Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Are You Drinking Dirty Water?

Last Thursday, I blogged about Bhopal’s 25th anniversary and considered how frightening it must be to live in fear that your drinking water might poison you, not to mention living with the knowledge that your government is doing little to nothing to protect your health. Well, an article I read today from The New York Times has me reliving this fear!

The article is called “Millions in U.S. Drink Dirty Water, Records Show,” and it cites 49 million people in the U.S. as having been exposed to illegal levels of chemicals like arsenic and uranium since 2004.

Arsenic and uranium? What on earth are they doing in my water? I’m getting queasy just thinking about how many people, including my family and friends, could be cooking with, bathing in and drinking water that could make us sick. In addition, the NYTimes explains that fewer than 8% of water systems supplying this contaminated water have been persecuted. I was absolutely livid to read that America is allowing these treatment facilities to get around the law; how are so few of these facilities being punished? Well, it seems that unless the contamination is immediately life-threatening, many minor violations requiring excess paperwork have been pushed aside, effectively allowing individuals to continue drinking water containing chemicals beyond their legal limit. These chemicals have been linked to many different cancers, and the effects of drinking such tainted water can take years to surface.

I think the most alarming point of the article came toward the end, during a discussion of the failure of the Safe Drinking Water Act’s regulations:

“A system could deliver tap water that puts residents at a 1-in-600 risk of developing bladder cancer from arsenic, and still comply with the law.”

I don’t understand how laws that leave so many people at such risk can exist. There are enough things to worry about; no one in the world should have to be apprehensive that they might get cancer from the arsenic in their water. The article ends on a slightly dismal note;

“The same people who told us to ignore Safe Drinking Water Act violations are still running the divisions,” said one mid-level E.P.A. official. “There’s no accountability, and so nothing’s going to change.”

I can only hope that anticipated reforms do address the issues they need to, including accountability for officials. I mean come on, what is more important than public health?

And I’m now going to filter my drinking water a few more times…although I doubt that will help with the uranium.

If any of my readers want more information about the Safe Drinking Water Act, you can visit the EPA at If you’re feeling really bold, check out their list of water contaminants. Warning, do not read if you are thirsty!!

Photo Credit: Randy Son of Robert

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