Michigan had an arsenic groundwater scare; children in Queens, New York, were hospitalized after drinking contaminated water at their school; Boston experienced a widespread boil alert that affected more than two million people; and residents in Caledonia, Wisconsin, went without access to public water for over a year due to a groundwater contamination caused by molybdenum, a dissolved metal that occurs naturally in the Earth’s crust and is one of the byproducts of coal ash. These are just a few of the incidents of drinking water contamination that occurred in 2010.
A more in-depth analysis of the drinking water situation in the U.S. shows that environmental researchers estimate that more than 500 boil alerts occurred in the United States this year. In addition to contamination threats, the Natural Resources Defense Council named 14 states as most at risk by for having a stressed water supply: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.
But there’s more: Poor quality tap water is responsible for a significant amount of acute gastrointestinal illness per year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that diseases spread by water—Legionnaires’, cryptosporidiosis, and giardiasis—cost the U.S. healthcare system as much as $539 million a year in hospital expenses. The significant number of people affected by Legionnaires’ has prompted U.S environmental laboratories to develop multiple initiatives to educate environmental professionals and the general public about Legionella, the organism that causes Legionnaires’ disease. According to the CDC, “Each year, between 8,000 and 18,000 people are hospitalized with Legionnaires’ disease in the U.S. However, many infections are not diagnosed or reported, so this number may be higher.”
While facts such as those cited above are nothing new for U.S. public water systems, they should be a critical concern for the American public and the food manufacturing industry, one of the biggest consumers of water. To this end, the Drinking Water Research Foundation (DWRF) has created a website that answers questions about drinking water. Based on expert presentations delivered as part of “Your Drinking Water: Challenges and Solutions for the 21st Century,” a symposium held at Yale University in April 2009, (www.seas.yale.edu/watersymposium/), the website’s mission is to educate the public about the importance of access to safe drinking water. Additionally, a YouTube video channel features the symposium’s presentations (www.you- tube.com/user/DWRFvid).
Drinking Water Symposium
The purpose of the symposium was to bring together individuals who are leaders in their fields to discuss the latest data and information available concerning drinking water issues and to make that information available to the public to allow them to make more informed decisions. The conference was conducted by Stephen Edberg, PhD, professor emeritus in the department of laboratory medicine at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn.; Menachem Elimelech, PhD, professor and chair of the chemical engineering department and director of the program in environmental engineering at Yale School of Engineering and Applied Science; and John Sinnott, MD, professor and associate dean for international affairs and director of the division of infectious diseases and infectious disease fellowship program at the University of South Florida College of Medicine in Tampa.
The symposium’s goal, like that of the website, was to inform policy makers, the general public, and industry about issues such as wastewater management and water distribution systems, infrastructure repair, water reuse, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulation of bottled water.
Drinking water issues are, and will continue to be, of the utmost importance for the food industry, public health officials, medical practitioners, patients with special needs, and more. The facts given below are just a sample of the information visitors will find on the Yale University Drinking Water Symposium website.
Safe Drinking Water Act Facts
In 1974, Congress passed the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Safe Drinking Water Act, which was the first step toward a national enforceable standard developed by the EPA. The law was amended in 1986 and 1996 and requires various actions to safeguard drinking water and its sources: rivers, lakes, reservoirs, springs, and groundwater wells. Despite these advances, threats to water utilities still exist.