Thursday, June 26, 2008

How Clean IS Clean?

I admit that in one election campaign, 1984, I printed and posted signs around my district, using ink and paper and some chemically-based silk screen material. The signs read: Re-Elect Pat Ferraro for Clean Water, Accept No Substitutes. Of course, the substitute I really meant was my competition, three challengers in the primary, and then a runoff election with a conservative poly sci teacher at San Jose City College. The Clean Water part was the buzzword hot button for the electorate. Yes I was FOR, not against, Clean Water. Damn it!

To just finish the story of the election, I was re-elected in the fall runoff, with over 70% of the vote. But not getting a majority of the votes in the primary is usually a deadly situation for an incumbent's future as an elected official. And my opponent, being a specialist on political theory, he knew he had me,

But fortunately for me, an historic event occurred at the Democratic National Convention that summer - a woman was selected to be the vice-presidential candidate in the Fall 1984 Presidential Election. And her name was FERRARO, Aunt Geraldine, as I began referring to her, both in jest and joy. For the next 10 weeks until the election, FERRARO was in no-less-than 80 point fonts on the pages of every newspaper everyday. Women would drive by and cheer out the windows as we were nailing up our campaign signs. My modest and common Italian surname (meaning smith) was suddenly on everyone's lips. So Arnold & I won't be the last persons elected because of name recognition.

But How Clean IS Clean?

This answer requires "wiskey's for drinking, water's for fighting over"sort of thinking. The numeric values that define the "SAFE" consumption of any given water pollutant is the remnants of a long and fierce battle between government regulators and the responsible parties that are currently discharging said pollutant.
These battles are fought and fought again if someone proposes to change them. Remember the punt of the arsenic standard from Clinton's to Bush's so-called administration?

When I first began my sanitary engineering career after graduating from San Jose State University in 1970,
we used the simple standard for toxicity of waste(d) water discharges as a per cent survival of some small fish called three-spined stickleback, held in a sample tank for a week. Of course the water was, by then, a week into the receiving water body and not recallable. So the State could fine the discharger instead, often moving local cash back to the state bureaucrats. Everyone loses.

When I became an elected official of a large metropolitan water agency, my focus on the quality of water widened to include every drop of water that passed the lips of the humans living and working in this county. Defining what quality of water is good or bad for human health now involved doctors, with M.D.'s not PhD's in aquatic biology. It also involves all the research scientists feeding the world data and postulations that certain things are indeed good or bad for human health, from their food, their air and their water.

In the mid 1980's, as Silicon Valley companies were cleaning up their terrible and terrifying mess from their leaking chemicals tanks, their friends at the Industrial Protection Agency began peddling a health impact system they called "Acceptable Risk" Using wildly extrapolated lab animal toxicity studies, these federal regulators began to set clean up standards as the number of additional cancers per million people as an acceptable risk and allowed the residual contamination to be present in the drinking water systems using this groundwater for potable uses by the residents of this valley.

When I testified before the State Water Boards that administered the Clean Water Act in California, I would always refer to these new standards as "Acceptable DEATH" which would make them a bit mad, since they were overwhelmed with data and reports claiming this was good science, or good-enough science to get these companies out from the enormous clean up bills that resulted from such gross negligence.

There are about 200 chemicals contaminants that must be tested (out of 80,000 known chemicals, mostly manufactured) in all municipal drinking water systems, all of, once per year, or less frequently if "the concentrations do not change frequently." An annual report is sent to customers once a year. If you rent and don't get a water bill directly, you don't get the report at all.

The Water District and many cities are actively campaigning against the purchase and use of bottled water, claiming in their advertisements that tap water is safe and tastes good(enough) and doesn't cost nearly as much as plastic bottled water, both in dollars and environmental footprint. And they cite the lax regulation of the bottled water purveyors compared with the above scrutiny on testing public water delivery systems.

The taste issue may drive bottled water sales more then health concerns. Tap water almost always has detectable taste issues. Most of that originates in the residual chlorine that's added to the tap water as it leaves the well head or water treatment plant. Even when chlorine has been replaced with on-site generated ozone, chlorine is still added before the water enters the distribution piping to guard against microbial re-growth before it reaches your tap..

I always point out the "We Pollute, We Clean it Up, Business Couldn't be Better" model when I see it.
Knowing that the Chlorox Company owns Brita Water Filter Company has always amused me. But it's the appropriate technology for a household and an inexpensive and efficient way to protect yourself from many possible chemicals plus taste and odor problems that your Less-Than-Clean water may present you.

Never Thirst!

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