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Cover Stories

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A new study from the University of Minnesota found that home water softeners are sending a significant amount of salt into the environment. Researchers from the University’s Water Resource Center created a “chloride budget” to estimate how much salt enters the environment each year from different sources. While road salt was found to be the largest contributor, home water softeners were the fourth largest source.

The study found that overall in the state of Minnesota road salt contributes more than 400,000 metric tons of chloride annually to the environment, while home water softeners contribute approximately 140,000 metric tons of salt per year, as reported by Minnesota Public Radio

“I think it will be surprising to a lot of people because we’ve been talking about road salt, road salt, road salt,” said Sara Heger, researchers with the Water Resources Center. “A lot of people don’t think about that their softener in their home is like that road salt–or that we’re another source.”

The study found that while most Minnesota water treatment plants are not equipped to remove chloride from water, home owners can take steps to mitigate the environmental impact of their water softeners. According to Heger, water softeners should be serviced regularly and should be set based on the hardness level of the water and not an automatic timer.

"Protect Your Water"

Information from California

The Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County have launched an awareness campaign addressing the Santa Clara River's high chloride (salt) levels.

The campaign is educating Santa Clarita Valley residents about the harmful effects of chloride waste produced by automatic water softeners and the costs that could result if owners refuse to discontinue use in favor of alternative solutions.

According to a study released by the Sanitation Districts last year, the largest source of chloride in the Santa Clarita area is residences, particularly residences automatic water softeners.

These softeners generate a salty waste that is very high in chloride. Not including the chloride that comes from drinking water, residential automatic water softeners account for over half of the chloride coming into the treatment plants.

The purpose of the campaign is to reduce the amount of chloride entering the Santa Clara River, which flows through the Santa Clarita Valley and is the last natural river in Southern California.

Wastewater generated in the Santa Clarita Valley, from actions such as flushing toilets and washing laundry, is sent to the Sanitation Districts’ Saugus and Valencia Water Reclamation Plants for treatment.

The treated water leaving the plants that is not directly reused for landscape irrigation and other applications is sent to the Santa Clara River. While the water reclamation plants provide a high level of treatment, they do not remove chloride.

High levels of chloride can harm wildlife and have a negative impact on farms that rely on river water for irrigation. Currently, the concentration of chloride in the river is twice the acceptable level established by the state Regional Board.

Automatic softeners are now illegal to install in Santa Clarita Valley, but 7,000 homes continue to use them. If these softeners are not removed, the Sanitation Districts may have to install very expensive new treatment units at their Santa Clarita Valley wastewater treatment plants to remove the chloride.

This would mean that the annual sewer bill for Santa Clarita Valley residents could triple to $400 per household.

Spread the message to your neighbors: Unplug your automatic water softener today!

STORY #3: "Consumer Reports Product Test"

ClearWave™ didn't help. No help for hard water.

ClearWave is not a ScaleBan ™

If you've been putting up with hard water at home, you may have been drawn to ads for magnets that purport to reduce scale and promote suds without all the cost and bother of conventional water softeners.

When we tested such a device in February 1996, it didn't work. Still, we were intrigued by a product called ClearWave™, available in major home centers and through some mail order catalogs for $225.

Using "radio frequency electromagnetic induction energy," according to its pamphlet, wave pulses from the device supposedly produce water that lessens the need for soap and detergent loosens and dissipates scale from pipes and fixtures, and achieves such energy efficiency in water heaters that you can turn down the thermostat without lowering the water temperature.

Further the pamphlet says, the British technology has worked wonders for the Prime Minister's swimming pool, the Guinness Brewery, and other "high-profile references."

While we didn't test ClearWave™ on President Clinton's pool, we did install the device in two private homes with hard water in the New York City area. In each house, we clamped ClearWave™ CW-1 to a cold-water pipe, wrapped its antenna wires around the pipe, and plugged its power cord into an outlet. We then waited three months and compared test results of Clear Wave-treated water and ordinary tap water.

Our findings: • In each house, the treated water was as hard as the tap water, having the same high content of calcium and magnesium The treated water produced no more suds than tap water from the same house. (Our pilot tests showed that a 20 percent decrease in hardness should produce a 20 percent increase in suds).

There was no perceptible difference in scale buildup at the two houses; we'll continue to check one of the homes for several more months. You can't turn down the thermostat of a hot-water heater and expect the water to be hot. Increased efficiency should stay as reduce the time needed to bring a tank depleted of hot water up to the set temperature.

ClearWave ™ didn't help. No help for hard water

© Consumer Reports

STORY #4: "Water's lime content isn't risky"


DEAR DR. GOTT: We have well water and a sand filter that removes particulate matter. However, it doesn't affect the water's lime content, which is so pronounced that I literally have to scrape the deposits on my faucets, bathroom fixtures and tea pitcher's. The water is so hard that we can't even work up lather with soap. Could the lime be a health hazard?

DEAR READER: You do, indeed, appear to have plentiful amounts of lime (calcium carbon-ate) in your well water, which certainly will produce some consequences in your household plumbing. Fortunately, it probably won't affect your internal plumbing; specifically, it will not lead to kidney stones or premature arteriosclerosis.

STORY #5: "The Chemistry Of Violence"

BY JIM WILSON, Science/Technology Editor.

Understanding why Vincent Van Gogh cut off his ear may provide an important new clue in explaining violent crime. Two scientists say they have strong evidence that violent rages can be sparked by the accumulation of harmful metals in the brain. Some believe the outburst that led Van Gogh to take a razor to his ear may have been triggered by metals in his paints. It is no coincidence, says one scientist, that counties with high rates of violent crime are also those at most risk from metal contamination.

An early clue to a link between metals and violence came from autopsies. When criminals die while committing violent crimes their bodies are tested for alcohol and drugs. In some cases scalp hair is analyzed as well. This slow growing hair acts as a sort of log of the chemicals to which an individual has been exposed. It was with this thought in mind that medical examiners ordered an analysis of hair samples from mass murderer James Oliver Huberty, who in 1984 was shot to death by police after killing 21 people in a San Ysidro, California, restaurant.

What they found in Huberty's hair was startling. "He had the highest cadmium level we had ever seen in a human being," recalls William J. Walsh, the president of the Pfeiffer Treatment Center of Naperville, Illinois, and an expert on the link between metal poisoning and violence," I remember getting a call from the assistant medical examiner who was working on the case. 'I have one question for you,' he said. 'If Huberty had this much cadmium in his body, why wasn't he dead?'''

Suspect metals:
Cadmium kills by destroying the kidneys. As investigators looked more deeply into Huberty's background, they discovered that indeed the metal had nearly killed him, twice. On each occasion, emergency room teams had coaxed his failing kidneys back from the brink, Walsh reports.

There was no mystery about the source of the cadmium. Before coming for California, Huberty had worked as a welder. "During an exit inter view his employer asked him why he was leaving. He said that the fumes were making him crazy," says Walsh.

Strange as this tale may seem, it is a familiar story to Walsh. He had seen similar off-the-scale metal readings in scalp hair samples from the most notorious mass murderer sand serial killers. The evidence has made Walsh a firm believer that the body's ability or inability to manage several common metals can spell the difference between good and evil.

Since 1989, he and his staff at Pfeiffer, an outpatient treatment center, have been working with children, mostly young boys: who have displayed severe behavioral problems. "We're talking about kids who are terrors at age one and torturing the cat when they are two," he says. Chiefly by adjusting the children's diets, he: says, the center has been able to prevent troubled children from becoming ruined adults.

Walsh is not' the only one to draw a line between certain metals and behavioral problems Roger D Masters, a. professor of government at Dartmouth College, is also intrigued by the connection. Like Walsh, Masters does volunteer work with prisoners. But while Walsh a chemical engineer by training looks inward at the imbalances of metals in individuals, Masters looks outward, toward the effects of metals on communities.

"Prevailing theories of violent crime properly implicate a host of social, economic and psychological variables," says Masters. But these factors alone do not explain why U.S. counties have rates of violent crime that vary from less than 100 to more than 3000 per 100,000 people.

To explain this variability, Masters decided to focus on two metals: lead and manganese. Both were plentiful in some parts of the country but not others. Furthermore, there was solid scientific evidence that both could alter brain chemistry in a way that could cause learning disabilities, poor impulse control and aggressiveness, he says.

The deleterious mental effects of 'and which was once actually used to sweeten bad wines-were observed by Hippocrates and later by Benjamin Franklin. More recent research has strongly linked lead with lower IQs in some urban children. Prolonged exposure to low levels of lead canal so impair a person's ability to be deterred by the threat of punishment, says Masters. So much for long sentences discouraging criminals.

Although legislation prohibiting lead in gasoline additives and paint has reduced lead levels in blood by 78% since1976, the release of lead and lead compounds remains a serious problem, says, Masters, due mostly to aging water systems and pollution from factories and mines. Manganese might not be as well known as lead, but it too has been associated with behavioral disturbances, including loss of impulse control and outbursts of violent behavior under stress. Like lead, it is pervasive.

"Early in this century, cast iron was the most typical material for pipes and conduits. No.20 gray cast iron normally contains .4% to .6% manganese, "Masters explains. "Aging or rusting pipes could therefore leach toxins like lead and manganese into water, sup-plies, particularly in the decaying inner cities now inhabited by the poor."

Reverse Prozac:
Neuroscientists believe that manganese inflicts its damage by lowering the amount of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin belongs to a class of chemicals called neurotransmitters. Their function is to carry signals between the gaps that separate individual brain cells.

"Low levels of serotonin in the brain are associated with mood disturbances, poor impulse control and increases in aggressive behavior," says Masters. He points out that these problems have been treated with Prozac, a drug that helps the brain make better use of available serotonin, and other pharmaceuticals.

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies an especially serious problem among the poor also play an important role in increasing lead and manganese up-take. "The combination of calcium in sufficiency and manganese toxicity could therefore be described as reverse Prozac," Masters says.

With two likely metallic suspects in mind, Masters pored over the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Toxic Release Inventory. Breaking this information down county by county, he factored in crime report data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, alcoholism statistics from the Department of Health and Human Services and socioeconomic and demo-graphic data from the Census Bureau.

When this massive number-crunching job was done, the findings were startling. "In counties with no report-ed releases of lead or manganese and below-average deaths from alcoholism, rates of violent crime are below average. That is, 216 [crimes] per 100,000 [people] compared to the national mean of 298," Masters says.

By contrast, there were 920 violent crimes per 100,000 people in the 52counties where toxic releases from both metals were present and where there were also above-average rates of alcoholism. Alcohol might seem to be the culprit. Masters acknowledges that it is important its ability to reduce inhibitions are, after all, legendary but the difference in crime could not be attributed to spirits alone. Even in counties with a below-average number of alcohol-related deaths, the violent crime rate was about twice as high when lead and manganese were present. It wasn't a statistical fluke. There truly was a pollution-violence link.

Changes ahead:
Masters says his research suggests that traditional approaches to deter-ring violence need to be reconsidered. The effect of metals and other compounds that damage nerve function may be especially important in explaining why rates of crime have differed so widely by geographical region and by ethnic group, he says.

"Our analysis shows that neuro toxic metals significantly contribute to rates of violent crime."

"It's the breakdown of the [brain's] inhibition mechanism that's the key to violent behavior," says Masters. "The presence of pollution is as big a factor [in predicting crime] as poverty."

Some of those who have been following Masters' work which will be published later this year believe his findings should become the rallying point for an entirely new approach to violence and crime control.

"Perhaps," suggests Michael Zimmerman, a biologist who is also dean of the University of Wisconsin College of Letters and Science, "conservatives who have long argued that it is time to get tough on crime will now join with environmentalists to get tough on industrial polluters."


STORY #6: "Industrial ScaleBan"

Lake House South Saves Money By Doing It's Homework.

Bob Fick has a lot to smile about. The manager of lake House South, a 123-unit condominium in Boca Raton, Fick finds the work with the complex's ownership and nine-member board of directors satisfying. "When you save your association $100,000, you can't help but be satisfied," he comments.

The savings came as a result of Lake House South's decision not to replace the buildings ailing pipes, at a cost that could reach $110,000 or more, but rather, to try to remove the scale buildup within them. Fick, along with the association's vice president and treasurer, were intrigued by an advertisement for the ScaleBan, which claimed it was "an inexpensive solution to scaled pipes." However, not willing to jump at the first alternative they saw, the trio investigated this product and its distributor, Aqua Dynamics Corporation.

Gene Fall, president of the Pompano Beach-based firm, won Fick's trust, "We were skeptical and did some research," Fick recalls. "But once we got into a working relationship with Gene and his company, we realized they're honest and gained our confidence."

ScaleBan is a non-chemical and non-invasive; nothing harmful is added to the pipes, and it's not necessary to open the pipes to achieve the descaling.

Once the decision was to utilize ScaleBan, a section of the 2 ½ inch diameter pipe located in the building's bottom riser was removed. Scale buildup clogged nearly half the pipe, ;leaving a space of approximately 1 ½ inches through which water could actually travel. Fall guaranteed that four months after the installation of the of the $5,000 industrial unit, at least 300 percent of the scale would be eliminated. The same section of pipe was revisited 19 weeks after installation, and found to be nearly scale free.

However, homeowners had some justifiable concerns about the descaling. "How does this unit descale the pipes? Where does the scale go? Is it harmful?" ScaleBan is non-chemical and non-invasive; nothing harmful is added to the pipes, and it's not necessary to open the pipes to achieve the descaling. Scale, Fall explains, is composed of calcium and magnesium, both normally found in water. Through coils which are wrapped around the main water pipe, ScaleBan sends an electromagnetic field, not a current, into the water stream.

Scientific lingo aside, the electromagnetic field changes the shape and form of calcium into a substance called aragonite. Think of ice cubes and water. They're just different forms of the same substance, Fall says. He assures that the scale does not "come off in chunks, but rather, in micron-sized particles" and the water hardness is not altered. The ScaleBan unit will be kept in use at Lake House South as a preventive measure for the rest of the building's life, according to Fick.

He adds, "We're so pleased with Aqua Dynamics that we've recently contracted with them for our in-house managed cooling tower water treatment system." As for Fall, he's working toward establishing wider recognition of ScaleBan tm. He finds that as was the case with Lake House South, the relatively new technology (it's a little over two years old) is met with caution by most potential clients. Some who choose to go ahead with the unit opt for a trial run to begin with.

"The unit works well and Gene is very capable and personable," reflects Harry Edgren, a former maintenance engineer at The World of Palm Aire, Aqua Dynamics' first descaling client. "We started with one ScaleBan tm in our laundry room and because of the results, we now have one in each of our units." References like Edgren are what win many clients for Fall. As that reference list grows, Fall, like Fick and Edgren, will have much to smile about.

STORY #7: "Hazards of Soft Water"

HEALTHIER EXECUTIVE / American Heart Association.

Hazards of soft water. Fatal heart attacks and strokes are more common in areas where water is either naturally soft or has been treated to remove calcium and magnesium. Hidden danger: Some home water softeners are doubly risky because they remove calcium and magnesium and replace these minerals with sodium - one cause of high blood pressure. People on salt-restricted diets should avoid home softeners or make sure the ones they install don't use sodium. American Heart Association, 7320 Greenville Avenue, Dallas 75231.

STORY #8: "California District Invokes Ban on Regenerative Water Softeners"

POLICY / LEGISLATION. To reduce salt load in sewers.

SAN JACINTO, Calif. - The Eastern Municipal Water District which serves over 200.000 customers in the San Jacinto area, has become the latest southern California sewerage agency to invoke a ban on regenerative water softeners. Blamed for depositing too much brine into water reclamation plants, regenerative softeners already are banned in the cities of San Diego, Riverside, Corona, and Redlands, in addition to the Rancho California Water District.

Because most softeners discharge high salt concentration into sewers, said Michael Creighton, director of water quality for the Eastern Municipal district, "the only practical method to reduce the salt levels is at the source." Creighton estimates that an average household softener discharges about 400 pounds of salt a year. The brine in the sewage flow can interrupt the biological cleansing process of the district's water reclamation plants, he said. The district's five water treatment plants reclaim up to 27 million gallons of water a day which is used to irrigate more than 8,300 acres of agricultural crops in the area.

The district's ban applies only to ion-exchange water softeners, which remove hardness caused by calcium and magnesium and replace it with sodium. Existing units can be "grandfathered" into continued usage, but must meet requirements of total resin capacity of no more than 1.2 cubic feet with a removal rate of at least 2,850 grains of hardness per pound of salt used. Exempted from the ban are water softeners that are regenerated off-site by water conditioning companies.

STORY #9: "Softener Showdown"

California county demands their removal.

A ban on automatic water softeners by a third California community has prompted the Water quality Association (WQA) to file yet another lawsuit, this time against the Laguna Sanitation District in Santa Barbara county. The lawsuit, filed in Santa Barbara's county court December 8, counters the county's ban on installing automatic water softeners in Orcutt, an unincorporated village of about 30,000 people adjacent to the city of Santa Maria.

The regulation seeks to reduce TDS and chloride levels in household effluent by restricting installation of new softeners and mandating removal of existing ones within seven years, to comply with Rural Water Quality Control Board standards. Santa Maria is also a respondent to a WQA lawsuit filed April 7 that seeks to overturn a city-wide ban on installing automatic softeners. Both suits follow WQA's October 15,1991 suit against the city of Escondido, CA, where those who install automatic softeners face up to six months' imprisonment and fines to $1000.

Carlyn Meyer, WQA's western states regional program manager, says the orcutt ban was initially proposed when Santa Maria banned automatic softeners in March, but Santa Barbara County postponed passage of the Orcutt ban when faced with WQA;s challenge that it hadn't conducted an assessment of the ban's environmental impact as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The law forms part of the basis for the two previous suits, Meyer says.

Somewhat predictably, the county's argument against the need for such an environmental assessment echoes that advanced earlier by Santa Maria. "Santa Barbara county says it has assessed the situation and isn't obligated to do a full environmental impact report,"Meyer says. "They don't believe the ban will have significant environmental effects." WQA argues, among other points, that hard water is detrimental to the environment because it shortens the life of landfill-crowding water using appliances and makes consumers use more detergent.

Co-plaintiff in the Orcutt suit is the 600-member Foxenwoods Estate Homeowners Association, the largest homeowners association in the area. Meyer estimate about half of Orcutt's homes have water softeners, while 90 percent of the Foxenwoods homes do. Ironically, a new water deliver system that should reduce Orcutt dependence on ground water comes on line in five years and will make the entire issue less critical Meyer says. The new system should drop effluent TDS and chloride levels dramatically, improving the outlook for the area's aquifers.

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