Recently, a chemical seeped into the water supply in Charleston, West Virginia, threatening to sicken hundreds of thousands of people. What tipped off authorities to the fact that there was a problem was when people started calling in complaints about a strong licorice-type smell in the air.
West Virginia American Water, which supplies 300,000 people with water in the central part of the state, would not otherwise have known about the problem because there is no testing for the particular chemical – 4-methylcyclohexane methanol – which got into the water supply.
In addition to inconveniencing hundreds of thousands of people who were without tap water for five days, this incident was a wake-up call for the Department of Homeland Security, which admits that not nearly enough has been done to protect U.S. water systems from accidental spills or deliberate contamination.
Despite the fact that most large-city water treatment plants in the U.S. are located downstream from industrial facilities – making them more vulnerable to contamination – it has been more than 10 years since Congress last addressed water security in legislation. In 2002, utilities were required to assess their vulnerabilities and report them to the Environmental Protection Agency, but there was no mandate to correct the shortcomings. The Safe Water Drinking Act does not give any additional authority to states or utilities to reduce or eliminate threats.
Critics are saying that unless there is a widespread, deliberate attempt to poison water supplies, nothing significant will be accomplished to try to prevent such an act.
Have you ever had a drinking water emergency in your area? Did you boil your water to deal with it, or did you dip into your emergency water supply? Let me know how this problem has affected you in the past.