Safe Drinking Water:
It has been almost 108 years since John Snow made the connection that water contaminated with cholera led to illness (Schneider, 2011). Even today the availability of clean water is still an environmental health issue that plaques the world. Most developed countries have access to safe water, but as populations grow and more pollutants are released into the environment the water can reach dangerous levels to drink. Due to multiple water pollution cases in the 1960s and 1970s, congress formed The Clean Water Act (Schneider, 2011). The Clean Water Act goes hand and hand with the Safe Drinking Water policy that is in place. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) discovered that 40 percent of the nation’s community water systems were in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act (Schneider, 2011).
Most water treatment plants are designed to remove all contaminants (Schneider, 2011). The common steps to filter the water are sedimentation, coagulation, filtration and disinfection (Schneider, 2011). Contaminates can still get through causing the water supply to be unsafe to drink. Usually, if a coliform bacterium is detected then there was a failure in the disinfection step (Schneider, 2011). Other bacteria like Giardia and Cryptosporidium are resistant to chlorine and can contaminate the water. I have had firsthand experience with being infected with Giardia. It was very unpleasant, and I had dangerously low levels of electrolytes because of so much fluid loss. Another way water can be contaminated is through hazardous chemicals being flushed down the drain. Other contaminates that can be found in the water supply are drugs, steroids, insect repellants and caffeine. Even well water can be contaminated with leaching from landfills or leaky gas or oil tanks (Schneider, 2011). There are roughly 87 contaminates that the EPA considers to be a health risk (Schneider, 2011). The health hazards associated with these contaminates range from anemia, gastrointestinal disorders and even the possibility of developing cancer (water.epa.gov).
There have been many rules and regulations that have been established to ensure the safety of the United States drinking water. The EPA monitors the 87 known contaminates to make sure it is not exceeding the permissible level that has been established. In 1996 Congress passed the “right to know” act (Schneider, 2011). This act requires water treatment plants to provide information to the consumers about what is in their water. EPA also analyzes the chemical, physical and biological components of wastewater and other environmental samples that are regulated under the Clean Water Act (water.epa.gov). The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Act was established to prevent pollutant discharge into water (water.epa.gov). This act also includes the Concentration Animal Feeding Operation which is in place to safely manage manure from entering our drinking water (water.epa.gov).
Some recommendations that we the individual can do to help keep our water supplies safe is by reporting any changes in your water. Be cautious to what is poured down the drain, especially in regards to any disinfectants or chemicals. In the lab if we are caught dumping non-approved chemicals down the drain we are written up. A certain number of write ups equals termination. If you want something to change in your water supply push for it. My husband and I signed a petition to get the water company to change the old copper piping in our neighborhood. The pipes were rusted and turning our water brown. Although, it took a lot of leg work we finally got the problem resolved. The Environmental Protection Agency has made great strides in helping protect our drinking water. With the ever changing environmental health issues these regulations will also need to be adjusted to continue to provide a healthy water supply for its citizens.
Schneider, MJ. (2011). Introduction to Public Health (3rd edition). Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett
Environmental Protection Agency, (2013), Regulatory Information. Retrieved from http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/rulesregs/