exchange and blending. You might need to crank up the sound to catch everything, but it's still a great look at one small community's approach to this drinking water standard.



For more on the Radionuclides Rule, see the USEPA's Rule and Compliance pages, and this small system compliance guide in particular. You'll also find materials in our document database under the category Radionuclides.

Featured Video: Arsenic Treatment in a Rural Town

Over time, low levels of exposure to arsenic can result in cancer. This is a sobering fact for anyone, but it's particularly challenging for small rural towns with arsenic in their drinking water. When neither the utility nor the residents have access to other water options, treatment is of the utmost importance. But because arsenic doesn't cause taste or odor issues, or produce immediate health effects, getting that treatment in place can sometimes be difficult. Learning how other small utilities did it can help. In this week's video, the manager of a small rural utility in Montana introduces his utility and describes how they chose to put arsenic treatment in place for their system.

For more on arsenic in drinking water topics, see this USEPA factsheet (PDF), or search our document database using the category Arsenic.

Featured Video: Lime Softening Techniques for Water Operators

Hello, and Happy Friday! After the longer water treatment video last week, here is a little water treatment bite. In this 2-minute AWWA video, Fred Bloetscher briefly describes the process for adding lime to the reactor at a large drinking water treatment plant. He also demonstrates how quickly the lime reaction works to clarify the water.

For more on lime softening topics, visit our document database and type "lime softening" (without the quote marks) into the keyword filter, then click Retrieve Documents.

Featured Video: Direct and Conventional Filtration

A new year is often a time of reflection, re-focusing, and a return to the basics. Even if you're not someone who believes in New Years' resolutions, the turn of the calendar year can still be a great time to consider the big picture and the details in it that are important to you. If you have a little time now that the holidays are over, this can also be a great time to brush up on your drinking water treatment knowledge. This 23-minute video is a walkthrough of a direct filtration plant, but it's a lot more than that. Ty Whitman of The Water Sifu explains each treatment step in detail while providing video of the flash mix process, flocculation basins, gravity filters, backwashing, and the spent washwater reclamation process. He also discusses the differences between the direct filtration processes he's demonstrating and conventional filtration.

For more in-depth instruction on drinking water topics, visit our training event calendar and search by your state to see training offered near you.

Featured Video: Use of Davidson Pie

What's a holiday season without a little pie? The Davidson Pie might not be very tasty, but it can help you work math problems assisting with chemical addition and process control at both water and wastewater utilities. This 3-minute video explains the construction of the pie and works an example problem using it.

For more water and wastewater math help, search our document database using the "Certification/Exam Prep" category filter and the word "math" (without the quote marks) in the keyword filter.

Common Treatment Deficiencies

This article was first published in the Summer 2012 issue of Spigot News, the Ohio EPA's drinking water program newsletter. Many thanks for allowing us to republish it! You may also be interested in the article Common Source Water Deficiencies.

Ohio EPA conducts sanitary surveys at least once every three years at community public water systems (PWS) and once every five years at non-community PWSs. The purpose of a sanitary survey is to evaluate and document the capability of a water system’s source, treatment, storage, distribution, operation and maintenance, and management. Each of these may favorably or adversely impact the ability of the system to reliably produce and distribute water that meets drinking water standards. 

This article is the second installment in a series of articles to help small water systems identify the most common problems found during a sanitary survey or other investigatory site visit conducted by Ohio EPA staff. The first article focused on source water (well) deficiencies. This article will focus on some of the more common treatment equipment deficiencies which are found during inspections of small water systems.  Future articles in this series will cover distribution deficiencies and other topics. 

Backwash discharge lines: If you have a softener or a pressure filter, you backwash your equipment to clean and replenish the media. The waste that is produced when you backwash discharges into a floor drain or another pipe, which carries the waste to where it will be treated.  If the pipe carrying the backwash wastewater from your treatment equipment is too close to, or even inserted into, the drain or pipe that carries the waste to treatment (see Figure 1), you could end up with back-siphonage.

This could occur if the pipe carrying the waste to treatment backs up and the wastewater is siphoned back into your drinking water treatment equipment, contaminating your treatment equipment with whatever waste the pipe is carrying. Solution: Ensure there is a sufficient air gap between the backwash waste pipe and the floor drain or the pipe conveying the waste to treatment to prevent backsiphonage (see Figure 2). 

Softener tanks, cover, and salt: Softener brine tanks should be kept in sanitary condition. The brine solution should be kept free of dirt and insects. Solution: The best way to accomplish this is to completely cover the brine tanks with an appropriately fitting lid. The lid should not be over- or under-sized and should be kept in place on top of the tank. Also, the brine tank should not be overfilled such that the lid does not fit snug on the tank (see Figure 3).

All substances, including salt, added to the drinking water in a public water system must conform to standards of the “American National Standards Institute/National Sanitation Foundation” (ANSI/NSF).  This is to ensure it is a quality product that will not introduce contaminants into the drinking water. Solution: Ensure the ANSI or NSF symbol can be located on the bags of salt you use or ensure your salt supplier can provide you with documentation from the salt manufacturer that it is ANSI or NSF certified. 

Cartridge filters: Over time, cartridge filters will become clogged with iron or other minerals from your source water. When clogged, the filters become a breeding ground for bacteria. Solution: Ensure filters are replaced in accordance with the manufacturers’ specifications or even more often, depending on the quality of your source water.


General maintenance:
 Water treatment equipment should be accessible and cleaning solutions and other non-drinking water chemicals and materials should be kept away from the equipment. If treatment equipment is not accessible for Ohio EPA staff to inspect during a sanitary survey, it will not be accessible to the water treatment operator for routine maintenance or during an emergency. Likewise, non-drinking water chemicals stored in close proximity to treatment equipment can be an invitation for a mix-up or, even worse, intentional vandalism (see Figure 4). Solution: Keep clutter and non-drinking water chemicals and equipment away from drinking water treatment equipment. Preferably, these items should be stored in a different room.


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