karl_lembke (karl_lembke) wrote,

The Death of Trace Contaminants

Here's a little something from the safedrinkingwater.com newsletter,
mailed out every Wednesday:

August 2, 2007 -- Safedrinkingwater.com NEWS Alert
<http://safedrinkingwater.com/> <http://safedrinkingwater.com/>

Safedrinkingwater.com NEWS ALERT

* "In Praise of Tap Water" Bargain Basement Sale: $1400 value for
only 49 cents. Where? At the tap!
(N.Y. Times, August 2 - free registration required)
* Where's the mystery in bottled water?
<http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-morrison2aug02,0,1198210.colu> (L.A. Times, August 2 - free registration
Commentary: By Michael J. McGuire, Publisher

The Death of Trace Contaminants

August 1, 2007 will be remembered as the beginning of the "Death
of Trace Contaminants." An editorial
was published in the New York Times on that day entitled "In Praise of
Tap Water." In it, the editors decry the high cost and environmental
damage caused by bottled water. High cost has always been an issue with
bottled water. Water utility folks have always known that bottled water
costs about 1000 times more than tap water. A Los Angeles Times Op Ed
<http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-morrison2aug02,0,1198210.colu> today calls bottled water users

What is new is the focus on the environmental cost of producing
the billions of plastic bottles and squandering our fossil fuel
treasures to transport bottled water from glaciers in Alaska, the French
Alps and islands in the South Pacific. Other news articles have begun to
list these costs and call into question what we are doing in a society
that drags a product weighing 8.34 pounds per gallon half way around the
world when there is a perfectly acceptable and safe alternative as close
as the nearest faucet. We are finally beginning to ask questions and
understand how our actions affect the global environment and climate.

Over 26 years ago, I wrote an opinion piece
<http://www.safedrinkingwater.com/community/2007/tracecontaminants1981.p> called the "The Age of Trace Contaminants." In that article, I
predicted a continuing emphasis from the public, the media and
regulators on controlling smaller and smaller concentrations of trace
organics, radionuclides and microorganisms. A lot of regulations have
flowed over the dam since 1981 and tens of billions of dollars have been
spent to enhance drinking water treatment and distribution system
infrastructure. There is no doubt that drinking water quality in this
country has improved as a result of regulation and hard work by
dedicated drinking water professionals.

The editors of the New York Times would not have readily
recommended tap water if there were lingering questions about the
quality and safety of that resource. I guess all of the trace organics
are gone. Wait a minute--they're not gone, but I guess they are not as
important as they were in the 1970s and 80s when the same news media
scared the public by publishing the latest stories on the drinking water
detection of 2,3-methyldeath (or my favorite, sodium baloneyate). People
were frightened about tap water and rushed to find an
alternative-bottled water. They did not rush out and buy expensive
bottled water so that they could become "smarter" or "super-hydrate
their tissues."

I published an article
<http://www.safedrinkingwater.com/community/2007/norstoicr2002.pdf> in
2002 entitled "Trihalomethanes in U.S. Drinking Water: NORS to ICR,"
which chronicled the significant decline in the exposure of consumers to
trihalomethanes (50 to 60% decrease in 24 years). Trihalomethanes are
not gone; they are still with us and always will be because of the need
to safeguard the microbiological quality of drinking water. As the Stage
2 Disinfection Byproducts Rule kicks in later this decade,
trihalomethane concentrations (and other disinfection byproducts) will
continue to decrease.

What is remarkable about the recent news articles is that global
climate change has trumped parts-per-billion. Perhaps now we can focus
scarce public resources on those drinking water system issues that
really improve water service and protect the public health. We certainly
do not need to start chasing parts-per-trillion levels of personal care
products and pharmaceuticals that have shown up in some supplies.

We are still, as I said in 1981, faced with complex challenges.
It looks like we are starting to put trace contaminants in drinking
water into their proper perspective. The debate will continue now that
the news media is grabbing the public's attention once again.

Well, maybe the trace contaminants issue is not dead, but it is
surely on life support now that the "newspaper of record" for the U.S.
is praising tap water.



Tags: environment, water

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