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It always feels good when a Back2Tap campaign at a school goes right. I was so psyched to hear that the reusable bottles and bottle-less water coolers were well received by the K-12 students at Lincoln – Hubbard School in Summit, NJ. So well, in fact, the students are lining up in the hallway to fill up their custom reusable bottles from Back2Tap. The kids say that they love the tap water because it is so cold and refreshing.

students refilling their reusable water bottles

students refilling their reusable water bottles

Bottle-less coolers are tied directly into the water line and provide cold, filtered tap water without the waste, expense and exposure to plastics found with traditional water coolers with the 5 gallon jugs that have to be delivered. Although Back2Tap does not sell bottle-less water coolers, we can recommend a manufacturer. Lincoln – Hubbard was able to use the profits from their stainless steel bottle fundraiser toward the purchase of the coolers. Best of all, this is one green initiative that will save the school money and the parents money while benefitting students health and ability to learn.

The future of tap water is looking better all the time. After decades of continually eroding enforcement of the Clean Water Act, the EPA is pledging to turn the agency around.  Lisa Jackson, head of the EPA announced that the EPA has drawn up an action plan that includes better enforcement, better oversight of states, and more transparency and accountability.  While development of this plan began in July 2009, the Toxic Waters series in the New York Times has certainly galvanized the public and congressional leaders in support of this effort.

This is fantastic news for anyone concerned about the quality of our drinking water. The last thing we want to do is end up relying on bottled water for drinking. While only a small percentage of households on public water systems receive water from systems that have experienced health-based violations, it is unacceptable that anyone in the USA should have unsafe tap water come out of their faucets at home on any occasion.

If you are following the series on Toxic Waters by Charles Duhigg in the New York Times, his latest article is more encouraging.  A recent EPA news release says that the EPA is going to undertake a re-evaluation of its previous rulings on atrazine.  This could lead to stricter regulations, ie. lower acceptable levels allowed in our tap water.   Ah, this is what I was saying could happen if the issue was raised!  I’m not sure if there is any connection between peoples reaction to the Toxic Water series and this EPA decision, but it certainly gives you reason to believe the EPA is listening.  

The New York Times series “Toxic Waters” written by Charles Duhigg presents a disturbing view of our drinking water quality in the USA.  The first article about herbicides (atrazine in particular) points out that it is time to strengthen some of the federal drinking water standards in light of new research.  You can read more about it in my earlier Earthsense blog entitled “Don’t give up on tap water.”  The second article in this series is about industrial waste, particularly in the coal-mining region of West Virginia.   Basically, Duhigg says the 1972 Clean Water Act was largely successful at stopping the rampant pollution of our rivers, lakes, and streams, but over the last 10 years it has not been well enforced by the EPA or states.  Consequently, our water quality is going downhill again.  His third article is about agricultural runoff which is a type of non-point source pollution (it doesn’t come out of a pipe).  Most of this runoff is not regulated by the Federal government, and it is not well regulated by local governments.  Disposing of huge quantities of manure by spraying it on nearby fields has led to bacteria and parasites in local water bodies and drinking water wells in heavily agricultural areas.

Before you panic and revert to bottled water, you might want to follow the advice of the New York Times on-line article “How safe is your tap water?”  First visit the EPA drinking water quality reports that are available on-line to check out the quality of water in your town.  Then, find out the names of the polluters that are located near you, by visiting the interactive database of water pollution records for the United States that was amassed by The New York Times.  If you are one of the small percentage of people who have impaired drinking water from your private well or your public water system, your next best step would be to use some sort water filtration at home while you lobby your legislators for cleaner water.  Don’t assume that bottled water is any safer, by the way.  It is regulated by the FDA, an even more poorly funded and staffed governmental agency.

There is a positive side to the story.   The EPA reports that 92% of the population served by community water systems had no reported health-based violations.   There’s also hope that investigative articles like these will pressure the EPA and states to improve enforcement of the Clean Water Act laws that were wisely enacted to protect us all those years ago.  Finally, Lisa Jackson, the new head of EPA has acknowledged these problems and says she will address them.   The more people who raise these issues with regulators and politicians, the better chance we have of achieving meaningful improvements so that everybody in the United States will be able to drink their tap water and enjoy recreation in our water bodies without fear of getting sick.

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