By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer
Water sources in Virginia were contaminated with toxic chemicals last week, and the state had to ban water use in order to keep residents safe. It’s been 5 days and some areas are still under restriction. So, how safe is US drinking water usually?
According to some government estimates, around 10,000 hazardous materials are accidentally spilled. These chemicals, which can range anywhere from oil to rocket fuel, sometimes evaporate into the air. Other times though, it may leak into public water sources and pose a threat to a large population of unsuspecting citizens.
However, it doesn’t help that many hazardous substances are stored fairly close to water treatment plants, and some are not monitored closely. “We have a huge number of contamination sources that are poorly regulated if controlled at all,” said Erik Olson, water expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The water utilities say: ‘We don’t know what to do with them,’ and throw up their hands.”
Even though the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set guidelines in a law known as the Safe Water Drinking Act, it’s ultimately up to a city to ensure EPA regulations are being met. And while the law says city officials must identify the cause of a contamination, such as a poorly regulated chemical plant, it’s not always easy to check up on whether the city’s doing their job.
It seems like the key is to prevent a spill before it has a chance to cause harm. “We really need to get a handle on things before they start,” said Lynn Thorp, water program director at Clean Water Action, an advocacy group based in Washington. “If we wait to solve the problem in the drinking water plant, we’ve waited too long.”