Solar Eclipse
Custer State Park
Wind Cave National Park
Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
Badlands National Park

Waterborne diseases

I am still irritated by the one sided New York Times article on people who think “raw water” is better than treated water. I wrote previously about the various microorganisms and chemicals that can be found naturally in groundwater, but I wanted to expand a bit on water borne diseases and why we treat water. Not all water borne diseases are a result of microorganisms.

High nitrates in water can lead to blue-baby syndrome, more properly known as infant methemoglobinemia. Nitrates is associated with human-related water contamination, especially agriculture.

Arsenic occurs naturally in many groundwater sources. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has mapped arsenic in groundwater based on a great deal of sampling. Arsenic in groundwater is particularly problematic in southeast Asia. Arsenic can cause cancer, cardiovascular disease, and skin lesions, among other issues.

Other naturally occurring metals and radioactive elements can be found in groundwater that can cause long term health problems. Groundwater and surface can also become contaminated from human activities with volatile organic compounds, pesticides, and other chemicals that you don’t generally want to ingest.

Then there are all the illnesses caused by microorganisms in water. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common waterborne disease outbreak for 2013-2014 was Legionella, which I admit surprised me. Legionella causes respiratory illness due to inhalation of it, which is why it is normally associated with people inhaling the mist of cooling towers and air conditioning systems. [This is how it was first discovered and named when members of the American Legion got sick at a convention in Philadelphia hotel with unsterilized water in a cooling system.]

Most waterborne microorganism caused illness cause gastrointestinal illness though. Most people have heard of Giardia lamblia, which can cause diarrhea. There is Shigella which causes diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. E. coli is another common microorganism that can cause gastrointestinal illness found in both food and water. Cryptosporidium is a nasty microorganism that can cause illness. The reason I call it nasty though is because the parasite is protected by a shell that makes it particularly difficult to kill with disinfectants.

While luckily not a problem in the U.S., cholera, another waterborne disease, has killed many people throughout history. Yemen is currently in the midst of a horrible outbreak that has killed thousands and infected a million people. The cholera outbreak in London in 1854 is considered by most to be when the field of epidemiology started when John Snow, a physician, removed the Broad Street pump handle to show that that pump was the cause of most of the cases.

Point of all this is, be thankful for modern water treatment. There are very few waterborne illnesses in the U.S. It is rather rare for a person to get sick from water that comes from a public water supply, and when they do, most often because something has gone wrong at the water treatment plant. There are other issues of course, such as old water systems with lead in the pipes or solder. The source water can also become contaminated with something that the water treatment plant was not designed to treat. On the whole though, you are much more likely to become ill from untreated water then from treated water.

Raw Water

The New York Times ran an article about people who like to drink “raw water.” Evidently there are people who do not like tap water and like to drink unfiltered, untreated, unsterilized water. According to the article, some people like the taste. Fair enough. Most of the time when people object to the taste of tap water, what they are objecting to is the taste of chlorine or chloramines that are added to kill bacteria that can make you sick. Using a filter at the tap or simply putting the water in a container and letting it sit in the refrigerator overnight will solve the taste issue. One of the parts of this almost completely one-sided article that I find the most telling and amusing is this paragraph.

“He said “real water” should expire after a few months. His does. “It stays most fresh within one lunar cycle of delivery,” he said. “If it sits around too long, it’ll turn green. People don’t even realize that because all their water’s dead, so they never see it turn green.””

Water does not turn green unless there is something growing in it. The person quoted understands that there are microorganisms (algae most likely because it turns green) growing in the water but thinks that is good thing. There is a reason why water purveyors are required to disinfect water. Bacteria and other microorganisms can cause illness. Not all microorganisms call illness, and some can have beneficial effects (i.e. probiotics). Groundwater does normally have less microorganisms than surface water, but it is not sterile. Further, hot springs does not mean sterile. Scientists have been studying the microorganisms in hot springs like the geysers at Yellowstone National Park for years. Those microorganisms are often called extremophiles because they are so different from the “normal” microorganisms we normally find in less extreme settings.

Some people are concerned about the fluoride that is added to water to help dental health, and a person quoted in this articles believes it is a mind-control drug. Fluoride does help dental health, and it is not a mind-control drug. I really don’t even know where to go with the claim that fluoride is a mind-control drug, so I have decided not to address it right now. Also fluoride can be naturally occurring in groundwater.

However, here, I would like to address the issues with not treating or filtering water and all the other contaminants that can be in water, including but not limited to the microorganisms. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets limits on microorganisms, disinfectants, disinfectant byproducts, inorganic, organics, and radionuclides. Bottled water is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), not the EPA, and the regulations and testing requirements are different. Tap water is tested more frequently and has more monitoring requirements.

Just because water comes from the ground does not mean that it is pure or clean. Bacteria naturally grows in groundwater. Groundwater normally has ions including metals in it, and not all of those metals are good for people. The only way to know if it is free of contaminants is to test it. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) studies and samples groundwater and surface water across the United States. I randomly pulled several reports by searching on water quality and groundwater at USGS’s website. This report of sampling from 2014 found heavy metals in almost all groundwater samples, as well as pesticides and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). “Groundwater Quality in the Yuba River and Bear River Watersheds, Sierra Nevada, California” indicates that while the groundwater is mostly clean, a few samples had high concentrations of four elements (arsenic, barium, molybdenum, and strontium), a few samples had high radioactivity, and coliforms were detected in over 20% of wells. This report on groundwater quality in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania shows 52% of the samples exceed the EPA standard for total coliform, 12% of the wells exceeded the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for arsenic, 67% exceeded the MCL for Radon-222, and a few exceeded the reporting limit for various VOCs.”Groundwater Quality in the Northern Atlantic Coastal Plain Aquifer System, Eastern United States” found fluoride, arsenic, and manganese in high concentrations in some of the samples. [Note this is naturally occurring fluoride.] Radioactive constituents were present at high levels in about 1% of the samples and at moderate levels in about 12%.

This is the reason why water treatment plants are not one size fits all. All water treatment plants have to disinfect the water. They can’t test for all microorganisms, but they test for indicator microorganisms like total coliform to determine how much disinfect is needed. They also have to test for VOCs, radionuclides, and numerous other indicators. They also test for smell and taste. Common processes at water treatment plants include flocculation and filtration to remove dissolved and suspended particles (this includes microorganisms). The source water will dictate what processes are used and the amount of treatment. The point of the treatment is to clean the water, make sure it meets the requirements set by the EPA and whatever respective state the plant is in, and prevent the people from drinking it from getting sick because of the water. The people of the United States can thank water treatment for better health. Drinking “raw water” means returning to the taking chances on acquiring an illness that people of the past were happy to do away with when water treatment plants became standard and laws like the Safe Drinking Water Act were passed. Edited to add: The EPA sets National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWR), which are legally enforceable primary standards and treatment techniques that apply to public water systems, and clicking on this embedded link will take to you a list of them along with the health problems that can occur if the water contains one of those chemicals or microorganisms above that limit.

Author’s Note: When I originally wrote this, I referred to microorganisms that live in extreme settings as xenophiles. I meant to say extremophiles. I have corrected it, and I apologize for any confusion. This is what happens when I edit my own writing. I think I had xenobiotics in my head. Xenobiotic is term generally used to describe chemicals that are foreign to body or ecosystem. In my field, I often use that term when speaking of a contaminant in the environment that needs to be cleaned up. You might find xenobiotics in raw water.

MTA’s Linden Yard

I took another fun, educational tour with the New York Transit Museum. This tour was of MTA’s Linden Yard where they rehabilitate and replace subway track and switch gear. I have been on several yard tours, and this one was very different. There were no cars being repaired. It was strictly rails. There are three types of rail areas: underground, aboveground on the surface, and aboveground on a structure (elevated). They repair and build rail differently depending on where it is.

In some areas, they can lay continuous welded rail, which speeds up replacement. They weld long lengths of rail together in the yard and then transport them to the location to be laid.

A continuous welded rail is laying on the ground in the middle next to the stacked rails

The continuous welded rail is transported in specialty rail cars that are joined together and can transport eight of these continuous welded rail.

Specialty rail car for laying continuous welded rail

Specialty rail car for laying continuous welded rail

They use thermite to weld lengths of rail together. The process is awesome to watch.

Using thermite to weld two pieces of rail together

Using thermite to weld two pieces of rail together. Molten metal is pouring out the sides.

They also rehabilitate frogs, aka rail switches.

Frog rehabilitation area

A “frog”, switching track so named because it is said to look like a frog laying down with limbs spread out

They build complete segments of rail attached to the ties. For curved sections of track, they have to rip the ties at precise angles to give the rail curve whatever angle it needs for the train to take the curve safely.

Stacked rails on ties. Note that some of the ties are cut at an angle to lay in track curves. The metal plates used to join the rail and ties have a rubber bottom to cushion the train and reduce noise.

They also build the more complicated rail junctions.

A rail switch or junction being built in the shop

Fully assembled track lifted by crane

Rubber plates used to hold rail to ties. Rubber reduces the noise of the train.

Rail being curved by mechanical force in this machine

They also repair the third rail. Third rails are not welded together but are joined using a very thick copper wire that is welded to each segment.

Copper wire being attached to two third rails with thermite

Newly attached copper wire to serve as junction between two third rails

CHIHULY at New York Botanical Gardens

I love glass, and I love plants, so a Chihuly exhibit at a botanical garden is definitely something I want to see. There is an exhibit of numerous Dale Chihuly works currently at the New York Botanical Gardens, and it is lovely. Below are photos I took over the course of two visits there.

Palazzo Ducale Tower

Sapphire Star

Sol del Citrón

Red Reeds on Logs

Koda Study #3 with Scarlet and Yellow Icicle Tower in the distance

Scarlet and Yellow Icicle Tower

Persian Pond and Fiori

Persian Pond

Fiori

White Tower with Pink Trumpets and Cobalt-Pink Spears

White Tower

Pink Trumpets and Cobalt-Pink Spears

Glasshouse Fiori

Glasshouse Fiori

Glasshouse Fiori

Glasshouse Fiori

Macchia Forest

Macchia Forest

Float Boat

Niijima Floats in Float Boat

Neon 206

Chicago

I’ve never been to Chicago before until I did extended layovers between train rides out west and back. Chicago is a pretty neat city. It has a nice mix of old and new buildings. At least one really neat park. [There are probably more, but I didn’t get to them.] It also has a really nice riverwalk along parts of the Chicago River. It is definitely a city that I need to get back to and explore more. Note to any engineers or geeks reading this: If you are in Chicago, go see the historic water tower. It is a gorgeous building that was built to house a standpipe. Across the street is a pumping station in an equally gorgeous building. You can actually go into the pumping station and walk along a small portion of a balcony to see the pipes and pumps.

Jay Pritzker Pavilion

The “L” goes by a downtown office building

Floating gardens on the river walk

On the river walk underneath a bridge

River walk

Historic water tower near the John Hancock Building

Historic water tower

Pumping station building across from the water tower

Inside the pumping station building

Oak Street Beach

Buckingham Fountain

Cloud Gate

I’m in Chicago on an extended layover between trains coming back from my trip out west. I spent the day wandering around Chicago, and one the sites on my must see list was Cloud Gate, known more informally as The Bean. This piece of art is lovely to look at, but it is just plain fun to photograph. Everyone there takes selfies of themselves, but really the way it reflects with so many different angles, it is just as fun to photograph everything else.

Cloud Gate (aka The Bean)

Cloud Gate (aka The Bean)

Cloud Gate (aka The Bean)

Cloud Gate (aka The Bean)

Cloud Gate (aka The Bean)

Under Cloud Gate (aka The Bean)

Under Cloud Gate (aka The Bean)

Prairie Dogs

I have visited a lot of parks on my trip out west, and in a lot of those parks were prairie dogs. A lot of prairie dogs were in those parks. I have to admit that I couldn’t get enough of them. They are just so cute. Here is a collection of photos of prairie dogs from several different parks.

Prairie dog

Prairie dog

Prairie dog

Prairie dogs

Prairie dogs

Prairie dogs

Prairie dog

Prairie dogs

Prairie dogs

Prairie dog

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

From the Black Hills area, I traveled north to North Dakota to go to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Theodore Roosevelt National Park is classic badlands. The coloration of the sedimentary layers are less colorful than Badlands National Park, but Theodore Roosevelt National Park has some unexpected beautiful green areas in the middle of it. It also has some gorgeous views of the Little Missouri River.

Theodore Roosevelt NP south unit

Theodore Roosevelt NP south unit

Theodore Roosevelt NP south unit

Theodore Roosevelt NP south unit

Theodore Roosevelt NP south unit

Theodore Roosevelt NP north unit

Theodore Roosevelt NP north unit

Theodore Roosevelt NP north unit

Theodore Roosevelt NP north unit

Theodore Roosevelt NP north unit

Rapid City

I spent a total of five days in the Rapid City area, but I barely spent any time in Rapid City itself. The last day I was there, I spent a little bit of time wandering around downtown Rapid City. It is a rather cute town. I have clear preferences in towns. I like towns that still have some of their old buildings, and Rapid City does. It also has some new art and a town square of sorts. On several street corners, there are statues of various Presidents, presumably with keeping with the theme set by Mt. Rushmore. Most unique, it has an art alley, where people can paint the backs of buildings and evidently everything else in the alley that doesn’t generally move. Permits are required for the painting, which is a rather interesting touch considering some of it looks like graffiti.

Downtown Rapid City

Downtown Rapid City

Downtown Rapid City

Town square of sorts that kids clearly like

Art Alley

Art Alley

Art Alley

Statues of Presidents on most corners

Black Hills

I have said it before, and I will say it again, the Black Hills are gorgeous. I have posted some of my photos in their respective blog posts: Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, 1880 Train ride, Crazy Horse and Mt. Rushmore, and Deadwood. Here are just a few more photos that didn’t fit anywhere because they weren’t in any particular park. Of particular note are three tunnels on US 16A that were made by tunneling straight through the rock for only the small amount needed for a (single) car to go through. That in itself is an engineering feat, considering when they were built, but also they were built to frame Mt. Rushmore. It is not easy to see in the photo, but with all three, depending on the direction you are driving, you can see Mt. Rushmore, and it is really neat. Consider also the crazy route that the road had to take to get to those exact angles to frame Mt. Rushmore.

Horse Thief Lake

US 16A, the scenic drive

Black Hills

Tunnel that frames Mt. Rushmore

Tunnel that frames Mt. Rushmore

Tunnel that frames Mt. Rushmore

Black Hills

Black Hills