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The Truth About the Safe Drinking Water Act

Government regulations are always controversial, as many claim they cause job losses and act as a brake on economic activity. But when we are talking about the basic necessities of life, clearly something must be done to ensure that the American people have access to safe supplies of the essential things they need to survive.

In 1974, the federal government passed the Safe Drinking Water Act, which is designed to regulate the amount of dangerous, disease-causing chemicals that are allowed in the nation’s water supply. One would hope that no such chemical contamination would be present legally, but of course everyone understands there are practical considerations that make it virtually impossible to filter everything out of the water. Nevertheless, if there were one government law or regulation that most would probably approve of, it would likely be the Safe Drinking Water Act, which guarantees that every American citizen who opens a tap in their home will be rewarded with a crystal clear stream of safe, refreshing water that can be consumed without concern.

Or at least this is what the Safe Drinking Water Act is supposed to guarantee. But as is almost always the case when the government gets involved, the reality does not come close to matching either the promises or the rhetoric.

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The Truth about the Safe Drinking Water Act

While the intentions of those who first proposed a law to protect Americans from the toxics contamination of their water supply may have been honorable, the unfortunate fact is that corporations, large industrial concerns, and other powerful actors always use their influence to make sure that any legislation passed at the state, local, or federal levels will not chip away at their power or erode their profit margins in any meaningful way. Government interference may cause problems for ordinary citizens and small businesses, but it seldom if ever inconveniences the truly powerful. Thanks largely to the behind-the-scenes lobbying efforts of manufacturers, oil companies, the chemical industry, and other assorted interest groups that profit from the “better living through chemistry” mentality, the Safe Drinking Water Act as it actually exists is little more than a hollow shell that does more harm than good by tricking people into thinking they are being provided with clean, safe water, when in fact just the opposite is the case.

At the present time, there are at least 60,000 chemicals in use in the United States in homes and industries, and hundreds of these have been shown through independent testing to cause illnesses of various types including cancer. But incredibly, less than 100 of these chemicals are actually monitored or controlled under the auspices of the Safe Drinking Water Act, and even though the use of chemicals is accelerating, no new additions have been made to the Act’s list of regulated substances since 2000. And it is important to note that even the toxins that are covered by the Act are not forbidden completely – they are allowed in drinking water just as long as their levels don’t rise above certain concentrations. This would be fine if these allowable amounts had been proven to be harmless, but in fact the latest scientific research has shown that many toxic chemicals can cause health problems at much lower levels than had previously been believed. In fact, it is becoming more and more clear that there probably is no such thing as a safe dosage of a toxic chemical, and when different chemicals are mixed together in the cells of biological organisms, the results of this diabolical alchemy are completely unpredictable.

On those occasions when individual EPA officials have tried to have the Safe Drinking Water Act’s regulatory list expanded, or to have its standards updated based on the latest research findings, as a reward these people have been attacked, threatened with reprisal, or driven out of government service completely. Industry and the elected officials they control are simply too powerful, and they have never been willing to permit effective regulation of chemical pollution by any government agency.

Drinking Water Contamination: A Breakdown

According to an analysis of the available data performed by a non-profit group called the Environmental Working Group, since 2004 over 62 million Americans have been exposed to drinking water that violates existing government health guidelines. Most of these chemicals are not actually monitored or regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act, but among those that are, forty-nine of them have been found at levels that violate the existing legal standards of the Act. But those substances not regulated by the provisions of the Act are not prohibited or controlled in any way, leaving industries or individuals free to dump them into our lakes, ponds, rivers, and groundwater with impunity if they so desire.

Some of the pernicious substances that have been found in water supply systems across the United States include:

  • Arsenic (declared safe for drinking water by the government at twice the levels recommended by private scientists)
  • Uranium
  • Mercury
  • Lead
  • Manganese
  • Perchlorate – a rocket fuel additive
  • Trichloroethylene – a degreaser used in manufacturing
  • Perchloroethylene – a dry cleaning solvent

The last three chemicals on this list have become quite ubiquitous, and yet none are currently regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act, even though all three appear to increase cancer risk. But trying to get anything new added to the Act since its original passage has been like trying to fit the proverbial camel through the eye of a needle, and that has turned this piece of legislation into little more than window dressing disguised as meaningful consumer protection.

According to the most recent findings, the ten largest water supply systems in the United States, which provide drinking water to over 28 million Americans, are contaminated with an average of 23 chemicals per system. While it is true that the majority of these chemicals are found at levels declared acceptable by the government, as we have already seen these standards should be taken with a grain of salt. And of course these standards were set based on the assumption that a person would only be exposed to one particular chemical at a time; when twenty-three different chemicals are mixed together in one big toxic stew, no one really has any idea what kind of damage this might do if consumed and absorbed by the human organism.

Keep in mind that the real causes of disease or infirmity are extremely difficult to pin down in most instances, as the processes behind the development of illness or dysfunction inside the human body are quite complex and still somewhat mysterious. Even when the cause of a disease is an identifiable viral or bacterial agent, it is possible that an immune system weakened by exposure to toxic chemicals could ultimately be to blame. The bottom line is that exposure to this mixture of potentially dangerous substances, even when they are contaminating the water supply in very small amounts, could be implicated in all kinds of health disorders without us even knowing what is going on.

Decontaminate Your Mind

Many would probably argue that the best way to solve the problem is to strengthen the Safe Drinking Water Act, or to replace it with something new. But as Albert Einstein famously pointed out, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. When it comes to water safety, the interests allied against consumer protection are just too strong, and the passage of a new law or the adoption of a changed version of the old one would in the end prove to be pointless. Such a legislative act would no doubt be so filled with so many exclusions and loopholes and unenforceable standards that it would only give people a false sense of security, while giving polluters a new and improved PR cover behind which they could hide their destructive activities.

Rather than relying on the government to protect us, a much more sensible answer is for citizens to become more informed about the things that affect their lives. By law, all water systems in all municipalities must be tested for toxins, and it is up to the citizens in each location to make sure they know what is in their water and to make sure that their neighbors know what is in the water as well. Publicity combined with demands for cleaner, safer water on the part a united citizenry would have a much better chance of making a positive impact than another empty government law that is all talk and no action.

The only thing to watch out for would be the inevitable public relations campaigns from polluting industries and other contaminators that would try to convince everyone that the poisons in the water were really not all that bad. When it comes to chemical contamination of the water supply, it should be assumed that any and all contamination is dangerous and unacceptable, and that anyone who tries to say differently cannot be trusted. People need to unite and try to place as much collective pressure as they can on the operators of local water systems, local government officials, and whoever else will listen as they push for cleaner drinking water. Government has shown it cannot be trusted to protect our most critical resources, which is why we must all take responsibility and begin looking out for our own interests – forcefully, loudly, and with unshakeable determination.

©2012 Off the Grid News

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