Home Opinion Making Our Drinking Water Safer in the US and Worldwide
Making Our Drinking Water Safer in the US and Worldwide

Making Our Drinking Water Safer in the US and Worldwide

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By Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics Management, American Military University

Water comes to us in many ways -- the taps in our homes, a water fountain at work, or in glass or plastic bottles. We also use water in the preparation of other beverages, such as coffee and tea.

Water even has its own special commemorative day. In fact, World Water Day was last Friday, March 22.

But for many people, drinking water is a problem. In many areas, water is contaminated and not safe to drink.

EPA Warns that There Is a Global Need for Clean, Safe Drinking Water

On March 20, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, Andrew Wheeler, gave a briefing about clean water initiatives and the EPA’s concerns for global clean water. Wheeler noted that “We have 1,000 children die every day worldwide because they don't have safe drinking water.

While this statement alarmed me at first, Wheeler did conclude his briefing on a positive note, stating that in the U.S., “we have the safest drinking water in the world.” He added that that 92% of U.S. drinking water meets the EPA water safety requirements.

But Wheeler’s report on the fact that dirty or unclean drinking water still exists is disturbing.

Several US Cities Have Water that Does Not Meet Safety Standards

A recent Business Insider article cited several cities “with the worst tap water in the U.S.” They include:

  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Flint and Detroit, Michigan
  • Newark, New Jersey
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Brady, Texas
  • Baltimore, Maryland
  • Dos Palos, California
  • Charleston, West Virginia
  • Newburgh, New York

CBS News also reported that lead found in Newark’s drinking water contained lead levels three time the federal limit. In fact, “roughly one-quarter of Newark children under the age of six have detectable levels of lead in their blood.”

What Is the Definition of Safe Drinking Water?

What exactly is the definition of safe drinking water? The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) 42 U.S.C. §300f et seq. (1974) covers our drinking water from either underground or above-ground sources.

Common drinking water is a complicated chemical. To be considered safe for humans, this water must contain no more than 10,000 milligrams/liter of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) (a liter is about one-fourth of a gallon).

These solids are any substance other than hydrogen and oxygen, which create pure water. For example, these substances could be organic and inorganic compounds or minerals. When humans ingest these solids in their proper amount, they help our bodies to function.

But some of these solids can cause disease or even death. For instance, you wouldn’t drink water from a road ditch because it could contain road salt, gasoline, diesel fuel, oils from vehicles, fecal matter, bug spray, weed killer or dead animals.

Trash Also Contaminates Our Water Supply

Clean water becomes contaminated from the trash it carries, such as plastic bottles floating in lakes, rivers, streams, oceans and bays. This contamination doesn’t appear likely to end any time soon; the sale of plastic bottles in the U.S. has been steadily rising.

The EPA tracks the toxicology impact of plastic bottles as part of the threat to marine and human life. As plastic bottles decay, they break down into toxic chemicals that contaminate both underground and above-ground sources. The chemicals that get into our ground water are organic pollutants (POPs). They are “especially persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (such as DDT, dioxins, and PCBs).”

Soft Drink Providers Working on Reducing Plastic Bottle Usage

Many soft drink manufacturers are working on the challenges of plastic bottles on clean water. In 2018, Coca-Cola launched a new campaign, “World Without Waste,” to collect and recycle Coke’s annual worldwide distribution of 110 billion plastic bottles. In 2019, Coke and Pepsi held public meetings to examine how to curb or clean up the billions of plastic soft drink bottles in the environment.

Cleaning Up Your Tap Water

There are many kinds of water purifiers or water filters to make sure that your tap water is clean. The wide range of options depends on your budget and personal choice on how to clean your water.

For instance, you can buy a water filtration system that attaches to your main water line, under a sink, or onto a water faucet or the water supply line to your refrigerator. You can purchase a water pitcher with a filter holder or put a filter onto your shower head. These types of purifiers can reduce up to 99.9 percent of bacteria and viruses in your water.

Testing Your Water

You can test your own water for purity and request the Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) on the condition of the drinking water in your area.

Obtaining this report is simple. The EPA website has a U.S. state map. By clicking on your state and entering certain information, such as your town or city, you can learn about the drinking water in your area.

When I went on this website, it provided me with the number and names of different water systems providers in my area. I was surprised that there were nine different water treatment systems that provided water to homes and businesses in my area.

Another simple way to check your drinking water is to fill a glass, look at it and smell it. If the water smells like the chlorine used in a swimming pool, that water may have a problem. If the water appears cloudy, that too could be a problem.

You can also purchase water testing kits, ranging in price from $25 to $500. These kits can test your water’s cleanliness, alkalinity, acidity range or hardness. They can also test for substances such as coliform, nitrates, nitrogen, phosphorus, chlorine, ammonia or phosphate. There are test kits for well water as well.

I trust my water to be clean, especially my bottled water. But I do pay more attention now to what the EPA says about our dirty water here in the U.S. and around the world. Essentially, “World Water Day” is every day.

About the Author

Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is a full-time professor at American Military University (AMU). He was the program director of three academic programs: Reverse Logistics Management, Transportation and Logistics Management and Government Contracting. He was Chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Dr. Hedgepeth was the founding Director of the Army’s Artificial Intelligence Center for Logistics.