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More than 100,000 People Can’t Drink the Contaminated Tap Water in Alabama…Until September!

It really seems as though issues with municipal water supplies are occurring more frequently. More than 100,000 residents have been told that they can’t drink or cook with the contaminated tap water in Alabama by the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority…but this isn’t just a week-long clean-up.  The restriction is expected to last until September.

The issue is synthetic chemicals that have the potential to cause cancer, birth defects, and developmental delays in children.  Traces of PFOS (Perfluorooctane sulfonate) and PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) were found in the blood of nearly every single person tested, according to the EPA.

This is a contaminant I covered in my book, The Prepper’s Water Survival Guide when I wrote about the fact that some suspected toxins in municipal water supplies are not actually regulated.

The EPA has drinking water regulations for more than 90 contaminants. Currently, the agency is monitoring 30 contaminants that presently are not regulated, 28 of which are chemicals and two of which are viruses.

In late 2013, researchers from the US Geological Survey and the Environmental Protection Agency analyzed single samples of untreated and treated water from 25 US utilities that voluntarily participated in the project. They found traces of 18 unregulated chemicals, including 11 perfluorinated compounds, an herbicide, two solvents, caffeine, an antibacterial compound, a metal, and an antidepressant. The researchers said the concentrations were generally low, but for many of the contaminants, little is known about potential health risks. But one of the perfluorinated compounds, known as PFOA, has been linked to a variety of health problems, including cancer among people in communities where water is contaminated by a chemical plant in West Virginia.

PFOA has been detected in the blood of nearly all people in the US. Even more disturbing? A panel of scientists has concluded that there is a “probable link” between PFOA in drinking water and high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, and pregnancy-induced hypertension. The findings were based on people in Mid-Ohio Valley communities whose water was polluted with PFOA from a DuPont plant.[1]

[1] http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/unregulated-chemicals-foundin-drinking-water

The water authority blames 3M for the contaminated tap water in Alabama.

Let the finger-pointing and buck-passing begin. Last year, the water authority filed a suit against “3M and other companies” over the contamination in the river. If I’m understanding that correctly (and I’m pretty sure I am) that means they were aware of this issue long before the advisory was issued on May 19. So, much like the Flint scandal, those in the know were aware that customers (who pay for water) were drinking cancer-water.

3M, however, says not to worry. You’ll be fine.

“Attorney William Brewer, who represents 3M in the matter, said via email that the company has followed the law and disputed the claims that the substances are harmful.

“3M’s activities in connection with these materials were not only fully permitted but entirely appropriate,” Brewer said. “In any event, we believe the claims against 3M – and recent actions taken by the water authority – are based upon the mistaken belief that the mere presence of these chemicals equals harm.”

3M stopped manufacturing both chemicals more than a decade ago, yet the substances remain in the water at elevated levels. Environmental group Tennessee Riverkeeper filed a notice of intent to sue 3M last year over contamination of the river.

Dr. Carol Ley, 3M vice president and corporate medical director, said the company has not found evidence of negative health impacts among its own workers, who were exposed to the chemicals for long periods of time.

“Although we support the work of the EPA and other regulators, we believe these advisory levels are overly conservative,” Ley said in a news release. “We believe that PFOS and PFOA do not present health risks at levels they are typically found in the environment or in human blood.””

Oh. Well, gee. In that case, folks can just guzzle away. I’m sure 3M will take responsibility if they get cancer from excess levels of PFOS and PFOA, right?

You can’t boil away or filter away this type of contamination.

The thing with chemical contamination is that the water simply can’t be purified.  Boiling it, in many cases, simply intensifies the strength of the toxins.  Filtering it does nothing to remove the chemicals. (Although I have high hopes for this water filter that was the only one I’m aware of that made the water in West Virgina and Toledo safe to drink. They’re currently running tests with these particular chemicals and I’ll let you know the resulst as soon as I know.) That’s the case in this northern Alabama community. According to an RT report, WMEL general manager Don Sims gave a press conference.

“I recommend that all our customers do not drink our water, until we are able to bring the temporary system our engineer is designing online,” Sims said at a news conference.

The warning covers not only fresh water, but even water boiled and filtered at home, since neither method can remove the chemical contaminants.

After building up in people and animals over time, PFOS and PFOA can also cause liver and thyroid damage, as well as immune system problems, with small children and expectant women the two categories most at risk.

The company is hard at work, engineering a temporary system to the tune of $4 million. The system is “a granular activated carbon system that forces water through six box-car sized filters before sending it on to customers.”  The permanent system won’t be ready until 2019 and will cost somewhere between $30 million and $50 million.

Meanwhile, as every prepper knows often happens in a disaster, residents are completely on their own in this far-from-wealthy area. (Hmm….do you think their bills will be adjusted to reflect this?)

The last census pinpointed the per capita income for the city at only $23,615, with 17.5% of the population living below the poverty line. But, while the company is spending millions on expensive filtration systems, those who were unprepared for this type of disaster with stored water will be using bottled. And they’ll be doing so alone, because, according to the website AL.com, “The authority said it does not have the means to provide bottled water for its customers in the interim.”

So not only will people be scrambling to afford to buy bottled water, with this much need for it, they’ll probably have to drive elsewhere to acquire it.  If you’ve ever been on a really tight budget, you know that an unexpected expense like that can be crippling.

Are you testing your own tap water?

It used to be that you only had to worry about drinking the tap water when you visited third world countries and places without public water purification. But more and more, it seems that advisories will be issued to travelers:  “Don’t drink the water in America.”

The thing about this that should send shudders down the spines of everyone who, you know, drinks or cooks with water, is the fact that we have no idea how long the water was contaminated with cancer-causing agents before it was discovered and the warning issued. But there are many contaminants that could be in your water, and if we’ve learned anything from the scandal in Flint, Michigan, it should be this:

YOU WILL BE THE LAST TO KNOW.

Here’s another quick excerpt from The Prepper’s Water Survival Guide about water testing.

Even if you are getting presumably safe “city water” from a municipal supply, you should be provided with an annual report that explains what kind of testing was done on your water and what was found, if anything. Of course, if you aren’t the trusting type, you can still test that water yourself as an added precaution.

If you have a well or are collecting water from a source that is not monitored and regulated, you will need to take responsibility for testing and purifying your water yourself.

Studies have shown that around 50 percent of private water systems fail at least one drinking water standard.

Many common pollutants do not cause water to smell, taste, or look funny, so you can’t rely on your senses to determine safety.

Water is a “universal solvent,” meaning that it has the ability to dissolve almost anything it comes into contact with. This characteristic means that it is very easily contaminated.

Most testing isn’t expensive, and the time and financial investment will provide you with priceless peace of mind. Not only is your family’s health at stake, there are possible legal consequences involved. Think about how litigious our society is: If someone consumes your water and becomes ill, you’ll want to be able to prove that you conducted the proper testing on a regular basis. And, should you suspect your water supply has become contaminated by an outside source, you’ll want to have documentation to support your case.

 Testing Kits

You can test your water yourself or have a professional lab or service do it for you. Drinking water quality test kits are available for purchase online and at most superstores and home improvement stores. Basic kits usually test for bacteria, lead, nitrates/nitrites, pesticides, chlorine, hardness, and pH. They are fast, simple to use, and inexpensive. Your test kit will have instructions specific to that kit. Kits that test for less-common contaminants are also available. Some test for 15 or more contaminants, including the ones in the basic testing kits, plus iron, sulfate, copper, and sulfide.

Even more in-depth testing kits are available, but most of them require you to send your samples to a professional lab. Most of them check your water for around 100 different contaminants, including volatile organic compounds, toxic metals, heavy metals, and bacteria. The pricing for these comprehensive kits is typically in the $100 range, and results can take about a week to receive.

  • The Watersafe Well Water Test Kit was specifically designed to help you test quickly and easily for the 10 most common contaminants found in private wellwater, including: iron, copper, lead, bacteria, pesticides, nitrates, nitrites, chlorine,pH and hardness.
  • The PurTest Home Water Analysis kit is a comprehensive EPA-based test kit that allows you to quickly and easily test your drinking water  for various contaminants and conditions. Tests included: 1 test each for bacteria, lead, & pesticide. Two (2) tests each for iron, alkalinity, pH, hardness, chlorine, copper, nitrate & nitrite.
  • The Essential Indicators test is the most thorough, but you have to send the water to their lab to get the results. The test checks for 170 health-related contaminants including Volatile Organic Compounds, Essential Elements, Heavy Metals and Inorganic Chemicals. You simply fill the bottles with your tap water and return them to our lab using the same box you received with the test kit. Within about 6 business days you will receive an email containing the results of your water test along with recommended treatment suggestions if a problem was found. The one family of contaminants that you will test for yourself are pathogenic bacteria, which, if present, can cause infectious diseases.

From a preparedness perspective, it makes sense to keep a few of these DIY kits on hand in the event you need to test water during a disaster situation. (Obviously, not the one you have to send off to a lab.)

You are ultimately responsible for the health and safety of your family.

Let me repeat: You’re going to be the last one to know. In the current case of contaminated tap water in Alabama, it’s obvious by the legal action taken by the water authority against 3M that they’ve known this was an issue since last year. And yet, somehow, the advisory has long just been issued, halfway through 2016.

In the current case of contaminated tap water in Alabama, it’s obvious by the legal action taken by the water authority against 3M that they’ve known this was an issue since last year. And yet, somehow, the advisory has long just been issued, halfway through 2016. We saw the same thing happen in the Flint, Michigan crisis, where it’s suspected that the EPA, the governor of the state, and assorted other “officials” were aware of the high levels of lead in the municipal water supply.

And you’re also responsible for having the means to keep your family healthy. That means, you absolutely must store water. You must have a way to purify safe sources of water. And, lastly,  you must educate yourself on how and when to do these things.

When I was researching The Prepper’s Water Survival Guide, I was blown away by the things I learned about the contaminants in our water every single day. Before that, I didn’t test my own water. I stored some water, but felt that most things could be filtered out by a high-quality system.

But that’s the natural stuff. You can’t purify water of many of these chemicals, and it’s important to learn the difference.

This is precisely why preppers talk about long-term water emergencies, and it’s such a realistic scenario that I wrote an entire book on the topic. It isn’t a far-fetched apocalyptic fantasy. It’s something that can (and does) happen, right here in America, without any type of warning. It’s a life-changing, even life-threatening, situation, but you can get ahead of it. You can prepare for these emergencies that are becoming more and more frequent.

How are your water preps coming along?

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Water Crisis: Lake Mead, Largest US Reservoir, Faces Federal “Water Emergency,” Forced Rationing

Leak Mead – on your left, when you drive from Las Vegas across the Hoover Dam – is the largest reservoir in the country when at capacity. It’s fed by the Colorado River which provides water for agriculture, industry, and 40 million people in Nevada, Arizona, California, and Mexico, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, and Las Vegas. Now after 15 years of drought, the “lake” – a mud puddle surrounded by a huge chalky bathtub ring – is threatening to run dry.

It’s considered “operationally full” when the water level is at 1,229 feet elevation above sea level. On May 2, the water level was down to 1,078.9 feet above sea level, the lowest since it was being filled in May 1937. It’s down 15 feet from the same day a year ago. Over the last 36 months, the water level has dropped 44.8 feet. It’s down 150 feet from capacity.

If the water level is below 1,075 feet elevation – 4 feet below today’s level – by January 1, 2016, it will trigger a federal water emergency. And water rationing. Las Vegas Review Journal reported that forecasters expect the level to drop to 1073 feet by June, before Lake Powell would begin to release more water. Assuming “average or better snow accumulations in the mountains that feed the Colorado River – something that’s happened only three times in the past 15 years,” the water level on January 1 is expected to be barely above the federal shortage level.

Even with these somewhat rosy assumptions of “average or better than average snow accumulations,” the water level would begin set new lows next April. But if the next winter is anything like the last few, all bets are off.

If the level drops below 1050 feet, one of the two intake pipes for the Las Vegas Valley, which gets 90% of its water that way, will run dry. A new $817-million tunnel is being built by the Southern Nevada Water Authority to create a new drain to get the last drop out of the bathtub. It should be ready by September.

The LA Times explains what water rationing would mean for the states:

Las Vegas has long been at a disadvantage when it comes to Lake Mead water. A 1922 Colorado River water-sharing agreement among seven Western states — one still in effect nearly a century later — gives southern Nevada the smallest amount of all; 300,000 acre-feet a year, compared with California’s 4.4 million annual acre-feet. An acre-foot can supply two average homes for one year.

This summer, officials will make their projection for Lake Mead water in January 2016. If the estimate is below 1,075 feet, rationing kicks in: Southern Nevada would lose 13,000 acre-feet per year and Arizona would lose 320,000 acre-feet. California’s portion would not be affected.

Note the last sentence – that California would not be affected. Keeping lawns green in LA is top priority.

“Between Lake Mead and Lake Powell, you have over 50 million acre feet in storage when they’re full,” explained Pat Mulroy, former general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority from 1991 until she retired in 2014. “To have them both go down to a quarter of their capacity is a pretty scary proposition,” she said.

Here she is, via Brookings, on the water crisis at Lake Mead, with ghostly images of the lake and of Hover Dam sitting high and dry:

To get through the drought, residents and growers in California’s Central Valley have been pumping water from aquifers to take a shower, fill a glass with water, irrigate almond orchards, or do a million other things. But now, it turns out, those aquifers, whose water levels are already dropping, are threatened by something else. NBC Bay Area video…. Fracking Wastewater Injected into Clean Aquifers in Parched California