WEF's membership newsletter covers current Federation activities, Member Association news, and items of concern to the water quality field. WEF Highlights is your source for the most up-to-the-minute WEF news and member information.
Share Your Haiti Restoration Effort in ‘Highlights’
The publications-team at the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) is looking for stories of individual members and company members participating in the restoration efforts in Haiti. If you have a story to share, especially volunteer work, please send a short description of your work to Highlights Editor Jennifer Fulcher at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The story of the Revigator
||It was the Roaring Twenties and, along with flapper dresses and bootleg whiskey, Americans were all atwitter over the latest health craze. From New York to Los Angeles, scientists and doctors were endorsing the health-enhancing benefits of what one writer at the time heralded “the newest miracle of modern science.”
He was talking about the Revigator.
And what exactly, you may wonder, did this miracle of modern science do? According to the 20-page booklet published in 1928 by its manufacturer, it restored to water “the lost element of original freshness — radioactivity.”
A good idea? Hardly. But keep in mind, this was early in the 20th century, and radioactivity was still a relatively new discovery. It would be at least a decade before scientists would discover that exposure to radiation caused cells in the body to mutate, making it a leading cause of cancer, according to Michael Epstein, a chemistry professor at Mount Saint Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md.
In the meantime, proponents of radioactivity were flaunting it as a cure-all for everything from arthritis and flatulence to senility and poisoning.
They even had “scientific evidence” to support their claims, Epstein explained. Radioactive radon gas had been found to occur naturally in the mineral springs and spas that well-to-do Americans and Europeans had long flocked to for their healing powers. It wasn’t too far of a stretch for willing believers to conclude that radioactive water was the miracle cure the world had been waiting for.
The front page of a booklet published in 1928 promoting the Revigator. Photo courtesy of Michael Epstein, assistant professor at Mount Saint Mary's University (Emmitsburg, Md.). Click for larger image.
Of course, not every American could afford a trip to the spa. And the radioactivity was said to dissipate rapidly from the water if it was bottled or otherwise removed from the spring.
It was only a matter of time, therefore, before enterprising Americans found ways to bring the so-called natural health benefits of radiation to the masses. And that’s precisely what the people at The Revigator Water Jar Co. of San Francisco did.
“The Revigator was an attempt to allow people to create spring water in their own homes,” explained Epstein, who first became interested in the device while looking for a practical way to generate radon gas for his physical science class’ lab experiments.
|Pictured are the three generations of the Revigators that were studied at Mount Saint Mary’s University. Photos courtesy of Epstein. Click for larger image. |
The Revigator is an unassuming ceramic jar whose porous inner surface had been lined with a “complicated composition of radio-active ores,” according to the original product literature. Water stored overnight in the jar would come into contact with this inner wall and become infused with radioactivity, the company claimed, with the full backing of an unnamed panel of U.S. scientists and government officials.
In bolstering its case, the manufacturer went so far as to blame the deteriorating state of Americans’ physical health on the nation’s piped drinking water systems. By consuming “water which has flowed for days through reservoirs, water pipes and faucets [that has] lost every vestige of its original radio-active benefit,” the manufacturer wrote, the human body had become “run down, compared to the wild animal which drinks water ... in its natural form.”
How Much Damage Did It Do?
A health-conscious public apparently found the company’s arguments compelling. Hundreds of thousands people purchased the Revigator between 1920 and the mid-1930s.
Fortunately for the company’s founders and their heirs, there are no data on the impact that the ceramic jugs had on the health of the people who drank water from them. “The reality is, people died from many ailments in the early 20th century that were poorly understood,” Epstein said. “It’s so hard to document what was actually killing people or what damage the Revigator might have caused.”
Still, Epstein was curious about the risks that owners of the Revigator had unknowingly exposed themselves to. With the help of a group of Mount Saint Mary students and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (Gaithersburg, Md.), he set to find out.
He began by purchasing four of the ceramic jars through antique stores and eBay, paying between $100 and $200 for each one. The team found that the “complicated composition of radio-active ores” mentioned in the marketing literature was actually carnotite ore, a potassium–uranium–vanadate mineral that did indeed release radon into the water as the radium in the ore decayed, Epstein said.
|The research team used a Geiger counter to measure the amount of radon gas the jars emitted and discovered that the radon concentrations in the air and water sampled exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommendations. Still, the risk of death from drinking the radon-infused water was relatively low, Epstein said. |
The far greater risk, researchers discovered, came from the surprising amounts of toxic elements that the jar’s uranium ore lining released into the water. Using a mass spectrometer, researchers found the jars each contained varying levels of arsenic, lead, vanadium, and uranium.
Had persons followed the company’s advice to drink six or more glasses of water from the jar daily, Epstein said, they would have ingested levels of these toxins that far exceeded EPA recommendations and exposed themselves to a variety of ailments, ranging from cancer to a damaged nervous system.
What's more, if they had stored a slightly acidic beverage, such as wine or fruit juice, in the jar, they would have consumed 300 times more arsenic and three times more uranium than EPA’s maximum contaminant levels.
Student Regina Potter measures radioactivity of the Revigator as part of recent research at Mount Saint Mary’s University. Photo courtesy of Epstein. Click for larger image.
While it’s easy to see the error of the Revigator inventor’s thinking today, Epstein is not quick to judge. “Our scientific knowledge back then was so much more limited than it is today,” he said. “Some claims are clearly ridiculous, but I have not walked in the shoes of those people.”
“Besides, he said, “things are not that different today. The products may have changed, but there is still a lot of quackery going on around us.”
Mary Bufe, WEF Highlights
Houston Competition Sparks Enthusiasm in Low-Impact Development
|More than 200 professionals from various backgrounds participated in the Low Impact Development (LID) Design Competition in Houston, which ran Sept. 1, 2009, to Jan. 27, 2010. The approach taken by the competition host, the Houston Land/Water Sustainability Forum, is one other municipalities may want to consider as a way to raise awareness and broaden knowledge and acceptance of LID among the engineering community.
Competition participants were tasked with developing a stormwater management plan for an actual local property open for development, relying mainly on LID. Proposed project costs could be no greater than those of conventional stormwater management technology for 5-year, 10-year, and 100-year storm events. The three project categories — suburban residential, green roadway, and urban redevelopment — each had its own stormwater management problems, according to Robert Adair, steering committee chairman of the forum and president of Construction EcoServices (Houston).
|From left Doug Coenen with Walter P. Moore (Houston) discusses his company’s project with Dan Hassebroek with Kirksey (Houston). Photo courtesy of Eric Hester, Darnart (Houston). Click for larger image.
||The competition drew the interest of 22 teams representing 49 companies, Adair said. Each team was required to have at least one civil engineer, one architect, and one landscape architect, and at least one team member had to be from the Houston area. Teams had an average of 12 members, Adair explained.
While most participants had no previous experience designing or implementing LID projects, many were attracted to the competition for the chance to gain recognition with the judges for future projects. “Most private consultants will not miss the chance to showcase their skills in front of governmental leaders,” said H. Paul Dodd, director of site development for Brown & Gay Engineers Inc. (Houston), a finalist in the competition. The $15,000 awarded to each of the three category winners also provided incentive. While the owners of the projects all plan to build and want to use techniques demonstrated in the competition, the competition winners do not necessarily win the project, Adair said. But, “it’s a safe bet that one of the finalists, if not the winners in each category, will eventually get the job,” he added.
|LID Design Competition logo. Photo courtesy of Robert Adair, president of Construction EcoServices (Houston). Click for larger image.
Elements and Cost of LID
|A slide from AECOM (Los Angeles), the Green Roadway Design Challenge winner, showing their project design overview and cost benefit. Photo courtesy of Adair. Click for larger image.
Usually, LID is pitched as a technology to improve water quality, Adair said, but the forum wanted to focus on its cost-saving aspects and marketed the competition from this angle. While this approach drew initial skepticism from some, the judges ultimately were pleasantly surprised to find the submitted projects were quite economically sound. “[The projects] were quite impressive and much lower in cost than traditional projects,” Adair said. “We were pretty amazed.”
LID emphasizes the preservation and re-creation of natural landscape features while minimizing impervious surfaces, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Web site. LID practices include bioretention areas, vegetated bioswales and buffer areas, rain gardens, vegetated rooftops, rain barrels and cisterns, permeable pavements, soil amendments, impervious surface reduction, and sidewalk storage to increase interception, infiltration, and evapotranspiration of precipitation as close as possible to where it falls, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (New York) Web site.
LID can be less expensive than conventional alternatives, because the need to install pipes or pavement is either eliminated or reduced, pipe maintenance is reduced, and less land area is required, said Dov Weitman, one of the competition judges. After finding how much less expensive LID techniques were, many team members took their ideas back to their companies and started to incorporate them into other projects, Adair said.
For Dodd, who prior to the competition thought LID was synonymous with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), his experience was particularly eye-opening.
In Houston, LID has often been left to the architectural community, Dodd said, but “we basically came to the realization that LID development is a major function of engineering.” In addition, his team has taken some of the new ideas used for the competition to developer clients to discuss the possibility of using them. “We are committed to the development of LID practices and improving our idea,” he said.
|Promoting LID in the Community and Beyond|
Houston, described by Adair as the “capital of urban sprawl,” has a high percentage of impervious surfaces and other stormwater problems. In 2007, the Houston Land/Water Sustainability Forum formed to take a leadership role and influence businesses to start adapting to LID development before laws and regulations forced them to, according to Adair. Forum members are individuals with different professional backgrounds ranging from engineering to architecture and representing a variety of companies and associations focused on everything from environmental issues to construction or green building to engineering and local issues. They have been working to raise general knowledge of LID and attempt to drive change in the way development occurs in the city and its surrounding area.
The forum began operation by holding workshops and informational sessions to raise general awareness and interest in LID techniques. Last year, the forum hosted the first LID competition to give those interested a chance in hands-on LID experience. The forum may hold another LID competition in the future, Adair said.
Adair believes similar LID programs would be beneficial for any area that has not yet widely adopted green infrastructure practices, he said. For the competition or educational activities to be replicated in other areas, instituting an organizational group similar to Houston’s sustainability forum would be necessary, he said.
|Above, a slide from the Urban Redevelopment Design Challenge winning team. The team included Walter P. Moore, Gensler (San Francisco), Clark Condon Associates (Houston), and Dan Pope Associates (Fairport, N.Y.). Photo courtesy of Adair. Click for larger image.|
|Right, a slide from the Suburban Residential Design Challenge winning project. The team included Edminster Hinshaw Russ & Associates (Houston), Legend Home Corp. (Houston), and Davidson Landscape Architecture (Riverside, Calif). Photo courtesy of Adair. Click for larger image. |
Dodd thinks Houston’s approach could be successful in other areas, especially as company leaders become more open to the possibilities of LID and clients look for more efficient ways to develop, and regulations on local, state, and federal levels become more stringent. “Those in the development community, private and public alike, are going to be required to work in team environments and improve on the way development or redevelopment proceeds,” he said.
“This process can be replicated anywhere — New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, Miami, you name it,” Weitman said. “It’s a simple yet amazing idea.”
Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights
From the President: Examining the Successes, Frustration, and Future of Clean Water
This month marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, an event that helped inspire many of us to dedicate our careers to restoring and protecting our nation’s water quality. So, after 4 decades, have we made a difference? Are we on the right path to ensuring that high-quality water is available for future generations?
|Paul Freedman, 2009–2010 WEF President.
I have mixed feelings, including pride in our successes, frustration at addressing current problems, and optimism about the future. Let me elaborate.
Pride and Frustration
In the U.S., since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, we have eliminated the major problems of the 1960s and 1970s, primarily untreated or poorly treated wastewater. The country spent hundreds of billions of dollars and had great success. The burning Cuyahoga River was transformed; fire boats were replaced by water taxis in the 1980s, and pictures of dead fish were replaced by data showing vibrant, diverse populations. Lake Erie, once declared dead by the press, now has clear waters and a tourist and fishing industry worth billions. We have a lot to make us proud.
However, I also am frustrated because our progress is often stalled or even reversed. More than 40% of our waters still do not meet standards for recreation and biologic health. Stresses grow and change because of large population growth in coastal areas, increased urbanization and suburbanization, intensified and changed agricultural practices, and new invasive biological species.
I often feel that making progress is like trying to walk up a downward-moving escalator. Further, many of our problems today are outside the regulatory authority of the Clean Water Act. Strictly interpreted regulations often drive us to spend billions of dollars on programs with little benefit while other water quality and infrastructure issues are not met.
Optimism Takes Hold
In the face of these challenges, I also am optimistic. Not since the creation of Earth Day has water been such a high-profile issue with the general public. Newspapers routinely publish articles and editorials on water, covering not only floods and droughts but also everything from discharge and drinking water violations to farm runoff and pharmaceuticals in water.
The global discussion about climate change is really all about its effect on water, not just rising air temperatures. Public outlook is changing, too. Cities are focusing on green practices; industries are talking about water as a key foundation of business and the need for better management; and economists and government are looking at the role of water in international trade and public health. I believe we are about to enter another period ripe for change and re-examination of our approaches to managing and protecting our waters.
Trying To Fix Problems With Outdated Tools
In the U.S., the main problem today is that the Clean Water Act — our major regulatory tool — is a 20th century tool used to address 21st century problems. It is like trying to repair a modern-day Prius hybrid using a 1972 auto-repair manual. The manual just doesn’t address the current problems. Our current water quality problems can be attributed to nonpoint source pollution, agricultural practices, aging and inadequate infrastructure, biologic invasive species, pharmaceuticals flushed down toilets, air deposition, and legacy contamination, not to mention water scarcity, overuse, and flooding.
We also have new technologies and approaches to address problems that were not available in 1972; more so with a stressed economy, we can’t afford to spend billions on outdated approaches that don’t necessarily provide real benefits and may not address these real problems.
The problems we have in the U.S. are not unique, nor are the antiquated and inadequate ways that most countries are managing and governing their water resources. The problems are much worse in countries with underdeveloped or developing economies, where water scarcity and pollution are widespread. In many places, safe, clean water is either scarce or inadequate, sometimes becoming a crisis with dramatic social, environmental, and economic impacts.
Looking to the Future
So, where is my optimism? Well, I truly feel that water issues are going to become a major national and global topic in the near future. And I believe that the time is right to re-examine our national and global policies on water. I encourage all of you as water professionals to stay actively engaged in the water debate. Keep doing the good work that you do, and speak out about the challenges we face and the need for new approaches. We as water experts and water leaders do not have to be passive in submitting to outdated or ineffective policies, but we can help shape the future with policies and practices that we know can ensure adequate clean safe water for many generations to come.
Paul Freedman, 2009–2010 WEF President
Johnson Appointed Chair of NACEPT
||Water Environment Federation (Alexandria, Va.) member James H. Johnson Jr. has been appointed as chair of the National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology (NACEPT) by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. Founded in 1998 by EPA, NACEPT operates as an independent committee that advises the agency on a range of environmental policy, technology, and management issues.
Johnson, a professor emeritus of civil engineering and former dean of the College of Engineering, Architecture, and Computer Sciences at Howard University in Washington, D.C., previously served the university as chair of the department of civil engineering and interim associate vice president for research, according to an EPA news release.
Johnson has served on EPA’s Science Advisory Board and the Board of Scientific Counselors. He also is currently a member of the National Research Council (Washington, D.C.) Division of Earth and Life Sciences Oversight Committee and chair of the Anne Arundel Community College Board of Trustees in Arnold, Md. He serves on university, private-sector, and research-center advisory committees, and he has published more than 60 scholarly articles, contributed to three books, and co-edited two books.
|Photo courtesy of James H. Johnson Jr.
From 1989 to 2002, Johnson was associate director of the EPA-sponsored Great Lakes and Mid-Atlantic Center for Hazardous Substance Research and then oversaw the activities of the Engineering Coalition of Schools for Excellence and Leadership in Education, a U.S. National Science Foundation-funded consortium.
WEF Board Adopts Three Position Statements
On Feb. 5, the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) Board of Trustees adopted three revised WEF position statements.
Revisions were made in response to a review last year by the WEF Government Affairs Committee. Based on this review, revisions were made to refine and update the following position statements:
WEF’s position on climate change reaffirms that the Federation will work with all stakeholders to better understand the implications of climate change on water resources, aid in mitigating future impacts, and adapt the nation’s infrastructure to meet supply challenges. WEF asks all levels of government to work with water quality and resource managers to make the water sector more energy-efficient and minimize greenhouse gas emissions; optimize reuse and recycling of biosolids, biogas, and water; build green infrastructure; encourage adaptation strategies; and create a global research network to identify uncertainties in scientific knowledge of climate change.
Clean Water Act
WEF also urges a national recommitment to clean water by modernizing the Clean Water Act by incorporating the tools and policies necessary to ensure water quality improvements in all U.S. waters. The overarching principle for revising the Clean Water Act should be a holistic approach to water quality management. WEF recommends that it include requirements for site-specific watershed management plans; sustainable approaches, including green infrastructure, water reuse and conservation, and energy recovery; better research to develop improved cost-effective technologies; updated water quality standards; consideration of climate change; improved permitting and enforcement; and adequate funding to meet today’s challenges.
WEF supports a three-pronged approach to solve the financial sustainability of the infrastructure challenge facing water-sector utilities:
- Utilities must be well managed and appropriately funded to ensure long-term sustainability of collection, treatment, and distribution systems. Federal investment must be a significant and continuing commitment.
- The general public and business community must play a larger role in ensuring that utilities continue to serve their communities effectively.
- Within this context, WEF continues to support strengthening the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving funds. To bolster these funds, WEF will work with all stakeholders to consider dedicated revenue sources and innovative financing, such as a water trust fund or a water-specific infrastructure bank.
In Memoriam: W. Wesley Eckenfelder Jr., Wastewater Management Pioneer
William Wesley Eckenfelder Jr., 83, a pioneer in the field of water treatment and authority in industrial wastewater management, died March 28.
|Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt University (Nashville, Tenn.) School of Engineering.
Eckenfelder, known as the “godfather” or “grandfather” of industrial wastewater management by colleagues and students, most recently worked as a technical director at AquAeTer (Nashville, Tenn.), according to a Vanderbilt University (Nashville, Tenn.) School of Engineering news release. Throughout his career he was the founder of several companies, and an environmental engineering professor at Manhattan College (Riverdale, N.Y.), University of Texas–Austin, and Vanderbilt University. He also authored more than 30 technical books and hundreds of journal articles, the news release says.
“He influenced and taught thousands of us engineers and scientists through his books, workshops, and courses,” said WEF member Joseph G. Cleary, principal at HydroQual Inc. (Mahwah, N.J.). “He truly was one of a kind and a living legend who will be greatly missed.”
Eckenfelder, granted honorary membership to the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) in 1991, received WEF’s Industrial Water Quality Lifetime Achievement Award in 1957 and Camp Applied Research Medal in 1981. According to the news release, he received a total of 28 awards and accolades from various professional societies and was one of three individuals named “20th Century Pollution Control Pioneers,” by Environmental Protection magazine.
“Eckenfelder was among the first to develop a mathematical model of the activated sludge process,” said WEF member John H. Koon, president of John H. Koon & Associates (Atlanta). “He was perhaps its greatest and most effective proponent.” He was one of the first to write a book devoted to wastewater treatment, Biological Wastewater Treatment published in 1960, and was the designer of the first activated sludge plant in the 1950s, the news release says.
He was a key contributor to the development and success of AWARE Inc. in Nashville, Tenn., which was later named Eckendfelder Inc. in his honor, the news release says. “Eckenfelder was the ‘gray hair’ of the organization; and it was his reputation that permitted it to survive,” said Koon, who began working as an employee there in 1972. In 1998, the company merged with Brown and Caldwell (Walnut Creek, Calif.) which established the Dr. W. Wesley Eckenfelder Scholarship.
“He was a great all-around person who made complex things look easy,” said WEF member Ajit Ghorpade, Technical Director at N.A. Water Systems LLC (Pittsburgh). “We will all miss him almost any time a tough problem arises and we need someone to make a technical presentation that all can understand.” At press time, an April 1 memorial service was planned. Memorial contributions can be made to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in the name of Wesley Eckenfelder.