Monday, February 1, 2016

Why Flint’s Water Crisis Couldn’t Happen in Utah

Interview with Ken Bousfield

Lead contamination in Flint, Michigan’s drinking water has gotten national attention in recent weeks, raising concerns about whether this could happen in Utah. Ken Bousfield, director of the Division of Drinking Water (DDW), explains why this is unlikely.

How did Flint’s drinking water become contaminated with lead?

Photo credit:
In April 2014, Flint City’s managers switched their drinking water source from purchased water from Detroit to water from the Flint River. The decision to switch was a cost-saving measure. Unfortunately, the new source water was corrosive and caused lead in the piping between city water pipelines and homes to dissolve into the water entering the homes.  According to press reports, Flint residents observed and reported the change in water quality (e.g., brown or red water) to the city.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set an action level (AL) standard of 15 parts per billion (ppb) for lead. The AL is based on the 90th percentile level of tap water samples. Exceedance of the AL triggers further actions and requirements, such as monitoring, corrosion control treatment, source water monitoring/treatment, public notification and education, as well as lead service-line replacement.

What are the risks to the public from lead in the drinking water?

Elevated levels of lead can cause serious health problems, especially for pregnant women and young children. According to the Centers for DiseaseControl (CDC), most studies show that exposure to lead-contaminated water alone would not be likely to elevate blood lead levels in most adults.

Do Utah water systems monitor and sample for lead?

Photo credit:
There are currently 544 water systems in the state of Utah that sample for lead. We currently have a 99.82 percent compliance rate with the lead AL. A system that has a confirmed AL exceedance is required to monitor more frequently, distribute public education documents and, within six months, submit a treatment recommendation to the division.

What steps does Utah have in place to prevent the Flint “Lead Poison” scenario from happening here?

There a number of measures in place that protect the public from lead-contaminated drinking water:
  • The majority of Utah water sources provide hard water to their customers, which is not corrosive.
  • DDW’s plan review program requires state review and approval on design, treatment, and source water quality data before allowing a new water source, which may require installation of corrosion control process.
  • Public Water Systems (PWSs) are required to conduct routine monitoring of the water source and distribution system and to report to the DDW. As a result, Utah’s water utilities and DDW should know if the water is corrosive.
  • DDW examines drinking water sample data and follows up on drinking-water AL exceedance and maximum contaminant level (MCL) violations.
  • Water utilities are required to communicate lead risks when there is an exceedance of the lead AL and publish the results annually in the Consumer Confidence Report.
  • As of 2012, water systems are required to notify the residence sites where a sample was drawn of the results. The annual Consumer Confidence Report outlines the lead levels in the system and provides specific language about the health effects of lead.
  • In 1986, the Safe Drinking Water Act required pipes, plumbing fitting or fixtures, solders, or fluxes in the installation or repair of any public water system or plumbing in facility providing water for human consumption to be lead-free. Many of Utah’s water systems have removed or never installed lead pipes or lead-bearing materials in water distribution systems, including “service lines” that supply water from the water main to the meter and then the home.

Can you give some examples of how Utah’s water utilities prevent lead contamination?

Salt Lake City Public Utilities (SLCDPU) is very proactive in its water quality monitoring, sampling for lead and copper every three years and monitoring its water sources constantly. Langelier Index (LI) measurements on all finished water sources indicate that their water is noncorrosive, and 2015 testing showed that the 90th Percentile for first-draw lead samples is less than the lead AL of 15ppb. The city’s major water sources originate from snow melt, and there is little variation in its chemistry. The hard water tends to coat the internal surfaces of the plumbing to provide a protective layer to shield against corrosion.

Park City Municipal Corporation has a very aggressive distribution monitoring and main-flushing program that goes well beyond regulatory requirements. Park City currently participates in a project with the AWWA Water Research Foundation, the internationally recognized leader in water research, pilot testing the best and most cost-effective water main cleaning methods, emphasizing their commitment to both high-quality source and distribution system water.

How can consumers protect themselves?

Photo credit:
You can very easily reduce the risk of lead in drinking water by flushing home plumbing before consuming water. This can be done by turning on the cold water supply and waiting until the water goes noticeability cold. The wait 30 seconds with the water flowing to ensure that water in your service line (the piping between the city's water main and your home) is also flushed. Then fill your glass with cold water. That water goes cold because it is water that moments earlier was in the pipeline in the street rather than in pipes warmed by the temperature in your home.

If you are still concerned about lead in your drinking water, you can arrange for a water test from an accredited laboratory.

Want to know more? We’ve provided a list of Lead Action Levels listed alphabetically for water systems in the state on our webpage along with a list of frequently asked questions about lead in drinking water.

I have worked with the Utah Division of Drinking and its predecessor agencies for nearly 40 years and have been Division Director for more than ten years. I have a bachelor’s degree in Engineering Sciences from Brigham Young University and am a registered Professional Engineer in Utah. I grew up in Los Angeles City and now live in Sandy City. My wife Gail and I celebrated our 45th wedding anniversary last September. We have four children and eight grandchildren.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Air Quality: Scientists Team Up with Kids and Community in Air Toxics Study

Interview with Munkh Baasandorj

Gaseous analyzers
The Utah of Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Air Quality (DAQ), Brigham Young University, and the Neil Armstrong Academy have partnered for a hazardous air pollutant (HAP) monitoring project in West Valley City. The study uses state-of-the-art instruments to measure gaseous and particulate HAPs in real-time.

What are hazardous air pollutants (HAPs)?

Hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), also known as air toxics, are substances that are known to cause cancer or other serious health effects. HAPs are emitted from a variety of sources including industrial, residential, mobile, and natural sources. Common air toxics include benzene (gasoline), perchoroethylene (dry cleaning), and methylenechloride (solvent and paint strippers).

What is the focus of your study?

Our study is concentrated on polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the gas and particulate phases and other HAPs such as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde

PAHs are formed from the incomplete burning of oil and gas, coal, and other organic substances. Formaldehyde and acetaldehyde are formed in the atmosphere and contribute to ozone formation during the summer months.A specific focus of this study is diesel particulate matter, which is classified as a carcinogen by the World Health Organization (WHO).

How is your study different from other studies?

Our project provides real-time, temporally resolved measurements, meaning we are collecting samples continuously and getting readings in real time. With passive sampling, we look at the substances collected on a filter over a 24-hour period. With our study’s more active sampling, we get readings by the hour and the minute, improving accuracy and providing us with a richer dataset for analysis. Using our specialized instruments, we will be able to:
  • Determine the levels of specific types of gaseous and particulate HAPs in the air, particularly PAHs
  • Determine the organic aerosol composition during high PM2.5 episodes
  • Better characterize the sources of HAPs in the Salt Lake Valley 

How have you structured your study?

We are running our sampling campaigns during the winter and summer months. The winter study focuses on PAHs in gaseous and particulate phases, including diesel particulate matter. The summer study will focus on formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, gaseous carbonyls that form efficiently in the atmosphere during the summer.

Our instruments are based at West Valley’s Neil Armstrong Academy, an elementary school dedicated to science, technology, and math. This collaboration offers us unique outreach and educational opportunities with the students and the community.

What techniques and instruments will you use?

Proton Transfer Reaction-
Mass Spectrometer
We are using many state-of-the-art techniques to measure gaseous volatile organic compounds (VOCs), fine particulate organics and related species. Two key instruments include Proton-Transfer Reaction-Mass Spectrometry (PTR-MS) and an organic aerosol monitor (OAM). PTR-MS provides real-time measurements of a wide range of manmade, natural, and wood-burn related sources with a fast time response (by the minute) and high sensitivity, meaning it can detect toxics at lower levels. OAM provides hourly measurements of the organic components of fine particulate matter.

How will you use this information?

Ambient Ion Monitor
This study provides high quality, fine time resolution dataset of organics that can be used to determine the impacts of these species on air quality in Salt Lake Valley during the winter and summer months. 

Concurrent, real-time monitoring provides us with information about air toxics and their tracers in the gas and particulate phases. Tracers are unique markers that help us identify the source of the toxics so we know whether the pollutant is coming from traffic, wood-burning, or industrial activities. 

Co-located, simultaneous observations of these organic compounds and their tracers will help us explore the relationship between the gaseous and particulate HAPs and characterize their sources. Identifying the sources helps us develop effective control strategies to reduce emissions.

What are the expected outcomes from the study?

We anticipate a wide range of positive outcomes, some short-term, others long-term. They include:
  • Identification of HAPs in West Valley at levels above the health exposure threshold
  • Evaluation of the relative contribution of different sources, such as local industries, refineries, wood-burning, and vehicles, on HAPs levels in the air
  • Better understanding of the impacts of PAHs on air quality in the Salt Lake Valley
  • Better estimates of exposure risks to the urban population from HAPs
  • Improved community understanding of HAPs exposure risks and air quality issues
  • Improved community involvement and action to reduce toxic air emissions
  • We see the study as an important step in the reduction of HAPs emissions and human exposure to air toxics in the Salt Lake Valley, and an important opportunity to involve the community in both the study and the emission control strategies.

Utah Department of Environmental Quality scientists, along with researchers from Brigham Young University, will unveil their air toxic study to students at Neil Armstrong Academy, 5194 Highbury Parkway, West Valley City, on Tuesday, January 26, 2016, at 10 a.m.

I joined DAQ as an environmental scientist in the winter of 2015. I have in-depth experience in research in atmospheric chemistry and air quality. I obtained my Ph.D. degree in atmospheric chemistry from Indiana University. In the past, I worked at Chemical Sciences Division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (CSD NOAA) in Boulder, CO and at the University of Minnesota (UMN), St. Paul, MN as a research scientist studying how interactions of biogenic and anthropogenic emissions impact air quality. My current research interests focus on hazardous air pollutants, volatile organic compounds and their impact on air quality, and secondary particle formation in Salt Lake Valley  I am coordinating two studies this winter: West Valley Air Toxics Study and Winter Particulate Study in Salt Lake Valley. I live with my son and husband and enjoy exploring the great outdoors along the Wasatch Front and skiing.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

DEQ’s 45-Day Run with the Utah Legislature

By: Donna Kemp Spangler

Photo credit: Andrew Smith
Passing environmental legislation is not a sprint, it is a marathon. It starts fully a year before bills are ever debated, and it requires collaboration, teamwork, and endurance.

Next week, on Jan. 25, the 2016 Legislature convenes for its annual 45-day session. For many watchers of the Utah Legislature, the results are often unpredictable, and it remains uncertain how many bills impacting Utah’s environment will actually make it to the Governor’s desk. Yet, one thing is certain: the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is as prepared as it can be, having been immersed in the process since the session ended last year.

Executive Director Alan Matheson, Deputy Director Brad Johnson, and Scott Baird, director of legislative and government affairs, are familiar with the Capitol Hill terrain. They make themselves available to lawmakers to answer questions, assist in reviewing draft bills and provide objective information on the science, the law, and the impact that legislative changes could have on Utah’s environmental quality. What DEQ doesn’t do is lobby for legislation or seek additional money that isn’t included in the Governor’s budget or promote causes.

Brad Johnson, Alan Matheson, and Scott Baird
How does DEQ get involved with legislation? Take HB 15, one of the many bills passed by the 2015 Legislature. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Steve Handy, authorizes DEQ to make grants from the Clean Fuels and Vehicle Technology Fund to businesses who convert their older vehicles to cleaner technology

Since 2008, the State of Utah has allowed a tax credit of up to $2,500 for the conversion of a vehicle from gasoline to an alternative fuel such as compressed natural gas (CNG). But few people took advantage of the program. CNG installers contacted Rep. Handy to draft legislation that would make it more attractive to individuals. The bill extended the current tax rebate for another year, established a program that would enable installers to take advantage of the tax credit, and provide consumers with lower-cost conversions.

Instead of the individual seeking the rebate, the installer would get the rebate and lower prices accordingly.

Handy met with Air Quality staff who advised him on the nuts-and-bolts of how the program worked and the day-to-day impact and potential outcomes that his proposed legislation would have on the program if passed. Handy made modifications as he saw necessary, and the bill passed through the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee, both Houses, and signed by the Governor.

A truck owned by Senator Scott Jenkins that was converted to CNG
fills up at a natural gas station. Photo credit: Deseret News
The bill as passed, however, did not include funding.

This time around Handy plans to introduce a bill, HB 87 that provides $500,000 to help fund the program. It’s a bill that will be closely watched by DEQ.

For the most part, that’s how DEQ gets involved. A lawmaker approaches DEQ for assistance on a bill to improve Utah’s regulatory authority over environmental laws. DEQ then seeks buy-off from the Governor’s office – we are, after all, part of the executive branch of government.

In some cases, DEQ seeks out someone to sponsor specific legislation to fix problems, again only after the Governor Office has approved. For instance, Air Quality officials approached Rep. Becky Edwards to sponsor HB 229, Air Quality Modifications, to update and make minor revisions to the state’s laws regarding air quality.

The legislative session is busy, chaotic, and stressful and a whole lot of other adjectives. But it’s also an exciting time for us at DEQ to be part of the democratic process.

I invite you to visit DEQ’s web site which includes a Legislative Tracker that keeps tabs on environmental legislation. We welcome your input and comments on any upcoming bills making their way through the Legislature.

I am the Communications Director for DEQ and a former reporter for the Deseret News. I write a monthly blog post. You can read my previous blog posts here at You can follow me on Twitter @deqdonna