By Keller O’Leary

The Water Quality Research Foundation (WQRF) started off the summer of 2024 with the Emerging Contaminants and WQRF Contaminants Occurrence Map Launch Party. This webinar served as the first of this year’s summer school series of webinars, with new topics discussed each month.

The session was hosted by the WQRF’s Foundation director, Callie Matheny, who began by introducing the first speaker, Richard Mest, director of special projects at A.O. Smith.

Mest began his presentation by defining emerging contaminants as chemicals that have not been previously detected (or previously found in lower concentrations) in water supplies. These contaminants pose a potential risk to human health because their human and environmental health effects have not been fully realized. He cited pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and endocrine-disrupting compounds as just a handful of examples.

The Emerging Contaminant Roadmap

Mest also outlined the cycle in place that catalogs and determines the steps needed to address each documented emerging contaminant, most often in the form of Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) for each contaminant.

The process for how emerging contaminants are regulated can be complex, but there are a number of educational resources that are available to water treatment professionals and consumers alike.

National Occurrence Map 2.0

After Mest’s presentation, Matheny followed with digital fireworks to celebrate the launch of the new-and-improved National Occurrence Map. This map is an updated, interactive database that allows users to visually engage with the quality of water systems across the nation. The map utilizes 131 million points of data to outline 183 contaminants across the country in water systems that serve nearly 88 percent of the total U.S. population.

Matheny attributed to the combined efforts of the teams at the United States Groundwater Survey (USGS) Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure that have spent years collecting this substantial amount of data.

The Interactive Emerging Contaminants Map from the WQRF

By scrolling down, users are offered explanations for the categories of finished water, common contaminants, PFAS/Forever Chemicals, and finally, the Contaminant Mapping Tool.

The mapping tool can be searched for both common and PFAS contaminants with an easy button selection, and service areas can be selected by state, county, or even water system.

Service areas are differentiated by color and the individual datapoint can be selected for a full description of its name,  the number served, and its service area type.

Contaminant Occurrence Datapoints and Contaminant Level Guidance

After selecting the chosen service area, the map will display the data on the screen below, with a simple breakdown of each contaminant and its associated data available for the region. Hovering over the contaminant will also provide additional information, such as the contaminant’s name, the amount detected in milligrams per liter (mg/L) or micrograms per liter (µg/L), collection date, and contaminant guidelines.

This map opens the door for further dynamic, visual education as another resource to provide both consumers and water service professionals with necessary information to determine the type of services needed in each region, which Matheny was proud to share.

For more information, the WQRF provides a number of outreach and educational programs that can be found here, and a full-length video version of this presentation can be found here.

Also, the next summer session is scheduled for June 18 and will explore the topic of PFAS. To register for this event, click here.

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