“For years, people said that America has the cleanest drinking water in the world,” said William K. Reilly, the E.P.A. administrator under President George H. W. Bush. “That was true 20 years ago. But people don’t realize how many new chemicals have emerged and how much more pollution has occurred. If they did, we would see very different attitudes.” When we turn on the faucet in the kitchen, water flows into the sink. We use this water to wash dishes, mop the floor, clean the windows, but without knowing really just what is in the water, is it wise to take a drink?
It is a short list of contaminants that are regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act. First passed in 1974, after tests discovered carcinogens, lead and dangerous bacteria in water from New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Boston and other cities, the Safe Drinking Water Act regulates just 91 contaminants in a world where more than 60,000 chemicals are used. The Environmental Protection Agency has not added a single item to the list of regulated chemicals since 2000. So those who are tasked with providing us with safe drinking water can and do, literally, follow the law and deliver water that can be harmful to our health.
Government and independent scientists continue to study chemicals in our water and have concluded there are many – hundreds – which can cause cancer and other diseases. Even at small concentrations these contaminants are concerning.
It is a tricky thing to talk about how cities can be following federal law and still be providing water that may make people sick. Improvements in water treatment are very much needed, but who pays for these improvements? Wouldn’t it be wiser for us to not pollute the air, the ground, or the water in the first place?
In a system where polluting is legal and thus profitable, where is the motivation to do things differently? It is a short-sighted model that allows companies, military contractors and manufacturers to reap profit and pass off the environmental clean up and future health consequences. Don’t we all pay for such irresponsibility, whether it be the loss of our natural world or our quality of life? Why do we still allow ourselves to be fooled by the lure of today’s gain compared to the future cost of cleaning up our mess?
So, how do we get our water clean?