Recycled wastewater runoff: why you should care….
About 80 million pounds of the herbicide Atrazine are applied to the land each year nationwide, second only to glyphosate, prime ingredient of Round Up. Endocrinologist Dr. Tyrone Hayes discovered that exposing frogs to as little as 2.5 parts per billion of atrazine in water, less than the drinking water standard for humans, caused male frogs to develop female bodies, both internally and externally.
Dr. Hayes was one of twelve scientists who also contributed to the recently released study: Hormones and Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals: Low-Dose Effects and Nonmonotonic Dose Responses” (Endocrine Reviews: March 14, 2012) His many studies with frogs are a prime example of some of the many low dose endocrine disruption effects found to occur in both humans and wildlife.
In a recent article in Environmental Health News, Dr. Laura Vandenberg, lead scientist for the study stated that, “…there truly are no safe doses for these hormone-altering chemicals.” Many or most pesticides and herbicides are endocrine disruptors as are many plastic products, some cosmetics, sunscreens, many cleaning products, food packaging, etc. (See a list of over 800 chemicals for which studies have been completed, at www.endocrinedisruption.com.)
Dr. Vandenburg, stated in the same article, “We should never assume that because an exposure is tiny that it is safe. We found overwhelming evidence that these hormone altering chemicals have effects at low levels, and that these effects are often completely different than effects at high levels.”
A fact sheet on the above noted website states: “In the US, the cost of treating health conditions for which endocrine disruption chemical exposure is implicated is over $1 trillion dollars a year.”
So what does this have to do with recycled water?
Runoff from recycled water both contains and carries off endocrine disruptors into our environment!
Desperate to resolve the State’s water shortages in dry years, the California Water Board approved the Recycled Water Policy three years ago. This policy contains a statewide goal of recycling 2.0 million acre feet or more (over 650 billion gallons) by 2030, and mandated that local governments do all in their power to recycle as much wastewater as possible. To assist their efforts, this policy streamlines the permit process. (The term ‘streamline’ often equates to downgrading regulations.) Our Gazette article in May, 2012, spoke about AB 2398, which proposes to declassify tertiary wastewater as a waste, and thereby eliminating most regulations governing the practice. This bill flew through the Assembly, but is currently stalled in the State Senate.
AB 2398 helps to implement the Recycled Water Policy. The Bill includes a greatly weakened definition of incidental runoff saying it “….means unintended minor amounts of runoff from recycled water use areas, such as unintended, minimal overspray from sprinklers that escapes the designated recycled water use area.” This definition fails to make explicit the meaning of “minor amounts of runoff” and its “unintended” nature.
The Recycled Water Policy justifies its aggressiveness by asserting that it is environmentally beneficial to retain potable water in streams in order to save threatened fish species from degraded habitat due to low flows. (Ironically, the State will soon consider revising State Law Decision 1610 to LOWER Russian River flows in order to save the fish.) We cannot ignore however, that these water savings would also free up large amounts of water for new development, not bad in and of itself, as long as problems with doing so are fully identified, addressed, and resolved.
The biggest concern about recycled wastewater is with the runoff that usually occurs. Many gardners apply herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, and/or fertilizers on their landscapes and then water them profusely to help vegetation and flowers grow. Overwatering is very common and water containing those applied chemicals runs off into the street drains which lead to the creeks. We have all seen it happen at one time or another.
In fact, our Gazette article appearing in the Febuary, 2012 edition, shows wastewater from Santa Rosa’s pilot recycled water project going into the stormdrain along Stony Point between West College and Highway 12 (See www.rrwpc.org for pictures and article.) This type of project is being highly promoted by the State. (We don’t know if the landscapes being watered were treated with chemicals, but the wastewater still contains unknown remnants of harmful chemicals and the potential for chemically laden runoff going into our waterways is high.
(Most wastewater in Sonoma County is treated to tertiary level which removes many pollutants, but there are about 80,000 chemicals on the market and most are not monitored. Only 125 chemicals are regulated in California. Although there are technologies that purify the wastewater, tertiary treatment does NOT produce purified water.)
Runoff is clearly identified in the Recycled Water Policy as needing to be truly incidental and not due to excessive irrigation or negligence. Pictures taken of Santa Rosa’s project were taken over a three week period on five different occasions indicating repetitive overflow that was clearly NOT incidental.
State’s amended Recycled Water Policy may cause great harm…
When the Recycled Water Policy was being developed, the most controversial part had to do with incidental irrigation runoff. Controversy on the issue was resolved by establishing a scientific panel of experts on contaminants of emerging concern (CEC’s), which included pharmaceuticals, endocrine disruptors, and more. The committee analyzed many of the studies on this issue and concluded that irrigation with wastewater is safe and monitoring the runoff not necessary. On the basis of this conclusion, the State is now revising the Recycled Water Policy to include the recommendations of the Panel.
The scientific panel concluded that these chemicals are not a significant risk because they are found in such low amounts and often are naturally occurring. The panel focused mainly on risks to humans and barely addressed risks to the environment and wildlife. Yet the recent scientific report indicating the hazards of low dose effects based on hundreds of studies by many scientists, clearly demonstrates that we should be very concerned about low dose exposures to endocrine disrupting chemicals.
These chemicals cause a wide range of problems both to humans and wildlife. Exposure to these chemicals have been linked to birth defects such as abnormal genitalia, various cancers, heart problems, infertility, obesity, diabetes, autism, and much more. The Recycled Water Policy encourages extensive use of recycled wastewater and we are concerned, in light of this scientific information, may inadequately regulate its use.
Comments on the Amended Recycled Water Policy are due in Sacramento at noon on July 3, 2012. The notice and associated documents can be found at www.sonomacountygazette.com
More information can also be found at Russian River Watershed Protection Committee’s (RRWPC’s) website at www.rrwpc.org if you would like to support our work please send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org asking to be on our list. Donations are always welcome. Checks can be made out to RRWPC and sent to P.O. Box 501, Guerneville, CA 95446. You can also donate through PayPal at our website .