Human health tradeoffs in wellhead drinking water treatment: Comparing exposure reduction to embedded life cycle risks

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Abstract

Treatment of drinking water decreases human health risks by reducing pollutants, but the required materials, chemicals, and energy emit pollutants and increase health risks. We explored human carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic disease tradeoffs of water treatment by comparing pollutant dose-response curves against life cycle burden using USEtox methodology. An illustrative wellhead sorbent groundwater treatment system removing hexavalent chromium or pentavalent arsenic serving 3200 people was studied. Reducing pollutant concentrations in drinking water from 20 μg L−1 to 10 μg L−1 avoided 37 potential cancer cases and 64 potential non-cancer disease cases. Human carcinogenicity embedded in treatment was 0.2–5.3 cases, and non-carcinogenic toxicity was 0.2–14.3 cases, depending on technology and degree of treatment. Embedded toxicity impacts from treating Cr(VI) using strong-base anion exchange were <10% of those from using weak base anion exchange. Acidification and neutralization contributed >90% of the toxicity impacts for treatment options requiring pH control. In scenarios where benefits exceeded burdens, tradeoffs still existed. Benefits are experienced by a local population but burdens are born externally where the materials and energy are produced, thus exporting the health risks. Even when burdens clearly exceeded benefits, cost considerations may still drive selecting a detrimental treatment level or technology.

LanguageEnglish (US)
Pages246-254
Number of pages9
JournalWater Research
Volume128
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018

Fingerprint

Wellheads
Health risks
wellhead
Water treatment
Potable water
health risk
Toxicity
Life cycle
life cycle
Health
toxicity
pollutant
ion exchange
Ion exchange
Negative ions
drinking water
Acidification
neutralization
Sorbents
Arsenic

Keywords

  • Arsenic
  • Hexavalent chromium
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Water treatment tradeoffs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecological Modeling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution

Cite this

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abstract = "Treatment of drinking water decreases human health risks by reducing pollutants, but the required materials, chemicals, and energy emit pollutants and increase health risks. We explored human carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic disease tradeoffs of water treatment by comparing pollutant dose-response curves against life cycle burden using USEtox methodology. An illustrative wellhead sorbent groundwater treatment system removing hexavalent chromium or pentavalent arsenic serving 3200 people was studied. Reducing pollutant concentrations in drinking water from 20 μg L−1 to 10 μg L−1 avoided 37 potential cancer cases and 64 potential non-cancer disease cases. Human carcinogenicity embedded in treatment was 0.2–5.3 cases, and non-carcinogenic toxicity was 0.2–14.3 cases, depending on technology and degree of treatment. Embedded toxicity impacts from treating Cr(VI) using strong-base anion exchange were <10{\%} of those from using weak base anion exchange. Acidification and neutralization contributed >90{\%} of the toxicity impacts for treatment options requiring pH control. In scenarios where benefits exceeded burdens, tradeoffs still existed. Benefits are experienced by a local population but burdens are born externally where the materials and energy are produced, thus exporting the health risks. Even when burdens clearly exceeded benefits, cost considerations may still drive selecting a detrimental treatment level or technology.",
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