Question of the Week

April 19, 2004


Do you prefer to see the glass as half-full or half-empty?

"An increasing number of people are served by community water systems that meet all health-based drinking water standards. In 2002, states reported that 94 percent of the population served by community water systems were served by systems that met all health-based standards, up from 79 percent in 1993."

Half-full: Please note that there was an improvement of 15% in just nine years, bringing us to a level where 94% of the population of the United States served by community water systems has access to water that meets all health-based standards.

Half-empty: As you may have noticed, as recently as 11 years ago, 21% of the population of the United States did not have access to a water system that met all health-based standards; 6% of the population still lack access.

"On April 7, 2004, Acting Assistant Administrator Benjamin Grumbles and Regional Administrator Donald Welsh (Region 3) testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on EPA efforts involving lead in drinking water in Washington, D.C. Welch described Region 3's actions to help correct current problems. Grumbles explained EPA actions to review compliance with the 1991 Lead and Copper Rule nationally, work with states and localities on lead in drinking water at schools and day-care facilities, and plan workshops and other efforts to review possible changes to existing guidance and rules."

Where does it come from? How does it get there? What can we do?

"When the source of pollution can be found, it is called Point source pollution. Once the source is identified (e.g. discharge from a sewage treatment plant), it becomes easier to make improvements. Non-point source (NPS) pollution, unlike pollution from industrial and sewage treatment plants, comes from many diffuse sources. The EPA reports that NPS pollution is a leading cause of water quality problems. Caused by rainfall or snowmelt moving over and through the ground; the runoff moves, picks up and carries away natural and human-made pollutants, finally depositing them into lakes, rivers, wetlands, coastal waters, and even our underground sources of drinking water.
Example pollutants:
    • Excess fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides from agriculture and residential areas
    • Oil, grease, and toxic chemicals from urban runoff and energy production
    • Sediment from improperly managed construction sites, crop and forest lands, and eroding streambanks
    • Salt from irrigation practices and acid drainage from abandoned mines
    • Bacteria and nutrients from livestock, pet wastes, and faulty septic systems"
(Visit the above site for a free download of their complete educator's guide.)

Other pollutants from human sources?
"Developed to promote human health and well being, certain pharmaceuticals are now attracting attention as a potentially new class of water pollutants. Such drugs as antibiotics, anti-depressants, birth control pills, seizure medication, cancer treatments, pain killers, tranquilizers and cholesterol-lowering compounds have been detected in varied water sources. Where do they come from? Pharmaceutical industries, hospitals and other medical facilities are obvious sources, but households also contribute a significant share. People often dispose of unused medicines by flushing them down toilets, and human excreta can contain varied incompletely metabolized medicines. These drugs can pass intact through conventional sewage treatment facilities, into waterways, lakes and even aquifers. Further, discarded pharmaceuticals often end up at dumps and land fills, posing a threat to underlying groundwater.... Along with pharmaceuticals, personal care products also are showing up in water. Generally these chemicals are the active ingredients or preservatives in cosmetics, toiletries or fragrances. For example, nitro musks, used as a fragrance in many cosmetics, detergents, toiletries and other personal care products, have attracted concern because of their persistence and possible adverse environmental impacts. Some countries have taken action to ban nitro musks. Also, sun screen agents have been detected in lakes and fish."

What about where you live?

"Local Drinking Water Information
Each year by July 1 you should receive in the mail a short report (consumer confidence report) from your water supplier that tells where your water comes from and what's in it -- see if your report is posted on-line or read a fact sheet about these new reports."

Why even bother? Why not just drink bottled water?

"Sales of bottled water in this country have exploded in recent years... But bottled water sold in the United States is not necessarily cleaner or safer than most tap water, according to a four-year scientific study recently made public by NRDC [Natural Resources Defense Council]. NRDC's study included testing of more than 1,000 bottles of 103 brands of bottled water. While most of the tested waters were found to be of high quality, some brands were contaminated: about one-third of the waters tested contained levels of contamination -- including synthetic organic chemicals, bacteria, and arsenic -- in at least one sample that exceeded allowable limits under either state or bottled water industry standards or guidelines.... At the national level, the Food and Drug Administration is responsible for bottled water safety, but the FDA's rules completely exempt waters that are packaged and sold within the same state, which account for between 60 and 70 percent of all bottled water sold in the United States (roughly one out of five states don't regulate these waters either). The FDA also exempts carbonated water and seltzer, and fewer than half of the states require carbonated waters to meet their own bottled water standards."

Even if you do not drink plain water very often: soda, coffee, sports drinks, and many bottled juices are just a few of the things you may drink that have water added to them from some source.

Questions of the Week:
Does the water you use meet all health-based standards? How can you find out? What is the source of the water you drink and use for cooking? What can you do to help maintain and/or improve the quality of the water in your home and in your community?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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