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Every time a faucet is turned on in your home, water rushes through a network of unseen pipes, driven by pressure so you can use it to wash your hands, do the dishes, or fill a glass. When you dry your hands off or raise the cool glass of water to your lips, you are probably not thinking of water pollution. That, you think, is vats of dark oil spilling into the ocean. It is piles of trash floating atop the surface of swamps and strangling wildlife. It is cyanobacteria producing toxic algal blooms. And yet water pollution is much closer than one might think.

Water can be polluted as it traverses through the pipes in people’s homes. Homes with lead service lines, pipes that connect the home to the main water line, can cause lead to be present in drinking water. Homes without lead service lines can still have brass or chrome-plated brass faucets, galvanized iron pipes, or plumbing with lead solder. Lead enters drinking water when the plumbing corrodes, because of a reaction between water and the plumbing that occurs when the water has high acidity or low mineral content. [1]

To combat contamination in drinking water, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), which allowed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set standards for drinking water quality. [2] For lead, the EPA has set the maximum contaminant level goal at zero because lead can bioaccumulate in the body and is harmful to human health even at low exposure levels. In addition, the EPA issued the Lead and Copper Rule under the authority of the SDWA, which requires utilities to make water less corrosive to plumbing. [3]

For young children, infants, and fetuses, lead is particularly harmful. In children, low levels of lead in the blood have been linked to damage to the nervous system, behavior and learning problems, slowed growth, and impaired hearing. Ingestion of lead can also cause seizures, coma, and death. While drinking water isn’t the only source of lead exposure for children, the EPA estimates that water can make up about twenty percent of a person’s total exposure to lead. [3] In adults, exposure to lead can lead to cardiovascular and kidney problems.

Although not many houses built after 1986 contain lead service lines, there are steps to take if you think your water might have lead. Water can be tested through water utilities, and a “point-of-use” filter can be used. Cold water doesn’t corrode pipes as much as hot water, and the pipes can be flushed before drinking by taking a shower or doing the dishes. [3]

Ultimately, although the threat of lead contaminating drinking water has subsided in recent years, it’s a reminder that the world is more connected than we think. Even small choices can have an impact far greater than we might imagine.




Updated: Apr 17

Microplastics are commonly defined as any plastic fragment less than 5 mm in length. They originate from numerous sources: they’re created from the degradation of larger plastics into smaller pieces, from the dispersal of synthetic fibers from certain types of fabrics, and from the manufacturing of microbeads in beauty products. [1] In recent years, microplastics have become an increasingly pervasive problem. They have been found in over 90% of tap and bottled water samples, [2] and humans are estimated to consume up to 50,000 microplastics every year. [3]

Despite such a widespread presence of microplastics in the environment, the health impacts of these particles have yet to be determined, although current research indicates that they are likely to be deleterious. Microplastics have been found to absorb hazardous substances like heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants (POPs), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), and more. They also may accumulate in narrow passages in the human body, resulting in blockages, inflammation, and other adverse health effects.

With the risks that microplastics pose to the environment and to human health, California lawmakers have taken several preliminary steps toward solving the problem. After banning the production of microbeads, California passed Senate Bill 1422 in 2018, requiring the State Water Resources Control Board to adopt a definition of microplastics by July 2020 and develop a standard methodology for the detection of microplastics in drinking water by July 2021. [3]

In November 2021, the State Water Board published The Microplastics in Drinking Water Policy Handbook, which details the progress that has been made after the passing of Senate Bill 1422. The document defines “nanoplastics” as any particle between 1 nm and 100 µm and “large microplastics” as any particle between 100 µm and 2.5 cm. The Board establishes two primary methods for the detection of microplastics: Raman spectroscopy and infrared spectroscopy. Both these techniques use similar approaches to identify plastics. In Raman spectroscopy, high-intensity light is used to excite the molecules within individual particles. The Raman scattered light that is returned can be used to analyze the particle’s chemical composition. In infrared spectroscopy, a machine measures the vibration of molecules through infrared light.

While both these methods are effective at accurately identifying microplastics, spectroscopy still has some distinct disadvantages. The procedure uses highly complex and expensive devices that require trained personnel to operate, making it inapplicable to many scenarios where microplastic detection is needed. Additionally, it is often infeasible to count nanoplastics individually through this approach. As a result, the California Water Board is considering “surrogate methods” such as flow cytometry, turbidity, and total suspended solids to more cheaply and efficiently detect microplastics while maintaining a high degree of accuracy.

Notably, Senate Bill 1422 does not discuss the filtration of microplastics from drinking water. Such topics need to be addressed in future pieces of legislation. Furthermore, efforts to prevent the continued production and spread of microplastics into the environment also need to be prioritized. Though California has taken important some initial steps, more change must happen if the state wants to target the spread of microplastics before it becomes a more prominent issue.






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Hi! My name is Justin Sather and I'm 12 years old.

I'm on a mission to spread the message that our planet needs our help.

The last few years, I have been learning all about our world's plastic pollution crisis. And I've learned more than I wanted to know. I learned there could be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050 if we don’t change our ways. I learned a million single-use plastic bottles are bought per minute, and water bottles take over 400 years to decompose. I also learned that every minute a garbage truck full of plastic is dumped into our waterways. This has led to the creation of 5 Great Garbage Patches in the middle of our oceans. And then I learned all about Boyan Slat, and he gave me hope! Boyan Slat wanted to make a change, and after a lot of hard work and determination, he founded The Ocean Clean-Up Organization. Boyan successfully used his imagination and engineering skills to create a boat called “The Interceptor”. It is an automated, solar-powered trash collector boat that traps plastic pieces and trash floating in rivers and creeks before they reach the ocean and disposes the trash outside and away from the water. There are now 11 Interceptor Boats helping the dirtiest rivers around the world. They are located worldwide in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Dominican Republic, and more. This is extremely important because it has been estimated that almost 80% of the plastic carried into the ocean comes from 1,000 rivers around the world. Through Team Seas, I have been able to fundraise to help The Interceptor Boats worldwide capture and clean up plastic and trash. So far, I’ve raised enough money to keep 700 pounds of plastic and trash from entering our oceans. Now, right near my home, I helped The Interceptor Boat 007 get approved for the Ballona Creek in Los Angeles. I started Justin’s Frog Project at the Ballona Wetlands when I was in kindergarten and spent many years restoring the wetlands next to the creek so this has been a dream come true. Some of the residents were against having to look at the boat from their homes or were concerned it might make too much noise or have odors from the trash. I had my classmates write letters to Los Angeles Supervisor Holly Mitchell and I had a meeting with her team explaining how important it is for her to approve the interceptor and create change for the future.

Interceptor 007 was approved and launched in October, 2022. I was invited to the Ribbon Ceremony and got to meet Boyan Slat and Holly Mitchell in person. It was a huge honor to attend. I also am very grateful for the Friends of Ballona Wetland and Ballona Creek Renaissance for all of their support with my work. In just 3 short months, the Interceptor 007 has already stopped 85,000 pounds of trash from reaching the Pacific Ocean. -Justin Sather

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