An article in the Gainesville Sun shows a water quality database which gives High Springs a below-minimum score on water safety. Chris Bird explains that the database maybe tricky to read, but your writer would like to emphasize what Nneka Leiba points out, which is that the EPA may not be protecting us sufficiently. The EPA allows poisons in our water to protect industry, and it is just a matter of how many toxins we negotiate with industry. At the moment, they do not even test for several toxins which are present. This is a topic we have visited often, and we have seen that the issue is more serious in Florida under our current administration in Tallahassee, although lately Washington is fast catching up.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
…the High Springs Water Treatment Plant is the only water system out of 15 in Alachua County that doesn’t meet federal health-based drinking water standards. Four contaminants — chromium, haloacetic acids, radiological contaminants and trihalomethanes — were detected in High Springs’ drinking water with levels above federal health guidelines. (Gainesville Sun)
Site lets residents check on water quality
A database that monitors contaminants flowing from public water treatment plants can be helpful and confusing to those who use it to determine the quality of their drinking water.
The database is online at www.ewg.org, and once you type in your ZIP code, water plants serving your area and places near you will appear with the number of people served by the plants. The database shows the detected contaminants in a water source and compares them to state, national and health guidelines.
“Our database is currently the only free online consumer resource that analyzes tap water quality purely with respect to human health,” said Nneka Leiba, director of EWG’s healthy living science program.
Though the database contains useful information, it may confuse the average person who doesn’t have a good grasp of water quality issues and terminology, said Chris Bird, director of the Alachua County environmental protection department.
“It’s not really fair to just look at the contaminants in city tap water without comparing it to the alternatives, such as bottled water and water from private wells,” Bird said, adding the database in some instances uses obscure health guidelines as benchmarks.
One such guideline, he said, was the draft of a California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment that proposed public health goals. The database suggests Gainesville Regional Utilities’ Murphree Water Treatment Plant, which serves more than 181,000 people, has a presence of trihalomethanes above “health guidelines,” and cites the California assessment draft. It also shows the level of trihalomethanes in the plant’s water, 23.2 parts per billion, is well below the legal limit of 80 ppb established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“If I was an average citizen, and I looked at the database and saw GRU had contaminants in its drinking water detected above health guidelines, I would be extremely concerned and would probably panic, thinking my drinking water was not safe,” Bird said. “But that’s not the case because though the database says GRU has trihalomethanes above health guidelines, the levels of the contaminant is well below the EPA guidelines, and that is very important. The way the information is presented can be misleading.”
Trihalomethanes are chemical compounds formed in industrial solvents or refrigerants.
Tap water in most cases is the cleanest and safest water people anywhere in the U.S., especially in most of Alachua County and North Central Florida, can drink because it’s heavily regulated by federal and state guidelines, Bird said.
“The federal government sets guidelines, and some states have even more stringent guidelines,” Bird said. He said the bottled-water industry is not as regulated as public water treatment plants.
Emphasizing the quality of drinking water in most of Alachua County and throughout the region is in good shape, Bird said, “This is not Flint, Michigan.”
A federal state of emergency in Flint was declared in January 2016 after a pair of scientific studies proved lead contamination was present in the water supply.
According to the EWG database, the High Springs Water Treatment Plant is the only water system out of 15 in Alachua County that doesn’t meet federal health-based drinking water standards. Four contaminants — chromium, haloacetic acids, radiological contaminants and trihalomethanes — were detected in High Springs’ drinking water with levels above federal health guidelines.
Some of the contaminants the EWG database show are present in drinking water in Alachua County include barium, chlorate, chromium, ethylbenzene, fluoride, haloacetic acids, manganese, molybdenum, nitrate, selenium, silver, strontium, vanadium and xylenes.
Leiba said the public should rely on more than EPA limits because their values are often based on a compromise between health, political and economic pressures.
“They (EPA guidelines) are not purely based on a health value,” Leiba said. “In our estimate, when a consumer looks at information about the chemicals in their water, what they are interested in knowing is if that level of contaminant can affect their health. Therefore, we utilized health guidelines, which are levels that scientists have determined will pose negligible risks over a lifetime of exposure.”
The EWG database will hopefully be used as an educational tool to help people determine if they need to be concerned about their water quality and if they need to filter their water, Leiba said. The database was created in 2004, and updated in 2009 and again last month.
The EWG database encourages people to ask elected officials if they know what is in their tap water, why contaminants are in the water, whether contaminants are being removed from the water system, if officials are investing in better water treatment technology to ensure better water quality in the future, if they are creating sustainable funding for water systems, what they’re doing to keep pollutants out of water sources and what is being done to ensure good, clean water remains available for all residents.
There are more than 250 chemicals in drinking water throughout the U.S., and though many contaminants are found in excess of guidelines determined by scientists, the EPA still gives the vast majority of the nation’s water supply a passing grade. EPA regulations have not kept up with the latest science, Leiba said, and the EWG database shows there are more than 160 chemicals detected in U.S. water supply for which the EPA has not set a regulatory limit.
“This means that carcinogenic chemicals like hexavalent chromium and perfluorinated chemicals can be present in our water at any concentration without repercussion,” she said.