Today, the EPA, which remains aware of the efforts needed to improve the nation’s water infrastructure, has noted that this infrastructure is a priority research area for the organization’s Office of Research and Development “in support of the Agency’s mission to protect public health and safeguard the environment.” In an announcement made in the summer of 2009, the EPA said that the U.S has an “aging system [of water infrastructure pipelines] that poses significant health and safety risks, is prone to leaks and failures, consumes excessive energy, results in wasteful losses of water due to leaks and flushing of pipelines, and is increasingly more difficult to maintain. Also, there is a critical need to better predict infrastructure failures, understand their consequences, and enable more effective prevention and response strategies.”
Poor quality tap water is responsible for a significant amount of acute gastrointestinal illness per year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 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.
Today, water sustainability and environmental impacts on water supplies are pertinent issues. Besides the integrity of water systems, another of the prominent themes of the symposium presentations, and a very important aspect of water availability, was water reuse. Dr. Elimelech described the reuse of wastewater as reclamation for direct potable water reuse. He explained that this is accomplished using an osmotically driven membrane process involving multiple barrier treatment, desalination through reverse osmosis, and forward osmosis. “New water” can also come from the desalination of brackish and sea waters.
A study this year from SBI Energy, a division of MarketResearch.com, predicted that the market for water recycling and reuse technologies would reach $57 billion in 2015, a growth rate of 16%. This significant increase will be driven by the depletion of water resources, the public’s awareness of water conservation products, government incentives, and decreased implementation costs.
Applications for water reuse go beyond drinking water. During the Yale symposium, Joe Harrison, PE, formerly of the Water Quality Association, highlighted the many applications for water reuse, including agricultural irrigation, landscape irrigation, industrial uses, impoundments, groundwater recharge, and indirect potable reuse. Overall, water reuse contributes greatly to water sustainability and the public’s drinking water supply.
EPA and FDA Water Regulations
The public’s drinking water supply is not just regulated by the EPA. Another source of drinking water—bottled water—falls under the FDA’s regulations. Joe Levitt, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition from 1998 through 2003, is now an attorney with Hogan and Hartson in Washington, D.C. At the symposium, he gave an informative presentation that dispelled many myths and public misunderstandings about the safety of bottled water and how it is regulated.
For example, Levitt pointed out that the FDA comprehensively regulates bottled water as a packaged food product, just like thousands of other packaged food and beverage products. Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which dates back to 1906 (originally the Food and Drugs Act), the FDA requires bottled water to adhere to the agency’s extensive food safety, labeling, and inspection requirements. The FDA also has regulations specific to bottled water for standards of identity, standards of quality, and good manufacturing practices.
In fact, Levitt said, by law, FDA standards of quality for bottled water must be at least as stringent and protective of public health as standards set by the EPA for public water systems. Thus, standards set by the FDA help ensure that bottled water is a continuously safe and reliable source of drinking water for the public whenever it is needed or desired. During the boil alerts mentioned above, which occur with significant frequency in our country, as well as during disasters like floods or droughts, bottled water is in high demand and can often be a lifesaver.