Safe Drinking Water

It’s comforting to sit back, relax, and believe that the systems within which we live – our corporations or our governments, at any level – are taking care of things we believe we’ve entrusted them to care for. Here’s an example of an area in which that’s not happening – safe drinking water.  Ultimately, our health and that of those with whom we have relationships is our bottom-line responsibility.  So … rather than complaining and blaming, here are some simple solutions we can use to ensure our health.

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Exclusive: Trump EPA won’t limit 2 toxic chemicals in drinking water

 

The decision could complicate acting agency chief

Andrew Wheeler’s hopes for Senate confirmation.

 

ANNIE SNIDER

POLITICO

01/28/2019

 

The Trump administration will not set a drinking water limit for two toxic chemicals that are contaminating millions of Americans’ tap water, two sources familiar with the forthcoming decision told POLITICO.

The expected move is yet another sign of the administration’s reluctance to aggressively deal with the chemicals, which have been used for decades in products such as Teflon-coated cookware and military firefighting foam and are present in the bloodstreams of an estimated 98 percent of Americans. And it comes less than a year after the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency faced criticism for delaying publication of a health study on the chemicals, which a White House aide had warned could trigger a “public relations nightmare.”

EPA’s decision means the chemicals will remain unregulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, according to sources familiar with a still-unreleased draft plan that acting administrator Andrew Wheeler signed off on in late December. That means utilities will face no federal requirements for testing for and removing the chemicals from drinking water supplies, although several states have pursued or are pursuing their own limits.

The decision could complicate Wheeler’s confirmation to lead the agency on a full-time basis. Both Republicans and Democrats have pressed EPA to do more to keep the chemicals out of drinking water and raised alarms about past political interference from the administration.

The chemicals, known as PFOA and PFOS,

have been linked to kidney and testicular

cancer, hypertension and other ailments.

Major chemical companies like 3M as well as the Defense Department would face billions of dollars in liability from aggressive efforts to regulate and clean up the chemical, which has contaminated groundwater near hundreds of military bases and chemical plants.

While EPA has decided against a drinking water limit, the draft chemical plan includes a decision to list those two chemicals as hazardous under the Superfund law, according to the two sources, a move would help force polluters to pay for cleanup.

The agency said it would not discuss the plan’s contents until it is made public. EPA spokesperson John Konkus said by email:

 

“The action plan is currently

undergoing interagency review.”

 

It is unclear when the plan will be released, but it could come soon now that the partial government shutdown is over. During his confirmation hearing earlier this month, Wheeler told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that the plan had initially been scheduled for release in late January — but he refused to promise that it would set a drinking water standard for the chemical. Wheeler told Democratic Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware:

 

“I cannot make that commitment.”

 

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), whose state has a major PFOA contamination problem, also pressed Wheeler on how he would handle the issue. Wheeler told her:

 

“We are going to be recommending and

moving forward on a number of different

areas under a number of different statutes.”

 

He specifically cited the EPA’s Superfund toxic cleanup program as well as a recently revised regulatory framework for chemical safety.

The committee is scheduled to vote on Wheeler’s nomination Feb. 5; Republicans have a one-seat majority on the panel. In the full Senate, Wheeler also likely would have to allay concerns from Republicans in other states that have experienced major problems with the class of chemicals, including North Carolina.

Federal scientists last summer concluded that PFOA and PFOS pose dangers at extremely low concentrations in a health assessment that POLITICO reported Trump administration officials initially sought to block.

EPA-mandated testing has found the chemicals at unsafe levels in at least 16 million Americans’ tap water, but activists say the problem is even more widespread.

When an advocacy group reanalyzed federal monitoring data to include lower levels of contamination, it estimated that as many as 110 million Americans may be drinking water with levels of the chemical that could cause harm. The problem is particularly acute near military bases, more than 400 of which the Pentagon suspects to be contaminated with the chemicals.

In order to regulate a chemical under the Safe Drinking Water Act, EPA must show not only that the contaminant is dangerous, but also that setting a limit offers “a meaningful opportunity for health risk reduction” and that doing so is financially justified.

Congress established these requirements in amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1996. They have proven to be major hurdles to new regulations: EPA has not regulated a new contaminant under the drinking water law since then.

EPA issued a voluntary health advisory for PFOA and PFOS in 2016, recommending a lifetime limit in drinking water of 70 parts per trillion for both chemicals. A handful of states have established their own drinking water limits, some of which are significantly stricter than the EPA guidance. But other states have lacked the scientific expertise to act on their own, and have struggled to explain to their residents why their limits differ from those in neighboring states. Public health advocates say these are reasons a federal drinking water standard is necessary.

But some state and local officials, as well as rural water utilities, have argued against a federal drinking water standard. They say the problem is localized and that utilities across the country should not have to pay to test their water if they are unlikely to find the chemicals.

The Trump administration has generally pushed to have states take the lead in environmental regulations, and has taken some steps that suggested it may prefer that approach to setting a federal drinking water limit. For instance, officials at EPA opted to release only toxicity information for two other chemicals in the same class, called GenX and PFBS, and left it to the states to use that information to decide what a safe limit is.

A number of the political appointees at EPA come from industry backgrounds, including the No. 2 political official in the chemical safety office, who previously worked for the chemical industry’s main lobbying group. The No. 2 official in the agency’s Office of Research and Development came to the agency last fall from Koch Industries.

Industry groups, including the American Chemistry Council, have backed the Trump administration’s work on the class of chemicals, expecting that it will be as industry-friendly as they can hope for.

The Trump administration’s approach to PFOA and PFOS has also been shaped by the Defense Department, which faces potentially massive liability for the hundreds of contaminated sites it owns around the country.

Internal emails show that Pentagon officials last year raised alarm with the White House over a draft study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found the chemicals cause harm at far lower levels than EPA had said were safe. And POLITICO reported earlier this month that the Defense Department sought to hire a scientist with a reputation for downplaying chemicals’ risks to work on PFOA and PFOS, even though his prior work on the chemicals was so controversial that even Republicans had opposed his nomination for an EPA post.

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Now the question is …

“What can you easily do about this problem?”

The answer depends on your circumstances.

If you’re renting a home or apartment and aren’t really in a position to modify it, then use spring water.  You can buy it in the usual plastic bottles we see everywhere.  (Read the label, to be sure it’s spring water.)

A second option would be to buy spring water in large glass jugs. Many companies will come to your home and install a base unit, and put the jug on top of it – inverted.  If more than one or two live in your residence, this may be more cost effective (and healthier) than buying huge numbers of plastic water bottles.

If you can modify your residence, call a local water company. They’ll come to your home and install a commercial-grade Reverse Osmosis water filter, which will remove all these dangerous chemicals from your tap water.  We’ve tried the less expensive versions from the big box retailers and they broke down within a couple months.  Our nearby water company installed a Kinetico filter for about $750, which might only need a membrane replacement in ten years.

Water comes through an R.O. filter’s membrane very slowly, so you want one with a sizeable storage tank. When you want to fill a coffee pot, you don’t want to wait while a filter slowly fills it … a drip at a time!  Our Kinetico has a three-gallon storage tank, so safe, filtered water flows promptly.

You’ve likely heard of problems with arsenic – and chemicals such as these two – in the drinking water of many cities. Our U.S. infrastructure is aging.  And political leaders – of any party and at any level – tend to spend money where the positive outcomes are more visible … a new school or new bridge.  They can “get credit” for positive things their administration has accomplished … and get re-elected.

Infrastructure is invisible. So, preventive maintenance problems such as roof repairs or infrastructure improvements take second fiddle – or worse.  Inconvenience, such as pothole repairs is one thing;  health, as in safe drinking water, is another.  Instead of blaming … take positive action.

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