Rethinking Water Quality in the United States

Water_QualityWater quality in the United States is considered to be one of the safest in the world. This is because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets standards and regulations on the presence and acceptable levels of over 90 different contaminants in public drinking water, including E.coli, Salmonella, Cryptosporidium, metals and disinfection byproducts.

Elevated levels of contaminants like E.coli can cause gastrointestinal illness, reproductive problems and neurological disorders in the immunologically comprised, such as infants, the elderly or individuals who are already ill.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) also requires every community water supplier to provide an annual Consumer Confidence Report that includes information on the local drinking water quality, any contaminants found in the water supply and how consumers can get involved in protecting and upholding their water quality.

So how do water crises like the Flint water crisis, which drew national media coverage in January of this year, happen?

According to CNN, around two years ago, the state of Michigan decided to switch Flint’s water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River, a local river notorious for being filthy. Residents of Flint did not believe the state government would actually go through with the switch, but they did, compromising the quality of drinking water available to the residents of the town.

The Flint River is highly corrosive and eroded the iron water mains as well as the lead service lines leading into residents’ homes, allowing near-toxic levels of iron and lead to enter the water (and the systems of anyone who dared drink the now-brown tap water).

Flint’s water crisis emphasizes the importance of activism at the individual level. Understanding where drinking water comes from and what constitutes good water quality in the United States is important, as is knowing how to contact your local representatives and voice your concerns.

If everyone was better informed about where his or her drinking water comes from, common water contaminants and symptoms of illnesses related to these contaminants, water crises like Flint could be avoided in the future.

Bayley McComb

Photo: Flickr