Sunday, March 9, 2008

104 Pollutants in Drinking Water

On February 21, 2008 the Society of Environmental Journalists ( posted this:

Many controversial contaminants recently in the news, such as perchlorate, formaldehyde, and the gasoline additive MTBE, are included on a list of 104 pollutants that are known or likely to be found in drinking water, and which EPA is asking for public comments on as it decides whether and how to regulate them. The agency is also taking comments on the new process it used to whittle down the original list of about 7,500 substances it considered for addition to its list of 87 regulated drinking water contaminants. The 90-day public comment period ends May, 21, 2008.

-- Federal Register notice of Feb. 21, 2008:
Other substances under review include pesticides, industrial chemicals, disinfection byproducts, and pathogens such as acetaldehyde, hydrazine, cobalt, ethylene glycol, nitroglycerin, permethrin, strontium, and select forms of microbes such as Salmonella, Legionella, and Helicobacter.

If EPA chooses to regulate any of the 104 substances, it will have to begin a formal rulemaking process for each. It likely will be several years before any might be added to those that each utility must track and report on annually in its Consumer Confidence Report.

For more information on the review process for the 104 substances, see

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Every week I take out my recycling. Most weeks I don’t think much of it. It’s just another household chore. This week was different. As I hauled my clear plastic bag filled with plastic containers over my shoulder, I was super aware of my task. Inside the bag were some Naked juice bottles, a couple of soygurt cups, and a few containers that used to hold Chinese food and salad bar takeout. There were also two water bottles. One from a recent flight and the other from a day I stood thirsty on the corner of Cooper Square.

All of this recycling was about to be tossed on the sidewalk along with thousands of other plastic bags holding more piles of plastic, to be picked up by garbage trucks that will take this garbage to be reincarnated as more plastic in new shapes and sizes.

I can probably blame this new uneasiness on Elizabeth Royte (, whom I interviewed a few days ago. We chatted about her book “Bottlemania,” which hits bookstores in a few months. I was lucky enough to get my hands on an early copy. Now, I also happen to be thinking about my recycling long after it was hauled away.

Perhaps these thoughts are natural. Like sediment in churned river, Royte’s last words of our chat are still floating around my brain. “The decisions we make affect people and places. It’s important to know where our water comes from, the toll it’s taking and then choose what’s right for you,” said Royte, “Hopefully people will choose the action that has the least impact.”

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Trashing the disposable bottle

There’s nothing like a well designed water bottle to make drinking water alluring. And water companies know it. Just look at the Starbucks’s hourglass “ethos” bottle, Voss’s sleek, plastic cone of water, and Fiji Water’s turquoise blue bottle adorned with lush tropical flowers. Unfortunately, it seems as if they’re as alluring to throw away as to buy, since approximately 80 percent of these bottles end up in the landfill.

In backlash to designer throwaway plastic bottles, a Queens based non-profit began promoting a reusable sports bottle in early January: Their hope is to get people a an effort refilling the bottle with tap water, instead of promoting disposable consumerism.

Here are some of the reasons they provided:

• Manufacturing and transporting bottled water burn large amounts of fossil fuel, emitting thousands of tons of greenhouse gases

• Bottled water is not safer than tap water. In fact, 40% of all bottled water actually comes from municipal water

• Bottled water is thousands of times more expensive than tap water.

This isn’t the first time that New York City started promoting its drinking water. Last summer an ad campaign was launched to return people to the tap ( The idea is to get restaurants and New Yorkers in general to fill a glass, instead of paying more than the price of gasoline for a resource that is regularly available, clean and free.

What I want to know is if New York City’s drinking water is truly as clean as promised. If so, are there any threats to the health of the City’s water.

I’ll get back soon with a few answers…

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

City of Water

It was international wetlands day. The South Street Seaport Museum screened the “City of Water,” the Municipal Water Association’s documentary about the future of New York’s waterfront. Thirty people arrived thirsty for the topic. A woman who used to work on sustainable water issues at the U.N. sat down next to me and we got to chatting, realizing that our paths had crossed before. I guess I’ve been getting my feet wet in this field for a while now.

The movie made its point: there hasn’t been a better time in the history of New York to rethink and redevelop the waterfront so that its viable/

However, it made me question how this is going to happen. Will it take small groups of New Yorkers trying to save their neighborhoods from the influx of expensive condominiums and storefronts? Or could there be a mass movement across New York to save the waterfront?

One woman, I believe Cathy Drew of the River Project, said in the movie that “the best thing to do in your back yard is jump in.” What she was discussing that federal law requires water to be as clean as its use. So, if people are swimming in the Hudson or East River, they should be clean enough to swim in.

It’s a little chicken or egg though. For who really wants to jump into a slime induced toxic puddle in order to help clean up the water? Does the jumping have to happen first, or the cleaning? And even though the Clean Water Act was implemented in 1972, why are the rivers around New York Still polluted. Why can’t the waste treatment facilities handle a rainy day? Why are millions of gallons of sewage still spewing into our rivers after it rains?

I’ll keep looking into these and many more of my questions.