How the EPA Celebrated World Water Day

How did the United States Environmental Protection Agency commemorate World Water Day on Monday? You know, the day established to draw attention to the plight of over a billion people on our planet that are not blessed with high quality drinking water delivered to their homes – the day that brings to mind the sad reality of thousands dying every day from waterborne disease.
Perhaps they would highlight the remarkable achievements of modern water and wastewater treatment technologies. Perhaps they would note that there were essentially zero deaths due to consumption of tap water in the US, to demonstrate to less fortunate nations that they should have considerable hope in resolving this global tragedy.
Nope. Not a chance. The EPA remains mired in minutia. http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-epa-water23-2010mar23,0,4578453.story
According to this Los Angeles Times article, the EPA is going to “overhaul its efforts to safeguard drinking water.” It seems the EPA is convinced that they can improve on zero deaths from tap water – all it will take is more taxpayer money.
Specifically targeted in this announcement are four compounds: tetrachloroethylene (PCE), trichloroethylene (TCE), acrylamide and epichlorohydrin. All of these are suspected to increase the risk of cancer.
Quite obviously, no one wants to get cancer. And no one wants substances that might increase the risk of cancer to be present in our water supply. But two very important questions must be answered: (1) what is the risk? And (2) what is the cost?
The EPA’s general philosophy on risk is that the “safe” level for any constituent in water is one where the increased cancer risk is one in 100,000. Statistically, about 30,000 per 100,000 will contract cancer. The EPA is desperately trying to make certain that you – the tap water consumer – do not become number 30,001. The EPA assumptions also include that you will drink two full liters of tap water per day for 70 years before you become number 30,001. I don’t know what you think, but I regard this to be remarkably protective of public health.
So, what is the cost? That varies quite a bit, depending on the local circumstances. But let’s use a very low estimate of $60 per household per year – $5 per month. Should the EPA require a household of people on food stamps to part with another $5, just so they don’t become the number 30,001?
Finally, the EPA “suggested it could feasibly reduce the amount of (TCE) in water to one-tenth of current levels,” and that the lowering was made possible “because scientific advancements allow them to be detected at lower levels.” What this implies is that every time analytical chemistry methods improve, the EPA will seek to make drinking water regulations more restrictive, regardless of risk or cost. Are you willing to pay for an infinite level of protection?
And wouldn’t this money be better spent saving the lives of the thousands of children who will actually die today – and every day until basic water and wastewater treatment is available to them?

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