EDF Health

New report: Tackling lead in drinking water at child care facilities

Lindsay McCormick, Project Manager, Sam Lovell, Project Specialist and Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director

Recent crises around lead in drinking water have focused national attention on the harmful effects of children’s exposure to lead. While the particular vulnerability of children to lead is well understood by most – what might be surprising is that the majority of child care facilities are not required to test their water for lead.

Only 7 states and one city have such regulations on the books. And while the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has provided a voluntary guidance, the “3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water,” for schools and child care, the document has significant gaps in the child care setting – including an outdated action level of 20ppb and little emphasis on identifying and replacing lead service lines.

Given the critical need for more investigation in this area, we conducted a pilot project to evaluate new approaches to testing and remediating lead in water at child care facilities. EDF collaborated with local partners to conduct lead in water testing and remediation in 11 child care facilities in Illinois, Michigan, Mississippi, and Ohio. We have previously blogged about some early takeaways from testing hot water heaters and our preliminary findings from the project. Today, we released our final report, which provides the full results of the pilot and recommendations to better protect children moving forward.

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FDA-approved PFAS and drinking water – Q&A on textile mills and environmental permits

Tom Neltner, J.D., Chemicals Policy Director, and Maricel Maffini, Ph.D., Independent Consultant

In May 2018, we released a blog highlighting paper mills as a potentially significant source of drinking water contamination from 14 Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved poly- and per-fluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) used to greaseproof paper. We showed that wastewater discharge could result in PFAS concentrations in rivers in excess of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s 70 parts per trillion (ppt) health advisory level for drinking water contamination for PFOA and PFOS, the most studied of the PFASs. We identified 269 paper mills with discharge permits that warrant investigation. Readers of the blog have asked some important questions highlighted below. As with most issues involving PFAS, there are many gaps in what we know. Based on the information provided in response to EDF’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to FDA, we hope to fill in some of the gaps and highlight key information needed to better understand the risks of PFASs.  

Question 1: Could textile mills also be a source of PFASs in drinking water?

The answer is “probably.” The FDA-approved PFASs can be used in coating paper that contacts food to repel oil, grease, and water. The same or similar FDA-approved PFASs may be used for non-food uses such as coating textiles to resist stains and repel water.

The processes used to coat paper and textiles differ in some aspects that could affect a mill’s environmental releases. For paper, the PFASs are typically added to the wet wood fibers to be made into paper. In contrast, we understand that PFASs are applied to textiles after the water is removed. Therefore, we would suspect that the amount of PFASs, whether as polymers or impurities, released with the wastewater of a textile mill would be lower compared to that of a typical paper mill. However, there is very little data available to assess the potential environmental release of PFASs from textile mills. Unlike with FDA approvals, there is no environmental review of a chemical’s use in non-food consumer products.[1] So, it would be worthwhile to investigate textile mills for use of PFASs in addition to looking at paper mills.

Using an EPA database[2], we identified 66 textile mills (PDF and EXCEL) in the US, two thirds of which are located in North and South Carolina. Based on wastewater flow, the two largest mills are both operated by Milliken. Its largest facility is in Greenville, South Carolina with a water discharge of 72 million gallons per day (MGD). The second largest is in Bacon, Georgia with a water discharge of 15 MGD. DuPont’s Old Hickory facility, near Nashville, Tennessee, had the third greatest flow at 10 MGD. We do not know whether any of the facilities use and discharge FDA-approved PFASs.

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EPA sets interim limits on hypochlorite bleach to reduce degradation to perchlorate

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director and Maricel Maffini, Ph.D., Consultant

On May 1, 2018, Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) made an interim pesticide registration decision[1] for hypochlorite bleach used to disinfect drinking water. The office decided to require the “Precautionary Statements” section of the bleach’s pesticide label to include advisory best management practices to minimize the formation of chlorate and perchlorate. The new label will state:

"The following practices help to minimize degradant formation in drinking water disinfection:

  • It is recommended to minimize storage time.
  • It is recommended that the pH solution be in the range of 11-13.
  • It is recommended to minimize sunlight exposure by storing in opaque containers and / or in a covered area. Solutions should be stored at lower temperatures. Every 5º C reduction in storage temperature will reduce degradant formation by a factor of two.
  • Dilution significantly reduces degradant formation. For products with higher concentrations, it is recommended to dilute hypochlorite solutions with cool, softened water upon delivery, if practical for the application."

EDF submitted comments in November 2017 supporting OPP’s proposed label changes and requesting specific changes to the language including making the advice to users mandatory. We also asked the agency to extend the changes to hypochlorite bleach used to treat produce and to disinfect food handling equipment.

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Paper mills as a significant source of PFAS contamination, but who’s watching?

Tom Neltner, J.D., Chemicals Policy Director, and Maricel Maffini, Ph.D., Independent Consultant

Update: See June 21, 2018 Q&A blog on PFAS at textile mills and environmental permits

Across the country, communities are grappling with how to manage contamination of drinking water by perfluorinated alkyl substances (PFASs), a class of chemicals widely used in consumer products, industrial processes, and firefighting foams. Concern over the chemicals grew with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2016 release of a 70 parts per trillion (ppt) drinking water health advisory for PFOA and PFOS, two common and well-studied forms of PFASs.

One challenge to effectively evaluating the potential impacts of PFASs as well as cleaning up priority sites is that there is very little information on where these chemicals are being used. Through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to FDA, EDF obtained documents previously not made public that show that paper mills using PFASs may be a significant source of contamination to water and potentially to air and compost.

In the nearly 900 documents we received from FDA, we found environmental assessments in four Food Contact Substance Notifications (FCNs) submitted in 2009-2010 by two companies, Daikin America and Chemours.[1] FDA approved each notice, allowing the companies to sell their PFASs to make paper and paperboard repel oil and grease in food packaging such as pizza boxes, sandwich wrappers, and microwave popcorn bags. All four assessments based their estimates on what they called a “typical” paper mill that produces 825 tons of PFAS-coated paper per day and discharges 26 million gallons of water per day.[2]

  • Chemours FCN 885 estimated 95 pounds/day of its PFAS[3] in the wastewater discharge at 43,000 ppt.
  • Chemours FCN 1027 – a notification for the same PFAS – increased the amount in paper from 0.42% to 0.8% resulting in 183 pounds per day in the wastewater discharge at 83,000 ppt.
  • Daikin FCN 933 estimated 180 pounds/day of its PFAS[4] in the wastewater discharge at 83,000 ppt.
  • Daikin FCN 1044 estimated 225 pounds/day of a similar PFAS[5] in the wastewater discharge at 103,000 ppt.

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Lead in water at child care facilities: Preliminary results from EDF’s pilot

Lindsay McCormick, Project Manager, and Tom Neltner, J.D., Chemicals Policy Director.

When choosing a child care facility, parents weigh numerous factors – like cost, distance to their home, comfort with the staff – with the goal of providing safe care to their child. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to know if the facility where the child care program is located itself may present health risks – like lead in the drinking water.

The vast majority of schools and child care facilities are not required to test their drinking water for lead under federal requirements. While much of the attention has been on schools, we find that childcare is relatively overlooked, even though water is the most significant source of lead for formula fed infants. In earlier blogs, we talked about state and local testing requirements and levels in hot water.

We tested at 11 child care facilities and found lead in drinking water in at least one sample at seven facilities above our 3.8 ppb action level, three facilities above 20 ppb, and two facilities above 80 ppb.

To explore lead in drinking water at child care facilities further, EDF conducted a pilot project to investigate new approaches for lead in water testing and remediation in childcare settings.  Our pilot utilized and expanded on EPA’s 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water.

We will be releasing a report that will detail our full process, results, and recommendations for addressing lead in water in child care settings. In the meantime, we wanted to share our preliminary takeaways and recommendations below as well as a fact sheet on our project. Read More »

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Lead in hot water – an issue worth testing

Preliminary testing results: 50% (7 of 14) of water heater tanks tested in child care centers had levels over 50 ppb with one at 2,680 ppb. For all but one of these, flushing through the tank drain significantly reduced the lead levels in the water heater. At the hot water tap, only 4 of 161 (2%) samples were above EDF's action level (3.8 ppb). Water heaters may function as “lead traps,” but more investigation is needed. Best to avoid using hot water for cooking or drinking.

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director. Analysis conducted by Lindsay McCormick, Project Manager.

Last March, I was giving a talk on lead and drinking water at the National Lead and Healthy Housing Conference. A questioner from a state health department asked me why the standard lead testing methods only sample cold water when experience suggests that people use hot water when making infant formula, dissolving powered drinks, and cooking food. After mumbling for a few minutes that people are supposed to drink cold water, I realized that I really didn’t know the answer – but should.

When risk assessment ignores real life, we are bound to miss something important. For hot water, I think we may be.

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