The Clean Water Act was initiated to ensure the safety and cleanliness of our drinking water and it has certainly made a positive impact on the water industry in our country. It is not a perfect system though and that was made abundantly clear with the West Virginia chemical spill back in January. Freedom Industries spilled 10,000 gallons of toxic chemicals into West Virginia’s water supply. They failed to immediately report the chemical leak and thousands of residents were subjected to tainted water before it was made public.
Not only was their drinking water affected, but residents were unable to even come in contact with the water it was so bad. Then the problem was compounded when Freedom Industries admitted that there was second chemical that was included in the initial spill almost 2 weeks later. The fact that this second chemical went undetected, despite intensive water testing is quite alarming and reveals a significant deficiency in how water companies test drinking water quality.
The EPA currently requires water companies to test for 80 different contaminants in drinking water supplies but it doesn’t require daily, weekly or even monthly testing of many of them. Some tests are only conducted every 6 months or even up to a year apart. If there is a problem during this time, residents would be drinking contaminated water – for months – without ever knowing about it.
Another flaw in this system is that while they do test for 80 different contaminants, there are tens of thousands of chemicals in use. Water companies can only find contaminants they are actively looking for; there is no comprehensive screen for these other potentially harmful contaminants, which is why the West Virginia American Water Company was unable to detect the other chemical involved in the spill. They were not required to test for it so they didn’t.
This has raised some major concerns as to the actual safety of the water we are drinking. We tend to take it at face value that municipal water companies are providing safe, contaminate free drinking water, but now we must question whether or not they really are. Consumers who drink water from a well know the importance of making sure it is filtered because of what contaminants they might ingest. Now it makes even more sense for residents on a municipal water supply to have a second line of defense in their homes with a water filter system. Water filtration systems are able to filter out many harmful chemicals that municipal water companies don’t detect as well as other chemicals they put into the water to kill what bacteria and viruses they know about.