Tag Archives: drinking water safety

Water Quality Day: 2020 More Than Ever

True, in 2020, this important annual observance isn’t making the waves (pun noted) it has in past years.  This is because our main public awareness events – tours at drinking water and wastewater facilities – can’t take place due to COVID-19 restrictions.  Last year, 19 facilities throughout the state welcomed students, legislators, and the general public for fun, informative, eye-opening tours. 

This year, none are allowed to.

Ironically, though, the pandemic underscores the importance of our water quality infrastructure and the dedicated professionals who keep it running, 24/7/365.  How many times have we all been advised to wash our hands in the last four months?  Try doing it without clean, running water.  

Hospitals, public institutions, and essential businesses are on heightened sanitation protocols – relying on the water that comes so readily from the tap.  Vermonters sheltering in place at home rely on water coming to and leaving their sometimes claustrophobic residences for virtually every need.

Water Quality Day is a day to appreciate the systems and people who keep it clean and flowing.

And what about the water that leaves our hospitals, offices, and homes?  As it turns out, the SARS-Cov-2 virus can survive in human feces for up to 33 days.  A May 6 Science News article, reporting on recent studies, quoted researchers as saying “the potential spread of COVID-19 via sewage ‘must not be neglected’ in the battle to protect human health.”  Check out the article here: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/05/200506133603.htm .

In a May 8 article on Fox News, Prof. Aaron Packman, of Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering, put it in even starker terms: “New information on COVID-19 indicates that the virus infects the human GI tract and is excreted into sewage. Our assessments indicate that there is a risk of waterborne transmission of the coronavirus.”   Read more of Packman’s comments here: https://www.foxnews.com/science/risk-of-covid-19-transmission-from-waste-water-higher-than-believed-study-claims .

That means Vermont’s 500 + wastewater operators are being pretty courageous every day, when they go to work to deal with the stuff up close and personal.  Fortunately, they’re smart, too, and have undertaken special facility sanitation, staff rotation, and personal protection protocols to keep themselves and the public healthy.  (Also, to help keep plants operating, GMWEA, VRWA, and the Vt. DEC have reactivated the VTWARN system, allowing facilities to get substitute personnel if one of their staff gets sick or quarantined: www.VTWARN.org.)

Water Quality Day 2019 at Wilmington WWTF

Are Vermonters at risk from COVID-19 transmission in wastewater?  Not likely – because those “first responders” at your local wastewater plant are making sure you’re not.  OSHA reports that coronaviruses are vulnerable to the same disinfection techniques used currently in the health care sector, and “Current disinfection conditions in wastewater treatment facilities is expected to be sufficient.”  Prof. Packman, cited above, says that transmission risk in sewage is “likely to be a problem . . . [primarily] in parts of the world that do not have good water infrastructure.”

So, on Water Quality Day 2020, I say we renew, with determination, our commitment to maintaining our good water infrastructure.  And let us give an extra big tip of the hat in gratitude to our water quality professionals, who put it on the line for us every day.

If you agree, please take a moment to circulate this post via Facebook or blog, or write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. 

To return to GMWEA’s website, CLICK HERE.

GMWEA COVID-19 Updates

Like our allied organizations, GMWEA is responding to upheavals due to the global COVID-19 virus pandemic. This post provides resources for important information and announces changes in GMWEA’s continuing education calendar. First, some answers to crucial questions:

Can COVID-19 be transmitted through drinking water or wastewater facility effluent? The short answers are “probably not” and “not yet known,” respectively. But there’s some fine print, too — including the fact that related viruses have been found in human feces and can survive for two to 14 days there. For more detailed information, go to the helpful overview page maintained by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC): https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/water.html.

What can wastewater workers do to protect their own, and the public’s health? The CDC offers many suggestions for hygiene, protective equipment, and workplace training: https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/global/sanitation/workers_handlingwaste.html.

Also, the Water Environment Federation offers an excellent resource, “The Water Professional’s Guide to COVID-19” at: https://www.wef.org/news-hub/wef-news/the-water-professionals-guide-to-the-2019-novel-coronavirus/


We are postponing both the Stormwater Management Manual training, originally scheduled for March 27, and the Basic Wastewater Management course, originally scheduled for April 7 through May 26.

Our goal is to present both courses as soon as the situation permits, so please stay tuned for more information. If you have already registered for either, please be patient as we determine the best way to organize refunding tuition or applying it to the rescheduled classes. For more information, visit www.gmwea.org.

Please visit this blog again for more information in future posts. In the meantime, as we’ve all been seeing in our e-mail sign-offs, or your mother might say, “Wash those hands!”


PFAS!  The acronym brings up goosebumps on citizenry, regulators, and water quality professionals alike.  Though these human-made chemicals have been around for 70 years, they’ve stepped into the emerging toxins spotlight this year, and concern is growing.

Here’s a sampling of news headlines from throughout the U.S. on July 28:

  • Pentagon Announces PFAS Task Force to Address Contamination (EWG)
  • Farmers Are Losing Everything After “Forever Chemicals” Turn Up In Their Food (BuzzFeed News)
  • New York to Get Federal Funds for PFAS Health Study (Lexington Herald Leader)
  • Water System Operators Told to Test for PFAS Contamination (Greenwich Time)
  • Three Connecticut Rivers to be Tested This Summer for PFAS Chemical Pollution (Hartford Courant)
  • “Markedly higher” Levels of 2 PFAS Found in the Blood of NC Residents (WECTV)
  • Yakutat Officials Wary of State’s PFAS Double Standard (Alaska Public Media News)

This post will lay out the basics on PFAS; future posts will discuss current efforts by Vermont and other New England states to learn more about PFAS and to reduce human health risks associated with them.

What are PFAS, and why are they nicknamed “the forever chemicals”? 

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances comprise a family of almost 5,000 compounds, being invented and manufactured continuously since 1940.  They’re called “forever chemicals” because that’s what they were designed to be – highly durable, resistant to grease, solvents, biodegradation, photodegradation, and heat.

They’re used in hundreds products, notably non-stick cookware, heat-resistant industrial materials (and processes), water- and stain-resistant sprays, carpets, food packaging, dental floss, paints, cleaning products, and firefighting foams. 

That means we have lots of opportunities to be exposed to them.  During Congressional testimony on July 24, Glenn Evers, a DuPont chemist for 22 years, claimed that 99% of Americans have PFAS in their blood and body cells.  And, Evers warned, “these chemicals stay in your blood and don’t leave. . . . there is not a single bacteria, mold, or virus, anything that will ever break this molecule down.”  He went on to say, “You can’t kill this beast.   You can only control it.”

How are humans exposed?

As the above suggests, we’re exposed from the moment we fry our breakfast eggs on a non-stick pan until we floss our teeth before bedtime.  The US EPA lists the following as the most common means or sources of exposure:

  • Eating food packaged in PFAS-containing materials or food grown in PFAS-contaminated soil or water
  • Eating fish or wild game with high concentrations of PFAS
  • Inhaling or having skin contact with commercial household products, including stain- and water-repellent fabrics, nonstick products (e.g., Teflon), polishes, waxes, paints, cleaning products, etc., containing PFAS
  • Inhaling or having skin contact in workplaces, such as production facilities or industries using PFAS (e.g., chrome plating, electronics manufacturing or oil recovery)
  • Drinking water – whether from a well, a municipal supply, or bottled – that has been contaminated or packaged using materials/equipment containing PFAS
  • For babies, drinking breast milk from mothers who have been exposed to PFAS

What are the health dangers?

Definitive answers may not be available, yet.  While concern is universal among health authorities, high-confidence clinical literature is hard to find.  This is in part due to the fact that, with new PFAS continually being invented, there hasn’t been time to assess their health effects. 

PFOA and PFOS have been better studied; in lab animals, according to the US EPA, they have been shown to affect function of reproductive, developmental, endocrine, and immunological systems, and have caused tumors.

Among humans, the most consistent findings are increased cholesterol levels among exposed populations, with more limited findings related to:

  • low infant birth weights
  • reduced immune response
  • changes in liver function
  • kidney and testicular cancer (for PFOA), and
  • thyroid hormone disruption (for PFOS)

But which of the 5,000 PFAS are most toxic?  What degree of health impairment results from what level of exposure, over how long?  Is there a safe level?  What products, foods, or circumstances cause the greatest uptake by the human body?  How can consumers minimize their exposure?

Well, as the ATSDR – Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry – explains, mildly, “Scientists are still learning about the health effects of exposure to mixtures of PFAS.”

Next: PFAS in water and wastewater, and what the EPA and states are doing about it.

To return to GMWEA’s website, CLICK HERE.