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Safe Drinking Water

September 1999
Earth Alert #6

Take Personal and Political action to reach the goals of Earth Day.

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Will New Reports Lead To Safer Water?

An e. coli outbreak at an Upstate New York county fair early this September left over 750 ill and two dead. The source of the contamination was drinking water. This latest outbreak raises concerns about drinking water testing and whether or not enough is being done to prevent such tragedies.

The e. coli scare comes as most U.S. water consumers are to receive detailed data from their water suppliers on the state of their tap water. The 1996 amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act require water suppliers to produce and distribute annual "consumer confidence" or "Right-to-Know" (RTK) reports that contain information on contaminants found in drinking water and the potential health risks associated with those contaminants. While these reports will keep consumers better informed, environmental groups like Clean Water Action and U.S. PIRG - who lobbied for the policy change in 1996 - are working to ensure that more strident water quality and reporting regulations follow.

The EPA is revisiting the legal level of arsenic in drinking water. Scientists have found time and again that the EPA's current standard for acceptable levels of arsenic is many times greater than it should be. Soon, the EPA will be exploring acceptable levels of other pollutants such as radon. These pollutants need to be put under control so that devastation like that which occurred in New York is not repeated.

Personal Action

Choose Alternatives Carefully.

Many people try to avoid contaminants by drinking bottled water. According to a study by the NRDC, though, bottled water isn’t necessarily cleaner or safer than most tap water. Estimates show that anywhere between 25 and 40 percent of bottled water is actually bottled tap water! Select from brands that did well in the study, including: Save the Earth, natural spring water; Naya, Canadian spring water; and Rocky Mountain non-carbonated drinking water. You can find the full NRDC study and results at www.nrdc.org/nrdpro/fphome.html.

Another alternative is to buy and use a water filter certified by NSF International. For a full list of filters and the contaminants they remove, call the NSF Consumer Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-673-8010. (The book is free but there is a $6 shipping and handling fee).

Write Your Supplier

Since neither bottled water nor water filters can offer full assurance of safety, it's important that officials strengthen testing and reporting standards. Write to your local water supply company urging them to go beyond the reporting requirements set by the EPA. There are several specific areas that need to be addressed:

• Right-to-Know reports should go beyond reporting infection risks and address risks from contaminants linked to cancers and birth defects.

• Reports must be made available to all customers, whether or not they are directly billed for their water.

• Reports must be available in languages other than English.

• Reports must include information on any contaminants, not just those at levels deemed unsafe by the EPA.

Join Clean Water Action and U.S. PIRG as they lobby for stricter drinking water standards. The EPA is currently revisiting the legal level or arsenic in drinking water and will soon be exploring acceptable levels of other pollutants. Contact U.S. PIRG and CWA for information on when, where and to whom letters and calls of concern should be sent.

Clean Water Action - Lynn Thorp -lthorp@cleanwater.org or 202-895-0420 and US PIRG - Grant Cope - grant@pirg.org or 202-546-9707

Dear ____,

I was very happy to receive the Right-To-Know report from your company, as mandated by the 1996 amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act. The EPA's increased requirements on water suppliers was a good start to ensuring consumers are informed about the quality of our community's tap waters. However, I hope you will go beyond the minimum standards and consider additional improvements.

The members of our community would greatly benefit if reports:

• Were easily accessible to all consumers, including those who do not pay directly for their water and those ?? that do not speak English.

• Included information on any contamination in drinking water, not just those at levels deemed unsafe

by the EPA.

• Went beyond reporting infection risks and addressed risks from contamination linked to cancers and birth ?? defects.

I know you want to ensure your product is as safe as possible. These Right-to-Know reports are a unique opportunity for your company to inform consumers and improve health. Please take this opportunity to ensure healthy drinking water for everyone.




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march 2000

©1999 Earth Day 2000