Watered Down Justice

While the Safe Drinking Water Act guarantees all Americans access to clean, drinkable water, it hasn’t worked out that way in practice. NRDC partnered with the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform (EJHA) and Coming Clean to analyze nationwide violations of the law from 2016 to 2019. Researchers have found a disturbing relationship between sociodemographic characteristics—especially race—and drinking water violations. They found that the rate of drinking water violations increased in:

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income communities
  • Areas with more non-native English speakers
  • Areas with more people living under crowded housing conditions
  • Areas with more people with sparse access to transportation

The analysis revealed that race, ethnicity, and language had the strongest relationship to slow and inadequate enforcement of the Safe Drinking Water Act. That means that water systems that serve the communities that are the most marginalized are more likely to be in violation of the law—and to stay in violation for longer periods of time.

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Researchers assess various filters in their efficacy of removing microplastics from drinking water. Point-of-use water filters were found to be most effective at removing microplastics when they were made with a physical filter membrane compared to activated carbon and ion exchange.

Abstract: The occurrence of microplastics in drinking water has drawn increasing attention due to their ubiquity and unresolved implications regarding human health. Despite achieving high reduction efficiencies (70 to >90%) at conventional drinking water treatment plants (DWTPs), microplastics remain. Since human consumption represents a small portion of typical household water use, point-of-use (POU) water treatment devices may provide the additional removal of microplastics (MPs) prior to consumption. The primary objective of this study was to evaluate the performance of commonly used pour-through POU devices, including those that utilize combinations of granular activated carbon (GAC), ion exchange (IX), and microfiltration (MF), with respect to MP removal. Treated drinking water was spiked with polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) fragments, along with nylon fibers representing a range of particle sizes (30–1000 µm) at concentrations of 36–64 particles/L. Samples were collected from each POU device following 25, 50, 75, 100 and 125% increases in the manufacturer’s rated treatment capacity, and subsequently analyzed via microscopy to determine their removal efficiency. Two POU devices that incorporate MF technologies exhibited 78–86% and 94–100% removal values for PVC and PET fragments, respectively, whereas one device that only incorporates GAC and IX resulted in a greater number of particles in its effluent when compared to the influent. When comparing the two devices that incorporate membranes, the device with the smaller nominal pore size (0.2 µm vs. ≥1 µm) exhibited the best performance. These findings suggest that POU devices that incorporate physical treatment barriers, including membrane filtration, may be optimal for MP removal (if desired) from drinking water.

Scientists find nearly a quarter million tiny nanoplastic particles are shed from liter-sized water bottles into water, which people consume. This measurement of plastic particles is larger and more precise than other studies on bottled water, which have disproportionately studied larger microplastics, which are easier to detect.

Abstract: Micro-nano plastics originating from the prevalent usage of plastics have raised increasingly alarming concerns worldwide. However, there remains a fundamental knowledge gap in nanoplastics because of the lack of effective analytical techniques. This study developed a powerful optical imaging technique for rapid analysis of nanoplastics with unprecedented sensitivity and specificity. As a demonstration, micro-nano plastics in bottled water are analyzed with multidimensional profiling of individual plastic particles. Quantification suggests more than 105 particles in each liter of bottled water, the majority of which are nanoplastics. This study holds the promise to bridge the knowledge gap on plastic pollution at the nano level.

Experts find there is a significant lack of understanding in recycling facilities’ pollution potential. Plastic recycling facilities are a source of microplastic pollution. This pollution is most concentrated in recycling wash water.

Abstract: With current plastic production and the growing problem of global plastic pollution, an increase and improvement in plastic recycling is needed. There is limited knowledge or assessment of microplastic pollution from point sources such as plastic recycling facilities globally. This pilot study investigates microplastic pollution from a mixed plastics recycling facility in the UK to advance current quantitative understanding of microplastic (MP) pollution release from a plastic recycling facility to receiving waters. Raw recycling wash water were estimate to contain microplastic counts between 5.97 106 – 1.12 × 108 MP m−3 (following fluorescence microscopy analysis). The microplastic pollution mitigation (filtration installed) was found to remove the majority of microplastics >5µm, with high removal efficiencies for microplastics >40µm. Microplastics <5µm were generally not removed by the filtration and subsequently discharged, with 59-1184 tonnes potentially discharged annually. It is recommended that additional filtration to remove the smaller microplastics prior to wash discharge is incorporated in the wash water management. Evidence of microplastic wash water pollution suggest it may be important to integrate microplastics into water quality regulations. Further studies should be conducted to increase knowledge of microplastic pollution from plastic recycling processes.

The toxic chemicals 6PPD and 6PPD-quinone have been detected in the urine of adults, children, and pregnant women in three regions of South China. 6PPD and 6PPD-quinone are commonly used additives in synthetic rubber vehicle tires, and have been found to harm aquatic life. The researchers conclude more research must be done to understand the human health risks of exposure to this chemical.

Abstract: N-(1,3-Dimethylbutyl)-N′-phenyl-p-phenylenediamine (6PPD) and its quinone derivative, 6PPD-quinone (6PPD-Q), have been found to be prevalent in the environment, but there are currently no data on their presence in humans. Herein, we conducted the first human biomonitoring study of 6PPD and 6PPD-Q by measuring 150 urine samples collected from three different populations (general adults, children, and pregnant women) in South China. Both 6PPD and 6PPD-Q were detected in the urine samples, with detection frequencies between 60% and 100%. Urinary 6PPD-Q concentrations were significantly higher than those of 6PPD and correlated well with those of 6PPD (p < 0.01), indicating coexposure to 6PPD and 6PPD-Q in humans. In vitro metabolic experiments demonstrated rapid depletion of 6PPD by human liver microsomes, which should be responsible for the lower concentrations of 6PPD in human urine. Additionally, pregnant women exhibited apparently higher concentrations of 6PPD and 6PPD-Q (median 0.068 and 2.91 ng/mL, respectively) than did adults (0.018 and 0.40 ng/mL) and children (0.015 and 0.076 ng/mL). The high daily urinary excretion of 6PPD-Q in pregnant women was estimated to be 273 (ng/kg bw)/day. Considering that 6PPD-Q was a lethal toxicant to multiple aquatic species, the potential human health risks posed by its long-term exposure require urgent attention.