Los Angeles resident and blogger Alissa Walker recently posted this story about Flint’s lead problem. She raises excellent points about the aging infrastructure, EPA regulations and why she still drinks from the tap.
Lead is a tricky contaminant because it’s everywhere: in our pipes, in our plumbing, in our faucets. There is no “safe” level. But the biggest concern, from a drinking water perspective, are old service lines—not just the city’s pipes, but residential ones, too. In 1991, the EPA instituted something called the Lead and Copper Rule, which established new regulations for detecting and removing lead and copper in drinking water. (The EPA didn’t comment by publication time for this story.) However, even with these rigorous guidelines, it turns out these regulations aren’t always being followed.
Lead poisoning the drinking water of Flint is the worst possible disaster. It’s a breakdown of urban systems that could’ve been avoided. It’s an instance of smarmy politicians lying to their constituents. It’s one of the scariest stories I’ve had to write about in some time. But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t trust the water coming out of your tap.
Hearing Flint residents talk about undergoing blood draws to test for lead, and being counseled on how to stay healthy after long-term lead exposure, is devastating. When I learned that parents are still too afraid of contamination to bathe their kids, I wasn’t surprised—when will they not be?
Then I started to worry, too. As an American, a new mom, and an evangelical drinker of Los Angeles’s finest, I had to know: Is my hyper-optimistic allegiance to tap water misguided in light of what we’ve seen in Flint?
I spent a week trying to figure this out, and the short answer is no. But you should have some basic information about where your water comes from and how your city is testing it.
Last year I wrote a story that begged Americans to stop drinking bottled water. It hinges upon the fact that we have some of the cleanest, safest water anywhere on the planet:
Clean, safe drinking water that flows freely out of our faucets is a feat of engineering that humans have been been perfecting for two millennia. It is a cornerstone of civilization. It is what our cities are built upon. And over the years the scientists and hydrologists and technicians who help get water to our houses have also become our environmental stewards, our infrastructural watchdogs, our urban visionaries. Drinking the water these people supply to our homes is the best possible way to protect future access to water worldwide.