Sunday, March 7, 2010

Blog prompt #5 (week 3/1-3/7)

You use it several times a day and almost never give any thought to it. You use to brush your teeth, make coffee, or take pills. You just want to wash that apple, or those grapes, and start dinner. When you turn on the faucet, water magically pours from the spout, splashes against the sink basin and then obediently disappears down the drain. At your demand. Hot, warm or cold.

You're not thinking about the ugly, stinky, unnatural chemicals that have been extracted from and dissolved into your city river in the process of becoming "purified." You're not thinking about the complex network of underground city pipes through which your water is pumped just to pour  from your faucet. Are they old? Are they new? Are they corroded? As long as the water isn't putrid brown or has no unpleasant odor, you assume that any harmful bacteria or toxin has been effectively removed.

Pollution from acid mine drainage was contaminating Pittsburgh's drinking water during an earlier part of the 20th century. A lengthy report from The Journal of the Society for Industrial Archeology was published in 2003. In it, a study called "Devastation and Renewal: An Environmental History of Pittsburgh and its Region" outlined all the efforts taken to restore and maintain the Allegheny, the source of 95 percent of the city's drinking water.

If you type in "tap water" or "water pollution" and "Pittsburgh," as key words in Google, several Pittsburgh Post-Gazette articles, dating from 2007 to now will spring up and start talking. Concern is seeping into public consciousness. Justified or not?

In one of those articles, an important sounding scientist has discovered that some fish from the Allegheny are not sexually differentiated. A closer investigation of the water revealed trace amounts of drugs, including estrogen and anti-depressants. Not to worry, a public official was quoted. Low doses of these drugs aren't harmful, at least not on a short term basis.  Further analysis revealed residue from cosmetics and cleaning products dumped down drains. The implication is that these contaminants, all of which individuals can control at their own sinks, could be what is harming the fish.

Are genderless fish reason enough to render concern over Pittsburgh tap water? Indeed. But even more troublesome is that these local authorities claim that the Environmental Protection Agency has not required any further testing or set guidelines. Until the federal government issues the authority to take action, local authorities seem content to sit on their thumbs and ignore the potential problem.

The taste is another reason for concern. At room temperature, tap water feels gritty in my mouth, has a slight chlorine odor and leaves an awful aftertaste. Bottled water a smoother texture, is odorless and tasteless.

Even if concerns over the tap water are valid, relying exclusively on bottled or distilled water isn't necessarily a short term or long term solution either because recycling the plastic becomes an issue.

It's difficult to know who to trust when environmental issues are at stake because no one wants to take the blame should anything be seriously wrong and politics and cash flow undermine and motivate almost every major decision. Unfortunately, this leaves the responsibility of researching the issues to individual citizens, which isn't fair because unclean drinking water affects everyone.

1 comment:

Melanie Dylan Fox said...

What a thought-provoking entry Leslie (and I love that you're employing a mini-rant form here)! This is an issue that should be of concern for us all, but seems especially critical in Pittsburgh, where I remember the awful water all too well.

I can see how some of this could find its way into your final project.