Friday, December 18, 2009

Uh oh

So there's a big story this week in the NY Times examining potential dangers of tap water - which, according to the latest data from the EPA, is not as carefully regulated as I/we once thought. This is a freakin' disaster for JustSaying's crusade against bottled water. Charles Duhigg reports:

"Only 91 contaminants are regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act, yet more than 60,000 chemicals are used within the United States, according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates. Government and independent scientists have scrutinized thousands of those chemicals in recent decades, and identified hundreds associated with a risk of cancer and other diseases at small concentrations in drinking water, according to an analysis of government records by The New York Times... But not one chemical has been added to the list of those regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act since 2000...."

Okay okay... the system needs some attention and upgrades. The NY Times put up this great interactive allowing folks to look at the water systems in their respective states and districts. Seeing these chemicals listed as contaminents in local water systems is bound to scare people straight to Costco for cases of bottled water. The article continues:

"Drinking water that does not meet a federal health guideline will not necessarily make someone ill. Many contaminants are hazardous only if consumed for years. And some researchers argue that even toxic chemicals, when consumed at extremely low doses over long periods, pose few risks. Others argue that the cost of removing minute concentrations of chemicals from drinking water does not equal the benefits... Moreover, many of the thousands of chemicals that have not been analyzed may be harmless. And researchers caution that such science is complicated, often based on extrapolations from animal studies, and sometimes hard to apply nationwide, particularly given that more than 57,400 water systems in this country each deliver, essentially, a different glass of water every day."

However, independent studies published by the National Academy of Sciences suggest that contaminated water is the source of millions of Americans maladies (upset stomachs, birth defects, cancer) each year.

This is super tricky, folks. I urge you to read the article in its entirity here. Duhigg addresses the actual risk posed by small traces of arsenic (which is roughly equivalent to risks associated with receiving 1,664 x-rays although it sounds like it will turn us all into mutant ninja turtles); risks and studies surrounding the presesnce/development of bromates (particularly out in LA); a handful of contaminents associated with manufacturing pollution (some regulated, some not) such as perchlorate, trichloroethylene, perchloroethylene; other chemicals associated with liver and kidney disease (lead, mercury) and Parkinson's disease (manganese) and what the EPA intends to do about all this.

In a statement, the E.P.A. said that a top priority of Lisa P. Jackson, who took over the agency in January, was improving how regulators assessed and managed chemical hazards... “Since chemicals are ubiquitous in our economy, our environment, our water resources and our bodies, we need better authority so we can assure the public that any unacceptable risks have been eliminated,” the E.P.A. wrote. “But, under existing law, we cannot give that assurance.” ...Ms. Jackson has asked Congress to amend laws governing how the E.P.A. assesses chemicals, and has issued policies to insulate the agency’s scientific reviews from outside pressures. But for now, significant risks remain, say former regulators.

For a long time, I have sat complacent and content with my tap water and  urged those around me to trade their BPA rich plastic bottles in for reusable ones. But perhaps it's time I start putting a little more emphasis on home purification systems and a little less trust in the "America has the safest tap water" mantra I've undertaken up until reading this article.

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