When it comes to media coverage of the water treatment industry, 2016 has been all about lead. It seems to be in the news at least weekly, whether it’s the most recent update on the Flint, Mich., lead contamination crisis or a report on the latest school district to find lead in its drinking water.
Lead as a water contaminant is easy for the general public to understand. We’ve been receiving the message that lead is harmful for years, albeit more often in regard to lead paint. When consumers hear lead is in the water, they know it’s bad news. When water treatment dealers hear about lead in the water, they know what treatment technologies are available to remove it.
But there are so many other chemicals out there that consumers may not realize could contaminate water. We know them as emerging contaminants—pharmaceuticals, personal care products, pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals that modern testing technology is able to detect even in miniscule amounts. Consumers may not realize they could even be contributing to the problem, with those pills from an old prescription they flushed down the toilet or the pesticide they sprayed on their garden that got washed into the water supply when it rained. They may not suspect that old closed-down factory in their town used a chemical in its manufacturing process that has since infiltrated into the groundwater supply.
There are many unknowns when it comes to emerging contaminants, starting with how many there even are. The health effects of many of these contaminants are unknown or require further study. The Safe Drinking Water Act does not cover many of them, and municipalities do not test for them. Technologies and systems certified to remove these contaminants may not yet be available. With so many unknowns, it can be difficult to talk about emerging contaminants with customers.
Thankfully, the industry and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have been taking steps to address some of these contaminants. In this issue, you’ll read several articles about perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), substances that exist in many everyday products, such as Teflon pans and fire suppressants. Although many manufacturers have stopped producing consumer goods containing this class of chemical, processes that utilized the chemical in the past have contributed to groundwater contamination. EPA recently issued a lifetime health advisory for two PFCs, PFOA and PFOS. Additionally, certification bodies like NSF Intl. have begun to develop standards to address water treatment products that claim to remove PFCs and other emerging contaminants.
These efforts will make great strides in making emerging contaminants “the devil we know,” allowing dealers to readily address them and consumers to better understand them.