Potable Water

We, in the developed world, take for granted the relative ease potable water is made available to us. Decently maintained water systems (with growing exceptions in the United States; more on that later) and the bottled water industry ensure the nourishing liquid never eludes parched hands. Inundated in fresh water, seldom do we ruminate upon the woes of the approximately 1.1 billion Homo sapiens without access to clean drinking water.

Over a BILLION of our fellow creatures.

We’re not talking about water that tastes like a public pool or inadvertently imbibed seawater. This is the kind of water that would taste like an outhouse or a thunderbox, teeming with deadly microbial beasties, heavy metals, and other hazardous materials. For those curious, the hazardous materials include, but are not limited to: industrial solvents, cleaning agents, agricultural by-products (fertilizers and pesticides), pharmaceutical compounds, radioactive materials, sewage, and medical waste.

Yum!

Seldom do we ruminate upon the woes of the approximately 1.1 billion Homo sapiens without access to clean drinking water.

Fear not, for calamity often serves as the impetus for legislative action. The passage the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act in 1980 is an excellent case in point. I shan’t be surprised if the reader has never heard of this vital piece of legislation, whether in its banal form or in its fresh guise, the Superfund Act. The Act permits the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) to enforce environmental law, clean up hazardous waste sites, and holds the responsible parties legally and financially accountable for infractions. Here’s some brief history:

Prior to 1980, the EPA had little authority by way of law enforcement. This starkly contrasts with its functions today: developing regulations and environmental plans, enforcing environmental law, levying fines, conducting research, and educating the public. (The latter has been rather paltry if you ask me; I cannot remember any EPA-sponsored events that have attempted to ventilate any of the topics herein discussed.) Although poor (shitty, really) and egregious waste regulation beset our forebearers since time immemorial, two events ostensibly forced governmental hands: the Love Canal incident and the Valley of the Drums.

Starting in the 1940’s, Love Canal, the abandoned shipping lane, served as the chemical waste dumping ground of the Hooker Electrochemical Company. By 1953, the land was sold by the company to accommodate adjacent homes and a school, an estimated 21,000 tons of hazardous materials had been dumped. What follows sounds like the plot of a tepid horror film; toxic waste spews forth from the ground burning children and causing birth defects.

Beginning in the 1960’s and culminating in veritable hellfire in the late 1970’s, multiple companies dumped tons of hazardous waste into the 23-acre landfill, eventually dubbed the Valley of the Drums, unencumbered. (WTF, right?). It took an massive fire, which lasted seven days, to marshal governmental entities to action. Our government can surely tarry. Nevertheless, these two events are often credited as the kindling required for the passage of the Superfund Act.

You may be asking: who the hell has heard of a Superfund Act? I’ve only spoken to three individuals who vaguely recalled hearing the word ‘Superfund.’ Hardly representative of the population at large, I suspect many remain unaware of the topic due to the lack of publicity. Newsday has posted a few “articles” pertaining to the topic. Alas, the most recent on the topic is from 2013. Thus, my answer to the former question is: not enough people. Ignorance, whether willful or otherwise, of these matters is unacceptable. The leading cause of death for Nassau County residents between the ages of 25 and 64 is cancer. There are 254 Superfund sites on Long Island, that is to say locations contaminated by hazardous materials, being evaluated as viable for federal cleanup because “it poses a risk to human health and/or the environment.” By the way, that’s 254 sites out of approximately 1,300 nationwide! Is there a connection between the number of Superfund sites and cancer in Nassau County? Perhaps.

The conjecture notwithstanding, water quality and cancer are two exigent public health issues. The water crisis in Flint, Michigan is not conjecture. Neither is the discovery of the growing number water systems contaminated by hazardous materials or the millions elsewhere without safe water sources. With all the misery, suffering, and strife that besieges our world, could we not at least attenuate them by raising awareness of these public health issues, ensuring potable water to all our fellow mammals?

Author: unholyephraim

I am a nerd, a writer, a scientist (and a nascent public health professional), a gourmand, and a polyglot with an insatiable hunger for knowledge and an enthusiastic willingness to share that knowledge with others. I have a Bachelor of Science in Biology with minors in Mathematics and Chemistry, and I'm currently pursuing my Master of Science in Public Health.

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