by Rachel Baker
CalMatters is an independent public journalism project that covers the politics and government of California. For more information, visit calm.
California water regulators have approved the world’s first requirements for testing microplastics in drinking water sources — a major step toward regulating the tiny, ubiquitous parts of the environment.
after, after Years of research involving more than twenty laboratoriesthe State Water Resources Supervision Board unanimously approved Policy Manual To test the water supply of microplastics over a four-year period. Under the plan approved September 7, up to 30 of the state’s largest water providers will be ordered to begin quarterly testing for two years, beginning in the fall of 2023.
“Nowhere else in the world – literally in the world – has standardized methods of how to do this or has a monitoring program to look at drinking water,” Steve WeisbergD., executive director of the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project, which analyzed the state’s various testing methods. “California really comes out and ranks first.”
Microplastics, some of which are so small that they can only be seen with a microscope, are found in organisms and their environments around the world – from Invertebrates in Antarctica to me Rain in the Rocky Mountains And the human placenta. They make their way into the waterways of synthetic clothes that shed fibers in the laundry, and plastic waste crumbles into pieces and tires that erode on the roads.
The testing will start with only source water, not water that providers send to people’s taps after treatment, said Scott Coffin, a research scientist with the state Water Resources Control Board.
Although the list of agencies who should begin testing is still a draft, water providers have been selected based on their size and the degree of treatment their water undergoes. The observation sites are expected to be completed after public input this year.
Most of them are derived from surface water rather than groundwater. Includes two giants to import water—The Southern California Urban Water District, which serves 19 million people, and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Energy—plus the East Bay Municipal Utilities District and the San Francisco Regional Water System.
The new requirements come after a state law adopted in 2018, Four years of probation is required To determine the prevalence of microplastics in drinking water, and guidelines specifying safe levels for drinking.
Multiple studies have reported the health effects of microplastics on mammals, including sperm abnormalities, altered sperm counts, and testosterone concentrations. There is not yet enough research to determine the safe concentration of people, According to the Water Council scientistsalthough there are signs that the smallest particles are more likely to cause health problems.
“We’ve known about the issue for decades. The public has been asking governments to do something about it for 10 or 15 years. It’s been a bottleneck in science, and through our efforts we’ve been able to bring the science to a level of maturity that is finally ready for use in the regulatory sense, Coffin said.
The policy handbook adopted by the board today sets a timetable for the next test. After an initial one-year pilot phase to test and refine the sampling methods and provide training, the monitoring is expected to take place in two phases of two years. Water systems will be required to alert the public to the discoveries of microplastics in annual Consumer Confidence Reports.
The Water Board’s standard testing method is estimated to cost water systems between $1,000 and $2,000 per sample.
The water agencies said they “expect that the cost of complying with this regulation will require significant investment” and requested assistance from government funding.
“Using the new methods will require explanatory study and place the burden of cost and effort to conduct the study on public water systems,” the Federation of California Water Agencies and the California Water Association wrote in a joint letter to the board of directors last December. .
“Human health impacts from microplastics are a statewide problem, and thus justify the use of state funds to supplement the cost to public water agencies of participating in this process.”
It is not known how much microplastics contaminate drinking water. According to research, the commonly used techniques that many providers use to treat drinking water remove most of the particles conducted in Canada And the In Asia. But there is concern about smaller particles evading treatment — the ones that may pose the greatest health concerns — and that few water systems use technologies that remove more than 90 percent, Coffin told the board.
“We don’t expect to find any significant contamination because our watersheds are well protected and all our water is filtered before it is delivered to the public,” said Susan Tevey, director of water quality for the East Bay Municipal District.
Coffin said the first two years of monitoring will be followed by six months of evaluation to determine the extent of contamination and whether treated drinking water should be evaluated in the next — ideally using more sophisticated testing methods.
As part of efforts to develop a standard test for microplastics, the Coastal Waters Research Project in Southern California has sent pots of water filled with microplastics and other materials to laboratories around the world. The jars contained plastic items of various sizes and shapes, as well as red herring such as shell splinters, cotton, and rabbit hair.
Coffin said the method of testing is twofold; The first involves evaluating the particles under a microscope to determine their size, shape, color, and number; The other involves laser beams to determine exactly what it consists of.
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