In recent news we have seen headlines about water systems patting themselves on the back because the quality of the water they distribute exceeds Federal Drinking Water Standards… according to recently published test results published in each system’s Annual Water Quality Report.

To the untrained eye each ‘glowing’ report tells a wonderful water quality success story and most of the reports use pristine pictures of crisp, clean water flowing beautifully from a sparkling faucet to paint a picture of water quality perfection.

We congratulate every water department that passed Federal muster and thank them for doing a fine job.

We scold every water department that failed Federal muster. Please get your acts together and do a better job this year!

The problem with annual water quality reports

In a good number of the reports we have looked through we found a rather ugly truth buried in the tables, charts, and pretty pictures: Yes, the water tested below Federal Guidelines for potentially hazardous metals like lead, chromium, etc. and disinfection byproducts (DBP’s), but detectable levels of those drinking water contaminants existed in the water.

Health officials have stated for a long time that ANY amounts of toxic metals like lead in drinking water or chromium may cause serious health problems — especially in young children. Exposure to metals like lead may lead to lower IQ’s, developmental problems, behavioral issues, and impaired learning abilities.

Oh, and one more thing: When last we checked, the medical community agrees that any concentration of lead in drinking water constitutes an unsafe concentration of lead in drinking water.

Why are Federal Guideline concentrations higher than medically ‘safe’ concentrations?

The United States Environmental Protection Agency set the maximum allowable contaminant concentration levels for most unwanted drinking water contaminants… a long time ago. In some cases the levels for some contaminants may have hit the books more than 50 years ago!

One must also remember that regardless of the toxicity of a drinking water contaminant, the number of potential drinking water contaminants that the USEPA has to keep tabs on grows by leaps and bounds each year. We imagine that a case load of that magnitude would result in a standard operation procedure based on the following principle: Squeaky Wheel Gets the Oil.

Contaminants making the news and/or waves in the health community probably get the bulk of attention, laboratory time, and financial resources while research and legislation on other, less newsworthy (but no less dangerous!) drinking water contaminants get put on the back burner.

Moral of the story?

As with anything in life, you should take your local water department’s Annual Water Quality Report with a grain of salt. Read through the data and verify for yourself that when your water leaves the treatment facility it contains NONE of the drinking water contaminants that you hear about on the news or that you find in the EPA’s Primary Drinking Water Standards List — especially if you have small children in the house.

When setting MCL’s (maximum contaminant levels) for drinking water contaminants, the weight of a person gets factored into the equation and health officials typically set MCL’s using the weight of an average sized adult, not a child.