By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Water, one of the necessities of human existence, is often taken for granted. But recent events have thrust water -- and especially its potability -- into the media spotlight.
The resignation of Elizabeth “Betsy” Southerland as Director of Science and Technology at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Water on July 31 is the most recent example. Since its creation in 1970, the EPA has worked for a cleaner, healthier environment.
Southerland said family concerns played an important role in her decision to leave after 30 years at EPA. But she also clashed with President Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt over environmental issues.
In a statement reported by the Washington Post, Southerland, who has a Ph.D. in environmental science and engineering, said she is "heartbroken about the impact of the new administration on environmental protection in this country."
“Her office prepares the scientific basis for the actions we take here in the water office,” Ken Kopocis, Deputy Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water, told the Post.
The EPA is one of several oversight organizations and public policy groups overseeing the drinking water debacle in Flint, Michigan. Local water officials in April 2014 decided to stop buying water from Detroit and join several other counties to buy water from Lake Huron. To save money, Flint opted to draw its water from the Flint River.
Flint Officials Told Residents to Boil Their Water for Drinking and Cooking
In May 2014, local residents began complaining that the water had a “murky, foamy quality.” Subsequent tests found E. coli bacteria in the water. The authorities then advised residents to boil their water for drinking and cooking. Further tests showed excessive levels of lead and mercury in the water from being transported in old, lead-based pipes.
After 18 months of corrosive water, “the city’s delivery systems were in shambles,” Alexandra Talty, a contributor to Forbes, reported in a Chase Bank publication. She notes that it will cost the city some $1.5 billion to replace the old infrastructure.
Without new service lines and water mains, lead will continue to leach into the system. Time magazine puts the long-term social costs mainly to treat children exposed to lead poisoning at $400 million.
More than three years later, the Flint water problem is still not fully resolved. In June 2017, the Trump administration made $15 million available to Flint to address the aftereffects of the contamination on women, children and families, the Detroit Free Press reports.
Cancer-Causing Agents in Drinking Water
Perhaps the only beneficial side effect of the Flint crisis is the growing interest in the quality of America’s potable water supply.
Recently, the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment, released a national guide to safe drinking water based on EPA testing. Consumers can learn if their local drinking water contains dangerous levels of lead and other carcinogens by accessing the site and entering their zip code.
For example, in always health-conscious California, EPA tap water tests of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power in March 2017, found that the utility’s water “was in compliance with federal health-based drinking water standards.”
On the other hand, New York City residents, who have always insisted that theirs was the best-tasting water in the nation, would be surprised by the results of similar testing. The EPA’s latest assessment of New York’s water from the municipal utility found it “was in violation of federal health-based drinking water standards.”
Previously, in October 2016, the Pur water filter company unveiled a "Know Your Water" TV campaign to call attention to concerns about water contamination and the extent to which consumers can rely on the water that comes from their faucets.
“The campaign leans heavily on documents like water quality reports and consumer confidence surveys painstakingly gathered from sources like the Environmental Protection Agency,” explains Campaign, a website that reports on creative excellence in the communications industry.
About the Author
David E. Hubler brings a variety of government, journalism and teaching experience to his position as a Quality Assurance Editor at APUS. David’s professional background includes serving as a senior editor at CIA and the Voice of America. He has also been a managing editor for several business-to-business and business-to-government publishing companies. David has taught high school English in Connecticut and at Northern Virginia Community College. He has a master’s degree for Teachers of English from the University of New Hampshire and a B.A. in English from New York University. David’s 2015 book, “The Nats and the Grays, How Baseball in the Nation’s Capital Survived WWII and Changed the Game Forever,” was recently published in paperback by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.