Lower Priority Issues
Of the issues discussed in the white papers, four were felt to be of lower priority in terms of their potential for adverse health effects. Nonetheless, these issues, together with two additional issues, are important for maintaining a well-managed system, upholding high aesthetic quality, minimizing the energy required for distribution, and providing adequate quantities of water.
OTHER EFFECTS OF WATER AGE
As discussed above, water age has an indirect effect on water quality, with the most important being the reduction in disinfectant residual over time. However, there are a number of other alterations that may occur as water ages that merit discussion. First, with increasing age there can be increasing formation of DBPs (e.g., trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids). In-system production of some DBPs may be prevalent, for example, where pipe sediments contain significant organic matter and/or booster chlorination is practiced. There may also be increasing potential for nitrification with increasing water age, especially at higher temperatures. These latter effects of water age may be reduced by reducing the concentration of byproduct precursors (e.g., total organic carbon) and ammonia entering the distribution system.
The presence of high concentrations of corrosion products is frequently associated with long water age. Corrosion in distribution systems, as well as household plumbing, is a complex process still not adequately understood despite much research into the causes. A number of relevant water quality parameters such as disinfectant residual, redox potential, and pH are affected by water age, and these are believed to play an important role in the corrosion of pipe materials and the release of iron, copper, and lead from pipe scales, especially in low alkalinity waters. Control strategies are sometimes utilized such as changing the pH or adding phosphates to reduce lead and copper corrosion and the release of iron from pipe scales, but these measures are more effective if water age and the amount of stagnation are minimized. Other problems associated with water age include the development of objectionable taste and odors, water discoloration, and sediment accumulation.
Of these lower priority concerns, DBP formation and corrosion are the most important because of obvious health risks. Even so, the health risk of DBPs within a given system may be low compared to contaminants that have an acute health effect, and DBPs
are covered by the Disinfectants/Disinfection By-Products Rule. While leached metals such as lead may be found at very high levels at the tap in some instances, the relationship of their concentrations to water age is not yet adequately understood.
OTHER EFFECTS OF NITRIFICATION
As discussed above, nitrification is a process carried out by ammonia-oxidizing bacteria in the environment that produces nitrite and nitrate, and thus occurs whenever the substrate (ammonium) is present in the waters. There exist abundant data on the impact of nitrate and nitrite on public health, especially on methemoglobinemia (blue baby syndrome, an acute response to nitrite that results in a blockage of oxygen transport—Bouchard et al., 1992). It affects primarily infants below six months of age, but it may occur in adults of certain ethnic groups (Navajos, Eskimos) and those suffering from a genetic deficiency of certain enzymes (Bitton, 1994). Pregnant women may also be at a higher risk of methemoglobinemia than the general population (Bouchard et al., 1992).
Nitrate levels may be important under certain conditions, although the relative source contribution from drinking water is expected to be a maximum of about 12 mg/L as nitrogen and typically would be much less that this. Numerous papers have focused on the impact of nitrate nitrogen (nitrate plus nitrite) in drinking waters (Sandor et al., 2001; Gulis et al., 2002; Kumar et al., 2002; De Roos et al., 2003; Coss et al., 2004; Fewtrell, 2004). However, the concentration at which nitrate nitrogen in drinking waters presents a health risk is unclear (Fewtrell, 2004). Nitrate may be reduced to nitrite in the low pH environment of the stomach, reacting with amines and amides to form N-nitroso compounds (Bouchard et al., 1992; De Roos et al., 2003). Nitrosamines and nitrosamides have been linked to different types of cancer, but the intake of nitrate from drinking water and its causal relation to the risk of cancer is still a matter of debate (Bouchard et al., 1992). A study by Gulis et al. (2002) in Slovakia related increased colorectal cancer and non-Hodgkins lymphoma to medium (10.1–20 mg/l) and high (20.1–50 mg/l) concentrations of nitrate nitrogen in drinking waters. Similarly, Sandor et al. (2001) showed a correlation between the consumption of waters containing greater than 88 mg/l nitrate nitrogen and gastric cancer.
Current nitrite and nitrate MCLs, which are regulated at the entry point to the distribution system, have been set at 1 and 10 mg/l as nitrogen, respectively, in the United States and Canada. The World Health Organization recommends 11.3 mg/l nitrate nitrogen as a guideline value. van der Leeden et al. (1990) presented data up to 1962 in which 93 percent of all U.S. water supplies contain less than 5 mg/l nitrate (it was not specified if the concentrations were nitrate nitrogen or nitrate). However, this may be changing as a result of the increased use of nitrate-containing fertilizers. It has also been shown that chloramination, which is on the increase as an alternative disinfectant, may result in elevated levels of nitrate in waters because of partial nitrification (Bryant et al., 1992), but the increment in nitrate plus nitrite nitrogen from this source would typically be less than 1 mg/L. Information obtained from the ICR database indicates that up to 65 percent of the surface water systems in the United States may use chloramination in the near future
(up from 33 percent currently) (EPA M/DBP FACA Support Document, 2000). This may have the unintended result of a possible increase in the final concentration of nitrate in drinking water. In most cases, the current MCL seems to be well below the concentrations at which risk has been observed. However, some special populations (pregnant women, infants) as well as some ethnic groups may more susceptible to adverse health effects as a result of elevated nitrate concentrations in drinking waters (Bitton, 1994; De Roos et al., 2003).
Lesser effects are that nitrification in low alkalinity waters can reduce alkalinity and decrease the pH. This may cause the pH to decrease to the point that corrosion of lead or copper becomes a problem.
The formation of nitrate and nitrite is considered a relatively low priority concern for distribution systems compared to the other concerns mentioned in this report, primarily because the amount of nitrate generated would likely be less than 10 percent of the MCL. Furthermore, except in very special situations drinking water is not a major source of these substances in the average diet. For example, nitrate is especially abundant in many leafy green vegetables.
Permeation in water distribution systems occurs when contaminants external to the pipe materials and non-metallic joints pass through these materials into the drinking water. Permeation is generally associated with plastic non-metallic pipes (Holsen et al., 1991). The contaminants that are most commonly found to permeate plastic pipes are organic chemicals that are lipophilic and non-polar such as highly volatile hydrocarbons and organic solvents (Holsen et al., 1991; Burlingame and Anselme, 1995). These chemicals can readily diffuse through the plastic pipe matrix, alter the plastic material, and migrate into the water within the pipe.
The most common example of permeation of water mains and fittings is associated with soil contamination of the area within which the pipe was placed (Glaza and Park, 1992). The majority of permeation incidents appear to be associated with gasoline related organic chemicals. These incidents have occurred at high-risk sites, such as industrial sites and near underground chemical storage tanks, as well as at lower risk residential sites (Holsen et al., 1991). In some cases the integrity of the pipe has been irreversibly compromised, requiring the complete replacement of the contaminated section.
Although there is the potential for water quality degradation as a result of the permeation of plastic pipe, especially in the water’s taste and odor aspects, the health impacts associated with such permeation are not expected to be significant. In some permeation incidents, the concentrations of certain chemicals have been shown to reach levels in the low parts per million, which are well above their respective MCLs (AWWA and EES, Inc., 2002a.). However, these MCLs are based on long-term exposure, and the short-term risk levels for these chemicals are generally much higher. In the case of permeation by gasoline components, the taste or odor thresholds of the majority of these chemicals are below the levels that would pose a short-term risk (EPA, 2002e,f,g,h). In
addition, these high concentrations would be expected to occur during worst case situations where water has been in contact with the affected pipe for a considerable length of time. During periods of normal water use these concentrations would expected to be much lower.
Appropriate measures can be taken to minimize the occurrence of permeation, such as issuing regulations or guidelines that define the conditions under which plastic pipe should be used. For example, the State of California precludes the use of plastic pipe in areas subject to contamination by petroleum distillates (California Code of Regulations, Title 22, Division 4, Chapter 16, Article 5, Section 64624f).
After assessing the potential health impacts associated with permeation, the committee has concluded that the potential health impacts are low and that distribution systems can best be protected through measures that minimize the conditions under which permeation can occur.
All materials in the water distribution system undergo reactions that introduce substances to the water via a process known as “leaching.” Pipes, fittings, linings, and other materials used in joining or sealing pipes leach at least some substances to water through corrosion, dissolution, diffusion, or detachment. Internal coatings in water storage facilities can also leach substances. Most substances leaching to water from materials in the distribution system do not pose a public health threat due the fact they are non-toxic, present only at trace levels, or are in a form unlikely to cause health problems. Taste and odor complaints are possible, however (see Choi et al., 1994, and Khiari et al., 2002, for examples).
Under some circumstances, leaching of toxic contaminants occurs at levels that pose a substantial health threat. PVC pipes manufactured before about 1977 are known to leach carcinogenic vinyl chloride into water at levels above the MCL (AWWA and EES, Inc., 2002a). It should be noted that the MCL is based on a measurement of samples at the treatment plant and not within the distribution system. To protect against a health problem from this source, sampling in the distribution system would have to be required after installation of new PVC pipe. Cement materials have, under unusual circumstances, leached aluminum to drinking water at concentrations that caused death in hemodialysis and other susceptible patients (Berend et al., 2001). Because levels of aluminum normally present in drinking water can also threaten this population, the FDA has issued guidance for water purification pre-treatments in the U.S. for dialysis and other patients (Available on-line at http://www.gewater.com/library/tp/1111_Water_The.jsp). Finally, excessive leaching of organic substances from linings, joining and sealing materials have occasionally been noted in the literature, and asbestos fibers in water are regulated with an MCL. Potential problems with lead and copper leaching to water are managed through the EPA via the LCR and, thus, are not considered further here.
Problems from older distribution system materials can be managed by monitoring of contaminant leaching in the distribution system, adjustments to water chemistry, or by
costly replacement of the material. Lead leaching to water from old lead pipe is managed in this way via the LCR. For new materials, the NSF establishes levels of allowable contaminant leaching through ANSI/NSF Standard 61. It should be noted that ANSI/NSF Standard 61, which establishes minimum health effect requirements for chemical contaminants and impurities, does not establish performance, taste and odor, or microbial growth support requirements for distribution system components. Research has shown that distribution system components can significantly impact the microbial quality of drinking water via leaching. For example, pipe gaskets and elastic sealants (containing polyamide and silicone) can be a source of nutrients for bacterial proliferation. Colbourne et al. (1984) reported that Legionella were associated with certain rubber gaskets. Organisms associated with joint-packing materials include populations of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Chromobacter spp., Enterobacter aerogenes, and Klebsiella pneumoniae (Schoenen, 1986; Geldreich and LeChevallier, 1999). Coating compounds for storage reservoirs and standpipes can contribute organic polymers and solvents that may support regrowth of heterotrophic bacteria (Schoenen, 1986; Thofern et al., 1987). Liner materials may contain bitumen, chlorinated rubber, epoxy resin, or tar-epoxy resin combinations that can support bacterial regrowth (Schoenen, 1986). PVC pipes and coating materials may leach stabilizers that can result in bacterial growth. Studies performed in the United Kingdom reported that coliform isolations were four times higher when samples were collected from plastic taps than from metallic faucets (cited in Geldreich and LeChevallier, 1999). Although procedures are available to evaluate growth stimulation potential of different materials (Bellen et al., 1993), these tests are not applied in the United States by ANSI/NSF. Standards or third-party certification that establishes performance, taste and odor, or microbial growth support requirements for distribution system components could be considered. In spite of these limitations and occasional problems, it is currently believed that leaching is a relatively low priority relative to other distribution system problems.
ADDITIONAL ISSUES OF CONCERN
Control of Post Precipitation
Control of post precipitation in distribution systems is an important part of any program to control the quality of water in distribution systems. Post precipitation can result from introduction of water to distribution systems that is super-saturated with calcium carbonate, from introduction of a phosphate corrosion inhibitor into the filter effluent of an alum coagulation plant creating an aluminum phosphate precipitate, from water that is supersaturated with aluminum hydroxide, from water that is supersaturated with selected silicate minerals, as well as other causes. Post-precipitation causes an increase in pipe roughness and a decrease in effective pipe diameter, resulting in loss of hydraulic capacity accompanied by an increase in energy required to distribute water, in production of biofilms, and in deterioration of the aesthetic quality of tap water. If the material is
loosely attached to the pipe wall, such as some aluminum precipitates, hydraulic surges can result in substantial increases in the turbidity of tap water. Treatment of water to avoid excessive post-precipitation thus is an important asset management issue. It is not amenable to regulation, but it is an important part of the guidance that should accompany distribution system regulations.